The notion of practical wisdom is one of Aristotle’s greatest inventions. It has inspired philosophers as diverse as Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Elizabeth Anscombe, Michael Thompson, and John McDowell. Now a leading scholar of ancient philosophy offers a challenge to received accounts of practical wisdom by situating it in the larger context of Aristotle’s views on knowledge and reality.
That happiness is the end pursued by practical wisdom is commonly agreed. What is disputed is whether happiness is to be found in the practical life of political action, in which we exhibit courage, temperance, and other virtues of character, or in the contemplative life, where theoretical wisdom is the essential virtue. C. D. C. Reeve argues that the dichotomy is bogus, that these lives are in fact parts of a single life, which is the best human one. In support of this view, he develops innovative accounts of many of the central notions in Aristotle’s metaphysics, epistemology, and psychology, including matter and form, scientific knowledge, dialectic, educatedness, perception, understanding, political science, practical truth, deliberation, and deliberate choice. These accounts are based directly on freshly translated passages from many of Aristotle’s writings. Action, Contemplation, and Happiness is an accessible essay not just on practical wisdom but on Aristotle’s philosophy as a whole.
The title of this book might suggest that it is an essay dealing exclusively with themes in Aristotle’s Ethics, but this study by Reeve is actually a comprehensive analysis of themes in Aristotle’s biology, psychology, physics, metaphysics, and more. It encompasses Aristotle’s remarks on the generation of animals, through his teleological and hylomorphic physics, into his analysis of desiderative and rational (practical and theoretical) functions of human souls. Reeve weaves all of these themes together toward the final end and purpose of all things, namely, union with and contemplation of pure form—God. The end of all actions and activities of hylomorphic, sublunary substances is ultimately to shed their matter and be absorbed into ‘thought itself’ (God). When looking in this way at happiness, the human end, the apparent dichotomy of ‘action’ and ‘contemplation’ dissolves into one. Aristotle’s Physics, Ethics, and Metaphysics become united. Reeve displays awareness of all the most recent scholarship on Aristotle. His translations, interpretations, and explanations of difficult passages are lucid and convincing. This is one of the finest recent publications on Aristotle.
I like this book a lot. Reeve covers lots of Aristotle, gets the reader involved and wanting to see how it all goes together, and in the end takes us back to the beginning, so that we see everything again in a new way.
Reeve’s marvelous new book—Action, Contemplation, and Happiness—takes up the notions central to Aristotle’s ethics and political philosophy and embeds them appropriately and deeply in Aristotle’s epistemology, metaphysics, physics, psychology, and theology. Reeve’s analyses are far-reaching and subtle, and he brings new illumination to longstanding controversies. This book will be essential reading for any student of Aristotle’s ethics or of Aristotle and, more generally, for any student of ancient ethics.
Action, Contemplation, and Happiness is an important contribution to Aristotelian studies, lively, accessible, well-informed and up to date, with independent readings of particular passages and a distinctive overall perspective, placing Aristotle’s ethical views in the wider context of his metaphysical and theological ideas. It deserves, and will fully repay, close attention.
Reeve’s new book will be extraordinarily helpful and influential for any number of different sorts of readers, including non-specialists with a serious philosophical interest in Aristotle (like me). Everything of importance in Aristotle’s discussions of what sorts of things human beings can do, and what sorts of beings they are (especially what counts for them as happiness and the greatest happiness), is laid out in lapidary prose, systematically interconnected, interpreted with great concision as well as remarkable breadth, and with a focus always on the deepest philosophical issues. The book is a masterful achievement.
Reeve’s new engagement with Aristotelian ethics is, characteristically, as ambitious in scope as it is skillful in execution. With such diverse domains as biology, epistemology, ontology, theology and political theory fused into a single illuminating narrative, Aristotle’s focal values are here showcased, as they too rarely are, in their full philosophical context.
A comprehensive account of Aristotle’s thought, masterful and philosophically astute, this book could have come only from a scholar who has spent much of his life contemplating the texts of this great philosopher. It is clear and elegant, welcoming to beginners and informative to old Aristotle hands.
- 320 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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