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Action, Contemplation, and Happiness

Action, Contemplation, and Happiness

An Essay on Aristotle

C. D. C. Reeve

ISBN 9780674063730

Publication date: 03/12/2012

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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.

    —P. A. Streveler, Choice


  • C. D. C. Reeve is Delta Kappa Epsilon Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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