The Political Dimensions of Aristotle’s Ethics

Bodéüs, Richard. The Political Dimensions of Aristotle’s Ethics. Trans. J. E. Garrett. Albany: SUNY press, 1993.


“The first encounter between [Plato and Aristotle]  probably took place in the year 366 BC. They were Associates, at Athens, in almost constant interaction, until the death of Plato in May 347.

However, the master left his imprint forever upon the mind of the disciple. This is so true  that the attentive reader of Aristotle can often receive the impression that he finds in Aristotle’s works as T Gomperz  said, the “Platonist” and the “Asclepiad”  confronting each other on all the great questions of philosophy.

Without doubt the most formidable problem confronted by interpreters of the Corpus Aristotelicum  is the difficulty of reconciling positions maintained by Aristotle as heir of the Academy  with those he maintained as champion of a new philosophy.  This problem had appeared to be brilliantly solved when interpreters recognized the results obtained by W. Jaeger,  who applied the method of Entwicklungsgeschichte  to Aristotle’s works. Many were then persuaded that the philosopher’s writings belong in fact to 2 successive phases of Aristotelian research, testifying, in the first,  to adherence to the strictest Platonism and, in the second,  to a clear break with Platonism in order to adopt a more empirical orientation.

The bulk of the study is taken to verify or correct this hypothesis has only very rarely (alas!) attained the high level of the views  expressed by the one who inspired them. They are often committed to a method which neglects the essential task the interpreter must accept. In fact, the obsession with fixing ever more precisely the stages of Aristotle’s career or, an obsession which, in short, tries to analyze philosophical problems only for the purpose of determining in the relative chronology of the writings in which they are stated, willingly reverses the order required by a sound exegesis. A sound  approach subordinates inquiries concerning relative or absolute dating of the texts to understanding their intellectual content. The “genetic” obsession is, after all, likely to lead to an error which one has the right to denounce a priority:  “in the absence of external criteria, a chronological method which is based upon the incompatibility of texts and whose fecundity thus thrives upon failures of comprehension runs the risk at every moment of preferring pretexts of not understanding to reasons for understanding.”  Moreover, the efforts to attain and identify an “Urmetaphysik,” and an “Urpolitik,”  and so on, like the attempt of Homeric philology in the 19th century  to reconstruct a primitive Iliad has mutatis mutandis  the effect of shifting emphasis from the synthesis to early drafts or works which prepare for it. Even Jaeger’s  worthy effort to take into account fragments of lost Aristotelian works for the genetic interpretation of the Corpus  seems to have turned his imitators away from their basic task, for they think themselves called upon to attempt a hypothetical reconstruction of the lost works rather than to illuminate, by means of their preserved fragments, the major texts of the philosopher which have been recognized as authentic. In this respect and in many others, the “genetic” current of interpretation contributes to the stall job for studies bearing on essential content.”