In the mail last week, while I was in Charleston, I received The Eudemian Ethics of Aristotle, edited and translated with a commentary by Peter L. P. Simpson. It was an exceedingly welcome arrival.
I read the work ages ago when Simpson and I were tutorial partners at Wadham College, Oxford; and I have occasionally consulted it since. But I have not worked my way through it with care in something like 40 years. When I do so, I will take that effort as an opportunity to re-read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in the fine, recent translation of Robert C. Bartlett and Susan Collins, and this effort may occasion my reading of Claudia Baracchi’s Aristotle’s Ethics as First Philosophy and Ronna Burger’s Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates: On the Nicomachean Ethics.
I teach Aristotle’s Politics with some frequency, and I normally use Peter Simpson’s fine, highly readable translation The Politics of Aristotle. If I really go on an Aristotle binge, I will have to re-read Simpson’s Philosophical Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle and Bernard Yack’s The Problems of a Political Animal: Community, Justice, and Conflict in Aristotelian Political Thought before tackling Michael Davis’s The Politics of Philosophy: A Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics and Thomas Pangle’s brand new book Aristotle’s Teaching in the Politics.
To put it mildly, there is a great Aristotelian revival underway, and it has been going on now for something like 30 years. In mentioning these books, I am merely pointing to the tip of a large iceberg. I could have mentioned works I own by Carnes Lord, Richard Kraut, Mary Nichols, Richard Janko, Aristide Tessitore, Clifford Bates, Stephen Salkever, Arlene Saxonhouse, Sarah Broadie, C. D. C. Reeve, John M. Cooper, Anthony Kenny, Terence Irwin, Brendan Nagle, Fred Miller, and William James Booth; and, even as an indication of my own holdings, this list is far from complete.
The reason for Aristotle’s return, gentle reader, is simple and straightforward. There is something missing from modern political thought, and nearly every thinker of any depth has been aware of this fact at least since John Locke’s pupil the third Earl of Shaftesbury began criticizing his instructor and initiated an Aristotelian revival early in the eighteenth century with the publication of his Characteristicks.
I have long thought that Montesquieu, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Adam Ferguson should all be treated as neo-Aristotelians. In more recent times — whenever it has become obvious that we have lost our moral bearings and whenever it has become clear that no form of social contract theory can fully explain how we aspire to live as a people — women and men have turned back to the Peripatetic. In this time of moral and political confusion, if you have the time and the inclination, you might want to do so yourself. You will not regret the effort required.