Reading Aristotle’s Ethics. Virtue, Rhetoric, and Political Philosophy

Review of Metaphysics 52 (2):493-494 (1998)

The author sees his scholarly book as a contribution to the “remarkable resurgence of interest in Aristotle’s moral and political philosophy.” Despite the difficulty of integrating the various parts of the Nicomachean Ethics into a harmonious doctrine, Tessitore defends the cogency of the text. In five chapters he deals with several of the main topics studied by Aristotle. The Ethics is addressed to morally serious persons. The second chapter discusses the virtues treated in books 2–7. Special attention is paid to equity and prudence. Tessitore sees book 7 as a new beginning, namely, the study of human behavior from the point of view of opposites. Human beings sometimes act in ways they know to be wrong. Tessitore speaks of a “continuous war between right principle and pleasure,” but Aristotle would say that the really virtuous person is no longer attracted by the lower pleasures. So when the author writes that book 7 is disconcerting: “the activity of God is wholly given over to pleasure”, we answer that it all depends on the sort of pleasure we are speaking about. Chapter 4 deals with friendship, which holds society together and is an important element of human happiness. Human activity is increased when one shares one’s life and experiences with others. Tessitore explains in which sense right self-love is the proper basis for friendship and social life. He considers books 8 and 9 an introduction to the best way of life. Book 10 brings a new description of pleasure which is now said to perfect or complete activity. Contemplation is presented as the supreme form of happiness, a conclusion which is “oddly out of step with the rest of Aristotle’s study”. Tessitore explains this: in the previous books of his treatise, Aristotle has kept this argument in the background, but he now shows that ethical excellence must somehow come together with philosophical contemplation.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph1998522195
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