Aristotle in the shadows

At the moment I’m reading a book which is emphasising the importance of Aristotle’s critique of economy and politics as a basis for the of the way that the early social theorists framed their thought. As well as this, I seem to hear Rienhold Niebuhr’s name mentioned a lot, that is very obscure that so many people know the theologian, but I digress…

As well as reading Aristotle, it has made me more sensitive to when Aristotle is referenced. A couple of weeks ago, there was a letter in the (I think) Times Educational Supplement by a Frank Furedi concerning the importance of Aristotle’s ‘Phronesis’ applied in higher education policy, and policy in general. The point he made was of a general critique of the status quo.

If social theory is anything, it is a critique of the status quo. But why do we find ourselves constantly going back to Aristotle in terms of his Ethical writings? I suspect that it is direct, yet diverse. To be the greatest bodybuilder means something different than to be the greatest engineer, but both involve temperance and a practical wisdom to face a given situation or set of situations. I’ve also come across a TED Talk (by Barry Schwartz) which mentions that the ‘profit incentive’ which is assumed as a dogma among the media pundits of today, and many people who think that the seeking of profit is either an unadulterated good, or a nuanced but necessary good, does not have to be the case.

I am hardly a person to understand the nuances of Aristotle’s psychology, but I find it interesting that his approach, which is distinctly outside of the Christian tradition (by time, but not by influence) is finding influence. I used to often hear the critique among many persons that Marx gets it wrong in terms of his philosophical anthropology, but he’s one of the few social thinkers who really attempt philosophical anthropology. Perhaps he may have been wrong with anthropology, but the inference to begin with human nature and then conclude the conditions of wellbeing for communal human nature is distinctly in the Aristotelian style of philosophising.

I’ve said this in many blog comments and perhaps even personal conversations: I utterly dislike the way that current politicians (especially those who wear a green tie with a yellow coloured party symbol) use the terms of ‘fairness’ and ‘justice’ or ‘equality’ and ‘freedom’ in such clandestine ways that we don’t really know what is meant, nor is there any attempt to justify them.  A certain amount of clarity, as well as the transparency of one’s reasoning is fundamentally important, not just for the wellbeing and oppurtunity of genuine political involvement of the people (demos), but also for the justified authority of the state.

(editorial: I found the links to refrerenced articles and put the URL’s up)