Aristotle's theory of conduct (1906)
In the following pages an attempt is made to present Aristotle's Ethics in a readable shape. It is not, and cannot be made, a popular book.
It has not the charm of style and the dramatic vivacity of the Platonic dialogues which fascinate the reader and carry him, even in a translation, through many pages of not always profitable dialectics, but its subject is of universal interest and touches human nature on almost every side. Courage, self-restraint, liberality, behaviour in society, friendship and happiness — these are matters on which it is well worth anybody's while to know the views of a man of Aristotle's attainments.
The Ethics is, however, something more than a volume of independent essays on moral philosophy; it is a systematic treatise on that subject forming an integral part of a comprehensive system in which logic, physics, psychology, biology, as well as philosophy relating to man are embraced. Conduct in life is made to fall into its place as a part of Aristotle's encyclopaedia of the sciences, and its principles are shown to depend upon and are constantly referred back to, those on which organic life and mind depend. But it is chiefly as a practical treatise or manual of daily conduct that the Ethics may be read with profit. In it motives are analysed and actions are described and defined with great skill and clearness. where, perhaps, within an equal number of pages, can more shrewd observations on character be found, neither in the Characters of Theophrastus nor in Bacon's essays, a work with which the Ethics, on its practical side, has much in common.
Notwithstanding some rather serious defects of form and arrangement, it is still the best general introduction to moral philosophy, the earliest and, take it for, all in all, the most interesting book on the subject. Aristotle's work is, nevertheless, not much known outside the limited circle of Greek scholars.
At Oxford and elsewhere it is a textbook for the Arts degree, but it is necessarily imperfectly understood by those who are entering upon life and it is rarely re-read at an age when it would be fully comprehended; to the ordinary reader it is a closed book.
There are, no doubt, excellent translations. in our own and other languages, but the Ethics cannot be appreciated — it can hardly be made intelligible in a translation, however good. Not only is the writing frequently abrupt, and the language highly technical, but Aristotle assumes his readers to know much which only a learned reader does know, and explanations, often of some length, are constantly necessary.
Moreover, its text, arrangement and numerous repetitions make its meaning in places difficult and some- times a matter of guesswork. A translator is bound to follow his original, and his version reproduces the defects and obscurities as well as the merits of his author.
Download 12 MB PDF book