- Taking Life Seriously: A Study of the Argument of the "Nicomachean Ethics", and: Aristotle on the Goals and Exactness of Ethics (review)
- Journal of the History of Philosophy
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 33, Number 3, July 1995
- pp. 511-514
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS 511 or anything like it, but is a rhetorical device for inducing what Thayer calls "reflexive reference" to whatever is currently under discussion. If this is true, it might be little short of absurd to "rationally reconstruct" something called a "Platonic Theory of Forms," unless ontological commitments cling to rhetorical devices more tenaciously than I presume they do. I hope that the research program advocated here is vigorously pursued so that issues like these can be more explicitly and intensely debated, and I highly commend this volume to those who wish to pursue it productively. Davin J. DzPEw California State University,Fullerton Francis Sparshott. Taking Life Seriously: A Study of the Argument of the "Nicomachean Ethics." Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994. Pp. xviii + 461. Cloth, $60.oo. Georgios Anagnostopoulos. Aristotleon the Goalsand Exactnessof Ethics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Pp. xiii + 468. Cloth, $50.oo. These are both large books, written by mature scholars in the analytic tradition; each takes a word as the key to Aristotle's theory: Sparshon begins from ouov6ctk0g (seriously ), Anagnostopoulos works with a• (exactness). Sparshott's explicit goal is to make sense of the NicomacheanEthics as a systematic whole, rather than as a collection of individually interesting but somewhat disconnected arguments. He presents a persuasive image of an overall argument in EN, and clarifies many relationships between widely separated passages. The book is thus a running commentary with a purpose. It may also be seen as a master course on the Nicomachean Ethics in one volume, the product of a lifetime of study and teaching this treatise. Sparshott avoids getting entangled in the secondary literature; his interpretations usually have plenty of support, but most of the scaffolding is hidden in the footnotes. He does sometimes digress to talk about "sexism in Aristotle," "the common books," "leisure," or the like; these digressions are printed in italics. Spoudaios means "serious," and being good is serious business, takes practice, concern , attention. "It is the people who are careless and negligent about what they do who make a mess of their lives, and these same poeple who are socially worthless and vicious" (51). "One starts to become moral when and if one starts taking life seriously" (85). Those who are not spoudaioi"do not take life seriously because it has not occurred to them that any such attitude to life is possible" (111). It's easy to think of Aristotle as a personally serious person, but not as easy to think that the concept of seriousness is as central as Sparshott makes it. Still, it has the virtue of unifying the many disparate themes of the Ethics, and that's Sparshott's goal. Sparshott occasionally criticizes Aristotle's tendency to suppose that one sort of life, or a narrow range of possible lives, is best, without recognizing the values of alternative lifestyles. For example, Sparshott says, "... our generic account of the good must not only make general provision for the dimensions of diversity [which Aristotle does, more or less], but must recognize the maximizing of diversity in individual develop- 512 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 33:3 JULY 1995 ment as an important aspect of human function. This is what Aristotle fails to do" (335). It seems to me that Sparshott here captures an aspect of the Aristotelian ethic that makes us (and our students) uneasy as we read the text. We may easily be struck by the idea that Aristotle really believes that the best sort of lifestyle is one very similar to his own, and that not many other lifestyles have significant value. But none of the lifestyles envisaged by the Nicomachean Ethics is possible for us; the world in which they were possible is gone. Could Aristotle believe that historical change would make eudaimonia or a virtuous life impossible? Hardly. But Sparshott is absolutely right to point out that Aristotle seems to modern readers to have an excessively narrow view of the variability of good (serious) human lives. No doubt students most quickly catch on to this disturbing aspect of Aristode's thought when they read what Aristotle has to say about slaves and women in the first book of the...