- Aristotelismo by Enrico Berti
At the beginning of his 1952 monograph on Aristotle, D. J. Allan wrote, “it is not the purpose of this work to trace the influence of Aristotle upon subsequent science and philosophy, an important and interesting subject which would require a volume to itself.” The volume Allan gave up writing has just been published by Enrico Berti. Aristotelismo does not aim at providing a history of Aristotelianism (i.e. of those philosophies explicitly or implicitly following Aristotle’s), as the title might suggest. Rather, it is a collection of some of the most relevant examples attesting to the influence of Aristotle’s thought on our philosophical and scientific tradition from early Peripatetics to contemporary philosophy.
The book comprises nine chapters, an introduction, bibliography, and index of names. The first chapter surveys the most influential themes of Aristotle’s philosophy (presented, of course, according to Berti’s interpretation) in the standard order of the Aristotelian corpus (logic; physics and cosmology; anthropology and theory of knowledge; zoology; metaphysics; ethics; politics; rhetoric and poetics). Each chapter explores the inheritance of one of these themes. In this review, we shall be concerned only with some of these chapters and we will also make some general criticisms on the overall project of the book.
Chapter 2 is concerned with the Organon. The dominant work of historical influence is the Categories, the pamphlet at the very origin of the notorious quaestio de universalibus, the history of the doctrine of categories, and the dispute on the ontological nature and status of substances. Berti’s summarization of these debates is learned, detailed, and remarkable for conciseness. He also gives ample attention to the Analytics, including the theory of syllogism [End Page 363] and demonstration; and the Topics, with the theory of dialectic, where Berti refers to copious discussions of Aristotle’s dialectical demonstration of the principle of non-contradiction.
Berti has devoted much of his career to Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In chapter 6, certainly among the best written and most informative of the entire book, he discusses the massive impact of three widely debated issues of Aristotle’s metaphysical theory: the aim and subject of first philosophy (theology or ontology?), the nature and function of the unmoved mover (final or efficient cause?), and the notion of being qua being. One should notice that, unfortunately, no attention is given to the current debate in analytic philosophy concerning ontological pluralism (e.g. Jason Turner) and the rebirth of metaphysical categories such as that of ‘analogy’ and ‘degrees of being’ (e.g. Kris McDaniel).
Practical philosophy is addressed in chapters 7–8. Berti explores a wide range of views on the epistemological status of ethics, on eudaimonia, and virtue—all crucial for contemporary ethical debates. On the rebirth of Aristotle’s moral philosophy in the twentieth century, it would have been interesting to read Berti’s own view on some bold criticisms of contemporary virtue ethics (e.g. by Thomas Hurka). The Politics has been comparatively less fortunate. It was little known in the Imperial Age, was perhaps translated into Arabic, and was one of the last works translated into Latin. But then it became a model for political treatises and exercised a considerable influence on questions related to the different types of constitutions, the polis as a natural society, and the problem of slavery.
Given the title of the book, one might reasonably expect to find somewhere an account of what Aristotelianism is supposed to be—difficult as this question might be. However, we are given only the vague remark that Aristotelianism is “the derivation” of Aristotle’s philosophy (9). This characterization is too coarse-grained and does not help one understand the specific philosophical profile of the category of “Aristotelianism”—indeed, some recent studies (e.g. Marwan Rashed’s works) have shown that, already in antiquity, there were several specific forms of Aristotelianism. So the overall project of the book does not seem to be displayed in an entirely clear way.
Second, although this work aims at addressing not only...