Aristotle Today

Harman writes:

No one in our circles really likes Aristotle anymore. He’s taken to be the synonym for all that is boring and “classical”. This attitude is a mistake. Yes, I know all about school texts and the rebellion of modern philosophy against them. But the intermittent moments when Aristotle enters philosophy have quite often been fertile moments, or even moments of renaissance. I’m reminded of this whenever I dip into Leibniz, and even whenever I dip into Zubíri (I say “even” only because he lacks Leibniz’s breadth of influence).

Gradually, a consensus has built up that individual substances are gauche, that essence is both gauche and oppressive, and so forth. …

In a sense, the whole object-oriented program can be described as a weirder version of Aristotle– weirder insofar as OOO’s substances are more elusive, and insofar as “objects” in my usage of the term are a far broader category than substances


I don’t know if Aristotle has ever left. I don’t mean this in the sense that Aristotle’s metaphysics informs all sorts of essentialism, etc., though this would be enough. I mean in the sense that politically, ethically, and yes metaphysically he’s still a constant touchstone. For example, is there anyone who does not take a lot away from the sixth book of the Ethics? Harman’s point is well taken, but some of those who would have done with Aristotle are getting him through some other set of figures (Arendt, Heidegger, and so on).

2 comments

  1. Peter, this time I think you missed the point of my post. My post was not about ethics, but was explicitly about individual substances. Practically no one is defending them in continental circles these days, and in fact everyone’s point is to unmask them as naive. This holds for Husserl, Heidegger (unless you buy my reading), Derrida, also Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek, and even the more science-minded people who are starting to emerge on the continental landscape (who always seem to want to reduce reality to its mathematizable structure). I don’t see how you can say that Aristotle is a “cosntant touchstone” under these circumstances.

    Incidentally, I also disagree about there being a lot of Aristotle in Heidegger. The Heidegger/Aristotle is about as convincing as the Deleuze/Leibniz connection: a myth that somehow caught on.

    1. Maybe I didn’t formulate that well since I was pointing out that, at least as far as other parts of his work, Aristotle has indeed been important. I mean that since he’s cited often, though I suppose quite a bit as implicitly wrong, as in citing Aristotle since readers will know this is the type of view that has to be contested. But I would say that while I wasn’t trying to argue this originally, since generally I agree that Aristotle is taken to be naive, I would point out, as I’m sure you would, the inseparability of his Ethics from his metaphysics. Arendt’s rewriting of Aristotle in the Human Condition, for example, isn’t just a political engagement, but also a rethinking of Aristotle tout court. As for Heidegger, this I’ll defend: yes, obviously “your” Heidegger is closer to Aristotle, but I also think it’s not analogous to Deleuze and Leibniz, since with Aristotle we have a whole set of lectures (the Sophist course) and plenty of comments through most of his works to suggest just such a connection. Now, this might be “Heidegger’s” Aristotle, but he is quoting Aristotle, he is using his terminology and quotations and he does often use Aristotle (beyond Aristotle’s own reporting of received opinion) as a stand-in for the Greek view on things. If it’s a myth, it’s closer to Troy (for which we have artifacts) than to Fountain of Youth (for which, as of now, we have none).

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