Aristotle by Christopher Shields is a well written book about Aristotle’s philosophy and his thoughts on ethics and how it plays a part in human nature, politics and arts. The different parts discuss Aristotle’s life and works, his thoughts on human nature, his views on the soul, his philosophical methodology and his four-cause conception of explanation.
The book begins with a short biography of Aristotle where Shields asks the reader to approach Aristotle’s work with an open mind and not base the findings on assumptions formed by either the praises or critics of Aristotle. Shields talks about Aristotle’s childhood and early life that consisted of moving to Athens and joining Plato’s Academy. The next part dives into Aristotle’s four-causal explanatory schema, which is his solution framework for good explanatory answer to any question. Shields draws attention to the shortcomings of Aristotle’s framework when applied to some living activities.
The following few parts discuss the different topics in Aristotelian logic, including Aristotle’s doctrine of the categories. Shields provides various explanations to the question of why Aristotle created ten number of categories. In ‘Puzzles of Nature’, Shields says that “Aristotle deploys this framework in an effort to resolve puzzles ranging from Zeno’s paradoxes of motion to problems of time, and the infinite, all of which are, he contends, ultimately puzzles” (Shields 232) and goes on to explain Aristotle’s view of change with detailed examples. The chapter ‘Substance and science of being qua being’ discusses Metaphysics in detail.
Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics are introduced in ‘Living well’, where it’s said that the appearance of accessibility and non-technicality in the Nicomachean Ethics is deceptive and misleading (Shields 407). Aristotle assumes that to determine the best interest of a human being, one needs to focus only on the essential features and hence the decision is not subjective based on who is making it. Shields states that “Aristotle takes it as obvious, almost beyond question, that each of us desires the best life we can secure for ourselves.” (Shields 408) which supports the definition of Nicomachean Ethics.
The book ends with Aristotle’s political theory, analyzing the relationship between different constitutions or governments. Shields sheds light on the controversies caused by Aristotle in the field of rhetoric and the arts, his take on poems, catharsis and his theory of tragedy.
While reading the book, this quote stood out to me, “‘Human beings began to do philosophy’, says Aristotle, ‘even as they do now, because of wonder, at first because they wondered about the strange things right in front of them, and later, advancing little by little, because they came to find greater things puzzling’” (Shields 43). According to me, it explains the reason behind philosophical thoughts formed in human beings very well. Even though none of us might be philosophers, we all have questions about the world and our own theories about what the answers might be. As Engineers, we are somewhat like philosophers, we are tasked with the responsibility of changing the world for the better and encouraged to ask questions like, ‘How do we fix this?’, ‘How do we improve this process?’, ‘How do we make the world more sustainable?’. Questions are encouraged in this field, where we are constantly trying to make an impact on this evolving world.
The beginning of the book mentions the bonds of friendship between Plato and Aristotle who are both prominent figures in Greek history. Aristotle was born in Macedonia, and always felt like a foreigner in Athens and faced consequences of being an alien resident. He had ventured out to Athens at a young age of seventeen to join Plato’s Academy which was regarded as a center for learning in historical Greece. After Plato’s death, Aristotle left Athens only to return years later to open an academy of his own, called Lyceum, that focused research on botany, biological taxonomy, music, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, cosmology, physics, the history of philosophy, the arts, psychology, ethics, rhetoric, government, and political theory (Shields 22). This book enlightened me about the vast knowledge that Greek history contains and how advanced they were in research.
Shields mentions five noteworthy activities of Aristotle that are still prominent in today’s world, metaphysics, drama and the arts, philosophy of mind, political theory and ethical theory (virtue ethics) (Shields 473). In this course, we are focusing on virtue ethics which has been highly influenced by Aristotle. Aristotle is said to be teleologically minded, where he focuses on the end to understand the importance of current events and decisions. It was beneficial to learn more about his life and his philosophy by reading this book.
Shields does a great job in translating Aristotle’s work into English accurately so that beginners like me can read and understand Aristotle and his reasoning. Shields encapsulates Aristotle’s views, key interpretations, his own supporting arguments and clarifies misunderstandings about a set number of topics in this book.
- Shields, Christopher John. Aristotle. Routledge, 2014.