Aristotle Shrugged

"There are two kinds of mind in the world: the Platonic and the Aristotelian," goes an academic aphorism. To whatever degree this mental division may have been real, the Aristotelians seem to be practically extinct—the essayists in Educating for Virtue must, essentially, be Platonists. The key to that would be this insight from the foreword: "If there is a single thread that runs through these essays, it is the recognition of a universal order that transcends the flux of human life and gives meaning to it."

This book aside, it is difficult to recall any current criticism which offers a clear-cut alternative, either to idealism or materialism or logical positivism. The options appear to be between otherworldliness and attempts to rationalize reality. Failure to invite Aristotle into this discussion does seem a little willful, perhaps even unprofessional. After all, versions of his organon and other works were basic to education for centuries and still linger in the forms of language. Just because Plato was more palatable to the Arab scholars who were mentors of the early Christians, he was no less a pagan than Aristotle.

Exactly how radical his empiricism was, Aristotle spelled out in Categories. Departing from the idea of universal order (being, or substance), he declared that primary substance is the individual person, place, or thing; for, as he said, without the individuals,...

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