If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Morris, Tom.  If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business. New York: Holt, 1997.

Greatness is rooted in simplicity. Former Notre Dame philosophy professor Thomas Morris takes the insights from philosophy and applies them to the business world.

Goal of the book: catch the wave of wisdom at work and create the right environment “for ultimate motivation in the workplace” (Morris 9).

Aristotle’s insight: everyone in life is chasing after happiness, however it is defined.  Morris lists three basic views:

  1. Pleasure; this is unrealistic, since most people in the workplace don’t experience one long, uninterrupted wave of pleasure.
  2. Happiness as personal peace: this is a better view but it still runs short.  We do not grow in a state of pure equilibrium.
  3. Happiness as participation in something fulfilling. It is a joy of creating and participating.

The Four Dimensions of Human Experience

  1. Intellectual (Truth)
  2. Aesthetic (Beauty)
  3. Moral (Goodness)
  4. Spiritual (Unity)

Key Point: each dimension corresponds to a foundation of human excellence ().


“Truth is that mapping of reality that corresponds to the way things are” (25). Knowledge, obviously, is vital to business.   

Truth implies, pace materialism, that men have minds.  If men have minds, then we can’t organize the workplace in such a way to think they are mindless machines.

Knowledge might be power, but people draw the wrong inference.  It is power, but this power only expands when knowledge is shared (36).  When you benefit others, you benefit the network in which you are already embedded.


Beauty might not seem relevant to the bottom line, but aesthetics is usually tied with job performance and satisfaction. In any case, the reverse is true.  Soul-killing environments usually affect performance.  Think of the Soviet Union.  Or in a slightly more humane way, think of Ron Swanson’s office in Parks and Recreation.  He has visitors sit in a chair in front of a mounted shotgun.

Beauty isn’t something as simplistic as “being pretty.” Rather, beauty provides the structure and soil for growth and flourishing.  This leads to Aristotle’s observation that the polis (or business) is a collaboration or partnership for living well (103).


Goodness and ethics are about creating strength for making proper decisions (120). If ethics were nothing but rules, we’d need infinitely more rules (145).  Therefore, ethics needs virtue, or “that deep wellspring of ethical tendency that joins the wisdom to create in us….moral character” (151).

Morris then provides advice on how to create a social context in which virtue flourishes:

  1. Moral mentors: Network with sages.  You can’t just show a new employee the ropes.  He might just hang himself. A good mentor cultivates good decision-makers.
  2. The importance of small details: Take care in little things. Whenever you make a decision, you are always becoming.
  3. Moral imagination: Cultivate a perceptive imagination.   Great art (usually literature) sparks our “imaginative abilities to perceive the ethical implications of what we are doing” (167).


His final section on unity weaves the three transcendentals together.


This is one of those few books that communicate rare, spiritual power. It is the best book on applied ethics I have ever read.


Muller notes on Divine Will, part 2; Aristotle and Aquinas


Aristotle and Aquinas

Main idea: Aristotle never set aside the principle of bivalence but instead presumed a distinction between “definitely true” and “indefinitely true” propositions (88).  A human being can have opposing potencies, and even when one is actualized, the contrary potency doesn’t disappear but remains as a potency.

The Medieval Reception

It isn’t simply “either we are free or God knows everything.”  Rather, as Augustine pointed out, there is an “order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God” (Civ. Dei 5.9).


Let’s take the statement, what will be tomorrow is necessary.  The medievals understood this statement to be mean: “Whatever is, when it is, cannot be in the same moment other than what it is” (Muller 107). To anticipate later discussions, while the future may not be “up for grabs” from God’s point of view, it is nevertheless contingent.

There is also a distinction between necessity and certainty.  Necessity is lodged in the thing known and certainty in the knower.


Aquinas held that not all effects have necessary causes.  Aquinas maintained free choice by saying rational beings have the potency to more than one effect.  We have a simultaneity of potencies (SCG III.72).

Aquinas and Divine Power.

Muller then discusses the standard distinction of absolute vs. ordained power. This undergirds how God is said to relate to the world, and the world order itself is contingent result of God’s free willing (Muller 121).

Since this created order is contingent, “God has created contingent agents that act or cause effects contingently” (123).  As a result, we have the potency to do otherwise.  We should also point out the language of “determined” in the medievals.  They weren’t thinking about the determinism vs. libertarianism debate.  Determined simply meant the “terminus whether a quo or ad quem of a causal sequence has been identified” (130).

Therefore, per a future contingent, it is “undetermined” not in the sense that God is not aware of it, but that it doesn’t have a determinate cause.  God knows future contingents as “hypothetically necessary, as the effects of contingent causes” (131).

On Beginning to Read Philosophy Sources

This is a fly-over view of approaching philosophy.  It is overly simplistic.  On the other hand, it is a useful handout in seeing different philosophical movements.  The first part are basic texts that every educated Westerner must read.  The second are snapshots from the Russian sociologist Aleksandr Dugin.  I do not endorse Dugin’s larger projects, but he does a good job reading postmodern philosophy.

Key Texts

Plato.  I recommend the Great Dialogues translated by Rouse.  It gives you the Republic plus a few others.  Being is now an Idea. It is that which is placed before man.  Ideas are always across from man.  There is a “gap.” Man is always “before” (across) the ideas.  Thus Heidegger’s conclusion: man (being) is no longer in the world, but across from it.  Man is pre-sented before the world, which means Ideas have to be re-presented to him. Truth is now correspondence between Idea and Object.

Aristotle, Categories/Organon.  It’s a good intro to his metaphysics without getting bogged down.  And I would study Aristotle’s table of being in metaphysics.  It gives you the gist of it.

Augustine, Confessions.  Pay attention to chapters 8, 10-12.

Thomas Aquinas.  I don’t really know where you should start.  It’s too much of a cliche to just begin with the 5 Proofs, but that’s also probably the easiest place to start.

Descartes.  Meditations is a fairly straightforward read. Everything is is re-presented before the Subject.  Descartes calls these beings objects (115). A subject must have an object to stand before it

Locke.  At least read Book IV of his Human Understanding.  It’s actually funny in parts.

Berkeley.  Despite his apparently bizarre philosophy, he is a good writer.

Hume. Dialogues on Natural Religion.

Hegel.  This is a tough one.  I actually don’t think Philosophy of History is all that hard.  Spend some time with a good intro to Hegel and you will be alright.

Marx. Early Philosophical Writings.  Marx stays true to the metaphysical topography. He has a subject (society, class) and an object (matter, product, thing).  Marx correctly noted that Machenschaft created alienation. His solution is to use techne (objects) to overcome the alienation.

Nietzsche.  Most people like Zarathustra.  I was underwhelmed.  I liked Genealogy of Morals, though.

Heidegger.  Probably don’t start with Being and Time.  My personal favorite is the Harper Perennial edition of his Major Works, which gives you snippets from Being and Time, along with his better essays.

Postmodernism and Beyond (From Dugin, see above link)

Starting with Plato’s forms, philosophical man has had a leitmotif, often dual in structure, to explain reality.



Visions of Order (Richard Weaver)

Weaver, Richard M. Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time.  Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, repring 1995.

Weaver’s thesis is the inner order of the soul reflects the outer order of society.  Values are teleological and hierarchically ordered. All cultures have a center, and this center produces an ordered hierarchy (Weaver 12). This is inevitable, for were it not for this center, which by definition discriminates, cultures would disintegrate.  Indeed, “The inner organizations of a structured society act as struts and braces and enable it to withstand a blow which would shatter the other” (18).

Weaver draws upon Aristotle’s notion of entelechy, a binding and intentionality that things have.  A culture can make room for the democratic element, but a pure democratic element can never save a culture.  Specifically, democracy cannot integrate subcultures as quantitative units (14). When “democracy fills the entire horizon,” it produces a hatred for difference.

Definition of culture: an exclusive self-defining creation that defines society’s imaginative life. It does not express itself in equality but in a common participation from “different levels and through different vocations” (18). Cultures have styles, and both must have stability.  “True style displays itself in elaboration, rhythm, and distance…rhythm is a marking of beginnings and endings.” — “Distance is what preserves us from the vulgarity of immediacy” (19).

His chapter “Status and Function” demonstrates the difference between a culture of the forms and order versus one of “the now.” “The status of a thing is its attained nature and quality” (24). In society this manifests itself in aristocracy, either official or unofficial.  Aristocracies must perform a function, otherwise they degenerate.

Aristocracies are good but they can crystallize into something terrible.  We see this in the caste system of India and the slave system of the Old South. This happens when a culture divinizes its own creations.

Weaver’s most important chapter is his one of Total War.  Total War is when democracy is applied to war. Old Man, chivalrous man, knew there were distinctions in society, which meant some people were off limits.  Democracy by definition flattens all distinctions–no one should be off limits.

Total War isn’t just the negation of the just war principle; it defeats the whole point of going to war. If you go to war, then you must have a rationale for war.  There is a decision involved, which means an arbitration. Total war reverses this. Victory was already had from the beginning. You just have to apply it to the other side.

Weaver completely refutes the line that total war ends up saving more lives.  Maybe it does in some cases, but that negates the whole point. You don’t go to war to save lives, otherwise there wouldn’t be any war!

Total war also negates civilization.  In order for civilization to arise, there must be restraints in society. These allow society to flourish.  Total war removes all these restraints, and so removes the basis for civilization.

Weaver’s prose, as always, is near-perfect.  That makes the book a difficult read at times, as he overwhelms you with perfect prose and close logic.  Still, this was a delightful and stirring read.

Natural Right and History (Leo Strauss)


Strauss, Leo. Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957.

This is a pivotal book by a world-class intellect.  Strauss discusses the genealogy of “rights” talk from the ancients to the present day.  He doesn’t really offer a program on how to move forward, but that’s not really his point, either.  Before we can work on human rights today, we need to know what the phrase means.

The difficulty in speaking of “natural right” is that we moderns are so far removed from the ancients.  They knew man had a telos. Nature is connected to the universe’s natural end (Strauss 7).

Strauss identifies the two main opponents of natural law: positivism (aka, university sociology departments) and historicism.  The former assumes the fact/value dichotomy, which doesn’t allow us to make value judgments on a particular society. The upshot is you can’t say a particular society is embodying the Good.  In fact, you can’t say good at all. That distinction breaks down, though. Even if a Weberian refuses to make a value distinction, he is working within his own framework of values and he filters the evidence through those values.

The Story of Natural Right

Prephilosophical man identified the pleasant with the good (83).  The right way is our custom. Philosophy begins when we doubt this ancestral code. Applied more broadly, this creates problems: if many communities’ ancestral codes are different, which one is right?  This forces us to search for the Good.

The ancient philosophers generally began to see that “nature” is the “actualization of a human possibility which …is trans-historical, trans-social, trans-moral, and trans-religious” (89).

Classic Natural Right

All knowledge presupposes a horizon (125). This pushes us to a view of the whole, which means we cannot rest with any single community code. To help them in their quest, the classics employed the term Politeia. It means constitution, but it means more than simply a legal code. “It is the factual distribution of power within the community” (136). It is a way of life determined by a form of government.

Here is where it gets interesting.  The Politeia should not act unjustly. This means it can’t engage in things like deception during war.  Therefore, we need a world-state to outlaw war! Seems rather extreme. In any case, the solution “to the problems of justice must transcend the limits of political life” (Strauss 151).

Variations of Natural Right

Aristotle: the relation of virtue to human nature is like that of act and potency (145; Ethics 1097b24).

Platonic: giving to everyone what is due to him according to nature (Republic 331c1-332c4).

Thomistic: principles of the moral law.  Points to man’s moral and intellectual ends.

Modern Natural Right

Hobbes: teleology is impossible. We do not begin with the nature of man, but in prima naturae (180).  Everyone is guided by the fear of death. The state, therefore, is not to safeguard virtue but simply protect our negative rights. 

Strauss then offers a penetrating critique of Hobbes.  Hobbes built his philosophy on the extreme cases, when the social fabric has broken down. We fear the violent death.  Yet Hobbes also said that the fear of violent death is sometimes overridden by heroism, virtue, charity, etc. Therefore, his principle isn’t universally valid.  In fact, it isn’t valid in the extreme case at all. Therefore, it is useless (196). Remember that scene in Batman where the Joker plants bombs on the ships to see who will blow it up first?  That scene is a complete refutation of Hobbes.

The Problems with Modern Rights

Burke pointed out that participation in political power “does not belong to the rights of man, because men have a right to good government, and there is no necessary connection between good government and government by the many.”  If anything, the rights of men point to a natural aristocracy (298).

That’s good.  Unfortunately, Burke held to the British sensualist view of art, which specifically denied a connection between intellectual beauty (e.g., mathematical proportions) and sensible beauty (312).  The result is an emancipation of sentiment from reason

Recovering Natural Right

Man’s true freedom requires “ends of a certain kind,” which must be “anchored in ultimate values” (44).

The Nature of Law (Eric Voegelin)

Image result for eric voegelin nature of law

Voegelin, Eric. The Nature of Law and Other Legal Writings. Collected Works of Eric Voegelin vol. 27. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.


What is the essence of law? Asking that question raises a host of innumerable and perhaps unsolvable problems.  Is law an aggregate of rules or is it embodied in complex structures? If we say there are essential aspects of law, as our question implies, does that mean there are unessential parts of the law?  That doesn’t seem right.

Voegelin’s tentative answer is that the essence of law emerges from a tension between concrete orders on one hand and the underlying structure on the other.  These latter structures appear in human history as the Egyptian maat, the Greek nomos/logos, Israelite revelation, Chinese Tao, etc. (Of course, Voegelin is not implying that the above structures are equally valid or interchangeable, only that there are such structures that aren’t reducible to space and time).

If on the other hand, like a positivist, we say that law is simply an aggregate of rules, then the following problems ensue.  Does the legal order’s essence change if older rules are invalidated by new ones (Voegelin 13)? This means that every time Congress passes a new law, the entire legal order changes.  This doesn’t seem right, either. This is the historic problem of maintaining identity in time.

It gets worse, though.  We have Zeno’s problem. The positivist may respond: “They aren’t an aggregate of rules but rather links in a chain.”  There is something to this, but there is also a problem. Law also has a time-element. In this case, “every aggregate of rules in the series called ‘legal order’ belongs to a past in which it is no longer valid and to a future which does not yet exist. Law has disappeared” (17).

Zeno’s paradox is valid if we try to view motion as a thing. In this case, the legal act is a static point on a line. The problem is that a realm of meanings has no time dimension.  The meanings may refer to objects in time, but they themselves aren’t in time (18).


Voegelin now explores aspects of a valid social order. Ancient man saw law as the substance of order (25). The substance pervades the whole of society. This lasting structure of order is “the structure of human existence in society” (40).

Man’s existence is a participation in this order of being: God, world, society (43).  There is a tension in this order of being between it and the standard. Let’s say the standard is something like the Greek Logos or the Israelite Revelation.  Our existence in society, on the other hand, exhibits flaws.

Rules/laws are embedded in the context of a law-making process, which itself is embedded in a larger order.  In this tension we find the “Ought,” that which forces our obedience to a law (48-49).

Plato and Aristotle were aware that their schemes would have been seen as utopian.  That’s not the point. Social order was decaying. Had they tried to implement their ideas, there would have been a bloodbath. They weren’t revolutionaries, after all.   Rather, they inquired into the true order of society–the Logos–the living reality of the well-ordered soul of the philosopher.

Eric Voegelin (Plato and Aristotle)

Voegelin’s account of Plato differs from the usual textbook accounts in that he goes beyond the facile claim that “Plato believed in the realm of Forms” to the reality that the soul manifests the idea through mythological symbols. Yes, Plato did believe in the realm of Forms, but that doesn’t say a whole lot. The more interesting problem is tying Plato’s use of forms to his use of myth.

And that’s what Voegelin does. He gives a remarkably lucid and sophisticated organization of Plato’s key works, especially The Republic, Timeaus, and Laws. Regarding the Republic he notes the primarily line of meaning in Plato’s work is between ascent and descent: Plato descends to speak with his friends and only with difficulty can he ascend to the order of the soul.

Which brings us to a key point: The Idea. The soul is the idea of the form of the cosmos instantiated in lesser souls. The idea is Plato’s reality and is embodied in the historically existing polis (272). The “Spirit” must manifest itself in the “visible, finite form of an organized society” (281; despite his hostility to Hegel Voegelin is starting to sound a lot like Hegel).

The Republic

“The Way Up and the way Down”

The drama begins with a movement down into the city, which movement symbolizes the “depth and descent” into the soul (107).

“The Resistance to Corrupt Society”

Plato wants to show us not so much the philosophy of right order, but the light that truth shines upon the struggle.

  1. Pairs of Concepts:
    1. Justice and Vice
    2. Justice and Much-Doing
    3. Alethia and pseudos
      1. A polis is in order when it is ruled by men with well-ordered souls.
  2. The Sophistic doxa of Justice
    1. The primary problem is not an error about justice, but a “shift of what we called ‘the accent of reality’ under social pressure” (133).

The Creation of Order

  1. The Zetema: conceptual illumination of the way up from the depth of existence (137).
    1. These symbols have “variegated structures” that correspond to the stage of clarification.

      Man = polis
      Daemon = ruler
      Paradigm of life = politea
  2. The Foundation Play
  3. The Cognitive Inquiry
    1. A polis always has a typical form
    2. “There is no knowledge of order in the soul except through the zetema in which the soul discovers it by growing into it” (149).
      1. Politea: the animating psyche in the polis
  4. The Poleogony: a mythological parable about the development of the polis
    1. “The polis has a genesis” (151).
    2. Attempt to make relations of forces in the psyche intelligible through a story of their genesis.
  5. Models of Soul and Society (163).

Myth for Plato draws from and upon the powers of unconsciousness. The symbols of the myth are not meant to be taken as wooden epistemological objects (241). They are the reality “broken in the medium of consciousness” (246).

Aristotle appears to get short shrift in this volume, but in many ways Voegelin handles Aristotle more lucidly than he does Plato–and Aristotle isn’t quite the deep thinker that Plato is. This book is very good but I got the impression that Voegelin deliberately “floated around” getting to the heart of the forms. Further, in some areas he sounds a lot like Hegel. That’s not a criticism; just an observation that should come into play when one reads Voegelin’s famous essay on Hegel the Sorcerer.

So is Plato a totalitarian? Not exactly, since his “totalitarian” views in the Republic probably never could come to fruition given his other view that only few men could “contain the Idea.”

Longer Outline


In the Timeaus Plato needs a new myth.  Myth for Plato draws from and upon the powers of unconsciousness.

  1. The  Egyptian Myth; the myth of nature has cosmic rhythms (228).  
    1. Socrates’ act of transmission symbolizes “the dimension of the unconscious in depth by tracing the myth through the levels of the collective soul of the people” (232).  
  2. The Plan of the Dialogues
  3. The Philosophy of the Myth
    1. In Timeaus man’s “psyche” has reached “critical consciousness of the methods by which it symbolizes its own experiences” (237).
    2. The Timeaus projects the soul on the larger canvas of the cosmos.
    3. The symbols of the myth are not meant to be taken as wooden epistemological objects (241).
    4. They are the reality “broken in the medium of consciousness” (246).  
  4. The Myth of the myth in Timeaus
    1. The descent to Egypt symbolizes the descent of the Soul.
    2. Cosmos belongs to realm of becoming yet it participates in Being.
    3. Eternal being is “embedded” in the cosmos.
      1. Psyche is the intermediate realm between disembodied form and shapeless matter.
  5. The Myth of the Incarnation in the Timeaus
    1. Being does not precede becoming in time.  It is eternally present (254).
    2. Substratum: has no qualities of its own.  Plato calls it “space” (chora). It is a female principle.
      1. Creation, therefore, is the imposition of form on space.
      2. The Demiurge corresponds to the Royal Ruler.
  6. The Critias
    1. Chaos has now become co-eternal with the Idea.
    2. “Atlantis is the component of becoming in historical order, so that the fall of Atlantis is the fall of Athens from true Being” (262).
      1. The dream of Utopia is black magic.


The chains of thought in Plato’s system are dependent on key symbols (270).

Nomos: deeply embedded in the myth of nature; includes, festivals, rites, and cosmic order. It is the “pull of the golden cord” (289).

Idea: the idea is Plato’s reality and is embodied in the historically existing polis (272).  The “Spirit” must manifest itself in the “visible, finite form of an organized society” (281; Voegelin is starting to sound a lot like Hegel).

Key Symbols

Sun motif: symbol of the turning points in cosmic rhythm.

Symbolism “contracts” throughout Plato’s dialogue.  The contraction is the Idea’s embodiment in the polis.

Nous: derives from nomoi.  The movement of the cycles has come to an end.

Plato contrasts noble and vile, not rulers and ruled (303).

Book 1 of Richard Hooker’s Laws

Image result for richard hooker laws

Divine Law and Human Nature: Book I of Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization

by Richard Hooker, W. Bradford Littlejohn  (Editor)Brian Marr (Editor)Brad Belschner (Editor)

Purpose for writing: Hooker sought to vindicate “the Laws of the Church which have guided us for so many years….which are now being called into question” (Hooker 2).  In doing so Hooker gives us a brief defense of “natural law,” noting that even “The very being of God is a sort of law to His working, for the perfection that God is, gives perfection to what he does” (5).

Following Aristotle, Hooker notes that God “works towards a certain end and by a certain law which constrains the effects of his power” (7). Hooker understands that “natural law” can be a slippery term.  Does it mean “rational principles” or “Newton’s physics” or something else? Therefore, he distinguishes the various laws that guide God’s creation. His main focus is on the “rational being [who] with a free will [is a] voluntary agent” (11-12).

His section on angelic law is somewhat unique in natural law treatments.  He notes, correctly I think, that when we consider them “corporately, their law makes them an army, some in rank and degree above others” (19).  Demons, moreover, “were dispersed, some in the air, some on the earth, some under the water, some among the minerals, dens, and caves under the earth” (20).

Concerning rational agents, Hooker notes that “Choice, however, means that whatever we do, we also could have left undone” and that the “two fountains of human action are knowledge and will, and when the will tends toward a particular end, we call it choice” (29).  Hooker is clearly in line with the intellectualist tradition in that the mind guides the rest of the faculties (38).

Concerning human and divine laws, he makes the distinction between primary and secondary laws.  A primary law deals with our original nature, the latter with our depraved nature The former includes embassies, good trade, etc.  The latter concerns war (61).

A “good” is that which can make our nature more perfect (64).

Concerning Scripture, Hooker responds to the papist objection “Well how do you know from Scripture which books are Scripture?”   He begins by noting that every field of study requires the prior knowledge of some things outside the field of study and takes for granted many things” (81).   When Scripture says “all things necessary for salvation,” it cannot “be construed to mean all things absolutely, but all things of a certain kind, such as all things we could not know by our natural reason.  Scripture does indeed contain all these things. However, it also presupposes that we first know and are persuaded of certain rational first principles, and building on that, Scripture teaches us the rest” (80-81).  And that is the purpose of natural law.

Aristotle: Nichomachean Ethics

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There are too many classic discussions in this book for it to be ignored.  Especially in the chaos of the Social Justice movement, any rigorous discussion of justice is to be welcomed.  That’s not to say that all of Aristotle’s conclusions are good, but the discussion itself is excellent.

There is Aristotle’s famous line that all human activity aims at some end.  This leads us to ask, “What is the good?” He correctly rebuts Plato’s idea that Knowing the Good makes me better at what I am doing.   The one simply doesn’t follow the other.

Specifically, human good is the function of the soul in accordance with virtue.  Further, a good life will aim at happiness (eudamion).  Happiness is a good life and good actions.

Choosing the mean

The good action will be the mean between two extremes.   The problem with this, as Aristotle seems aware, is that it doesn’t apply to some actions.   Aristotle says a just man acts justly. Okay, that tells me how he acts; it doesn’t tell me what justice is.

Book I

The good is that at which all things aim.  The supreme good is eudaimion (unhappily–sorry for the pun–translated as “happiness”).  Happiness is living well and doing well (1095a). But where is happiness located? Not in the Forms, contra Plato, but in an activity of the soul.

Book 2

Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit.  Contra the later Christian tradition, virtues do not arise by nature in us (1103a).  Virtues are modes of choice located in the intermediate between two extremes. The intermediate is between excess and defect.

Book 3

A compulsory action is when the cause of the action is external and the agent contributes nothing.  Anything that is done by reason of ignorance is not voluntary. A voluntary action is when the moving principle is within the agent.

Temperance is a mean with regard to pleasures. It only applies to the irrational (bodily) parts.

Book 4

Liberality and Wealth

Definition of wealth: “all the things whose value is measured by money” (1119 b25).

Justice is complete virtue in relation to others.   There is general and particular justice. Particular justice concerns transactions.  It is an intermediate that implies equality between two. Therefore, justice has four terms: the two people and the two objects.  Therefore, the just is a species of the proportionate. As it is an equality of ratios, it involves four terms (1131 a30).

Rectifying justice: distributes common possessions in proportion. The goal is to restore equality.  What does “equal” mean? It is the intermediate between greater and lesser (1132 a15). Imagine a dotted line of unequal parts.  The judge takes away that which makes them unequal.

Money: there must be reciprocity in exchange (1133 a30).  Money acts as a measure.

Aristotle says that there must be a proportional reciprocity in a just exchange.  But this begs the question: who would knowingly enter into an unjust exchange? In which case, all that can be condemned is simply fraud.

Murray Rothbard summarizes the issues in Book 5:

Aristotle’s famous discussion of reciprocity in exchange in Book V of his Nichomachean Ethics is a prime example of descent into gibberish. Aristotle talks of a builder exchanging a house for the shoes produced by a shoemaker. He then writes: ‘The number of shoes exchanged for a house must therefore correspond to the ratio of builder to shoemaker. For if this be not so, there will be no exchange and no intercourse’. Eh? How can there possibly be a ratio of ‘builder’ to ‘shoemaker’? Much less an equating of that ratio to shoes/houses? In what units can men like builders and shoemakers be expressed?

The correct answer is that there is no meaning, and that this particular exercise should be dismissed as an unfortunate example of Pythagorean quantophrenia (Rothbard, Austrian Perspective on Economic History Before Adam Smith, 17).

Aristotle argues that there must be an equal ratio between the two objects in the exchange, but this is impossible to determine with dissimilar objects.  It is precisely because they are dissimilar that persons A and B do not view them as equal.

Book 8

His take on friendship is interesting.  It was later perfected by the Christian doctrine of koinonia.

Aristotle: Physics (Review)


While I am normally hostile to Hellenism, I’ll give Aristotle credit on this point: he was a fairly good communicator.  He also set the stage for later scholastic thought (for better or worse).

We do not know a thing until we know its first principles (184 a10).  

Substance is not a predicate.  An attribute is that which belongs to the subject (186 b20).

“Being itself.”  Substance could mean:

  • Form
  • Matter
  • Complex of both

“The form is indeed the nature rather than the matter”   

  • form:  actuality
  • matter:  potentiality .

Cause:  that out of which a thing comes to be 

  • Formal
  • Material
  • Final: first in intention; last in operation.  

Book III

Nature–defined as the principle of motion and change.  Motion is the fulfilment of what exists potentially (201 a10). It appears he rejects the idea of a transcendent infinite because there is “no such sensible body” (205 b30).

Container notion of space

Dealing with the infinite, Aristotle notes “Nothing is complete which has no end” (207 a14). This rules out Christian theism, for God has no limit yet he is complete and perfect. Aristotle’s discussion on potential infinity, while since surpassed by Cantors, is important for his own time.  Further, the infinite, such as it is, is contained (24).

What is a container?  The form is that which contains. A place is the boundary between the body and the container (211 b20). This contact creates an organic union “when both become actually one” (213 a9).  This is the false view that Thomas Torrance so devastatingly refuted.

Time is a measure of motion and of being moved (221a). Aristotle says that all motion takes place “during a time” (227 b25).  Just curious: is there motion in heaven? Heaven’s outside of time. What would it be like to exist in a realm that has neither motion nor time?  Contrast that with the Hebrew prophets. I think that is what Aristotle is saying. He notes that “it is impossible for a thing to undergo a finite motion in an infinite time, since time and motion are correlative.  In other words, the motion will “max out” the time. Aristotle just rejected the Christian view of heaven, whether biblical or even Platonic (237 b25).

Key argument: everything that is in motion must be moved by something else (242 a17). You can see the later arguments for the existence of God.  Something unmoved must already be in place to get the motion going. Book VIII has his famous line of the unmoved mover (260 a19). While I can grant Aristotle’s point that there is an eternal existent, we have no reason to think that it (no need to use personal pronouns) cares for you or would bother to reveal itself by speaking.