A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

I am writing this ongoing blog series on Reflections to encourage Christians to read more vigorously and enrich their lives with Christian classics in such fields as theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Hopefully, a brief introduction to these Christian texts will motivate today’s believers to, as St. Augustine was called in his dramatic conversion to Christianity, “take up and read” (Latin: Tolle lege) these excellent books.

This week’s book, The Nicomachean Ethics by the great Greek philosopher Aristotle, is a classic of Western civilization in the field of philosophy and ethics. This work not only shaped ethical theory in Western philosophy but it also deeply influenced Christian moral thought—especially in the Middle Ages. Almost 2,400 years after it was written, Aristotle’s masterwork continues to challenge people who ask the big questions of life.

Why Is This Author Notable?

Aristotle (384–322 BC) is arguably the greatest philosopher ever. His influence on Western civilization is incalculable. A student at Plato’s Academy as a young man, Aristotle would go on to tutor Alexander the Great and write nearly 1,000 books and pamphlets. Most of his writings were lost in antiquity, but those that survived have been greatly influential is such fields as logic, rhetoric, metaphysics, ethics, psychology, and even natural history.

What Is This Book About?

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is one of the greatest treatments of moral theory in the history of Western philosophy. In contrast with his teacher Plato, who grounded virtue in the transcendent world of forms, Aristotle’s ethics tend to be more this-worldly and pragmatic.

Aristotle’s work is divided into ten “books,” with titles such as “The Object of Life,” “Justice,” “The Kinds of Friendship,” and “Pleasure and the Life of Happiness.” His understanding of the human condition and the pursuit of the good life can be summarized in these points:

  • Human action is directed toward a goal and Aristotle identifies that end as eudaemonia—best defined as “well-being” or the “good life” instead of “happiness.”
  • Eudaemonia is not a means to an end but rather an
    end in itself; an intrinsic good instead of an instrumental good.
  • The goal of life must be connected to humankind’s distinctive
    feature—reason—so eudaemonia is found in “contemplation.”
  • Whether an individual achieves the good life can only be determined at the end of life.
  • Aristotle distinguishes between intellectual and moral virtues—with intellectual virtues obtained by learning and moral virtues (justice, courage, liberality, temperance) by habit (character traits).
  • Aristotle’s approach can be called a “self-realization” theory of ethics.

Criticism of Aristotle’s ethics can be illustrated by asking two questions:

  1. How can one do virtuous acts without having a virtuous
    disposition?
  2. Are human beings as naturally rational as Aristotle thinks?

There is much for Christians to both agree and disagree with in Aristotle’s ethical masterpiece. One example includes Aristotle’s reflection on how eudaemonia is the pursuit of a lifetime:

“One swallow does not make a summer; neither does one day. Similarly neither can one day, or a brief space of time, make a man blessed and happy.”1

Why Is This Book Worth Reading?

The great medieval Catholic thinker Thomas Aquinas called Aristotle “The Philosopher.” And as one of the great models of the philosophical enterprise, Aristotle’s reflections on ethics are worthy of careful consideration. Despite some disagreement with Aristotle’s conclusions, Christians stand to learn a great deal from this intellectual giant.

Therefore, I encourage you to take up and read Nicomachean Ethics.

Reflections: Your Turn

Would it be better for human beings to seek “well-being” in life rather than happiness?

Resources

Mortimer J. Adler, Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy (NY: Touchstone, 1978).

Check out more from Dr. Hguh Ross @Reasons.org

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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