Morals and Law: The Growth of Aristotle's Legal Theory

Morals and Law: The Growth of Aristotle's Legal Theory

Morals and Law: The Growth of Aristotle's Legal Theory

Morals and Law: The Growth of Aristotle's Legal Theory

Excerpt

It has often been said that every man is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. And in recent generations, if we may judge by the literature, the Platonists have greatly outnumbered the Aristotelians. Praechter's book on the philosophy of the ancient world, a reference work giving an almost complete survey of this literature up to 1926, devotes three times as much space to Plato as to Aristotle.

In the Middle Ages, when Thomas Aquinas erected his imposing edifice of scholastic philosophy based on the teachings of the Stagirite, Aristotle was regarded as "the philosopher"; indeed, Dante called him the "master of those who know." But as time went on Aristotle's greatness was more and more overshadowed by the brilliance of Plato. Numerous writers stressed Aristotle's indebtedness to Plato, minimizing or ignoring the basic difference between Plato's brilliant but often contradictory formulations and Aristotle's penetrating elucidation of hitherto vague notions on morals and law.

It is characteristic of such an attitude that A. W. Benn, a historian of ancient philosophy still much quoted by modern writers, calls Plato "a practical, reforming, innovating genius" while for him Aristotle is merely "a more scientific, theoretical, conservative intellect."

Another school of thought which has sought to minimize the great differences between the moral, legal, and political theories of the two philosophers finds a characteristic spokesman in a recent writer, K. R. Popper, who classes Aristotle with Plato among the "enemies of the open society," quite forgetting that it was Aristotle who first denounced Plato's Utopia, that prototype of the closed society! And although so outstanding a philosopher as Bertrand Russell stresses the limitations of Plato's political theories, he goes on to speak of the "repulsiveness" of Aristotle Ethics and the "practical uselessness" of his Politics.

This hostile atmosphere results in large part from a "superhistoricism" which confuses the approach to Aristotle's moral, legal, and political theories. Professor Jaeger and his school, in . . .

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