Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

AFTER THE recent spate of knife attacks, ministers are attempting to draw up working definitions of nice and nasty knives. But, given that a breadknife kills as effectively as a combatknife, they are getting into serious difficulties. Let Aristotle help them out.

When Aristotle wanted to explain (say) a feature of animal or plant life, the first question he asked was, `What is its telos?' Telos meant `end, purpose, function' and Aristotle's broad thesis was that nature does nothing in vain. So his first step was usually to try to explain what the purpose of the given feature was, on the grounds that it must have some purpose, or nature would not have permitted it.

Why do ducks have webbed feet? `So that, living in water where wings are useless, they may have feet that are useful for swimming. For they are like oars to oarsmen or fins to fish. Hence, if fish have their fins destroyed or ducks their webbing, they no longer swim. …

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