Tuesday, April 4, 2006
First Aired: 
Tuesday, January 25, 2005

What Is It

Aristotle's philosophical doctrines have permeated and helped shape Western Culture in spheres as disparate as cosmology, biology, ethics, physics, politics, and logic. John and Ken take a tour of some of the greatest hits of one of the greatest philosophers of Antiquity with Chris Bobonich from Stanford University.

Listening Notes

Aristotle was Plato's greatest student. One of his big contributions to philosophy was the theory of the four kinds of causes. Ken introduces the guest, Chris Bobonich, professor at Stanford University. Aristotle's ideal state would be ruled by the virtuous citizens. John asks whether that is elitist and Bobonich concedes the point. Aristotle thinks that a state is an association for allowing each citizen to live well. What was Aristotle's notion of friendship? It was broader than our modern notion of friendship. It was closer to the idea of people helping each other be virtuous. 

Aristotle thought the state had a duty to morally improve its citizens. Modern political theorists do not agree. Bobonich argues that Aristotle's notion of a state's purpose is not completely alien to modern minds. Aristotle didn't think that the state should be barred from religion and censorship. 

Aristotle's ethical theory was centered on the question of what kind of life to live. It was not concerned with discovering what actions are right. Why does modern ethical theory differ so much from Aristotle's? Bobonich thinks a lot of the change is due to Judeo-Christian influence. Modern virtue ethics is a revival of Aristotelian ideas about ethics. Aristotle did not think it was possible to specify actions that are always right or always wrong. Aristotle thought that having the virtues was essential to living a happy life.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 04:35): Amy Standen interviews Richard Rubenstein, an Aristotle scholar, about Aristotle's historical influence on ancient Greek, ancient Arab, and medieval European civilizations. 
  • Conundrum (Seek to 47:25): Jose from Spain thinks we have a duty to prevent avoidable deaths. This provides an argument for gun control. In turn, it also provides an argument for restricting ownership of cars. Should cars be restricted like guns should be? Is this a good analogy?


Comments (4)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, March 27, 2021 -- 3:39 PM

As a lare comer to philosophy

As a lare comer to philosophy, I did not spend much time reading the ancients. Although I am sure they contributed much, I just did not have the time to devote to all of that. I have things to say; am saying them, which have, I hope, a more timely application. If all that does not work out, it will not be for lack of effort on my part. So, I primarily read philosophy from 1700 forward. I don't need to stand on the shoulders of any giants. Or any pygmies for that matter. Sure, I understand the constraints of curricula, and the need for some uniformity.. But I'm not in school; don't plan to be ever again, and would not return, even if it were free. Just don't have the time.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, May 17, 2021 -- 2:11 PM

The humor shot at Ken Taylor

The humor shot at Ken Taylor is now tasteless. Or worse. Maybe it ought to be erased. It is easy to revise history now, for much less legitimate reasons. Why do we not pay attention? I do not care about ancients who were proven wrong, in one way or another. I do care about people whose work was never done. Ancients were victims of THEIR limitations. Everyone is. But, let's put things in better perspective. i have asked whether anyone wants to pursue Taylor's project. It seems important to me.
If there is no one who would or could take up the gauntlet, that is one thing. If no one beleves it is worth pursuit, that is another. If no one has the desire to even make an effort, that is dead fish, after three days. And visitors. I am not a scholar. would not know where/how to begin. Someone does. With some knowledge of where he was coming from and an intuition of where he hoped to go, the project might be doable. So how about it, intrepid philosophers? Make Ken's memory proud.

Raj33's picture


Tuesday, May 25, 2021 -- 7:45 PM

Great article about

Great article about
very infirmative thanks for sharing

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, October 29, 2021 -- 3:32 PM

Yeah. I feel pretty

Yeah. I feel pretty 'infirmative' myself tonight. Thanks for the chuckle.

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