Item of the Day: Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics (1797)

Full Title: Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, Comprising his Practical Philosophy, Translated from the Greek. Illustrated by Introductions and Notes; The Critical History of his Life; and a New Analysis of his Speculative Works. By John Gillies. Vol. I. London: Printed for A. Strahan; and T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies, in the Strand, 1797.

 

PREFACE.

Aristotle is the most voluminous, and generally deemed the most obscure, of all the Greek writers of classic antiquity. His imperfect yet copious remains, which are now rather admired than read, and which were formerly much read and little understood, still naturally arrange themselves in the minds of those capable of digesting them, under their original form of an encyclopedy of science; in many parts of which, the author’s labours are, doubtless, excelled by those of modern philosophers; while in other parts, those of the most important nature, his intellectual exertions remain hitherto unrivalled. It seemed high time, therefore, to draw the line between those writings of the Stagirite which still merit the most serious attention of the modern reader, and those of which the perusal is superseded by more accurate and more complete information. This line I have preseumed to draw in the present work, by endeavouring to the best of my abilities to translate the former perspicuously and impressively, while I contented myself with giving a distinct and comrpehensive analysis of the latter.

The “Ethics to Nicomachus and the Politics” ought never to have been disjoined, since they are considered by Aristotle himself as forming essential parts of one and the same work; which, as it was the last and principal object of his studies, is of all his performances the longest, the best connected, and incomparably the most interesting. The two treatises combined, constitute what he calls his practical philosophy; an epithet to which, in comparison with other works of the same kind, they will be found peculiarly entitled. In the Ethics, the reader will see a full and satisfactory delineation of the moral nature of man, and of the discipline and exercise best adapted to its improvement. The Philosopher speaks with commanding authority to the heart and affections, through the irresistible conviction of the understanding. His morality is neither on the one hand too indulgent, nor on the other impracticable. His lessons are not cramped by the narrow, nor perverted by the wild, spirit of system; they are clear inductions, flowing naturally and spontaneously from a copious and pure source of well-digested experience.

According to the Stagirite, men are and always have been not only moral and social, but also political animals; in a great measure dependent for their happiness and perfection on the public institutions of their respective countries. The grand inquiry, therefore, is, what are the different arrangements that have been found under given circumstances, practically most conducive to these main and ultimate purposes? This question the Author endeavoured to answer in his “Politics,” by a careful examination of two hundred systems of legislation, many of which are not any where else described; and by proving how uniformly, even in political matters, the results of observation and experiment conspire with and confirm the deductions of an accurate and full theory. In this incomparable work, the reader will perceive “the genuine spirit of laws” deduced from the specific and unalterable distinctions of governments; and with a small effort of attention, may discern not only those discoveries in science, unjustly claimed by the vanity of modern writers, but many of those improvements in practice, erroneously ascribed to the fortunate events of time and chance in these latter and more enlightened ages. The same invaluable treatise disclose the pure and perennial spring of all legitimate authority; for in Aristotle’s “politics,” and HIS only, government is placed on such a natural and solid foundation, as leaves neither its origin incomprehensible, nor its stability precarious: and his conclusions, had they been well weighted, must have surmounted or suppressed those erroneous and absurd doctrines which long upheld despotism on the one hand, and those equally erroneous and still wilder suppositions of conventions and compacts, which have more recently armed popular fury on the other.

But our Author’s principles and doctrines will speak convincingly for themselves. The intention of this Preface is merely to explain the plan and object of the present performance; which, besides giving a translation of Aristotle’s practical philosophy, contains a new analysis of his speculative works. This addition appeared the more necessary, because the Stagirite’s intellectual system is so compactly built, and so solidly united, that its separate parts cannot be completely understood, unless the whole be clearly comprehended. The writing indeed here translated, stand more detached and more independent than almost any other; yet, without the aid of the prefixed “Analysis,” even the Ethics and Plitics would require frequent, almost perpetual elucidation. The reader, I feared, would be soon tired with the unconnected prolixity of notes; he will, I hope, be entertained by the Analyses even of those treatieses to which, independently of any substantial utility, his attention may be still allured by a liberal and commendable curiosity. . . .

 

 

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Filed under 1790's, Ancient Greece, Greek/Roman Translations, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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