Socializing is awkward at the moment, because I’m “between jobs,” as the euphemism goes, but then every time I’m meeting someone new —
“So what do you do?” they ask.
beg for jobs worry about money do sweet fuck-all read a lot,” I say.
“Cool, what are you reading now?” they ask.
“Uhm…….” I say. “Stuff.”
Because it feels unbearably pretentious to say “Aristotle,” and yet…!
Granted, I make no pretensions that I enjoy or understand it particularly well. The first section, Metaphysics, by which they mean philosophy, re: study of the truth and nature of things, was so abstract and so navel-gazy that I was hard-pressed to give a fuck. Does knowing whether/how something ~really~ exists make the least bit of difference? No? Okay, then can I move on to something that does?
Philosophy: I’m glad that somebody’s doing it, but it is so not my thing.
It also started making less and less sense as I kept wading further in, with the word “something” appearing four times per sentence on average, every noun an abstract one with nary a concrete example in sight, MY KINGDOM FOR A METAPHOR, until I was like, “Are these words even supposed to mean something?”
And that’s when a lightbulb went on, because yes, they do mean something, we’ve had this discussion before. What was throwing me was the prevalence of words like “form,” “substance,” “kind,” “essence,” and “attribute,” which in everyday speech encompass a number of different ideas, but in philosophical writing each have ONE, and ONLY ONE, very specific meaning. Much like my abortive foray into hard sci-fi, I was trying to read it without realizing that I didn’t know the language.
Moral of the story: don’t skip the introduction. Once I knew exactly what was meant by, for example, primary vs secondary substances, or substance vs quality, it started making more sense and I felt like less of an idiot.
Apparently (as I discovered in the introduction) there are two modern approaches to Aristotle’s work: historical and philosophical. The historical approach focuses on how Aristotle’s ideas were shaped by the culture that he lived in, and the effect that his writings had on later generations of thinkers. Most of his writings on natural science, for example, are of only historical interest, because they’re about concrete facts that have either been proven wrong or proven so right that they’re taken for granted these days. Philosophy, meanwhile, can’t exactly get proven right or wrong, so the navel-gazy questions about the nature of the soul that Aristotle put forth in the 300s BC are just as alive and debatable now as they were back then. The Signet edition takes the latter approach, all philosophy all the time, and I really wish it hadn’t.
I want to try this Aristotle experiment again, because there were nuggets here and there that sparked some excellent world-building ideas — in particular, how to incorporate magic into natural science — but I want (A) more commentary and (B) a historical approach.
Aristotelian koan of the day:
If animals have souls, how do you account for a worm that can be cut in half and continue living?
Blows my mind, man.