on February 18, 2003
This book is an excellent introduction to Aristotle. It is so easy to make Aristotle confusing, but Ackrill writes very clearly, even on copmlicated and difficult matters. In only 155 pages he admirably achieves his aim in bringing to light the remarkable range and depth of Aristotle's thought.
The book will be of use to beginners as a first introduction to Aristotle's philosophy as well as to those already acquainted with Aristotle. For those thirsty for more discussion about Aristotle, there are suggestions for further readings in the book.
This might be the best short introduction to Aristotle around and I recommend it to anyone wanting to get to know Aristotle better.
on September 16, 2013
Modern physics and astronomy began as a reaction to Aristotle or, as J.L Ackrill points out, the "Aristotelians," who turned Aristotle's concepts into doctrines. I was looking for a book that did justice to Aristotle's actual reasoning process about nature as well as one that tied his ideas into his life work as a philosopher and early scientist. This book does all that. If you are looking strictly for a biography of Aristotle, there is an excellent one recently published: Aristotle: His Life and School by Carlo Natali. That book works carefully through the resources available to make a coherent and well-written account of Aristotle's life. However, there is virtually no mention of Aristotle's philosophy itself and no analysis of his ideas. On the other hand, after a career as a philosophy teacher, I am aware of many books that explain (or often try to explain) Aristotle's philosophy. But most of them never tie his ideas into an overall picture of what Aristotle was trying to achieve in his life and none do it as clearly as Ackrill does. This book fit well into what I was looking for. There is a short biography of Aristotle included in the first chapter but throughout the book Ackrill ties Aristotle's concepts and reasoning into the overall picture of what he was trying to achieve. Though often disagreeing with Aristotle, Ackrill has a real appreciation of his arguments and I found the book to be an easily readable source of information about the man who laid the groundwork for so much of Western life.
For those interested in the history of science, certain chapters are excellent: "The Analysis of Change: Matter and Form," "Explanation in Natural Science," The Philosophy of Science," and "Metaphysics." In these chapters you get a sharply defined idea of the genuine differences between Aristotle and the methodology and reasoning of Bacon, Galileo, Locke and Newton. The intellectual world has so many disparaging stereotypes of "Aristotle" and "Aristotelianism" as holding back the development of modern science that a book like this is a breath of fresh air. Aristotle had many false assumptions. But Ackrill does justice to the reasoning and insights of Aristotle while in the same chapters he discusses questions and inadequacies raised by his ideas. Some of these inadequacies have been solved by modern science and philosophy; others have not and the issues continue to be debated hotly. If Aristotle's ideas about nature are not viewed as a set of doctrines, it is much easier to see what he got right, what is debatable, and what is definitely wrong. If he is to be criticized it must be on his own terms and in the reasoning that he used to come to his conclusions about nature. That is exactly what Ackrill does.
The book is intended as an introduction to Aristotle and thus Ackrill picks out important parts of Aristotle's books for analysis. It is not intended to be a complete guide. Nevertheless, besides providing a clear background to Aristotle's scientific reasoning about nature, the book would make an excellent secondary source for students reading Aristotle's own works. Both the explanations Ackrill gives of critical sections of Aristotle's reasoning as well as the questions he raises against Aristotle would make useful starting points for further discussion and analysis. If I have any criticism of the book, it is in agreement with another reviewer about the chapter on Logic. Throughout the book Ackrill is extremely careful to remain as close to Aristotle's original text and meaning as possible. That works beautifully but in the chapter on Logic that same care leads to phrasing that could use more explaining for those who might be used to understanding logic, especially the syllogism, in modern structure. But that is a minor point. Given that it was not intended to be a complete guide to Aristotle's work, this book is one of the clearest explanations of Aristotle's reasoning about nature that you will find on the market. It also makes an excellent introduction to the man who first systematically started thinking about what the Greeks called "physis."
on October 2, 2004
J. L. Ackrill undertakes to examine the highlights of Aristotle's thought and use them to springboard into philosophical inquiry. Ackrill begins the book with a brief biography of Aristotle and an introduction to his thought. Ackrill aims to clear up misconceptions concerning Aristotle's methodology and to see that criticisms that are raised against Aristotle should actually be leveled against his followers who had different interests, and less ability, than Aristotle (81). The major themes of Aristotle that are presented in this book are the analysis of change, formal logic, the mind-body problem, metaphysics, ethics, and philosophical logic.
An Examination of Aristotelian Themes
The Analysis of Change. Ackrill begins illustrating Aristotle's thought on matter and change by referring to Aristotle's response to the problem raised by Parmeninedes and his school, the Eleatics; namely, "What is, is one and unchangeable"-making predication and distinctions in thought and communication impossible. Aristotle deals with this as an absurdity based on deliberate misunderstanding. He makes two simple points: he attacks the Eleatics' central thesis by showing their equivocation of the verb "to be." Aristotle deals with this problem by stating that all logical communication assumes the qualifications of its terms. Secondly, he attacks their unwarranted dismal of ascribing characteristics or saying that things cannot change (25). Ackrill then outlines the three important aspects of Aristotle's analysis of change-"x comes to be by y," "y comes to be from x," and "y comes into being" (27, 28).
Explanation of the Natural Sciences. In the previous chapter Ackrill used the analysis of change to show that in any changeable object matter and form can be distinguished. In the same way he shows that changes of life in nature depend upon its material make-up; namely, a thing in nature's behavior will be determined by what it is made of and how it is put together. This would seem to present a problem for Aristotle were it not for his asking the nature of the thing being changed (35). Ackrill then begins to examine Aristotle's inquiry into the nature of causation. Aristotle notes four types of causality for gaining knowledge, all of which may contribute to the "cause" of a thing. In doing so, Aristotle is seeking to ask the "why" of a thing, not just the "what." Ackrill first notes the material cause, that from which a constituent thing come to be. He then notes the formal cause; the form or mode is the cause. Ackrill locates the source of the change in the efficient cause. The end result of an action is its final cause (37).
Logic. Ackrill's chapter on logic is the most difficult to comprehend in the book. One does not suggest that Ackrill's material his factually wrong, nor that he does not understand Aristotelian logic, but he does not go to great lengths to communicate the material clearly. In speaking of Aristotelian logic Ackrill means formal logic manifested primarily in the syllogism (an argument containing two premises and a conclusion). This is where Ackrill begins to lose his audience. Traditional logic textbooks state, for example, "All men are mortal;" Ackrill, going upon the natural reading of the Greek, turns it around saying, "Mortal belongs to every man" (82). He proceeds to justify his unique formation of syllogistic reasoning by saying that it has certain advantages, although he never says what they are. He then spends five pages describing moods, forms, and figures-much to the confusion of the reader. He notes, correctly I believe, that syllogistic logic has its limits and would fall under heavy criticism by the philosophers John Locke and Immanuel Kant (80, 87).
Ironically, one of the most interesting chapters is the one on scientific analysis. ALthough Aristotle has been discredited in the realms of science, many scientists operate on the same basic epistemological framework that Aristotle does (ie, sensory perception is the root of knowledge). It makes one wonder if thirty years from now they too will be embarrassed, their dogmatic claims notwithstanding. Ackrill did a good job on this claim.
on January 16, 2016
In topics such as philosophy, you certainly want to achieve a kind of clarity that makes it accessible to both old and new readers. I purchased this book for a class called History of Philosophy in which we dove in into Aristotle the Philosopher. This book definitely provides the exact readings but it does mostly offer the translations necessary in order to make sense of it all. This book provides the context in which the different Ethics should be understood, in an essay format which I found appropriate. It was extremely helpful especially in decoding these texts of the past, but with these translations it proved to be an effective avenue. The diction and the phrasing of the words were direct and straightforward, which are two giant pillars in the explanation of philosophy.