Aristotle’s Discovery of the Human offers a fresh, illuminating, and accessible analysis of one of the Western philosophical tradition’s most important texts.
In Aristotle’s Discovery of the Human, noted political theorist Mary P. Nichols explores the ways in which Aristotle brings the gods and the divine into his “philosophizing about human affairs” in his Nicomachean Ethics. Her analysis shows that, for Aristotle, both piety and politics are central to a flourishing human life. Aristotle argues that piety provides us not only an awareness of our kinship to the divine, and hence elevates human life, but also an awareness of a divinity that we cannot entirely assimilate or fathom. Piety therefore supports a politics that strives for excellence at the same time that it checks excess through a recognition of human limitation.
Proceeding through each of the ten books of the Ethics, Nichols shows that this prequel to Aristotle’s Politics is as theoretical as it is practical. Its goal of improving political life and educating citizens and statesmen is inseparable from its pursuit of the truth about human beings and their relation to the divine. In the final chapter, which turns to contemporary political debate, Nichols’s suggestion of the possibility of supplementing and deepening liberalism on Aristotelian grounds is supported by the account of human nature, virtue, friendship, and community developed throughout her study of the Ethics.
1. Our Unfinished Humanity: A Divine Gift (Book 1)
2. Ethical Virtue: Nature, Character, and Choice (Books 2-3)
3. The Virtues of Living Together (Book 4)
4. A Shrine to the Graces: Justice and Tragedy (Book 5)
5. Intellectual Virtue: Prudence, Wisdom, and Philosophy (Book 6)
6. Human Strength and Divine Perfection (Book 7)
7. Friendship: Family, Political Community, and Philosophy (Books 8-9)
8. Divine Thoughts and Political Reform (Book 10)
Conclusion: Aristotelian Piety for a Liberal Politics
Mary P. Nichols is professor emerita in the Department of Political Science at Baylor University. She is the author of seven books, including Thucydides and the Pursuit of Freedom.
“This is an outstanding book that makes an innovative and sophisticated contribution to our understanding of the Nicomachean Ethics in particular and of Aristotle’s practical philosophy in general.” —Gerald M. Mara, author of The Civic Conversations of Thucydides and Plato
“Notable for clarity, good sense, and insight, Mary Nichols’s lovely book is a delight and a treasure.” —Harvey C. Mansfield, author of Manliness
"An impressive and accomplished study of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. . . .Nichols' book is among the very best contemporary studies of Aristotle. Essential." —Choice
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