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Aristotle, by Francesco Hayez

Aristotelianism is a tradition of philosophy that takes its defining inspiration from the work of Aristotle. Sometimes contrasted by critics with the rationalism and idealism of Plato, Aristotelianism is understood by its proponents as critically developing Plato’s theories.[1] Most particularly, Aristotelianism brings Plato’s ideals down to Earth as goals and goods internal to natural species that are realized in activity. This is the characteristically Aristotelian idea of teleology.


Elaborated by ancient commentators upon Aristotle’s work, Aristotelianism began its modern history with its reception by Islamic, Jewish and Christian scholars. The most famous of these scholars are Averroes and St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas argued that the truth in Aristotle’s philosophy is complemented and completed by the truth revealed in the Christian tradition. The Roman Catholic Church has reasserted a Thomistic Aristotelianism since the 1870s.

After retreating under criticism from modern natural philosophers, the idea of teleology was transmitted through Wolff and Kant to Hegel, who applied it to history as a totality. Although this project was criticized by Trendelenburg and Brentano as un-Aristotelian, Hegel’s influence is now often said to be responsible for an important Aristotelian influence upon Marx.[2] Postmodernists, in contrast, reject Aristotelianism’s claim to reveal important theoretical truths.[3] In this, they follow Heidegger’s critique of Aristotle as the greatest source of the entire tradition of Western philosophy. Recent Aristotelian ethical and ‘practical’ philosophy, such as that of Gadamer and McDowell, is often premised upon a rejection of Aristotelianism’s traditional metaphysical or theoretical philosophy. From this viewpoint, the early modern tradition of political republicanism, which views the public sphere or State as constituted by its citizens’ virtuous activity, can appear thoroughly Aristotelian.

Contemporary Aristotelianism

The most famous contemporary Aristotelian philosopher is Alasdair MacIntyre. Especially famous for helping to revive virtue ethics in his book After Virtue, MacIntyre revises Aristotelianism with the argument that the highest temporal goods, which are internal to human beings, are actualized through participation in social practices. He opposes Aristotelianism to the managerial institutions of capitalism and its state, and to rival traditions—including the philosophies of Hume and Nietzsche—that reject its idea of essentially human goods and virtues and instead legitimate capitalism. Therefore, on MacIntyre’s account, Aristotelianism is not identical with Western philosophy as a whole; rather, it is "the best theory so far." Politically and socially, it has been characterized as a newly 'revolutionary Aristotelianism'. This may be contrasted with the more conventional, apolitical and effectively conservative uses of Aristotle by, for example, Gadamer and McDowell.[4]


  1. For contrasting examples of this, see Hans-Georg Gadamer, The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy (trans. P. Christopher Smith), Yale University Press, 1986, and Lloyd P. Gerson, Aristotle and Other Platonists, Cornell University Press, 2005.
  2. For example, George E. McCarthy (ed.), Marx and Aristotle: Nineteenth-Century German Social Theory and Classical Antiquity, Rowman & Littlefield, 1992.
  3. For example, Ted Sadler, Heidegger and Aristotle: The Question of Being, Athlone, 1996.
  4. Kelvin Knight, Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre, Polity Press, 2007.

Further reading

  • Chappell, Timothy (ed.), Values and Virtues: Aristotelianism in Contemporary Ethics, Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Ferrarin, Alfredo, Hegel and Aristotle, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Kenny, Anthony, Essays on the Aristotelian Tradition, Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Knight, Kelvin, Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre, Polity Press, 2007.
  • Lobkowicz, Nicholas, Theory and Practice: History of a Concept from Aristotle to Marx, University of Notre Dame Press, 1967.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, University of Notre Dame Press, 1984 / Duckworth, 1985 (2nd edn.).
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, University of Notre Dame Press / Duckworth, 1988.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition, University of Notre Dame Press / Duckworth, 1990.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair, ‘The Theses on Feuerbach: A Road Not Taken’, in Kelvin Knight (ed.), The MacIntyre Reader, University of Notre Dame Press / Polity Press, 1998.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues, Open Court / Duckworth, 1999.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair, ‘Natural Law as Subversive: The Case of Aquinas’ and ‘Rival Aristotles: 1. Aristotle Against Some Renaissance Aristotelians; 2. Aristotle Against Some Modern Aristotelians’, in MacIntyre, Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Riedel, Manfred (ed.), Rehabilitierung der praktischen Philosophie, Rombach, volume 1, 1972; volume 2, 1974.
  • Ritter, Joachim, Metaphysik und Politik: Studien zu Aristoteles und Hegel, Suhrkamp, 1977.
  • Schrenk, Lawrence P. (ed.), Aristotle in Late Antiquity, Catholic University of America Press, 1994.
  • Sharples, R. W. (ed.), Whose Aristotle? Whose Aristotelianism?, Ashgate, 2001.
  • Shute, Richard, On the History of the Process by Which the Aristotelian Writings Arrived at Their Present Form, Arno Press, 1976 (originally 1888).
  • Sorabji, Richard (ed.), Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence, Duckworth, 1990.
  • Stocks, John Leofric, Aristotelianism, Harrap, 1925.
  • Veatch, Henry B., Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics, Indiana University Press, 1962.

External links

  • Clayton, Edward. (2005) Political Philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [1]
  • Alasdair MacIntyre's Revolutionary Aristotelianism: Ethics, Resistance and Utopia conference, 29 June - 1 July 2007, London [2]

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