Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Green Aristotle

Just as tree rings can be used to age a tree, the accumulation of translations of Aristotle’sNicomachean Ethics dates the bookish man.  I, for example, have accumulated one translation for each of my five decades.  As we move along perhaps you will notice that I am not a seasoned Aristotle scholar, merely an interested student of the Ethics (my model is Joyce not Nussbaum).  When I informed my friend and DePaul University colleague Professor Will McNeill who has written extensively on Aristotle (especially in relation to Martin Heidegger’s work) that I was ruminating on a sustainability ethic based upon the Nicomachean Ethics he peered at me above his bifocals and thundered “Aristotle never used the term ‘sustainability’.”  McNeill is persnickety on such matters.   However, I am interested in this project for a few reasons, not least of which is to put my several translations to good use.  Sustainability is a newer term, but it is one that gathers up several perennial questions: how to endure in a recognizably inconstant world; how to sensibly discharge commitments to oneself and to others; how to be good.  There has been a tendency in recent presentations of sustainability solutions to resort heavily to innovations in the technical aspects of both the natural and social sciences rather than to examine how sustainability’s perennial themes have been taken up in disciplines that have examined them the longest.  We may have explored the conditions of the sustainable life for a quarter century, but philosophy has examined the good life for a couple of millennia.  Undoubtedly the humanities have secured a place in discussion of sustainability, and undoubtedly these disciplines and practices are influential, nevertheless humanists are a rarity in governmental sustainability committees, and this absence may be consequential.  Perhaps I am wrong; perhaps you’ll correct me.  

The full piece is here at

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