CONFIDENTIAL: Referee Report for Mr. Aristotle, ‘Nicomachean Ethics’

I started reading this MS submission to the Academy of Athens press with high hopes. I know and very much admire the work of the author’s (A.) former supervisor and was expecting something in a similar vein. I’m afraid to say I was very disappointed. The topic, after all, is a good one. It is nice to see an attempt to flesh out some kind of account of human flourishing.

However, the format of the MS is not at all what your readers would expect. There is no drama or characterisation; indeed, I had the impression at times that some kind of conversational or dialectical background was being assumed but this is not at all marked in the text. In short, the constant direct mode of address was a chore. No one will enjoy having this read to them. What is more, the style is woeful. I hear that A. is able to write fluid and engaging prose when he wishes, but that was sadly not in evidence here. Sentences are concise to the point of obscurity. Topics are introduced only to be sketchily addressed and then left aside with a careless, ‘Well, that’s enough about X’. Very few clear and novel conclusions are reached.

I am afraid that I cannot recommend publication.

Some specific grumbles.

I am concerned that on the very first page A. presents a school-boy howler of a fallacy. A. infers from the claim that ‘All Xs aim at some Y’ that ‘There is some Y at which all Xs aim’. A. is, I am told, thought to be something of a logician. Oh dear.

The central sections of the MS seem to have been recycled from a previous project. (At least, they are very familiar and I think I may have refereed an earlier submission in which they appear.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I did not think they were well integrated into the new work. There are some infrequent references to previous scholars’ work (Solon, Socrates, Speusippus, Eudoxus) but the treatment offered is both at times overly generous (Is it really necessary to try to find some truth in Socrates’ outrageous denial of akrasia? Since the discovering of parts of the soul we have been able to move on from such silliness) and also excessively critical at others.

A. seems to be preoccupied with various topics without making clear their position in the whole project. Some 20% of the work is devoted to the analysis of friendship. This is a worthwhile topic but the coverage seemed rather disproportionate to me. What is more, the central notion of justice does appear but seems to me not to fit A.’s own preferred analysis of a character virtue.

Only at the very end does A. turn to address the essential topic of becoming like the divine. I had almost given up on this being mentioned at all and I think many readers will have given up long before the final pages. What is there is not particularly novel and I cannot shake the suspicion that A. recognises the importance of this topic but hasn’t succeeded in integrating it into his central analysis. So much worse for the preceding account of the good life, it seems to me. A major rethink is clearly in order.

In brief, this may well be a promising young scholar but he seems to have lost his way a little. Perhaps less time dissecting insects would have helped him to cultivate a proper understanding of the central ethical importance of intelligible reality.

This is a cross-posted contribution from Kenodoxia, with permission of the author (and is also the post which originally inspired this blog)


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