Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life
Anyone seeking a life coach could do worse than look back to the 4th century B.C., said Annabel Gutterman in Time. Our old friend Aristotle, a thinker too often brushed past in introductory philosophy classes, developed a framework for seeking contentment that “feels entirely relevant in the 21st century.” If you read his 10-book Nichomachean Ethics, along with random passages of his other writings, you’ll get the full picture. But Edith Hall, a British classicist, is offering a shortcut. Her new book neatly distills Aristotle’s advice for living well. “If you believe the goal of human life is to maximize happiness,” she writes, “then you are a budding Aristotelian.”
So let’s define happiness, said Lisa Allardice in The Observer (U.K.). The Aristotle we meet in Hall’s pages tells us that true happiness can’t be attained by acquiring material things or maximizing the time one spends experiencing pleasure. Though he approves of food, alcohol, and sex—“all in moderation; he’s big on moderation”—he claims the way to maximize happiness is by engaging in mutually beneficial activities with others while relentlessly working to become the best version of yourself. Being ruthlessly honest with yourself is a must. He urges every one of us to identify our flaws and talents and then commit to rules and habits that enable us to defeat our weaknesses and channel our talents into pursuing a larger purpose. He also counsels us to think of death regularly, so that each of us consciously shapes the story people will tell about us as we are living that story.
Hall’s Aristotle is “friendly rather than forbidding”; he allows each of us to be imperfectly human, said Nakul Krishna in The Telegraph (U.K.). But Hall’s life advice “fails to be Aristotelian in the way that matters most”—the thoroughness of the arguments presented in support of that advice. Hall’s case for the rewards of pursuing a virtuous life certainly convinced me, said John Kaag in The New York Times. My only real worry: “Those most in need of ethical training are probably the least likely to spend $27 on a moral guidebook.” ■