The Good Life and True Spirituality, Purged of All Superstition

Aristotle attempts always to write clearly and intelligibly, because his goal, short of explaining everything in the heavens and on earth, is at last to rid philosophy of any residual traces of superstition and mystagogy, or any of the myth and poetry which was such a component of pre-Socratic philosophy and retained even in the words of Plato. Aristotle’s style might be called elegant, but what in fact he’s striving after is perfect transparency. To this end, he develops, in the Metaphysics, alongside his standardization of logical argumentation in the Prior and Posterior Analytics, a set of universally applicable terms which which become the standard vocabulary in philosophy for centuries to come.

Aristotle, then, represents the gold standard in ancient logic. Whereas Socrates and Plato could employ a variety of argumentative techniques in order to tie their interlocutors into knots, Aristotle analyzes and classifies all their argumentative moves into a strict system of licit and illicit logical inferences. Yet for all this, Aristotle still insists, in his On The Soul and Nichomachean Ethics, that a life dedicated, as was that of Socrates, exclusively to disputation and refutation, is not a life well lived; is not, in a word, wise or truly philosophical. Rather, the good life consists of treating reason as a necessary means, a necessary but nevertheless subordinate good. The ultimate good and purpose of this life is to be happiness, in this life and not in some supposed life to come. Nothing other than genuine happiness in this world ought to be considered an ultimate end. Again, the good life is the happy life. And the happy life consists of discovering any world of eternal forms but rather of discovering and appreciating the world of rich physical diversity immediately around us.

Further, one of the greatest and absolutely necessary, we might even say the exclusive, means though which we have access to our physical world is through the media of the flesh. Whereas other animals can see, smell or hear better than humans, we have the great advantage over them when it comes to feeling nuances of sensation. It is the flesh which grants a degree of distance from the objects of the world, so that we can, in addition to simply perceiving them, perceiving that we perceive. Self-awareness, or proprioception, is one of the basic human capacities. It is what allows is not simply to find and eat food, to reflect on it and savor. And this, is what lies at the heart of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, the good life. The best life, though as Aristotle suggests this differs for each individuals according to his or her own body, will, in general, be that which most fully actualized the potential of the human body. Such a life centers around cultivating convivial relations with friends, who savor poetry, art and ideas, just as they savor the rich complexity of the grape; along with the rich complexity of the human body, which, of all animal bodies, is alone capable exploring and discussing every nuance of these simple but exquisite luxuries.

All other activities in life, no matter how highly they might be praised, ought properly to be subordinated to the Absolute Value, which is the conscious and deliberate enjoyment of life. In strict accordance with the Aristotlean theory of the soul (as ‘hexis’, ἕξις, ‘habitus’), ‘living well’ is the most spiritual thing we can do.

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