Being and Politics
Cover of issue 34
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How to Cite

Being and Politics: Seth Benardete on Aristotle’s Metaphysics. (2005). The Political Science Reviewer, 34, 7-21.


Although he will not be remembered principally as an interpreterof Aristotle, Seth Benardete was much engaged with thisphilosopher throughout his life of teaching and writing. He taughtseven graduate seminars on texts of Aristotle between 1968 and1993, and published remarkable essays on De Anima and theMetaphysics in the 1970s. Benardete approached Aristotle as a trueSocratic who philosophizes in a Platonic manner. The centralproblem of philosophy is the soul, inquiry about which opens theway to the nature of being. The way to the soul, however, must bethrough the realm of opinion, and that means above all the politicalphenomena of the arts, the laws, and the gods. The soul must be thecentral theme of philosophy because all efforts to grasp the natureof being directly fail, as Socrates relates in the autobiographicaldiscussion of the "two sailings" in the Phaedo. Indeed the elementsof first philosophy or wisdom seem to be incompatible. Even so, theystrangely exist together in the soul of the being that seeks wisdom.Benardete saw that Aristotle employed his own version of theSocratic-Platonic procedure of dividing and collecting those elements.The first approach to them for Socrates is to posit them asseparate ideas; their appearance of separateness, however, must beabandoned in further inquiry. Similarly Aristotle seems to foundwholly separate sciences of distinct subject-matters, but on closerexamination one sees that the treatises contain diverging accounts ofthe soul, nature, and being which demand to be put together. Thatthe task of combination is not finished by Aristotle, and is perhapsnot finishable, belies the traditional view that Aristotle understandshimself as attaining wisdom, and as proposing a metaphysics andcosmology which, "as distinguished from Plato’s, is unqualifiedlyseparable from the quest for the best political order."
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