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Aristotle: A Brief Introduction Summary and Analysis

This is a book report on Aristotle: A Brief Introduction by Jonathan Barnes. It includes a summary of the book and an analysis of Barnes’ rhetoric when dealing with Aristotle.

“…a scholar whose scientific explorations were as wide-ranging as his philosophical speculations were profound; a teacher who enchanted and inspired the brightest youth of Greece; a public figure who lived a turbulent life in a turbulent world. He bestrode antiquity like an intellectual colossus. No man before him had contributed so much to learning. No man after him might aspire to rival his achievements.” (Barnes 1).

            Aristotle: A Brief Introduction by Jonathan Barnes is a lecture style biography on Aristotle and his many schools of thought. In each chapter Barnes discusses in detail a different field of study with which Aristotle dedicated a great part of his life to, including: zoology, the arts, rhetoric, knowledge and the organization of knowledge, metaphysics, biology, logic, and politics. Most of the book centers around the time Aristotle spent at The Academy studying the sciences with his peers and underlings. Barnes frequently compares Aristotle’s beliefs and understandings with those of Plato’s, and many other well-known philosophers at that time, to illustrate Aristotle’s ideas about the world.

Barnes purpose for writing this book is to make Aristotle and his abstract ideas more clear and accessible to a wider audience. It’s no secret that the available works of Aristotle are not an easy read. Even Barnes remarks about the way Aristotle’s treatises are written, “Aristotle’s writings for the most part are terse. His arguments are concise. There are abrupt transitions, inelegant repetitions, obscure allusions. Paragraphs of continuous exposition are set among staccato jottings. The language is spare and sinewy” (Barnes 5).However, Barnes actually encourages the reader to read the treatises themselves, saying that once the reader has read a treatise; they wouldn’t want to have the information in any other form (like his book). “Aristotle’s treatises offer a peculiar challenge to their readers; and once you have taken up the challenge, you would not have the treatises in any other form” (Barnes 6).

When describing Aristotle’s ideas, Barnes uses a mix of germane quotes and anecdotes, along with his own examples of Aristotle’s ideas in practice. For example, when explaining Aristotle’s definition of knowledge – “’we think we know a thing when we know both the cause because of which the thing is and also that it is not possible for it to be otherwise’” (Barnes 53) – Barnes uses his own example to put Aristotle’s idea of knowledge (more like Aristotle’s guide to tongue twisters) into perspective. Barnes says, “A zoologist, then, will know that cows have four stomachs if, first, he knows why they do (if he knows that they have four stomachs because of such-and-such a fact) and, secondly, he knows that cows must have four stomachs (that it does not merely happen to be the case that they do)” (Barnes 53).

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