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date: 26 January 2021

(p. xi) Preface

(p. xi) Preface

Had it hoped to represent the full range of Aristotelian studies as they are pursued throughout the world today, The Oxford Handbook of Aristotle could aspire to no more than lamentable failure. It would be a happy sort of failure, perhaps, but a failure all the same: research into matters broadly Aristotelian thrives worldwide today in many different guises, beginning with the narrowest and most exacting kinds of paleographical and philological scholarship and extending through careful textual exegesis to the loosest forms of philosophical, political, and artistic appropriation, this last as often as not at the hands of those generally inspired by Aristotle's thought, even if they evince at most a passing concern for fidelity to the texts he has actually handed down to us.

This broad compass of activity moves forward under the banners of a variety of philosophical orientations, some beholden to a particular movement or method, others more open-textured, some avowedly religious, others avowedly not, and still others avowing nothing at all in matters of religion or philosophical tradition but seeking instead to understand Aristotle afresh through the cautious eyes of patient textual exegesis. Those preferring to relate Aristotle to recent trends in philosophy often find grounds for identifying in his writings the original seeds of various positions promulgated by philosophers of the present day; others decry such efforts as faddish foistings and grotesque anachronisms, bound only to distort Aristotle's actual views by ignoring their authentic intellectual context and social milieu.

Conferences adopting these and other postures dedicated to interpreting and assessing Aristotle's philosophy are now a fixture of the academic landscape across Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Indeed, Aristotelian studies flourish wherever higher education has a hold. Some conferences take up questions of narrowly defined textual matters; others pursue themes within Aristotle's philosophy or science; others investigate matters of reception and appropriation, ranging from late Antiquity down to the present day, some seeking to bring Aristotle into dialogue with non-Aristotelian traditions and some investigating his reception by earlier generations of Aristotelian scholars, often with an eye on shedding corrective light on our own scholarly preoccupations and predilections; and still others, doxographical in orientation, try to understand the sources and influences of Aristotle's predecessors on his philosophy and philosophical development. The list goes on, in an impressive array of distinct directions.

Of course, all of this activity generates new scholarship, and in its wake there follow new controversies and so also ever more publications on Aristotle and Aristotelian themes. A new online bibliography, cited in the bibliography of the present volume, boasts 50,000 entries and grows with each passing academic year. (p. xii) It is worth appreciating that a print version of that bibliography would dwarf the present, already stout volume many times over.

Consequently, any attempt to reproduce the full variety of voices heard clattering under the big tent of ‘Aristotelianism’ would yield only cacophony. For these reasons, The Oxford Handbook of Aristotle does not seek to be a general compendium of Aristotelian thought nor even a full and complete reflection of the many forms of Aristotelian study carried out throughout the world today. Instead, it seeks to represent a core activity of this variegated patchwork of international Aristotelian study by drawing contributors from various parts of the world, all of whom share a broadly common orientation and methodology, all equipped with a developed facility for reading Aristotle's often demanding Greek, and all prepared to engage in critical exegesis and interpretation.

The contributors in their various ways investigate the primary areas of inquiry as Aristotle himself divided them: into sciences (epistêmai) which are either theoretical, practical, or productive. Each Aristotelian science is a branch of learning, where the branches are divided by Aristotle into broad categories individuated by their ends or goals: theoretical science seeks knowledge for its own sake; practical science investigates and recommends the optimal forms of goodness in action, whether individual or societal; and productive science aims at the creation of beautiful or useful objects (Top. 145a15–16; Phys. 192b8–12; DC 298a27–32, DA 403a27–b2; Met. 1025b25, 1026a18–19, 1064a16–19, b1–3; EN 1139a26–28, 1141b29–32).

The current volume represents work in each of these branches, in some cases, in less well-trammeled areas of scholarly inquiry, through the presentation of a discursive overview given by a scholarly authority, and in others by the exploration of some crucial, often determinative issue within a broader area of study. The volume begins, however, looking backward from Aristotle to his predecessors, because he himself emphasized as requisite for philosophical progress the careful consideration of one's intellectual forebears, and ends looking forward to the philosophical traditions whose foundations Aristotle indisputably laid and so whose lineaments we could not begin to understand without first understanding their relation to him.

Together these forms of inquiry and assessment provide a partial picture of Aristotelian studies as they proceed throughout the world today, always with a view to inviting new participants drawn from the broadest variety of perspectives, by demonstrating the liveliness of current Aristotelian philosophy in as many guises as is practicable within the confines of a single, even modestly coherent volume.