W.K.C. Guthrie on inconsistency in Aristotle

I’ve been going along on my Aristotle study during the summer, finishing up, finally, the W.K.C. Guthrie’s wonderful Aristotle: An Encounter, which is volume six in his magisterial study of Greek philosophy. It’s been a slog; Guthrie gives thorough grounding to Aristotle’s science and his metaphysics, and thus there was ample skimming and cherrypicking, I admit. Aristotle’s metaphysics is important, objectively3; fortunately, it’s not terribly important to understanding his philosophy of human life (the way it is for Plato), as metaphysics both confuses and bores me. I have now reached a point in my life where I just will never know if I don’t understand metaphysics because I’m not smart enough, or whether I don’t understand it because it bores me and I lack the self-discipline to not be bored, but for all practical purposes, those amount to the same result: I don’t get it.

Guthrie is a kindly companion in these travels. From page 343:

The inconsistency between this and the requirement that happiness can only be achieved in a complete life has been pointed out by others. At any rate Aristotle warned us. The Ethics is no work of scientific theory but a practical manual, a guide to living. As it cannot aim at consistency, for life itself is full of inconsistencies.

He follows this up with an excellent note:

Consistency is a feature of τὸ ἀκριβὲσ, οὐχ ἁκριπβὲς ὁμοίως ἐν ἀπασιν τοις λόγοις ἐπιζξτητέον**: noble and just action admit of much variety and irregularity. Matters of action and advantage have no stability.

**Those things which are identical, for reasons beyond their control. Aristotle means the things in nature that do not make choices for how to be.

I spent the better part of two years translating Thucydides because the challenge. I’ve spent the last two years with Aristotle trying to get used to him, warm up, make friends, and translating him, working hard at it, has been a revelation. Much of his warmth is lost in translating to English, while none of his less appealing statements go missing at all.