Being and Politics by Richard Velkley

Richard Velkley, "Being and Politics: Seth Benardete on Aristotle's MetaphysicsThe Political Science Reviewer, vol. 34 (2005): 7-21.

Although he will not be remembered principally as an interpreter of Aristotle, Seth Benardete was much engaged with this philosopher throughout his life of teaching and writing. He taught seven graduate seminars on texts of Aristotle between 1968 and 1993, and published remarkable essays on De Anima and the Metaphysics in the 1970s. Benardete approached Aristotle as a true Socratic who philosophizes in a Platonic manner. The central problem of philosophy is the soul, inquiry about which opens the way to the nature of being. The way to the soul, however, must be through the realm of opinion, and that means above all the political phenomena of the arts, the laws, and the gods. The soul must be the central theme of philosophy because all efforts to grasp the nature of being directly fail, as Socrates relates in the autobiographical discussion of the “two sailings” in the Phaedo. Indeed the elements of first philosophy or wisdom seem to be incompatible.

Even so, they strangely exist together in the soul of the being that seeks wisdom. Benardete saw that Aristotle employed his own version of the Socratic-Platonic procedure of dividing and collecting those elements. The first approach to them for Socrates is to posit them as separate ideas; their appearance of separateness, however, must be abandoned in further inquiry. Similarly Aristotle seems to found wholly separate sciences of distinct subject-matters, but on closer examination one sees that the treatises contain diverging accounts of the soul, nature, and being which demand to be put together. That the task of combination is not finished by Aristotle, and is perhaps not finishable, belies the traditional view that Aristotle understands himself as attaining wisdom, and as proposing a metaphysics and cosmology which, “as distinguished from Plato’s, is unqualifiedly separable from the quest for the best political order.”

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