The Ethics of Ontology: Rethinking an Aristotelian Legacy by Christopher P. Long

Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 26 (2):179-199 (2005)

Francisco Gonzalez
University of Ottawa
What makes Christopher P. Long’s study of Aristotle’s ontology especially rewarding is that it is philosophically motivated. The goal is not simply to “get right what Aristotle said,” but rather to think in dialogue with Aristotle, which implies a willingness to think beyond and even against him. Long makes the general philosophical motivation of his book perfectly clear: it is the desire to find “a way between the totalizing tendencies of modernism and the anarchy of postmodernism”. This is an ethical motivation, since for Long justice requires both a recognition of the fundamental autarchy of each being and a recognition of principles. But why turn back to an ancient Greek philosopher in this contemporary debate? The reason is that Long sees Aristotle as pointing “to a form of knowledge that is neither totalizing nor anarchic”. This third way of knowing is described by Long as a matter of conceptualizing the individual in such a way as to acknowledge its singularity and not reduce it to the mere instantiation of a concept. It is to see the individual neither as an inexplicable singularity nor as only the particular instantiation of a universal. Long finds this neither/nor in Aristotle’s concept of the τόδε τι, which he at one point aptly describes as “the very conceptualization of that which always escapes the concept” : “The term τόδε τι designates this individual emerging out of its isolated singularity, prior to its being reduced to particularity, the mere instantiation of a dominating concept”. Thus we get the following account of what a non-totalizing and non-anarchic form of knowledge would be like and therefore of what Long seeks to find in Aristotle
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