Aristotle -- By: D. McGregor Means
BSac 35:138 (April 1878) p. 255
No. III. His Ethics
In spite of man’s vain-glory, he is yet ever haunted by a secret feeling of the shortness of his destiny. There is something in mere permanence that carries with it a dignity that man enviously confesses himself — as phenomenon — to lack. Even wholly insignificant men can so little content themselves with the oblivion that necessarily awaits them, that they seek out the hardest granite, compelling it to preserve the remembrance of the names and deeds that they dare not entrust to their fellow-creatures. When temporal aids fail, it is to the “eternal hills “that we lift our eyes for help. The Colosseum of Rome was at its building no more imposing than that of Boston, except from the lasting nature of the material. It is only because the Roman amphitheatre has so long endured that it oppresses the mind with its greatness; while the ephemeral creation of modern times
BSac 35:138 (April 1878) p. 256
bore so plainly the marks of immediate decay that, for all its size, it was never truly sublime.
Endurance, then, although not itself greatness, is yet the best proof of the greatness of a human work. It makes plain those elements that appeal to the universal and essential principles of our nature, it shows that the popularity of a work that lasts is not due to any local or temporary causes, and it is, in short, the most obvious guide in a critical estimate of human possessions. Time has little to do with truth. What is only relatively true can never have any wide-spread influence; but when one comes upon a great truth, in an old book, the mind leaps with a certain delight over whatever insignificant centuries may have intervened since the author walked and talked, and rejoices as in new found kin. This feeling, which is, to a certain extent, a peculiarity of commentators, is in the case of Aristotle shared by many of those who have won distinction in any of the numerous lines of thought which bear the impress of that great genius.
Apart from his physical investigations, which in spite of modern advances could still call forth the enthusiastic utterance of Cuvier; and apart from his treatises on metaphysics and logic, which can never be wholly superseded, he was the author of four anthropological works which no modern philosopher can afford to neglect, and any one of which would, if it were now first to appear, make the reputation of its author. Concerning the” Rhetoric” Mr. Grote several times in his history expresses himself with great emphasis: “a treatise,” he incidentally observes, “which has rarely been surpassed in power of philosophic analysis.” Again, quite incidentally he remarks that if there were no other work of Aristotle’s remaini...
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