The Contemporary Irrelevance of Aristotle’s Practical Reason

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Ancient Philosophy | Arts and Humanities | Classics | Philosophy


This essay explores the interrelations among Aristotelian practical reason, Aristotelian emotion, and their political context by looking at three things. First, it outlines Aristotelian practical reason and its differences from the Humean variety that supposedly characterizes modern people and modern moral theory. Second, it highlights some of the features of Aristotelian emotion, as exhibited in the Rhetoric, that seem most alien to contemporary theory and practice and asks whether these features are an integral part of a conception of emotion coordinate with Aristotelian practical reason. Finally, this combination of attractive picture of practical reason with a dubious vision of emotion is used to suggest that there is no simple road back to Aristotle. It is, in fact, just those features of Aristotle’s emotions that are least attractive that tell us the most about Aristotle’s world and our own. The essay concludes that Aristotelian practical reason is not available for us to adopt as a way of addressing our own moral problems and that we would not want to pay the price of adoption anyway.

Book Description:
In this collection scholars in communication, rhetoric and composition, and philosophy seek to “reread” Aristotle’s Rhetoric from a purely rhetorical perspective. So important do these contributors find the Rhetoric, in fact, that a core tenet in this book is that “all subsequent rhetorical theory is but a series of responses to issues raised by the central work.” The essays reflect on questions basic to rhetoric as a humanistic discipline. Some explore the ways in which the Rhetoric explicates the nature of the art of rhetoric, noting that on this issue, the tensions within the Rhetoric often provide a direct passageway into our own conflicts.