‘Intentio Aristotelis’ or just a bunch of unsubstantiated claims

The Italian Renaissance brought us closer to the writings attributed to Aristotle, no doubt about that, but was the claim of the Italian Renaissance scholars that we should look for ‘intentio Aristotelis’ true? They went so far by saying that becoming acquintated to the Attic Greek of Aristotle we could understand his opinions in a new light, one that has nothing to do with the tradition formed during the High Middle Ages around them. So they studied Aristotle in Greek.

Now, I have read Daniel Dennett’s The Interpretation of Texts, People and Other Artifacts, published in “Philosophy and Phenomenology Research” (vol. 50, 1990, pp. 177-184), and some doubts poped-up in my head. The most important of them: can we really know what Aristotle’s intention was in the Nicomachean Ethics?

If we accept Dennett’s arguments — and we don’t have any reason not to — we will be in big trouble not only when thinking about the Renassaince claim, but also when we account the contemporary claim that we should step aside from any tradition and read Aristotle “nude” (Pierre Aubenque, see his preface to Le Probleme de l’etre chez Aristote). In other words, we will never be able to uncover “Aristotle’s intention” because there is nothing like that. We are in the same position as a medieval or Renaissance scholar was: we have some texts, transmitted in various forms (directly or indirectly; in Greek, Latin or Arabic; along with some commentaries or paraphrases), written down for a certain audience (which we cannot fully understand) almost 2.5 millenia ago.

But I will challenge Dennett’s arguments by simply saying that we do have a privileged epistemic position. Just as we know today what the purpose of the Antikythera mechanism was, we also know what Aristotle may have thought about eudaimonia by bring as much information as possible into account. We might use direct information from other writings or indirect pieces/testimonies about his beliefs.


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