Responding to Gonzalez Review of Aristotle on the Nature of Truth

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Earlier this week, Frank Gonzalez published a review of my book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

His review is the latest contribution to a decade’s long dialogue we have had about how to read Aristotle, the meaning of energeia and dynamis in Aristotle’s thinking, and the nature of Aristotle’s God.

Our conversation, which has always pressed me to articulate my position with more care and, I hope, more subtlety, extends back to the first gathering of the Ancient Philosophy Society at Villanova University in the Spring of 2001.

Mine was the first paper delivered there, later published in Epoché as The Ethical Culmination of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. That paper argued that Aristotle’s Metaphysics culminated not in the purity of God’s self-thinking, but in the more contingent and ambiguous principles articulated in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

His was the first question I fielded. That question challenged me to think more carefully about the nature of God in Aristotle, and specifically it encouraged me to consider that perhaps God as “ἠ νοήσις νοήσεως νοήσις”, “the thinking of thinking thinking” (Metaphysics, XII.9, 1074b33-5), did not express the totalizing principle I ascribed to it.

Frank’s question haunted me as I completed my first book on Aristotle, The Ethics of Ontology: Rethinking an Aristotelian Legacy. But in that book, I continued to understand God in Aristotle as the activity of self-identity and thus, as I argued in an article published in Philosophy and Social Criticism entitled, Totalizing Identities: The Ambiguous Legacy of Aristotle and Hegel after Auschwitz, as a totalizing principle.

In his essay length review of The Ethics of Ontology in the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, volume 26, issue 2 (2005), entitled, Form in Aristotle: Oppressive Universal or Individual Act?, Frank took me to task for failing to appreciate the radical otherness of God in Aristotle. There he wrote:

A genuinely third way of knowing [one that is neither anarchic nor totalizing] could have been found where Long refused to look for it: in the knowledge of what is most radically unique and Other; what, as the absolutely self-contained activity of life and thus pleasure, i.e., the unmoved mover or God” (GFPJ, 26.2, 2005: 181).

He was right to insist that I read Aristotle on God more closely, a project I explicitly undertake in chapter 7 of Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, but what is less clear on Aristotle’s own terms is the degree to which the thinking of God is radically other to human thinking or even, as I suggest in the Truth book, to human perceiving.

In fact, establishing the connection between the middle voiced activity of perceiving (αἰσθάνεσθαι) and the middle voiced activities of imagining and thinking is central to the argument of chapters four and five of Aristotle on the Nature of Truth. Recognizing that activity itself involves a kind of receptivity, as I mention in note 6 on page 118, caused me to reconsider my own interpretation of the hegemonic dimensions of divine identity in Aristotle. Yet, because my reconsidered interpretation continues to insist on a dimension of dynamis, or potency, in God, Frank, as our most recent discussions make clear, remains unsatisfied.

To hear some of the details of those more recent discussions, I would invite you to listen to Digital Dialogue 41: On Time and Motion in which I talk to Frank about his work on Heidegger’s interpretation of Aristotle, and his critique of Heidegger. There the discussion again gravitates to the meaning of God as energeia, or pure activity, in Aristotle.

Given his continuing critique, it was no surprise that Frank was the first to ask a question at the session the Ancient Philosophy Society held on Aristotle on the Nature of Truth this spring at Sundance.

His question asked about two key moments in the book where my voice and Aristotle’s seem to diverge. The first, of course, is in the discussion of God, where I continue to want to insist upon a dimension of dynamis in the divine; the second is the question of justice, which I want to extend beyond the inter-human realm to the relationship between humans and the things we encounter.

Listen to the six minute clip of our exchange at Sundance on the player at the bottom of this post, or by clicking the link below, which will open a new window:

Frank Gonzalez and Christopher Long at the 2011 Ancient Philosophy Society

The two issues Frank raises in that exchange are expressed also in his review in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review commentary. I have used Diigo to reply to specific points he makes in that review, and I invite you read that review with my annotations and sticky notes by following the link below:

Frank Gonzalez Review of Aristotle on the Nature of Truth in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review with annotations by Christopher Long.

Because my annotations speak to a number of the specific points Frank raises, here I would like to highlight an important dimension of the book that Frank does not even mention in the review: its peculiar methodology, which I refer to as “legomenology.”

I now realize in listening again to the recording of our exchange at the 2011 Ancient Philosophy Society that I did not respond to what was at the core of Frank’s important question about where and how my voice diverges from Aristotle in the book. The more critical moments of the BMCR review are animated by Frank’s insistance that my interpretation of truth in Aristotle “turns out to require some hermeneutical violence.” A better understand of the phenomenological legomenology I undertake in the book will suggest both how my voice diverges from Aristotle’s and how I seek to minimize the violence of my interpretation with candor when the things I say diverge from things that can be easily ascribed to Aristotle.

The legomenological method the book undertakes is rooted in the idea that the very attempt to put the truth of things into words articulates something of the truth.

With regard to the question of God in Aristotle, it is not simply a matter of reconstructing what Aristotle might have intended. In that case, I am inclined simply to agree with what Frank says at the end of the BMCR review that if my thinking is animated by the paradigm of dialogue, Aristotle’s is animated by the paradigm of self-identity. And yet, even on Aristotle’s paradigm of self-identity, and indeed, at the very moment when that paradigm achieves its most poignant articulation in the formulation “ἠ νοήσις νοήσεως νοήσις”, “the thinking of thinking thinking” (Metaphysics, XII.9, 1074b33-5), something of the dialogical truth is heard in the very way the idea comes to language.

This is the core of the argument of chapter 7, an argument that culminates with the sentence “God is relationality” (Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, 237). When I speak about “relationality” I mean to point to that which enables things to enter into relation with one another in the first place, perhaps I could call it the erotic site of relational happening … The formulation “ἠ νοήσις νοήσεως νοήσις” articulates and indeed declares the structure of relationality itself.

The legomenology I pursue attempts to remain attuned always to the truth in the things said, even if that means diverging from what the speaker might have intended.  This point is an echo of the very thing Aristotle said about Plato in the Nicomachean Ethics, 1096a16-7:

… although both our friends and the truth are loved, it is more sacred to give truth the higher honor.

The legomenological method opened a path that allowed me, I hope, both to love Aristotle and to honor the truth. Frank very kindly notes at the beginning of his review that “[t]his is a highly original book both in its approach and its conclusions…” And if this is true, then its originality is rooted in a careful, caring reading of Aristotle, that remains, however, always willing to relinquish the attempt to reconstruct Aristotelian thought in order to undertake the yet more difficult attempt to articulate the truth.

That, indeed, is ultimately what is at stake in my ongoing discussion with Frank about God in Aristotle and about the meaning of justice. For it is not only the Aristotelian texts to which we must do justice, but in our ongoing dialogue with one another, we must attempt to speak the truth to and with one another.

I have gathered the various ways we have each attempted to do that over the years here in this post in order that it might provide fertile soil for further discussion in which the truth might not only take root, but grow.

Long Responds to Commentators

By | Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, Recognition and Responses, Vita | 8 Comments

In my response to the generous, thoughtful and provocative commentaries of Will McNeill, Drew Hyland and John Lysaker, I attempted to perform the methodological approach I adopted in Aristotle on the Nature of Truth. John Lysaker had asked an important question: how does legomenology welcome interlocutors?

In my response, I tried to model how I hope one committed to the practice of legomenology would enter into dialogue with others.

This meant first listening attentively and with patience, particularly in the face of strong and provocative criticism. Second, in considering a response, I tried to be generous in drawing on the work of those who were generous enough to take the time to read my work so carefully. Finally, I tried to defend the position for which I argued as strongly as possible, recognizing when appropriate, the limits of the things I said and the need to be willing to reconsider my position in the face of new insights.

What you hear here, then, first, is my response to the commentators, and then my responses to questions from those gathered at the 11th annual meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society.

Christopher Long responds to commentaries on Aristotle on the Nature of Truth

To hear the other comments and my responses, click on the links below:

Here are images from the APS Book Panel:


Lysaker Comments on Aristotle on the Nature of Truth

By | Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, Recognition and Responses, Vita | 7 Comments

Lysaker Animated

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John Lysaker, Professor of Philosophy at Emory University, commented on my book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, at the 2011 meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society.

John’s comments invited me to consider more fully my ethos as an author and challenged me to articulate more fully what animates the legomenological approach.  His concern, in part, is how it is determined what of the things said by one’s predecessors are deserving of response and amplification. This is an important issue, particularly if legomenology is not to become a echo chamber legitimizing one’s own previously held opinions.  “How,” John asks, “does legomenology welcome interlocutors?”
I tried to perform an answer to that in my response to him, but for now, listen to John’s commentary, and particularly to the way he calls into question the propriety of my embracing Woodbridge’s language of “cooperation.” This, indeed, is a central issue; one that we discuss in more detail on episode 48 of the Digital Dialogue, which will be posted in a week or so.

To hear the other comments and my responses, click on the links below:

Here are images from the APS Book Panel:

Hyland Comments on Aristotle on the Nature of Truth

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Drew Hyland

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Drew Hyland, Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy at Trinity College, commented on my book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, at the 2011 meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society.

Drew’s comments focused largely on the question of my interpretation of Aristotle’s approach to the thinking of his predecessors. I argue in the book that the practice of “legomenology” involves attending to the things said by one’s predecessors as the place where philosophy must begin.  Further, I suggest that Aristotle’s engagement with his predecessors was not designed simply to legitimize Aristotle’s own position, but was a genuine attempt to think with and against those who in the past had sought to speak the truth of nature.
Drew recognizes this as precisely the way philosophy ought to be practiced, but he questions what he calls my generous reading of Aristotle, suggesting that Aristotle in fact is interested in his predecessors only insofar as they lead up to his own thinking. Drew also calls into question the degree to which I read a Heraclitean understanding of logos into Aristotle. He argues further that I bring Aristotle too close to Plato who made aporia a stance toward the world as opposed to focusing on aporiai which point to a series of problems to solve.  Finally, at the end, Drew calls attention to my interpretation of God in Aristotle.
In his commentary, Drew touched upon two of the most difficult sentences to write in the book. Give a listen to his commentary, and to my response (to be posted in the days to come).
Drew Hyland responds to Aristotle on the Nature of Truth

To hear the other comments and my responses, click on the links below:

Here are images from the APS Book Panel:

McNeill Comments on Aristotle on the Nature of Truth

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Drew, Chris, Will and John

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William McNeill
, Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University, commented on my book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, at the 2011 meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society.

Will’s comments offer a very good introduction to the scope, methodology and significance of the book.  His kind words are greatly appreciated as are the important questions he raises.
He begins with a very thoughtful and thorough account of the main themes of the book, including my attempt to understand truth in terms of justice and my development of a new understanding of ecology and ecological community.  He then goes on to explicate the meaning of “legomenology,” which designates the method I argue Aristotle follows. This approach recognizes that the nature of things is revealed in part in and through the things said about them, that our attempts at articulating the truth of things lends insight into something of the nature of things: ta legomena, the things said, are able to reveal something of the truth of ta phainomena, the things appearing.
Will also challenges me to consider more fully the degree to which I privilege a sort of homecoming over “a certain homelessness” and he points me to Heidegger’s interpretation of dynamis in the 1931 lecture “On the Essence and Actuality of Force” on Metaphysics Theta, where Heidegger focuses on negativity, withdrawal and inner finitude as a place where a different vision of Aristotle is developed.  He invites me to address more deeply the implications of modern technicity and globalization on what I have called the “ecological community.”  This, indeed, is an important dimension of the book that remains an open area of research, one that I hope to address as I think more deeply about the original Greek understanding of techne with the help, no doubt, of by Will and Heidegger.
I invite you to listen to Will’s paper here and to respond to the things he says:
To hear the other comments and my responses, click on the links below:

Here are images from the APS Book Panel:

Aristotle's Phenomenology in Colombia

By | Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Vita | 4 Comments

At the Universidad de los Andes

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BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA – This evening I gave a public lecture at the Universidad de los Andes entitled Aristotle’s Phenomenology of Truth in which I articulate the basic argument of my book, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth. The lecture, and the book, attempt to re-think the nature of truth not as correspondance, but in terms of the ability to respond together with the things of nature.

The lecture locates in Aristotle resources by which to understand truth in terms of the attempt to put words to things in ways that do justice to the ways they express themselves. I draw on Heideggerian phenomenology and American naturalism in order to identify Aristotelian phenomenology as a ‘legomenology’ that attends to the ways things are said in order to gain access to something of the nature of things.

The ability to respond to the logos of things is at the root of an understanding of truth in terms of justice.

Here is a slideshow of the visit to Colombia:

Aristotle on the Nature of Truth

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Christopher P. Long, Aristotle on the Nature of Truth, 1st ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

This book reconsiders the traditional correspondence theory of truth, which takes truth to be a matter of correctly representing objects.

Drawing Heideggerian phenomenology into dialogue with American pragmatic naturalism, I undertake a rigorous reading of Aristotle that articulates the meaning of truth as a cooperative activity between human beings and the natural world that is rooted in our endeavors to do justice to the nature of things.

By following a path of Aristotle’s thinking that leads from our rudimentary encounters with things in perceiving through human communication to thinking, this book traces an itinerary that uncovers the nature of truth as ecological justice, and it finds the nature of justice in our attempts to articulate the truth of things.

Endorsements of the book:

“An original interpretation of Aristotle that subtly weaves together the themes of truth and justice. Christopher Long shows how the question of truth leads us ineluctably to justice and the question of justice leads us back to truth. He combines a rigorous reading of Aristotle’s texts with an imaginative discussion of how American pragmatic naturalism and Heideggerian phenomenology illuminate Aristotle’s attentive response to the world. Through Long’s rich text, we can virtually hear Aristotle’s voice speaking to us in new, relevant, and exciting ways.”

— Richard J. Bernstein, New School for Social Research

“Christopher Long’s new book, Aristotle and the Nature of Truth, is a remarkably fresh and original treatment of one of the most central topics in all of philosophy. Long shows through penetrating and persuasive scholarship that for Aristotle the question of truth is about the nature of things and the things of nature. Thus, this is as much a book about nature and about ecology as it is about truth and being, and it is an indispensable tool for those whose work in environmental philosophy is committed to mining the tradition in order to retrieve a theoretical basis for a new sense of ecological justice. Long philosophizes with a remarkable gracefulness and he has a unique ability to work across methodological traditions to offer a reading of Aristotle that draws resources equally from phenomenology, pragmatism, and analytic philosophy. This book will contribute a great deal to overcoming the polarization that inhibits the usual philosophical approaches to ancient Greek philosophy.”

— Walter A. Brogan,Villanova University

“This is a boldly conceived, painstakingly researched, and exquisitely executed work. The author’s intensely focused attention on the relevant texts is matched by a hermeneutic sensibility animated by imagination, probity, and a steadying awareness of Aristotle’s principal preoccupations and commitments. Christopher Long exemplifies what he takes to be at the heart of Aristotle’s understanding of truth – responsibility in the sense of responsiveness (including reflexive responsiveness). His reading of Aristotle as an integral part of philosophical naturalism, taken to be a living philosophical tradition, is just one of the notable and valuable aspects of this unique contribution to contemporary philosophy, not just contemporary scholarship. At every turn, Professor Long shows in detail the relevance of Aristotle’s writings – indeed, the force of his arguments and the depth of his insights.”

— Vincent Colapietro, Pennsylvania State University

“This is a deeply insightful, genuinely important book that says things far beyond what its title might suggest. It is at once a learned and original study of Aristotle and his contemporary importance; a brilliant and productive dialogue with naturalism, pragmatism, and existential phenomenology; and a profound and moving meditation on truth, nature, and justice.
Aristotle and the Nature of Truth
is philosophy at its best.”

— John J. Stuhr, Emory University