“Our (natural) desire cannot be empty and vain.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle has a remarkable sense of the human drama, of the gift and the challenge it is to be human. Not that the style or voice of his writing is itself dramatic. But if we look through his eyes, if we really examine what he says, the stunning reality unfolds before us.
Aristotle refers to the human soul as ‘capax universi’ (capable of the whole), as having a quasi-infinite potential for ‘taking in’ all that exists. The inclinations of the will are rooted in this vast capacity of intellect. Our hearts, our desires naturally soar to the heights. Aristotle expresses the potential, nay further the demand of our nature to become virtuous in all our powers, righteous in each of our actions.
The human heart is a restless and demanding power. We naturally have profound desires—inclinations toward high truths, noble actions, and rich relationships. Good life experience brings out these desires, giving them context, content and direction. Bad personal experience can blunt and stymie these desires threatening them with the darkness of discouragement and shades of despair. Similarly, our bad habits can choke and drown these desires, effectively substituting a craving for things that sparkle but don’t fulfill.
Our natural desires are not in vain. What insight! What boldness! To say this does not mean that our desires necessarily will be fulfilled. Fulfillment is not ‘guaranteed,’ fundamentally because such fulfillment demands much of us—and our proper response often hangs in the balance of our free choices. It means rather that such desires remain fulfill-able, and thus are far from vain, as long as we might still turn our hearts to where they should be.
Aristotle had an unshakable confidence in the design of human nature—a confidence he retained even in the teeth of a vast experience of human weakness and failure.
Our natural desires—in all their glory, even pushing the bounds of the super-natural—are not in vain. Or in any case, they will not have been in vain if we keep trying to recognize and respond to the at-times shocking demands of what it means to be human.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his major ethical work.
“Man lives by reason, which can attain to prudence only after long experience, so that children need to be instructed by their parents who are experienced.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles There are various ways to understand the ‘goal’ in raising children. In...
The magnificent man is like an artist; for he can see what is fitting and spend large sums tastefully. The magnificent man spends not on himself but on public objects. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics To examine with Aristotle the various virtues is an eye-opening tour...
"I saw them in all the times past and to come, all somehow there in their own time and in all time and in no time..." Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow Some time ago it really struck me when reading Wendell Berry’s fiction how he portrayed growing old, and the deepening...
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.