A new translation of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics is out the newspaper tells me. I read a version many years ago in graduate school and before that as an undergraduate -- Richard McKeon I think was the translator (maybe just for the undergraduate bit) - the Basic Aristotle anyway. I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by Aristotle's Ethics. It all too often read like a collection of bromides and banalities -- along the lines of 'justice is giving everyone what they are due' which is helpful in no way at all. But the NYT has a review of the new translation. The headline suggests a very positive review it will be, and it is in an odd way. Mr. Jaffa, the reviewer, is associated with the Claremont Institute. As it turns out Jaffa is a devotee of Leo Strauss, whom Jaffa identifies as "the greatest philosopher of the 20th century." That was no quite a surprise, coming in the second half of the review which seemed more about Churchill and Strauss than Aristotle. In fact, as one can guess by now, it is quite positive about Strauss and goes on and on about Jeruselum and Athens (reconciling Biblical revelation and something Greek) and somewhat less about Aquinas. But very little at all is said about the translation. Truly -- two paragraphs total, discussing the indices, preface, afterward, and how to translate techne. A comparison to other translations? No. A discussion of choices in this translation? No again. Somewhat more about the content of the Nichomachean Ethics, but far too little for it to be anything but backdrop to a genuinely weird discussion of Strauss and Churchill and exposition of one odd account of philosophy. I have an objection to this -- one learns almost nothing about the work under review. That might be fine if one thought Jaffa's views were somehow terribly important and any excuse would do to learn more. But not even in oxygen deprived Claremont would that be so (air quality in Claremont is atrocious; the colleges are pretty).
I don't object to the praise for Strauss. It strikes me as ridiculous, but it is interesting to see such different views in print. There are lots of ways of thinking about politics and philosophy. I doubt the review will induce anyone over 14 to join that church. Not that they need any approval from me. Here is what I mean:
Indeed, much of Strauss’s work is a radical attack — made with the greatest intellectual competence — against the latter-day enemies of both the Bible and a Socratic Aristotle. Strauss maintained that Athens and Jerusalem, while disagreeing on the ultimate good, disagree very little, if at all, on what constitutes a morality both good in itself and the pathway to a higher good.
If the work is so good why do we need to be told it was "made with the greaest intellectual competence"? What is a "Socratic Aristotle"? I do not see how Aristotle could be Socratic in any interesting or useful sense. I admit it made the morning paper more fun.