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Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates

On the "Nicomachean Ethics"

What is the good life for a human being? Aristotle’s exploration of this question in the Nicomachean Ethics has established it as a founding work of Western philosophy, though its teachings have long puzzled readers and provoked spirited discussion. Adopting a radically new point of view, Ronna Burger deciphers some of the most perplexing conundrums of this influential treatise by approaching it as Aristotle’s dialogue with the Platonic Socrates.

Tracing the argument of the Ethics as it emerges through that approach, Burger’s careful reading shows how Aristotle represents ethical virtue from the perspective of those devoted to it while standing back to examine its assumptions and implications. 

“This is the best book I have read on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. It is so well crafted that reading it is like reading the Ethics itself, in that it provides an education in ethical matters that does justice to all sides of the issues.”—Mary P. Nichols, Baylor University

306 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Ancient Studies

Philosophy: Ethics, History and Classic Works

Political Science: Classic Political Thought


“This is the best book I have read on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. It is so well crafted that reading it is like reading the Ethics itself, in that it provides an education in ethical matters that does justice to all sides of the issues.”

Mary P. Nichols, Baylor University

“Ronna Burger’s Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates brilliantly interprets the Nicomachean Ethics as a response to the strong forms of Socratic intellectualism. Her scholarly and reconstructive interpretation sets the stage for an exploration of the complex relations between the moral and intellectual virtues, one that has implications for Aristotle’s views on the role of philosophical inquiry in civic life.”

Amelie Rorty, Harvard University

“This is a work of distinction that will be indispensable for all serious students of Aristotle’s ethics. It requires and will repay a close reading of the Aristotelian texts. Burger’s book exhibits the lucidity that is appropriate to complex philosophical argument. In this sense, her study mirrors Aristotle’s own way of writing on the human predicament.”

Stanley Rosen, Boston University

"The reader will be filled with a genuine sense of anticipation as this work moves to its culminating conclusion. Moreover—and this is an aspect of the work that deserves special praise—the entire monograph is brimming with interesting observations about the connections between passages in the Nicomachean Ethics and specific exchanges within various Platonic dialogues. Burger is an author who has a tremendous number of ideas about a wide variety of passages in both authors, and I think scholars of Plato will find this work just as insightful as those who focus upon Aristotle."

Steven Skultety | Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"In her dialectical reflection on Aristotle’s reflection on thinking as a species of action, Ronna Burger discovers the saving grace of our incompleteness—what she calls in her Acknowledgments ‘the unintended consequences of unwished for circumstances’. By tracing the salutary consequences of the unwished for, she has brought to fruition a remarkable interpretation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, for she has not forced a Platonic reading on Aristotle but has rather uncovered, in the ground of their friendship, the deep sameness that is revealed in their apparent difference, the dialogic nature of the rational activity of soul."

Michael Davis | Polis

"This remarkable and wonderful book on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics exhibits a profound understanding of both the contents and complex intention of that amazing work. This interpretation cannot be ignored by anyone who intends to write on the Ethics in the foreseeable future. The reviewer cannot do justice to Professor Burger’s detailed and subtle analysis of almost every chapter of the Ethics in this brief account of her book, but hopefully enough is intimated to lead those who are interested in Aristotle, the problem of Socrates, ancient philosophy, and the nature of ethical virtue to read this magisterial study."

Donald C. Lindenmuth | Review of Metaphysics

"On the whole I found Burger’s volume to be one of the most philosophically thought-provoking contemporary treatments of the Ethics. . . . The volume has been in the works for over a decade and it is clearly the mature reflection of a scholar equally conversant in philosophy and classics."

Thornton C. Lockwood | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"[Burger] invites her readers to reflect on the deepest ethical and theoretical questions. . . . Her impressive work is clearly the fruit of much solitary labor as well as friendly conversation, and it demonstrates Burger’s grasp not only of Aristotle’s thought but of the many Platonic dialogues she places in conversation with it."

Susan D. Collins | Claremont Review of Books

"A remarkable dialectical journey through the Nicomachean Ethics, placing us on the inside track of thinking through the mind of Aristotle."

Monica Prabhakar | Philosophy in Review

"A treatment of the Ethics that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking, one that requires, and rewards, careful rereading."

Kevin M. Cherry | Review of Politics

"In Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates, Ronna Burger invites the reader to examine the Nicomachean Ethics with a fresh eye, and to consider that it is perhaps not the treatise that it appears to be but rather the dialogue that Plato never wrote: a dialogue between two philosophers. . . . As she discovers and discloses the evidence in the text for Aristotle’s dialogue with Socrates, she herself practices and illustrates how we, the readers, may enter into and engage in a philosophic dialogue with Aristotle."

Evanthia Speliotis | Interpretation

"Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates seems above all to aim to provoke its reader to do the hard work of studying the Nicomachean Ethics as carefully as possible, and as a whole. Doing so, [Burger] believes—and believes rightly—will actually help such a reader become someone ‘who thinks out everything for himself.’ Judged by this standard, her book is an extraordinary achievement."

David Roochnik | Epoche

“Burger has written a book brimming with stimulating puzzles and insights covering, almost in the style of a commentary, every part of the Ethics. . . . Her book’s ability to inspire and foster inquiry into the subject matter of the Ethics is quite possibly the most beneficial result her mode of interpretation yields.”

Larry Bloom | Journal of the History of Philosophy

Table of Contents

Introduction     The Socratic Question of the Ethics    
1 The Final End and the Way to It     
   From the Good to the Human Good     
   Opinions about Happiness     
   The Human Good and the Human Ergon
   Happiness in a Complete Life    
   The Nonrational Psyche    
2 Excellence of Character    
   A Non-Socratic Account    
   Ethical Virtue and the Measure of the Mean    
   Responsibility and Nature    
3 Virtues and Vices    
   The Beautiful as Telos of the Virtues    
   Justice in the City and Justice in the Soul   
4 Excellence of Thought    
   The Pivot of the Argument of the Ethics    
   The Rational Psyche    
   Intellectual Virtues    
   Phronesis, Sophia, and the Claim to Happiness    
5 Pleasure and the Discovery of Nature    
   A New Beginning: From the Bestial to the Divine    
   The Faction of Passion and Reason    
   Pleasure by Nature and the Good    
6 Friendship and the Discovery of the Self    
   Rational and Political Nature    
   Perfect Friendship and Other Species    
   Justice in Friendship    
   The Friend as an Other Self    
   Friendship, Eros, and Philosophy    
7 Happiness    
   Pleasure Revisited    
   The Theoretical Life    
   The Legislative Art    
   A Socratic Answer to a Socratic Question?    
Appendix 1    Socrates, Plato, Philosophy    
Appendix 2    Virtues and Vices    
Appendix 3    Categories of Justice    
Appendix 4    Classifications of Pleasure    


Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award
Honorable Mention

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