Socrate was a liberal, Plato was a conservative, and Aristotle? Well, he was an educator, an academic, an intellectual with perks and passions who was never dull. His school of thought dominated western Europe during the Middle Ages. It became a foundation of Christian theology because of the conciliation of humanities with science, especially biology, to approach the hows in the quest of whys and whats.
But don’t be intimidated by the dauntingly impressive resume of the philosopher. You don’t have to strain yourself with a burden to know the wondrous truth of our human life and the universe beyond. Woodfin’s illustrated guide to Aristotle will become your scholarly and witty Virgil to his circles of knowledge as seen in his mind’s casements. Through them, you are welcome to appreciate the panorama of Teleology, Thinness, the Four Causes, Beauty, Ethics, and the Cosmos like you never realized in plain language.
Suppose you want to know more about the man who taught Alexander the Great and Thomas Aquinas, the top Doctor of the Church, and assured the distraught that excellence comes from habit. In that case, this book deserves your attention – with delightful Eureka!
When you feel that something important about your approach to your current life isn’t working, you should adopt a new way of sailing your ship at life’s sea. Hence, following my read of Aristotle’s Way by Edith Hall, I continued pursuing the answer in Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg, a self-help book based on Aristotle’s dictum that virtue is a habit in 21st-century parlance.
Fogg’s approach to habit-forming practice is categorized into small steps that require no intellectual, or philosophical commitments, as in the case of new year’s resolutions. He refers to motivations and willpower as “fair-weathered” friends who hooray and holler at our resolutions to change at first but disappear into the lost memories of the first initiation when our souls plunge at the lowest later. Instead, we must befriend “Aspirations” and “Outcomes” as faithful friends who will help us build a Behavior Design that best matches our disposition and lifestyle by which we can realize our affirmation as the functionary of noble ideas. For example, if you want to save $500 as an emergency fund, you can start by curtailing your Starbucks visits or bringing your lunchbox to work, rather than saving a lump sum of money from your paychecks; as the saying, “Drop by door fills the tub.” Fogg refers to such small practice as the principle of “Golden Behavior,” which you can do when you feel like calling it a day, even on your most challenging day.
Notwithstanding the noble intentions and the greatness of simplicity in Fogg’s guide to habit-forming, some carbuncles I find incongruent in his examples of his successful people who are comparatively well-off business owners or professionals. Of course, that is not to avert his excellent idea that the simple is the best. Still, I hoped to find examples of everyday working-class people struggling to make their lives better who have fewer resources, such as seeking help from a person like Fogg, a Behavior Scientist at Stanford University. Maybe I could inadvertently judge his study results only with limited information based on my reading. Still, I only wish that he would include a broad social spectrum of subjects in the advantage of Golden Behavior. But then I could be a captious reader feeling left out of the selected successful achievers.
In all fairness, the book is worth reading if you are especially keen on Aristotle’s way of happiness, which I regard as personable and approachable, compared to Plato’s metaphysical way of interpreting how to live a perfect life. But let’s forget about the ancient Greek school of philosophy. Still, Tiny Habits do matter.
Tolstoy in Anna Kararina knows a thing about the Aristotelian school of subjective happiness thus: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its way.” Happiness is an antidote to depression out of hopelessness and envies out of disappointment in a purely subjective sense. It requires only self-will to choose the light and to follow it by constantly taming your brittle spirit via lifelong habit until you find a sense of why you are here in this world. If you doubt it as a cliche, then meet Aristotle, the student of Plato, who was the student of Socrates, and the private tutor of Alexander.
Along with his great predecessor Socrates, Aristotle was a thinker who billeted Philosophy from the heavens at the houses of mortals so that she could show them how to cope with the harsh realities of the world that discombobulated a sense of purpose in life. Aristotle’s main concern was that people weighed heavily on the outward material success as a sign of well-being and a carte blanche to happiness, which would lead people astray with a sense of emptiness inside. For example, we can’t know if all those glossy selfies on Facebook and Instagram reflect the real lives of those uploading them. Or the lives of Hollywood stars who predicate on images and styles are not, in fact, worth admiration, as revealed in the recent defamation trial of Depp v. Heard, in which Depp’s braggadocio of recalcitrant drug and alcohol uses combined with alarmingly repulsive backstage personality, is simply disgraceful. On the contrary, the Uber drivers I have come across appear to be more satisfied with their lives, content with their independent work mode, and love of families. This Aristotle refers to a state of eudaimonia, a feeling of bliss, however small it is, because it comes from a higher sense of pleasantness from within.
Of course, Aristotle’s way is not instant magic and may not show visible effects in one fell swoop, but it is a long-term remedy like a physical therapy that will show improvement. Aristotle’s way is not fanciful but practical with two recipes for the malady of hearts: (1) to keep everything in moderation, called the “Golden Mean”; and (2) training yourself continuously and actively to do the right thing like a habit. Aristotle reminds us that excellence is not an act but a habit. This happiness school parallels Emerson’s dictum that thinking is the function, and action is the functionary. So this is Aristotle’s simple but sophisticated stairways to your happiness, and I think it’s worth trying. No wonder his student Alexander became great.