Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics offers a compelling view of human excellence. Decent people everywhere recognize, and are inspired by, its description of good character, friendship, and happiness, and by Aristotle’s own display of intellectual acumen. The Ethics, nonetheless—or consequently—presents significant obscurities. Intelligent commentaries are therefore always welcome.

Lorraine Pangle’s Reason and Character is a thoughtful guide through the Ethics’s first six books and most of its seventh, with a brief epilogue that touches on the discussion of philosophy in its final (tenth) book. This unconventional truncating of what Aristotle presents is not meant to be arbitrary, or a testament to scholarly exhaustion in the face of his complexity. “The final three books leave the moral life behind,” Pangle explains, to discuss pleasure, friendship, and “in seriously incomplete form…the life of philosophic contemplation.” These discussions “venture beyond the scope of political philosophy.” By political philosophy Pangle, who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, apparently means here the prudent or rhetorical defense to gentlemen of the philosophic life, although one might think that discussions of pleasure, friendship, and intellectual virtue would also help serve this purpose.


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