Translating Aristotle

We are delighted by Professor Diana Schaub’s powerful endorsement of our new translation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (“Code of the Gentleman,” Fall 2012). She clearly gave the text an attentive reading, even catching a small error in the index, which we have now corrected. Hence we write primarily to express our gratitude for the review.

This letter also gives us the opportunity to address the most important point of substance that she raises, as to whether to kalon, the end (telos) of virtue, ought to be rendered as “the beautiful” or “the noble.” As Professor Schaub points out, while we draw attention to the complexity of the term, we chose to translate it as “the noble.” We believe that this translation conveys better the meaning of to kalon as the end of virtue, particularly in contrast to “the beautiful,” which she prefers.

Why did we make this choice? Two main reasons are decisive to us.

First, to speak of doing the noble thing, as compared to the beautiful thing, more vividly captures that element of moral action and character that is self-sacrificing or self-forgetting. In this way, a reader is consistently reminded of the longing of the good human being—the morally virtuous person—to seek a good that is higher or more complete than his or her own. This longing and telos are the source of great acts of courage and generosity, as well as of graceful acts of courtesy and tactfulness. The translation of to kalon as “the noble” thus captures better what another reviewer, Harvey Mansfield, called the “splendor” of moral virtue: the self-forgetting involved in moral virtue and the great longing of the morally virtuous person for something higher than any private good. The translation also helps bring into focus the centrality of the common good—the greater good—for the person of moral virtue and therewith the life lived in common with others. At its peak, this life is one of governance with a view to the good of the community, the life of the great-souled Winston Churchill, for example, to whom Schaub understandably appeals.

But Aristotle is a philosopher and is concerned also to think through the difficulties. The second reason for our translation of to kalon as “the noble” is that this formulation does not obscure the difficulties. For it becomes clear that the person of moral virtue also aims at “the best” (to ariston, or the highest good) for himself; he is and indeed ought to be a “self-lover.” Our translation of to kalon keeps in view the distinction between the two ends that the good person seeks: the good of another and his or her own good as the perfection in virtue. “Happiness,” after all, is “an activity of soul in accord with virtue.” The translation “the beautiful” elides the distinction between these two ends or it presupposes that, in the final analysis at least, there is no tension in moral virtue, acting in a “beautiful” way not obviously requiring any sacrifice. To make Aristotle say that courageous acts, for example, are undertaken “for the sake of the beautiful” is to give an oddly aesthetic cast to what is a matter of stern dedication or resolve that may well be painful. And it seems to us that such a tendency ought least of all to be encouraged in an age that generally prefers, to compliance with the harsh demands of excellence, the easy allure of the attractive.

Here we note a slight but ultimately important mischaracterization of our treatment of friendship in Schaub’s otherwise careful presentation. When we speak of the “absence of the noble” in Aristotle’s account of friendship, we are referring strictly to its absence as one of the three stated aims of friendly love; we did not say and did not mean to imply that it is absent from the account of friendship as a whole. Far from “seeing through the noble,” we call attention to the concern for precisely nobility—noble deeds and noble friends—in our discussion of friendship, while noting, as a simple fact, its absence as a stated end. The difficulties to which we point must be negotiated by every diligent reader of the Ethics, as must those difficulties attending the life of contemplation, such as it comes to view in this and the other texts of Aristotle.

Given the seriousness of such matters for human happiness, then, we are especially grateful to Professor Schaub for her review, which so much reflects the gravity of the questions at stake in Aristotle’s philosophy of human affairs.

Robert Bartlett and Susan Collins
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, MA

Diana Schaub replies:

I’m pleased that Robert Bartlett and Susan Collins were mostly gratified by the review and I welcome their further comments about how to kalon can best be rendered into English. They offer two main reasons for translating to kalon as “the noble” rather than “the beautiful.” I’m afraid I find those reasons less “decisive” than they do; indeed, the reasons they offer are based on considerations that, so far as I can see, don’t loom large for Aristotle. They prefer “the noble” because it shows that moral action is “self-sacrificing” and “self-forgetting.” But Aristotle doesn’t take a Puritan or Kantian path. He starts from our happiness and our good, and then shows how our virtues make us, as individuals (and as collectives too, as we learn in the Politics), good and happy. Of course, Aristotle doesn’t deny that the cultivation and acquisition of the virtues is difficult; nonetheless, the exercise of the virtues by the virtuous is not a matter of self-abnegation. That rare and excellent creature, the virtuous individual, takes his pleasure in virtuous action. Accordingly, it might be better to speak of the self-enlarging and self-fulfilling character of moral action. As Bartlett and Collins note, there is a “longing” for completion here, but it seems to me that the longing that draws the soul upwards, away from the pleasures that are sordid and easy, is quite well captured by “the beautiful.” Splitting a phenomenon that Aristotle understood as unified into two—what is beautiful in a physical sense we will call “beautiful,” while what is beautiful in a moral sense we will call “noble”—risks distorting or interfering with the reader’s imperative to understand Aristotle’s intention.

Bartlett and Collins cite Harvey Mansfield’s use of the word “splendor” in conjunction with moral virtue as if it supported their choice of “the noble” in preference to “the beautiful.” It should be noted that Mansfield, in his back-cover blurb, was not weighing in on this question. What he said was that the translation as a whole made it possible for readers to “behold the splendor of [Aristotle’s] conception of moral virtue.” I agree with that evaluation. However, I would add that Mansfield’s phrasing—”behold the splendor”—beautifully captures the aesthetic dimension of to kalon that Bartlett and Collins find “odd.” The ethically beautiful, like the physically beautiful, is something that we behold, that we look upon, that we contemplate with the eyes and admire. “Splendor” too is a sight word. Beautiful acts are refulgent; they shine brightly; they radiate. The model that Aristotle suggests for understanding right action is that of sense perception, a faculty with a natural foundation that nonetheless can be tutored.

I also worry that rendering to kalon as “the noble” places an unnecessary stumbling block for many modern readers. My students, not unreasonably, associate the noble with the nobility—and thus the exploded standards of a ruling class, whether the Greek aristocrats or the hereditary dukes and earls of old Europe. As the heirs of Falstaff, modern readers are all too ready to reject “the noble.” When to kalon is translated this way, modern readers may think they can dismiss Aristotle’s virtues as outdated or culturally specific. This tendency can be countered—for instance, by pointing out how often the Greeks lacked a name for characteristics that Aristotle considers virtues; thus, far from being an apologist for a specifically Greek version of gentlemanship, Aristotle highlights, or at least hints at, what his contemporaries lacked.

I have come to believe that translating to kalon as “the beautiful” is more accurate; it is also more productive of wonder, since the term and its broad usage by Aristotle surprises us. As Mansfield says in the “Note” on his own translation of Machiavelli’s The Prince, “It is not the translator’s business to make everything familiar.” Accordingly, he sticks with translating virtú as virtue, despite its sometimes odd and startling results.

The mention of wonder brings me to the second reason offered by Bartlett and Collins.

They argue that “the noble” is preferable to “the beautiful” because it does not “obscure the difficulties” or “tension” in moral virtue. Here, I have confidence in Aristotle, regardless of whether a translator chooses “the noble” or “the beautiful.” If there are tensions within moral virtue—either in the individual virtues (as in the painfulness of courage) or between virtues (as between great-souledness and justice)—then it is Aristotle’s discussion, and not one word alone, that reveals them. So, in the case of courage, he acknowledges outright that courage involves enduring painful and frightening things. He also says that the courageous man so endures “because it is beautiful to do so or because it is shameful not to.” It is incumbent on a careful reader to follow up on that disjunction “or.” The reader should revisit what Aristotle says about shame and its relation to virtue. Aristotle also frankly indicates that from the perspective of the political community, the best soldiers may not be men of complete virtue (who greatly value the good of life since they live life so fully) but rather those who have one of the forms of pseudo-courage, perhaps especially “citizen courage” or “animal spiritedness.” It is important that Aristotle is emphatic both about the likely painfulness of courage and its directedness toward to kalon.

So, the materials are there for readers to plumb the subtleties of his treatment, noting the shifts in emphasis and the different formulations used in describing different virtues: so, for instance, the liberal man not only gives generously, but “he will do these things with pleasure or without pain” and friends, of course, will do beautiful actions with delight. Because of the overall excellence of the Bartlett-Collins translation, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is laid open for far-reaching inquiries.

As to the other topic they raise, I’m content to let what I wrote stand. Rereading page 53 of my review will indicate that I construed their words strictly. Quoting them, I stated that the noble disappears “inasmuch as ‘strikingly absent here [in the opening definition of the lovable] is what is noble.‘” Later, I note that they “summarize the conclusion of Book 9, where ‘the noble’ figures prominently.” So, I don’t think I ascribed to them the view that the noble is altogether absent from Aristotle’s account of friendship. As to the “difficulties” bedeviling the moral life, I would just direct readers to pages 287-88 of their interpretive essay where it is clear that this absence of the noble, however temporary or however strictly construed, is not a minor matter: “Strikingly absent here is what is ‘noble,’ the very thing he had insisted is the end of virtue. Aristotle is franker here than before about the final end of human action [namely that we want the good for ourselves].” The interpretive essay attaches revelatory theoretical significance to what their letter downplays as a “simple fact.” Readers will learn more I think by returning to that entire subsection of their essay, entitled “On Friendship,” and my comment on it. Or, better yet, just read Books 8 and 9 of the Ethics.

GOP Electability

It was a pleasure to read William Voegeli’s essay on moderation (“Extremism in Defense of Liberty,” Fall 2012), which touched on my recent book Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party. The greatest compliment a critic can pay an author is to take his work seriously. Voegeli’s article was absorbing, well argued, and clear—much clearer than the truth! For the record, I don’t believe that the Republican Party has gone insane. But I do believe that, in shucking off moderation and indeed most of its history, the GOP has damaged its long-term electability and effectiveness. This is something that ought to concern conservatives more than Voegeli’s essay would suggest.

Voegeli and I are in full agreement that there were lots of problems with the moderate Republicans of yesteryear. Some were opportunists like Nelson Rockefeller, others were too gentlemanly to be effective politicians, and many were overly fond of the status quo and more concerned with making nice with the dominant liberal Democrats of the pre-Reagan era than challenging them. Why then should any Republican miss them today? Basically, because the Republican Party can’t be a governing party without them.

I doubt Voegeli will agree with this proposition, since like most conservatives he feels that today’s ideology-fueled, tea-injected Republican Party provides an inspiring contrast to “moderation’s history of electoral and governmental futility.” It’s true that before the 1980 election, the moderate-dominated GOP seemed fated to be a permanent minority party. But it’s not unreasonable to fear a similar fate for today’s conservative GOP. Republicans have failed to win a majority in the Senate in the last four elections, and have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. The Republicans actually lost the popular vote in the House in the last election, retaining control only because of redistricting by GOP-controlled state legislatures. As Voegeli is no doubt aware, all of the electoral-demographic patterns in this country are trending against the GOP, as the Democrats enjoy widening margins of support among minorities, women, young people, urbanites, and middle-class professionals. And according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, a majority of Americans (53%) feel that the Republicans’ main problem is not poor leadership or bad messaging but that they are too conservative and unconcerned with “the welfare of the people, particularly those in the lower and middle income levels.” So there’s considerable reason to doubt that turning the GOP into an uncompromising ideological party has improved its long-term electability.

But let’s say that today’s conservative Republican would rather be (hard) right than be president. Electoral disadvantage aside, wouldn’t one expect that today’s disciplined ideological troops would achieve more policy victories than the wimpy, disorganized Republicans of old? Unfortunately, no. In two-party, non-parliamentary, narrowly divided government, a policy advance for one side requires at least a few votes from the other side, which means that both sides have to compromise. But by definition there can be no compromising on principle, which means that an ideologically committed party must either force the other side into unconditional surrender or accept defeat. The consequences of this logic are playing themselves out in the House as I type, with the uncompromising Republicans having repudiated Speaker John Boehner’s attempt to secure a budget deal that would have achieved about 90% of what his conference wanted. The end result is now likely to be close to 100% of what Democrats want, and even as conservative a commentator as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post complains that the outcome “suggests Republicans are not capable of governing.”

What reason is there to believe that the GOP would fare better if moderates were still a part of the Republican coalition? Well, for one thing, moderates fared much better electorally with those groups whose votes currently provide the margin of victory against Republican candidates. It’s worth remembering that Dwight Eisenhower won about two-fifths of the African-American vote in 1956, and even Richard Nixon won over a third of black voters in 1960. It was much more difficult for Democrats to claim that Republicans didn’t care about minorities, city-dwellers, and the poor when moderates (and even conservatives like Jack Kemp) were making headlines with outreach efforts to those groups and Republican policy alternatives to bureaucratic, centralized Democratic programs such as the War on Poverty.

And there’s also considerable historical evidence that the moderates were not quite as unprincipled and ineffective as Voegeli suggests. I’d argue that most moderate Republicans were better fiscal conservatives than the Tea Partiers, at least if fiscal conservatism is understood to mean balancing the budget through a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases (including taxation). There has been no more fiscally conservative president in the last 80 years than the moderates’ hero Dwight Eisenhower, who was the last president to balance the budget three times and reduce the ratio of national debt to GNP. It would be nice if today’s supposed fiscal conservatives would stop denouncing him as a RINO. True, Eisenhower subscribed to a philosophy of prudence in international affairs, and prudence can sometimes be synonymous with inaction. But prudence kept Eisenhower from intervening in Vietnam, and how many people now think that was the wrong decision?

It’s also worth remembering that the moderate Republicans’ great cause in the 1960s was civil rights, which they pursued with a most un-moderate consistency, passion (even bellicosity), and effectiveness. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were as much Republican accomplishments as Democratic ones, and a greater proportion of Republicans than Democrats voted for both measures.

As Voegeli says, my book is a valedictory for the moderates, not a claim that they will ever again be a dominant force in the GOP. But the experience of grappling with moderates had an educative effect on conservatives like Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley, Jr., which made them better equipped to govern than the leaders of the current moderate-free GOP.

Geoffrey Kabaservice
Alexandria, VA

William Voegeli replies:

Since I wrote so much about the extent and justification of the GOP’s extremism in the last issue, let me go at the question from the other end: what would it take, and what would it accomplish, to “re-moderate” the 21st-century Republican Party? Geoffrey Kabaservice believes “the GOP would fare better if moderates were still a part of the Republican coalition,” because “shucking off moderation” has damaged the party’s “long-term electability and effectiveness.” Electability and effectiveness are, of course, two sides of the same coin. An unelectable party is never in a position to effect anything, while a party in power that proves ineffective can’t hope to win future elections.

Let’s stipulate for the sake of the argument that Kabaservice is right about the Republicans’ need to reverse the course of the past half-century, shucking off their disdain for moderates and moderation. What does that mean, and how does that work? I’m still not sure, even after reading and thinking about Rule and Ruin, how much moderation is about tone, and how much is about substance. Two years ago Mitch Daniels, Republican governor of Indiana at the time, gave a widely noted speech where he endorsed a “more affirmative, ‘better angels’ approach to voters” since if Republicans hope to win their support “it would help if they liked us, just a bit.” It’s just about impossible to quarrel with that advice.

But after finishing charm school, what do Republicans do? Is Daniels the kind of politician the GOP needs more of? My sense is that he was a very conservative governor over his eight years in office. Upon being elected in 2004, he began his administration by proposing the kind of fiscal balance Kabaservice recommends—specifically, spending cuts combined with an income tax surcharge on families with six-figure incomes. The tax proposal went nowhere, however, and Daniels dropped it. Everything else he pursued and, mostly, attained sounds like a to-do list from the Cato Institute: cutting spending, writing property tax limitations into the state constitution, privatizing infrastructure, making health savings accounts the centerpiece of the state’s Medicaid program, expanding school choice, and signing right-to-work legislation.

If moderation needs to be substantive rather than just tonal, Daniels’s approach should have failed. He won a 58-to-40% landslide reelection in 2008, however, even as Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Indiana since 1964. Daniels even tripled his portion of the black vote from 7% in 2004 to 20%.

And if tax increases are indispensable to a politically and fiscally viable approach to balanced budgets, Indiana’s finances should have been crippled by his failure to enact that income tax surcharge. In fact, however, the state is in much better shape than it was when Daniels was elected, even after the Great Recession. The anti-tax reactionaries who dismissed Daniels’s surcharge proposal appear to have had a point: tax revenue to the government equals, always and everywhere, the tax-rate structure multiplied by the tax base. Thus, expanding the tax base is an alternative to increasing tax rates. If more prudent, better administered government spending and regulating allows the government to accomplish more with less, then tax increases are not indispensable. And if those tax increases provide a pretext not to streamline government, or if they shrink rather than expand the tax base by discouraging investment, then the tax increases are counterproductive.

A second problem: if a re-moderated GOP is going to be more formidable than the current, post-moderate one, the crucial achievement must be a net increase in the number of Republican voters. The additions must outnumber the subtractions, that is, or the solution will be worse than the problem. Changes that convince many existing Republican voters to stay home or vote for third-party candidates, while replacing only some of them with new GOP voters just dig the hole deeper.

Since Election Day 2012 there have been many suggestions for how Republicans can attract more swing voters or weakly attached Democrats. The recommendations include qualifying, if not jettisoning, conservative opposition to: illegal immigration; same-sex marriage; gun control; legalized abortion; or any and all tax increases. I see how each of these changes would antagonize an important element of the existing Republican coalition, but I don’t see how any of them attract a new contingent of voters inside the tent.

For the full exchange between Geoffrey Kabaservice and William Voegeli, with further commentary by David Frum and Steven F. Hayward, visit our online feature, “Upon Further Review,” at

Founders’ Faith

I must thank Patrick Allitt for his generally positive review of my book, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders (“Nature’s God,” Fall 2012). In particular, I appreciate his accuracy in describing the thesis and in summarizing the evidence. Not all reviewers are so careful and even-handed.

I am not one who must answer every criticism levelled by a reviewer, but I do think that clarification, when needed, is appropriate. Professor Allitt says that he is unsure how I would address his two “possible criticisms” and I think it important for clarity’s sake to answer.

His two criticisms are really two branches from the same tree. He suggests that my definition of “Christianity” is too narrow—that I have “shrunk ‘Christianity’ to mean rather less than it did at the time of the Revolution itself”—and that I didn’t pay enough attention to the way in which key founders characterized their own religious affiliations.

Two critical points regarding my definition must be understood. First, I was far more interested in beliefs than affiliations or self-identifications because I was investigating the sources of the founding ideas; hence the title of the book. Beliefs, not affiliations, produce ideas. Self-identifications may be for effect, and may or may not be accurate.

Second, I carefully constructed my definition through a comparison of the creeds and confessions of the 18th-century American churches in order to reflect the core fundamental beliefs that all of the denominations considered to be essential to Christianity. The goal was to determine who was not a Christian by the standards of 18th-century American Christians themselves.

Though I admit that “millions of liberal Protestants today” (emphasis added) might be offended by my definition, I think that a definition based on the expressed beliefs of 18th-century Christians best reflects the meaning of “Christianity” at the time. Applying today’s conventional, broad, amorphous definition to the time of the Revolution would produce the anachronism about which Allitt is concerned.

My book’s central argument is that the terms “Christian” and “deist” have been so broadly and superficially applied to the American Founders that they have in many cases become virtually meaningless. My term “theistic rationalist” was designed to be more accurate, and to fill a needed explanatory and descriptive gap.

Gregg L. Frazer
The Master’s College
Santa Clarita, CA

Conducting Mahler

I much enjoyed Robert R. Reilly’s review of the new Mahler biography by Jens Malte Fischer (“A Musical Messiah?” Fall 2012) but must take some issue with the final section in which Mr. Reilly speaks about recorded performances of the symphonies. It seems to me shortsighted merely to state, even as clearly and at times convincingly as Reilly does, an opinion as to what are the “best” performances without providing the historical context. One needs to begin at the beginning: with Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter, the two great conductors who knew Mahler and had heard him conduct his own music, both in rehearsal and in performance. Although it may be that their recordings have been surpassed, it would be useful to know why this is so and in what ways it is so.

Reilly writes,

If a conductor can beat time, Beethoven almost plays itself. Not so Mahler. He needs a visionary conductor. It is the vision that holds the music together, not the notes by themselves.

Although one can get from the beginning to the end of a Beethoven symphony by merely beating time (as many conductors do), that is precisely why many performances these days are so maddeningly dull, routine, and beside the point. To conduct Beethoven well also requires a vision: one of understanding and conveying to an orchestra (and an audience) what is so extraordinary in his symphonies. Reilly doesn’t explain that Mahler knew that his music required a vision to hold its lengthy, disparate parts together and that he actually supplied one for the conductors who would come after him. Unlike Beethoven’s scores, Mahler’s come complete with an enormous array of “stage directions”: tempo changes, mood indicators, various expressive markings (sometimes including the word, “somewhat”), cautions about rushing and dragging, and dynamic changes that come at the performer at an historically unprecedented rate. The various editions of Mahler’s symphonies suggest that many of these markings were applied as a result of the trial and error the composer himself experienced in conducting his works in rehearsal and performance. What is apparent is that he feared not only the conductor of “no vision” but anticipated the conductor who would impose his own vision on the music. (Some have argued that Leonard Bernstein, by picking and choosing from among some of Mahler’s indications while completely ignoring others and even occasionally defying what he stipulated, did precisely that.)

Although I do not necessarily disagree with Reilly’s preferences (Bernstein, Tennstedt, Levine, and Karajan), it is puzzling that he fails to mention the two conductors whom many Mahler enthusiasts regard as the most faithful to the composer’s scores and, thus, to his ethos: Jascha Horenstein and Claudio Abbado. If I may take the liberty, I should like to recommend to Mr. Reilly my own favorite Mahler conductor: Benjamin Zander. His recordings of the symphonies with the Philharmonia Orchestra are now nearly complete. Each is brilliantly and lovingly set forth and is packaged with a bonus CD containing the most intelligent and compelling lectures and musical demonstrations that one could ask for.

Daniel L. Farber
Alexandria, VA

Robert R. Reilly replies:

Mr. Farber makes some excellent points.

Everyone has his favorite Mahler conductor, and I would not gainsay his selections, which are more than worthy. There are some 1,400 Mahler recordings currently out there, and the purpose of my article was not to make a discographic survey or even to provide the historical context for my preferences. I am happy to report, though, that I have since heard from Jens Malte Fischer who wrote to tell me that he shares my predilection for conductor Klaus Tennstedt’s live Mahler recordings.

As for the “vision” thing, I meant only that I would far prefer to sit through a bad Beethoven performance than a bad Mahler one, because bad Mahler is worse than bad Beethoven. Aside from his infamous metronome markings, Beethoven did not have to leave detailed instructions in his scores because the tonal architecture of what he had written was so clear and commanding in itself. Therefore, his music is harder to ruin. This is not so with Mahler. As Farber says, Mahler did leave very detailed instructions, which has not, however, prevented his music from being murdered.

A Shallow Swerve

It is too bad that Professor James Nichols did not point out that Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve promotes a world view dispiriting in its moral shallowness (“The Pursuit of Pleasure,” Fall 2012).

For Greenblatt, as he tells us in the preface to The Swerve, the discovery of Lucretius meant liberation from the psychological oppression of his Jewish mother, who used the fear of death as a weapon against her son. Tossing out that perverse bath, Greenblatt chose to toss out the baby as well by denying the possibility of any spiritual meaning to human life, including that taught in the Judaism (never mentioned by Nichols) into which the author was born.

Greenblatt fails to notice (and Nichols to observe) that though belief in the ultimate meaninglessness of things (there being nothing, according to his Lucretian Epicureanism, but atoms and the void) may serve him as a hedge against the fear of death, it is surely a faith no better founded on actual human experience than faith in the teachings of Moses, Plato, Christ, or Muhammad. And Nichols’s conclusion that Greenblatt’s “experience of recovery” of “ancient ways of thought and expression” can “provide the deepest intellectual stimulation and joy” suggests that the reviewer’s concept of what constitutes deep intellectual stimulation and joy may itself be rather limited. It is indeed a pleasure to have read Greenblatt’s imaginative retelling of Poggio’s discovery of De Rerum Natura. But surely there are deeper forms of “intellectual stimulation and joy” to be found in the greatest of Jewish, Christian, and Enlightenment thinkers than in Greenblatt’s own discovery of grounds for a cavalier and tendentious dismissal of all religious faith, ritual, and meaning.

Gideon Rappaport
San Diego, CA

James H. Nichols, Jr., replies:

A bare summary of Epicurean materialist hedonism might indeed seem rather thin and doctrinaire, but the limitations of a brief book review do not accommodate a useful comparative analysis of the depth of Lucretius’ philosophical position with that of Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Enlightenment writers. Lucretius’ powerful intellectual appeal arises not only from the philosophical doctrines set forth but also from his poetry, which first draws us in with its beauty and later, as we reflect on all the dimensions of his poetic presentation of the Epicurean teaching, leads us to ponder the thinking that guides his poetic endeavor: the poet’s deep insights into human longings, fears, and opinions that obstruct our openness to arguments or truths that seem bitter at first.