Being is Better Than Not Being
The Metaphysics of Goodness and Beauty in Aristotle
Imprint: Catholic University of America Press
In his contemplative works on nature, Aristotle twice appeals to the general principle that being is better than not being. Taking his cue from this claim, Christopher V. Mirus offers an extended, systematic account of how Aristotle understands being itself to be good.
Mirus begins with the human, examining Aristotle’s well-known claim that the end of a human life is the good of the human substance as such—which turns out to be the good of the human capacity for thought. Human thought, however, is not concerned with human affairs alone. It is also contemplative, and contemplation is oriented toward the beauty of its objects. In each of the three branches of contemplative thought—mathematics, natural science, and theology—the intelligibility of being renders it beautiful to thought. Both in nature and in human life, moreover, the being that is beautiful through its intelligibility serves also as an end of motion and of action; hence it counts not only as beautiful ( kalon), but also as good ( agathon).
The persistent concern of thought with the beautiful reveals what is at stake for human beings in Aristotle’s larger metaphysics of the good: in the connection between goodness and actuality that structures his natural science and metaphysics, in his explicit claim that being is better than not being, and in his concepts of order and determinacy, which help connect being with goodness. These in turn shed light on his concepts of the complete and the self-sufficient, on his teleological understanding of the four elements, and on the curious role of the honorable in his natural science and metaphysics.
"Christopher Mirus makes coherent sense of Aristotle’s corpus as a whole. It is possible that there are works in languages other than English that one might compare, but for Anglophones, this is the book."~Anthony Preus, SUNY Binghamton
" Being is Better than Not Being is a major new effort to place the good and the beautiful at the heart of Aristotle's ethics and of his work as a whole. It is detailed and wide-ranging and breaks new ground. As such, it is a welcome addition to other books that diverge from recent tendencies to understand Aristotle's ethics as separate from his metaphysics and his metaphysics as separate from the beautiful and the good. In its clarity and comprehensiveness—as well as its distinctive voice— Being is Better than Not Being also is a beautiful book."~Barbara Achtenberg, University of Nevada, Reno
"This is a remarkable work: synthetic in scope, as it must be, given its subject matter; analytic in the sense that it is rigorous, careful, and thoroughly informed by the best scholarship in the 'analytic' tradition; thoughtful and highly philosophical; and at the same time personable, because the author's engagement and search for the truth shine through. It will prove a good guide to many difficult passages and themes in Aristotle. And it may just succeed in conveying as well that there is nothing so practical as metaphysics."~Michael Pakaluk, The Catholic University of America
"Christopher Mirus' analysis of Aristotle's ‘metaphysics of goodness and beauty’ clearly and rigorously tackles a question on which contemporary philosophy and science are in principle, and horrifyingly, silent: why is being better than not being? It should be read."~David Roochnik, Boston College