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The Recovery of the Soul: An Aristotelian Essay on Self-Fulfillment.

This work is a hybrid: part analysis and critique of Aristotle's philosophical system and part independent philosophical theorizing. Rankin presents his text as an effort to recuperate a fading interest in the Stagirite within the contemporary philosophic community. His approach is decidedly Analytical and it adverts to many of the central philosophical problems discussed by that school, for example, Wittgenstein's view of language, Moore's naturalistic fallacy, McTaggart's paradox, and so forth. The style is somewhat turgid and considerably overworked.

Rankin distinguishes six separate Aristotelian themes; of these, he rejects the first two (and arguably three) entirely and significantly modifies the other four according to his own philosophic perspective. A review of these themes will serve as an overview of the work. The first is that Aristotle's philosophy constitutes a process of enlightenment in which the knower moves from what is more known to us to what is more knowable in itself. This ascension ultimately ends in an awareness of the self-reflective knowing of the Prime Mover. The view assumes an identification of substance (or as Rankin prefers to call it, "non-arbitrary thinghood") with form conceived as psychological entity. This identity is acceptable to Rankin, but Aristotle conceives substance too narrowly as intellectual. "Then, to compound the mischief, he conceived it as immaterial" (p. 124). Thus Rankin rejects outright the transcendent and nonmaterial Prime Mover.

Second, Aristotle's defense of a first philosophy that studies the Prime Mover is an anthropomorphism, Rankin holds. "Presumably it is by an extrapolation from their own intellectual activity that first philosophers become aware of the divine nature as the eternal self-engrossed activity of contemplation" (p. 97). The projection of teleological purposiveness into the world extends to both the dynamic and geometric realm of physics and to the biological realm of plant and animal life.

For Aristotle, thirdly, substances are instantiations of form in matter, but for Rankin "there are no such things as unique individual essences whereby actual and possible particulars are all individuated from each other" (p. 228). The rejection of these first three themes makes it clear that Rankin intends to discard Aristotelian metaphysics.

Rankin agrees with Aristotle that the soul is a potentiality, and he makes use of this tenet in his discussion of the moral order in chapter 9. He argues that the self is motivated by its desire for an unqualified good, and ultimately for that good which is essentially self-desiderative. This desire constitutes the distinctive potentiality of the human being. Moral standards, however, are not laws derived from individually intuited and objectively existing goods, but are prescriptive utterances derived from each moral agent who lives (playing on Kant's "kingdom of ends") in a "republic of means."

Rankin believes that for Aristotle the soul or mind confers being upon other natural substances in a manner similar to that in which the skill of the hand confers utility on the tools it handles. The soul exemplifies freedom in this activity and so possesses an "indeterministic" power of choice; this freedom accounts for our grasp of the structure of reality as intrinsically temporal. Nevertheless, the soul is physical in character and possesses no properly spiritual dimension.

Finally, according to Rankin, the highest good is the ultimate reifying factor for substance; but because Rankin rejects the transcendent Prime Mover, he must locate this highest good in the universal and self-desiderative desire of the physical human being. It is a core task of this book to "detranscendentalize" the Prime Mover and to transpose its powers to ordinary human souls.

Rankin has obviously expended a great deal of effort on this project; it represents many years of solid work and reflection. The reader will be impressed with his keen sense for subtle distinctions and his unremitting demand for precise terminology. Nonetheless, as an Aristotelian essay, it is more a measure of how different our own age is from that of ancient Greece than a philosophic effort in the Aristotelian spirit. As an attempt to readjust Aristotle's outlook to a world that has vastly changed since ancient times, the work is highly thought-provoking and original. There is no doubt, however, that Aristotle would have much to say in his own defense were he with us today.
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Author:Furton, E.J.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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