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Title: The Role of Traditional Religion in Aristotle
Authors: Segev, Mor
Advisors: Cooper, John M.
Contributors: Philosophy Department
Keywords: Anthropomorphism
Political function
Traditional religion
Subjects: Philosophy
Classical studies
Philosophy of Religion
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Aristotle criticizes the content of Greek religion severely. He thinks that it is demonstrably false. Surprisingly, however, he also holds that traditional religion and its institutions are necessary if any city, including the ideal city he describes in <italic>Politics</italic> VII-VIII, is to exist and thrive. My dissertation aims to provide, for the first time, a coherent account of the socio-political role Aristotle attributes to traditional religion despite his rejection of its content. In the <italic>De philosophia</italic>, a dialogue surviving only in fragmentary quotations and paraphrases, Aristotle compares the gods of traditional religion to Platonic Forms. He dismisses both as fictional entities - the products of an erroneous inference from the obvious and universally agreed existence of certain objects to the existence of eternal beings causing them and bearing similar properties. Yet, in the same work, Aristotle attributes to religious practices the capacity to produce emotional states that are conducive to learning. This view anticipates his account of the role of institutionalized traditional religion in his extant corpus. According to his theory there, religion is necessary because it prepares the ground for what he considers the pinnacle of human endeavor: attaining the knowledge of first philosophy, whose objects are real beings worthy of being called gods, viz. the unmoved movers of the heavens. Religion performs that function by exposing citizens to the traditional depictions of divinity. These, in turn, generate in the citizens with the right potential the sense of 'wonder' (<italic>thaumazein</italic>) about gods that guides them from such mythological conceptions to an inquiry into the nature of the true god(s) of Aristotle's <italic>Metaphysics</italic>. In addition, since the anthropomorphic gods partake of the definitions of both 'human being' and 'god,' wondering about their nature can initiate an inquiry into the relation between gods and humans. Both kinds of inquiry are essential for getting as close as humanly possible to the condition of the divine, and the role of traditional religion in achieving that goal, which Aristotle considers the highest human aspiration, is therefore immensely significant, both for the individual happiness of any citizen and for the flourishing of the city.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Philosophy

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