Book Review: Dominic Scott, Levels of Argument. A Comparative Study of Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Dominic Scott’s Levels of Argument is a comparison of the Republic and Nicomachean Ethics, focusing on the methods and structures of the texts’ arguments. In his analysis, Scott’s chief point is that in both texts, Plato and Aristotle recognize two separate “routes” or arguments that are both capable of leading one to an understanding of why justice is beneficial (in the case of Plato) or the human good (in the case of Aristotle). In both texts, the shorter route is seen as a less rigorous but adequate method of arguing for the authors’ respective conclusions. It is also the route that both authors actually traverse in the texts. The longer route, in contrast, is taken to be more rigorous: its arguments are more precise and detailed but as a consequence are far more difficult to follow. However, Scott argues that the authors differ in their attitude to this longer route. Plato sees it as an ideal, one that he would like to follow but cannot due to its difficulty. In contrast, Scott argues that Aristotle sees the longer route as superfluous given that political science is a practical discipline. In addition to articulating and comparing these two routes, Scott also discusses key methodological passages, contrasting Plato’s journey out of and then back into the cave with Aristotle’s comments about whether he is working to or from first principles. In what follows, I will focus on how Scott distinguishes the two routes, elaborating on those parts of his argument that I take to be the most crucial in drawing this distinction. I will then briefly look at what we learn from this comparison and mount a worry about his reading of Aristotle.

Full text can be downloaded here.

Originally published by Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, Volume 99, Issue 2, Pages 229–232