Aristotle on Passion vs. Intelligence

My reading adventures take me to most breathtaking places on earth. That’s why I wanted to share with you one of my latest tours to Greece, famous for giving us the myth of Narcissus and Echo, the myth of Eros and Psyche, the myth of Medusa and Perseus, the myth of Sisyphus and his eternal punishment, the myth of Odysseus, the myth of the Great Trojan War, the myth of the Pandora’s box, but most of all famous for giving us philosophy and being the birthplace of one of my favorite thinkers — Aristotle.

Considered the father of logic, the father of biology, the father of political science, the father of zoology, the father of embryology, the father of natural law, the father of scientific method, the father of rhetoric, the father of psychology, the father of realism, the father of criticism, the father of individualism, the father of teleology, and the father of meteorology, Aristotle knew a thing or two about Living a Good Life. And in today’s article, we’re going to learn about his views on passion vs. intelligence.

Phyllis and Aristotle by Lucas Cranach the Elder. This one depicts the humiliation of Aristotle by Phyllis, a purported consort of Alexander the Great. As the story goes, Aristotle was smitten by the lovely Phyllis. She said she would consider receiving his attentions only if he allowed her to ride on his back. So the great philosopher got down on his hands and knees.

Aristotle writes:

When passion overcomes intelligence, it changes the good qualities that are the beauty of intelligence into bad qualities, turning patience into resentment, knowledge into hypocrisy, intelligence into craftiness, culture into conceit, eloquence into prattle, liberality into wastefulness, frugality into stinginess, and forgiveness into cowardice.

When this happens to someone, it leaves one so that one sees no health but physical health, no knowledge but that by which one becomes presumptuous, no wealth but monetary profit, no confidence but in material acquisition, and no security but in subjugation of people.

Noting that “all of that is inconsistent with one’s aim, distancing one from one’s object and bringing one nearer to perdition,” Aristotle concludes:

But when intelligence overcomes passion, it changes the bad qualities into good ones, turning stupidity into discernment, vehemence into acumen, cunning into intelligence, prattle into eloquence, inarticulateness into silence, unruliness into cultivation, recklessness into energy, cowardice into caution, prodigality into liberality, and stinginess into frugality.

I don’t know about you, but I agree with Aristotle that our world is a better place when there is more eloquence and less prattle, more intelligence and less cunning, and more culture and less conceit. What are your favorite word pairs from Aristotle’s advice on Living a Good Life? Let me know in the comments down below and then revisit Aristotle on happiness as a quality of a complete life and Aristotle on virtues as habits.

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