“Now nature makes nothing incomplete, and nothing in vain…” Aristotle, Politics

Sometimes we might wonder about Aristotle. Was he observing the same world we are?

One thing is clear: Aristotle spent much time studying the natural world. For instance, his knowledge of fish, including their distinction from mammals of the sea, is vast. Indeed he is considered the father of biology. Surely his judgment about ‘nature’ is rooted in his empirical knowledge.

But his judgment stems not simply from a close study of earth, plants and animals. Somehow his perception has been honed—or in any case not blinded—so that he can see more than earth, plants, and animals. In them. He grasps something deeper: an order, indeed an intention, that at once reveals itself, and remains hidden. An order and intention that is not ours; but certainly not alien. Here is an object of wonder, of reverence.

To some of us his vision might seem to be a reading-in, an imposition on reality. But isn’t it always so—that those of us who do not see, think that those who can see are telling tales?

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher.

Image credit: Quercus Alba, the great eastern white oak, king among trees. Donald Peattie, naturalist, author, artist.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

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John Cuddeback
John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.


  1. Aristotle’s empirical knowledge was severely limited, and his conclusions of dubious value. If the Roman Catholic Church hadn’t switched from anathematizing Aristotle to canonizing his philosophy, Galileo might have had a much easier time getting on with his studies. Tutor of Alexander the Great… that’s a recommendation? Student of Plato… hard to say which is worse. Nature does many things that are incomplete, vain, without purpose… but there may well be a purpose to the existence of Nature.

  2. Siarlys,
    A biographical sketch places someone in history. The points therein do not necessarily act as a recommendation.
    I do not know anyone—including scientists—whose empirically knowledge is not quite limited. You find Aristotle’s conclusions of dubious value; many serious thinkers even today find otherwise.
    You assert that nature does many things in vain and without purpose. Aristotle has suggested the contrary, and has many reasons for doing so. This piece invites the reader to consider the position of a great lover and observer of nature.

  3. Well said Siarlys. Nature is a psychopathic system which failed in its mission to serve man. And Aristotle was one of the first rationalist nut kneeling at the feet of the “Great Mechanism” and its ruling autocrat – Reason.

    Talk about a biographical sketch. Maybe the first of a looooong series of so-called great men who worshipped Order and Wisdom ; the political position as tutor of Alexander the (other) Great being perfectly consistent with the rest of the CV.

    Stumbled on this site, saw the little line about Aristotle, though it was ironic – but not that kind of “where have all the flowers gone” irony and invoking of the Ancient Wisdom…

    A ‘great man’ is one who looks right into the eyes of that oppressive power -Reason- that enslaves men and kills true life. See Lev Shestov for instance.

  4. Diane, truly you have a dizzying intellect.

    Vizzini: “Let me put it this way. have you heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?”
    Man in Black: “Yes.”
    Vizzini: “Morons.”

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