A question similar to this was asked, but mine is a little more specific. In any given writing of Aristotle I find concepts which it seems he explores in other places. Is there an order in which the more fundamental concepts will be introduced first?


Your's is a very good question: "What is the best order to read Aristotle in?" Similar questions pop up here-and-there. An answer has always eluded me, until I discovered Mortimer Adler--'a real, modern Aristotelian'. Look him up. Read his books (he's published more than forty!) Listen to his lectures on You-Tube.

You might say, after Adler, I understood Aristotle. At least, as best I might.

Let me begin by quoting Alan Wardman in his book Plutarch's Lives (1974). About mid-way through, Wardman introduces the concept of 'character' in Plutarch's Lives by re-stating the single Aristotelian value (such, in fact, is an American value suggesting the critical importance of classical literature as a whole): "...political life is one of the highest forms of activity available to man" (p. 105).

The editors of the Great Books of the Western World, Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, understood classical thinkers like Aristotle and Wardman; they recommend, as an introduction to Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics (Book I). That's it! But, that's not all. From here go to Politics (Book I). This is the background. But, now hold on to your hat.

Second, Hutchins and Adler in The Great Ideas Program (1959), a commentary set of question-and-answer adjunct to the Great Books series, point to Aristotle: Politics (Books III-IV) and to a re-reading of especially Book I. Book I of Politics is obviously fundamental. Buy a personal copy. Take good marginal notes. Use at least two highlighters: orange for instructive, active brief portions; blue for thinker meaning. That's the first year's reading (obviously, you might speed it up: but, I would stick to this outline no matter how well-taught you might be).

The second year's readings from Aristotle include: Poetics (you might read this in a single weekend; it's yet instructive to creative work even today), and Ethics (Book II; Book III, Chapters 5-12 and Book VI, Chapters 8-13. See how easy it is?

Third Year: On Interpretation (Chapters 1-10); Politics (Books III-V): if there's any overlapping, remember: '...here is express meaning'.

Fourth Year: Physics (Book IV: Chapters 1-5, 10-14); Metaphysics i.e., literally referred to as, "after physics" (Book I, Chapters 1-2; Book IV; Book VI, Chapter 1; Book XI, Chapters 1-4).

Fifth Year: Catagories (please read the whole thing; don't skip); On the Soul (Book II, Chapters 1-3; Book III).

Sixth Year: back to Metaphysics (Book XII); for best results, please read in the assigned order....

Seventh Year: back to Ethics (Books VIII-X); ...don't peak!

Eighth Year: ...yes, back to Ethics (Book V); Rhetoric (Book I, Chapter 1 all-the-way to Book II, Chapter 1 inclusive; Book II, Chapter 20 all-the-way to Book III, Chapter 1; Book III, Chapter 13-19; ...any deadwood in Aristotle? Yes. So, follow Adler's advice... stop complaining!

Ninth Year: ...back to Politics (Book VII-VIII); ...don't stop now! You're almost finished.

Tenth Year: On the parts of Animals ...no I'm not kidding! (Book I, Chapter 1 all-the-way to Book II, Chapter 1 inclusive; On the Generation of Animals (Book I, Chapter 1, plus Chapters 17-18, then Chapters 20-23) ...does Aristotle predict Darwin? In philosophy, this is your next big question.

There now! You are an Aristotelian scholar just like Mortimer Adler.

Thanks for the opportunity here at the website, Philosophers Stack.


St. Thomas Aquinas, considered one of the greatest commentators on Aristotle, describes in his Sententia Ethic., lib. 6 l. 7 n. 17 [1211.] which subjects and in what order boys must learn:

[T]he proper order of learning is that boys

  1. first be instructed in things pertaining to logic because logic teaches the method of the whole of philosophy.
  2. Next, they should be instructed in mathematics, which does not need experience and does not exceed the imagination.
  3. Third, in natural sciences [physics], which, even though not exceeding sense and imagination, nevertheless require experience.
  4. Fourth, in the moral sciences [ethics], which require experience and a soul free from passions …
  5. Fifth, in the sapiential and divine sciences [metaphysics], which exceed imagination and require a sharp mind.

St. Thomas commentated the following works of Aristotle, roughly ordered here below according to the order in which St. Thomas says it's best to learn them:

Peri Hermeneias 
Posteriora Analytica 
De coelo et mundo 
De generatione et corruptione
Super Meteora
De anima 
De sensu et sensato     
De memoria et reminiscentia 
Tabula Ethicorum 


Note: Some of his commentaries are only partial (e.g., he didn't commentate on Books 13—Μ & 14—Ν of Aristotle's Metaphysics).

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