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Even though there is no strict chronology of Aristotle's writings, what is the best order to read him if one wants to become acquainted with overall philosophical project.

I read somewhere that Aristotle's system is built around four broad categories in this order: I Dialectics (which includes in this order: Categories, Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics), II Theoretical Science (which includes in this order: Physics and Metaphysics), III Practical Science (which includes in order: Ethics and Politics); IV Poetical Philosophy (which includes in order: Poetics and Rhetoric).

This seems to be a logical sequence of Aristotle's thought even if he did not write in this order. Is this a legitimate way to begin with Aristotle or would someone suggest alternate order? I have read a fair bit of Plato/Socrates.

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  • There is certainly no "best" order in the general case. Can you tell us a bit more, perhaps, about the context and motivations for the planned study? What else might you be reading or studying that has made you interested in getting a sense of Aristotle's "project"? Maybe you could also tell us a bit about where you found the order you propose?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Feb 23 '12 at 20:13
  • Joseph, I cannot remember where I found those categories. But I was looking over the things Aristotle had written and did a search and found it. The way it was presented on that web page seemed logical so I started it, but I have not gotten very far.
    – chris
    Feb 23 '12 at 22:09
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    My interest in Aristotle comes from a desire to know the classics but also because I study theology. I plan to read along with my reading of Aristotle F. Copleston's, "A History of Philosophy v.1.
    – chris
    Feb 23 '12 at 22:14
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I think it would be pretty difficult to try to plow through all of it in one single study without some preparation. That said, here are some general thoughts:

  • I would not worry about the order at all, at least initially. Pick a text that you like or that appeals to you and start there. Treat it like a track on an old record if you have to -- skip to another if it isn't your thing. Find something that's intrinsically interesting and valuable to you, and formulate a provisional plan of study only once you have a clear and distinct sense of what problems you would most enjoy studying.
  • It makes sense to consult not only experts here but also those who have published work on Aristotle -- secondary literature is undoubtedly a critical source for information on the general structure and system of a thinker. It may all seem like metacommentary, and to some degree that's true, but good critical introductions to a philosopher should not be underestimated, and at any rate can help place everything in a broader conceptual context that is difficult to articulate in other media. (In addition to what you're already using, I might suggest Johnathan Barnes' Aristotle entry in the "Very Short Introduction" series may be worth looking into.)
  • Good luck with your reading! Don't forget you can always ask more questions here as you start working through the material.
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Well, I must say that I hope you have reserved a great deal of time for reading Aristotle's works in their entirety or near entirety, since they are encyclopedic in scope and length. Unless you see yourself as St. Thomas Aquinas, Averroes or Mortimer Adler-(all of whom were very famous Aristotelians), you may want to begin with a FEW of Aristotle's more well known works by selecting a type or specific area of interest-(i.e. Logic, Biology, Psychology, Meteorology, Ontology, Politics, Ethics, Physics or Metaphysics).

If you are interested in Aristotle, the Social Scientist, you may want to read works, such as, "The Nicomachean Ethics" and "The Politics". If you want to understand Aristotle as a Biological Scientist, there are works which cover the Taxonomy/Classification process and Zoology. If you are primarily interested in Aristotle, the Logician, then works, such as, "Categories", "On Interpretation", "Prior Analytics", "Posterior Analytics", "Topics" and even "The Art of Rhetoric", should be your main focus. As a History and Social Science Instructor, my favorite works by Aristotle are, "The Nicomachean Ethics" and especially, "The Politics".

(And as a History Instructor, I think having some prior biographical and historical information on Aristotle, could be very helpful as well. During the Middle Ages, Aristotle was nicknamed, "The Stagirite", which was in reference to his hometown in Northern Greece).

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