In 1554 Girolamo Zanchi, while he was teaching at Strasburg, lectured on Aristotle’s Physica and published an edition of the Greek text with substantial introduction.1 In the prolegomena, Zanchi recognizes that there are critics of the teaching of philosophy in general and of Aristotelian philosophy in particular (the critics are not wrong about Plato, but that is a subject for a different time). Some object on grounds of so-called piety–Christians should not waste time on philosophy–while others object on utilitarian grounds (“It’s too hard; give them a handbook instead”). This is how Zanchi describes the critics:
There are, then, four types of men who find fault with and condemn this study of philosophy, and with the teaching of Aristotle’s philosophy. For to certain men–and these neither unlearned nor impious–this whole study of philosophy is displeasing, because (in their judgment) it is unworthy of a free, and particularly of a Christian, man, and it is not honorable. But certain others reject it as useless for human affairs–what’s more, they openly condemn it as detrimental to and destructive of Christian affairs. Thirdly, there are those who judge this study neither unworthy, nor useless, nor injurious; but nevertheless they for some reason approve of the system of Plato more than that of Aristotle; for that reason, they think that Plato should be read rather than Aristotle. Nor, finally, are those lacking who approve of Aristotle’s philosophy; nevertheless they censure this whole practice–viz., that this books are read in the schools. They do this, first, because Aristotle himself speaks obscurely and harshly. They judge that for theses reasons it would be more satisfactory if some summary of philosophy, a type of of book of which we have many, were to be read in the schools. Against all these I have to speak briefly, and thus I think that both Aristotle’s philosophy itself and the customary manner of reading Aristotle that we have undertaken must be vindicated from all calumnies and fault-finding.2
In future posts, we’ll look at how he handles these criticisms.