Thinking and Doing - Thoughts on Aristotle for Everybody by Mortimer Adler


The ways by which Aristotle pondered life and its many contortions have helped to shape millennia of human thought. As Mortimer Adler explains in Aristotle for Everybody, Aristotle had the same common experiences in life as most of us; however, the thinking he did about these common experiences helped him to understand life better than most. Aristotle simply took the time to think and not constantly do. A powerful quote from modern-day thinker Naval Ravikant connects well: “We spend too much time doing and not enough time thinking about what we do.” Naval’s point is the same as that of Aristotle: to step back from constantly doing and take at least a little time to truly ponder what is truth and what one should be doing is necessary to leading a fruitful and joyful life.

Aristotle teaches that a crucial component one must consider when making any decision in life is the decision’s morality. He suggests that the best life is the life that is the longest chain of contiguous moral decisions and choices. Yes, there will be breaks in this chain, but Aristotle’s teachings make clear that to live joyfully is to live morally. One cannot live a fruitful or joyful life attempting to endure a string of immoral actions; that constant endurance of what is wrong just does not foster joy. And there is something within each human that inherently understands what is right and wrong. Occasionally, this inner compass only flashes the proper direction when the wrong path has been taken, but, nonetheless, the guidance is there. According to Aristotle, those who choose to follow that guide will lead lives of joy.

The courage required to follow the guide builds moral character, allowing a strengthening in the compass’s abilities. Adler simplifies this teaching beautifully, writing, “The soldier who risks his life or overcomes his fear of injury for the sake of victory in a good cause has courage. So, too, has anyone who habitually takes trouble, undergoes hardship, and suffers pain in order to obtain things that are really good for him” (Adler 104). One must be a philosopher in the way that he or she seeks what is right and a soldier through the way that he or she pursues it.

Aristotle’s ability to step back and think instead of constantly doing is what allowed him to be one of the world’s greatest thinkers. His thoughts have shaped the thoughts of generations and hopefully made the world a slightly more fruitful and prosperous place. His teachings continue to elucidate many truths of life. To truly think about life instead of constantly doing will allow one to accept the burden of pursuing what is right and often difficult instead of the easy path that is often wrong. As Aristotle teaches, to live this way, consciously and not as a sheep getting pushed with the herd, will lead to a more fruitful and joyful life.

- Charlie, March 2022