The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas presents a talk by postdoctoral fellow Erik Dempsey titled “Aristotle and the Foundations of American Liberalism."
How would Aristotle have understood the principles of American democracy? Would he have seen them as an improvement upon his own political teaching, as a decline from it, or even as a political impossibility? This talk considers these questions by discussing the political importance of virtue for Aristotle, as well as in two thinkers who anticipated some of the principles of American government: Aristotle's great interpreter, Marsilius of Padua, and his great critic, Thomas Hobbes. He argues that a return to Aristotle’s thought can help us to better understand how American society relies on pre-liberal traditions, and that by being aware of that, we can cultivate better practical political judgment.
Dr. Dempsey (PhD, Boston College) has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Jefferson Center for Core Texts and Ideas since August 2008. He completed his doctorate at Boston College in June 2007. He is interested in understanding human virtue, and the proper place of politics in a well-lived human life, the different ways in which human virtue is understood in different political situations, and the ways in which human virtue may transcend any political situation.
Dempsey's dissertation looks at Aristotle's treatment of prudence in the Nicomachean Ethics, and Aristotle's suggestion that virtue should be understood as an end in itself. He is currently at work turning his dissertation into a book by adding chapters which consider Thomas Aquinas' interpretation of Aristotle in terms of natural law, and Marsilius of Padua's critique of Thomas.