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Recycling Aristotle: the sovereignty theory of Richard Hooker

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The political writings of Aristotle were discarded in Hellenistic times, recycled in the high middle ages, and again discarded. The second throwing away of Aristotle can be ascribed to the hostility of Renaissance humanists towards scholasticism. This paper examines the way in which Aristotle was again recycled near the end of the period of the humanist stranglehold upon European intellectual culture, using as an example of this recycling the political philosophy of Richard Hooker. Hooker's Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, written at the close of the sixteenth century, aims to ensure the autonomy of positive law within states, including English common law. Based on the concept of an unchanging, preordained order of the universe, human values of self-improvement replace religious imperatives as the mainspring of politics and its product -- legislation. This paper seeks to demonstrate that any use of Aquinas is subordinate to Aristotle, and that Hooker is one of the many Renaissance humanists recycling the realist political theory of Aristotle. This coexists, albeit awkwardly, with the metaphysical use of the natural law idea as found in Aristotle's later writings, and Hooker approaches the problem of human rationality as a hellenist. Understanding this permits us to understand the close link between cosmology and political thought in Elizabethan and Jacobean contexts, and presents Hooker as an innovator rather than a traditionalist.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of New England.

Publication date: March 1, 1993

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