Coffee with Aristotle

Coffee with Aristotle

A fictional dialogue based on historical fact (2008)
By Jonathan Barnes

This is the first book I read from the “Coffee with … ” series. Buy Aristotle a coffee and he’ll dazzle you with the breadth and brillance of his thought…

This is a mini book, you can finish it very fast. But I find it quite disappointing and a little confusing. Nevertheless, I do like the part about democracy that was mentioned in the book.

I think he is quite a sad man, in which his wife Pythias died young after giving birth to his daughter. He later found a companion in Herpyllis, who lived with him until his died. She gave birth to a boy, who was killed in battle before he was twenty. Aristotle is also the teacher of Alexander the Great. Not many people can claim to have invented a new science, but Aristotle invented two – zoology and logic.

I will just highlight some parts of the book that leaves me with an impression.

Aristotle finds that on a certain condition, an absolute monarchy is the best possible form of government. On a  certain condition : on condition that the absolute monarch is a man of perfect virtue. Now since no such man can ever be found, absolute monarchy is, in point of hard political fact, a thoroughly vicious form of government.


He also does not think that democracy is the best form of government.

The Athenians have a special kind of dinner-party, a bring-your-own, where each guest contributes whatever he does best in the way of food and drink. Well, I thought, if everyone brings his best, that must make for a pretty good dinner. So why not think that something similar goes for politics? A democratic assembly is a sort of bring-your-own debate. Each citizen contributes what he’s most expert in. So the debate should be well-informed.

In real life, if you have ever been to a bring-your-own-dinner-party, it was dire. Most people brought along their second-best wines, a few brought the leftovers from their previous night’s dinner, and so on…

Well, I think this is true to a certain extent. It depends on who you dine with. If you have some really good friends, they really bring and prepare the very best food. So I think it is the same with politicians.

Aristotle thinks democracy is the least bad of the bad forms of government – and that’s the best we can reasonably hope for.



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