Besides two reviews of Gabriel Lear's book on the internet (in BMCR and NDPR), there is, of course, also the Blurb, which has a certain authority, because we know who really writes these:
Gabriel Richardson Lear presents a bold new approach to one of the enduring debates about Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: the controversy about whether it coherently argues that the best life for humans is one devoted to a single activity, namely philosophical contemplation. Many scholars oppose this reading because the bulk of the Ethics is devoted to various moral virtues--courage and generosity, for example--that are not in any obvious way either manifestations of philosophical contemplation or subordinated to it. They argue that Aristotle was inconsistent, and that we should not try to read the entire Ethics as an attempt to flesh out the notion that the best life aims at the "monistic good" of contemplation.The Blurb is a strange genre in which one writes as an agent of the press, which is an agent of the author. It's the author's supposition of what the press would want to say on the author's behalf, if only it knew the book so well as the author.
In defending the unity and coherence of the Ethics, Lear argues that, in Aristotle's view, we may act for the sake of an end not just by instrumentally bringing it about but also by approximating it. She then argues that, for Aristotle, the excellent rational activity of moral virtue is an approximation of theoretical contemplation.
Thus, the happiest person chooses moral virtue as an approximation of contemplation in practical life. Richardson Lear bolsters this interpretation by examining three moral virtues--courage, temperance, and greatness of soul--and the way they are fine. Elegantly written and rigorously argued, this is a major contribution to our understanding of a central issue in Aristotle's moral philosophy.
This particular Blurb is especially useful as making it clear at once what the Main Thesis of the book is, and what we might expect the chief difficulties of that thesis to be.
The Main Thesis is that, according to Aristotle, courageous, moderate, and generous actions--and all actions of any virtue of character--are 'approximations' to philosophical contemplation; and that a virtuous person chooses them as such.
Some difficulties that immediately suggest themselves as regards this thesis:
1. It's not clear what approximation is. Is it a matter of similiarity or analogy? And do we want to say that actions of the moral virtues are similar (or analogous) to actions of contemplation, or that actions of the moral virtues are similar to objects of contemplation? If the former, then is the claim of 'approximation' anything other than the assertion that upright living is (in some unspecified sense) like contemplation? If the latter, then isn't the claim of 'approximation' really the claim that acts of contemplation (of sorts) can accompany actions of the moral virtues? But then those actions don't themselves approximate contemplation.
2. It's not clear whether approximation, however construed, is plausible as applied to particular cases. How would (say) standing firm in battle to hack down an enemy soldier as he rushes at you be an approximation of (say) pondering the divine blessedness of the First Cause?
3. It seems a puzzle why, if it were true and important for the argument of the Ethics, Aristotle (it seems) hardly says anything about it.
4. It's not clear how, even if true, recourse to approximation would solve the problems usually thought to affect a 'Dominant End' reading of the Ethics. For instance, if it's a difficulty, why, if one is single-mindedly devoted to contemplation, one should choose to perform morally virtuous actions, it seems to remain a difficulty, why one should choose to perform actions that only approximate contemplation. Or how would the fact that a just action approximates contemplation explain why someone should act justly, even when an unjust action would lead to many more opportunties for (strict, true, full) contemplation?