In his hilarious review of The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students (1987), Robert Paul Wolff claims, straight-faced, that Allan Bloom's celebrated culture war screed is actually a novel by Saul Bellow. The review includes the following:

Merely to know what can be found in books, or indeed on clay tablets, is no guarantee of virtue. As Aristotle remarks in a celebrated ironic aside, one cannot teach ethics to young men who are not well brought up.

Wolff, Robert Paul. Review of The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom. Academe, vol. 73, no. 5, 1987, pp. 64–65. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/40250092. Accessed 11 January 2024. Quote is on page 65.

Did Aristotle really say something like this, and if so, what is the original source? Or is this just part of Wolff's ironizing at Bloom's (and Saul Bellow's) expense?


1 Answer 1


There's a quote about young men in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, paragraph 3, but I'm not sure if it's close enough to be what's being referred to: it's about the futility of teaching young men in general rather than just those who are not well brought up.

Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general. Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and, further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action. And it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the defect does not depend on time, but on his living, and pursuing each successive object, as passion directs. For to such persons, as to the incontinent, knowledge brings no profit; but to those who desire and act in accordance with a rational principle knowledge about such matters will be of great benefit.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.