Ordinarily I wouldn't recommend Aristotle for vacation reading, not for you, me or even a Grecophile. But this is the summer of Aristotle's favorite subjects: ethics, the integrity of the moral personality and the play between character and action. Behind the lies, cons or slack spines of this summer's scandal providers -- North, Poindexter, Hart, Bakker, Boesky, Deaver, Nofziger -- the footprints of Aristotle show that this is ground covered before. The scandals are new but not the particular slopes to the downfalls.
The ''Nicomachean Ethics'' and ''Rhetoric'' are Aristotle's investigations into moral character. The first work, which was not written as a book or even intended for publication, is a gathering of the philosopher's remarks. Scholars call them his lecture notes. For readers the ''Ethics'' are an owner's manual on how to operate the moral machinery meant to carry us through life, but which always seems near a breakdown.
Aristotle, who went to Athens in 367 as a resident alien and eventually founded his own school when his philosophic differences with the Academy of Plato widened, believed that a person's goodness must first of all be practical: it is the basis for living well.
A person goes wrong not only through an excess in self-indulgence but in not caring about the effects of it. This isn't the person who makes an ''honest mistake'' and who can apologize and be seen as morally better for it. Aristotle has no trouble with an errant bungler. The flouter is the menace. He or she chooses ignorance deliberately by disregarding knowledge about the meaning of personal behavior. ''Every wicked man,'' Aristotle wrote, ''is in a state of ignorance as to what he ought to do and what he should refrain from doing, and it is due to this kind of error that men become unjust and, in general, immoral.''
Gary Hart kept himself in a state of deliberate ignorance about ''what he should refrain from doing'' in his cavortings, on land and sea, with Donna Rice. His superior intelligence was no help in getting him to reason with his appetites. He couldn't bring himself to understand that the appearance of immorality would be damaging. ''The man who fears nothing at all,'' Aristotle believed, ''but goes to meet every danger becomes rash.''
That is as true of Hart and the dangers he met on the Monkey Business as it is of Oliver North, the self-confessed liar, in his Iran-contra adventures. Aristotle wrote of liars who, in their excessive ambitions, took pleasure in keeping the deceits going. They are the opposite of those who practice the virtue of truthfulness: ''For the man who loves truth, and is truthful where nothing is at stake, will still more be truthful where something is at stake; he will avoid falsehood as something base, seeing that he avoided it even for its own sake; and such a man is worthy of praise.''
In the new book ''On Moral Character: A Practical Guide to Aristotle's Virtues and Vices,'' Jody Palmour, a Georgetown University visiting professor, writes: ''When Aristotle says the 'inept' person 'enjoys the lie itself,' he seems to refer to someone who is hopelessly unreliable in his exaggerations and whose judgment is not to be counted on.'' That prescience was written before North testified to the joys of lying.
Jimmy Bakker and Michael Deaver, one in love with money and the other exploiting his connections with it, typified what Aristotle called the vice of vanity. Vain people, he said ''are fools and ignorant of themselves. . . . For, not being worthy of them, they attempt honorable undertakings, and then are found out; and they adorn themselves with clothing and outward show and such things, and wish their strokes of good fortune to be made public, and speak about them as if they would be honored for them.''
Ancient Greece is not modern America, but fourth-century Athens was populated with its Harts, Norths, Bakkers and others. Why else would Aristotle write in Book VI of the "Ethics" that ''man is not the best thing in the world''? Modern America is different because we have made into a folk truth the idea that it is noble to grab as much as you can: power, money -- and air-conditioned doghouses if you are Bakker. Aristotle, though not as polished a prose stylist as his teacher Plato, understood the impulses that are on view this year: ''If appetites are strong and violent they even expel the power of reason. Hence they should be moderate and few.''
These are heady days for Aristotelians. A lot of philosophy is lost in the newspapers, with ancient wisdom falling through the cracks of deadlines. Vacations are needed. If you want to understand this morning's news, take along Aristotle.