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M ORALITY A S C ONSTITUTIVE OF S ELF -I NTEREST An Introduction to the Key Concepts of Plato and Aristotle.

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Presentation on theme: "M ORALITY A S C ONSTITUTIVE OF S ELF -I NTEREST An Introduction to the Key Concepts of Plato and Aristotle."— Presentation transcript:

1 M ORALITY A S C ONSTITUTIVE OF S ELF -I NTEREST An Introduction to the Key Concepts of Plato and Aristotle

2 G ENUINE S ELF -I NTEREST Some philosophers, including Hobbes, claim that what is in our interests is bound up with what we happen to desire at the moment But it makes sense to ask whether satisfying our current desire really is in our interest, and to question whether we can ever be mistaken about what in our interests We might chase after one desire, then another without any consideration as to whether it’s really in our interest; we might judge that something is good for us now, without considering whether it will be good for us in the long run; or we might simply be wrong about whether something’s good for us

3 S UBJECTIVE AND O BJECTIVE S ELF - I NTEREST So there’s a distinction between a subjective account of self-interest (one in which self-interest is defined by what the individual thinks or feels is in their interest) and an objective account of self-interest (in which self-interest is defined independently of an individuals judgement) Plato and Aristotle argue for the latter – like Hobbes they put a high value on self-interest, but they also think we can be mistaken about what is truly in our self-interest

4 Take a look at the following examples and consider: The goal the person was striving for; whether they consider it to be in their self-interest and if it is REALLY in their self-interest; if not why do you think the person has striven for something that isn’t in their interests? 1. Paris has always wanted to be famous, it didn’t matter to her what for. Eventually she appeared in a reality TV show about ordinary people who desired fame, and she became a star overnight. 2. Howard had become a multi-millionaire and now devoted his life to guarding his millions in his small fortified apartment which he never left. 3. Mr Creosote, has just finished a meal of pâte de foie gras, beluga caviar, eggs Benedictine, tart de poireaux, frogs’ legs amandine, some quails’ eggs on a bed of puréed mushroom all mixed in a bucket and washed down with 6 crates of ale. He is offered a wafer-thin mint to finish off the meal. On eating it he explodes.

5 P LATO AND A RISTOTLE As mentioned earlier, Plato and Aristotle are concerned with an objective account of self- interest. They believe self-interest is defined by what is good. And so we must seek an objective understanding of what is good if we are really to do what’s best for us. Their analysis attempts to show that moral action is part of our good, and so it turns out that our true self-interests are best served by being moral

6 M ORAL CONCEPTS IN ANCIENT G REECE Some of the most important concepts in Ancient Greek ethics are: Eudaimonia (happiness) Ergon (function) Arete (Virtue) A central question for Greek philosophers was ‘how should I live?’ – for many the short answer was ‘I should try to be happy.

7 Both Plato and Aristotle believed that the ultimate goal in life was to reach eudaimonia – in other words to be happy and live the good life On the face of it this seems a very self-interested goal, and not far from the position of Hobbes But... We can pick out at least 3 main difference between the Greek concept of happiness and our modern conception of it....

8 D IFFERENCES BETWEEN MODERN HAPPINESS AND G REEK EUDAIMONIA 1. Happiness in the ancient Greek sense of the word does not mean pleasure, contentment or joy or any other emotional state that comes and goes - Eudaimonia is more permanent than any emotion and is a description applied to our lives as a whole. 2. Eudaimonia is not something we can go out and get or seek – it’s something that arises out of all that we do so we can’t aim for it directly. 3. Eudaimonia is not one component against many in a good life – Eudaimonia is the good life

9 FLOURISHING Eudaimonia is described by Plato and Aristotle as ‘flourishing’ This means having a good life in all its different aspects: living well, reaching your goals and generally thriving.

10 D ISCUSS Do you think the Greek concept of eudaimonia is a good motive for moral actions? How self-interested do you think it is as a motive?

11 G OOD For many ancient Greek philosopher, including Plato and Aristotle, the concept of ‘good’ and ‘being good’ was intimately connected with the idea of function ( ergon ) To be good meant fulfilling your function well Even today there remains a connection (although we may not think of it as a moral connection) between calling something ‘good’ and recognising that it is fulfilling its function

12 Consider the following: In the below examples what are the qualities and attributes that distinguish the good thing from the more ordinary thing; which is better at fulfilling its function A good meal and an ordinary meal A good teacher and an average teacher A good video game and a mediocre video game A good chair and an ordinary chair

13 B EING G OOD Being a good person and living the good life was linked to being good at whatever role you played in society For example, if you were a farmer then you were good if you fulfilled your function well as a farmer So striving to be good, in the ancient Greek sense of ‘good’, appears to be compatible with moral action – as you’d be fulfilling your social and economic role in society and everyone would benefit

14 However, Aristotle believed that we had a function that went above and beyond the roles prescribed for us by society We should strive to be good, and fulfil our function, because of the benefits it brings us as human beings So once again the Greeks recommend behaviour that is self-interested, rather than moral in its focus

15 V IRTUE The third key concept to Greek moral thinking is virtue ( arete) Our modern understanding of the word virtue tends to suggest a sort of piety or saintliness, but when thinking about Greek ethics we need to cast aside this definition as it has nothing to do with ‘virtue’ as Plato and Aristotle use the term

16 G REEK V IRTUE In Greek terms we need to think of ‘virtue’ in the sense of ‘virtuosity’ or virtuoso’ – in other words, being brilliant or excellent in a particular area of life A virtue is a personal quality or habit or skill that has been highly developed – like achieving virtuosity in playing an instrument, through individual effort and engagement We begin by asking ‘what can I do to improve myself?’ not ‘what can I do to help others?’ So the emphasis placed by Plato and Aristotle on developing virtues reinforces the view that self- interest is the primary motivation for action

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