Presentation on theme: "PH354 Aristotle Week 8. Puzzles about the Good. Plan Look at Book I. In Book I Aristotle offers a famous characterization of the notion of the chief good,"— Presentation transcript:
Plan Look at Book I. In Book I Aristotle offers a famous characterization of the notion of the chief good, and eudaimonia. Look at Book X, Aristotle offers further discussion of the chief good for man that appears to be very different from the Book I account. What is going on? Is Aristotle’s discussion coherent? If so, how? We will look at some different proposals about how we might start to make headway with these questions. (‘Inclusive’ versus ‘dominant’ readings).
The Good The good for an action or activity is ‘what it is aimed at’. At its most general the notion of the aim of an action or an activity is ‘what the action is to bring about’ or ‘what the success of the action or activity consists in’. It is not to be assumed right away that the aim of an action is always the intention. (Aristotle offers the examples; the aim of the medical art is health, the aim of shipbuilding is a vessel, economics is wealth.)
The Chief Good If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good.’ (1094a18-22)
Eudaimonia The chief good, Aristotle says, is clearly eudaimonia. Ross translates this as ‘happiness’ which I will follow (with the appropriate warnings understood). He seems to think that this is relatively uncontroversial (because so far relatively formal) But if what it is that we should ultimately aim at is to live well, what is involved in living well?
The Function Argument Aristotle thinks that the state of happiness or what we should aim at is fixed by our nature and the kinds of things we are. The chief good or the final good for man is just our form, in its active or fully actual state. So we can understand what happiness is by understanding what our form is.
The Function Argument 1. The final good for things of a kind is determined by the function of things of that kind (by what they are for, or what they are supposed to do) 2. An assumption [The function of something must be the function of it qua ‘what is peculiar to that thing’]
The Function Argument 3. The function of human beings is living a life that involves rational activity (activity of the rational part of the soul) (‘There remains, then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle (of this, one part has such a principle in the sense of being obedient to one, the other in the sense of possessing one and exercising thought)’ 4. The function of a thing of a certain kind is the same as the function of a good thing of that kind. (What we mean when we ask what the function of a thing of a kind is is what its function is insofar as it is a good thing of that kind; i.e. a thing that does the things that it is supposed to do.)
The Function Argument 5. So ‘the function of man (is) the good and noble performance of actions of the soul implying a rational principle; where such actions are well performed when ‘they are performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence’. 6. Therefore, ‘human good turns out to be activity of soul in conformity with excellence, and if there are more than one excellence, in conformity with the best and most complete.’
Excellence ‘Excellence’ (Ross) translates arete (cf ‘virtue’). ‘Excellence’ (adj.) is success. ‘Excellences’ are capacities Human excellence concerns the soul not body There are distinctions in the soul. Though appetite and desire is not a matter of thinking, the passions ‘listen to’ and ‘obey’ reason.
Excellence There are both moral and intellectual excellences Moral: courage, temperance, prudence Intellectual: Philosophical wisdom, understanding If happiness is rational activity in accordance with excellence, then the Book I account suggests that a good life is one that consists in the active exercise of both moral and an intellectual capacities.
EN Book X In Book X, chapter 7, Aristotle appears to offer a radically different conception of eudaimonia. He argues that the highest good for man is an activity he calls theoria. Theoria is standardly translated (as in Ross) as ‘contemplation’.
EN Book X If happiness is activity in accordance with excellence, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest excellence; and this will be that of the best thing in us. Whether it be intellect or something else that is this element which is thought to be our natural ruler and guide and to take thought of things noble and divine, whether it be itself also divine or only the most divine element in us, the activity of this in accordance with its proper excellence will be complete happiness. That this activity is contemplative we have already said. (1177a11-18)
EN Book X: Contemplation (i) It is an activity of intellect (nous). (ii) The objects of contemplation are truths. (1177a23) (iii) It involves pleasure (“the activity of wisdom is admittedly the pleasantest of all excellent activities.”) (1177a25-27)
EN Book X: Contemplation (iv) Contemplation is an activity that is its own end, and does not involve an external aim. It is self-sufficient. (“And this activity alone would seem to be loved for its own sake; for nothing arises from it apart from the contemplating, while from practical activities we gain more or less apart from the action.” 1177b1-4) (v) It is leisurely. In this it is contrasted with the messy and painful business of politics and generalship (1077b10-25) (vi) It is divine.
EN Book X: Contemplation as Philosophy “And we think happiness has pleasure mingled with it, but the activity of wisdom is admittedly the pleasantest of all excellent activities; at all events philosophy is thought to offer pleasures marvelous for their purity and their enduringness, and it is to be expected that those who know will pass their time more pleasantly than those who inquire.” (1177a25-27)
Problems with Book X 1.Coherence with previous books 2.Philosophical adequacy
‘Dominant’ vs. ‘inclusive’ Dominant: There is just one type of activity that is the chief good. This might be any concrete excellence, but in the context of Book X, the claim is that it is intellectual.(See Kraut (1979)(1989)) Inclusive: There are many different types of activity that are ‘chief goods’ (i.e. not good in virtue of their relation to anything else), or: the chief good is a ‘complete package’ of activities, rather than just one activity. (See Ackrill (1974), Bostock (2000), Cooper (1975) and Hardie (1965))
Inclusivism 1.What kind of thing is ‘happiness’ on this view? What is it for eudaimonia to be a ‘package’ of goods which are good in themselves? 2.What is the evidence that this is indeed Aristotle’s view? 3.If Aristotle does have an inclusive conception of the end, how do we make sense of the discussion in Book X?
Inclusivism: J.M. Cooper (1975(1986)) 1.Things can be ends in different ways. Eudaimonia is a second-order end. Concrete goods are first-order. 2.There is a range of textual and philosophical evidence for the view. He argues that there are specific claims in Book VI that are hard to reconcile with dominance. Dominance is objectionable philosophically. EE account. 3.Book X view forced on Aristotle by metaphysics. Doesn’t compete with a view about the inclusiveness of the ends of ordinary life.(?)
Inclusivism “For, being a part of virtue as a whole it (viz. theoretical wisdom) causes a man to flourish (merely) by being possessed and exercised.” (1144a5-6) (See f.n. 23 in Cooper (1975)(1986), p.112)
Dominance in Book I ‘(H)uman good turns out to be activity of soul in conformity with excellence, and if there is more than one excellence, in conformity with the best and most complete.’ (1098a15-18) (See Ackrill (1974), Bostock (2000) for inclusivist response and Kraut (1989) for ‘dominant’ reading)
Dominance 1.Coherence: How do we explain the coherence of Book X with the earlier parts of NE? 2.Adequacy: Isn’t the view attributed to Aristotle simply unsatisfactory? Isn’t that a reason to think it cannot have been his view?
Dominance: Kraut (1989) Coherence: In order to live the life of a philosopher, one needs the ethical virtues (one needs to have the relevant excellences, and exercise them). But exercising or actualizing those virtues is not what the philosophical life consists in. The discussion of Book X coheres with the previous books, because those books spell out what is needed in order to live a philosophical life, the life which is the best way that human beings can live. The best life is ethical, in part, because it requires ethical behaviour and excellence as its foundation.
Dominance: Kraut (1989) Adequacy: (a) Promoting ethical values and cultivating ethical activity is to cultivate the foundations of philosophical life. (b) In Book X, Aristotle doesn’t deny that those who engage in the political life, and who exercise their moral virtues in the life of the polis are, or can be, happy, or flourishing. But their eudaimonia is secondary. Aristotle doesn’t think we should all be doing philosophy. In the messy (and resource-limited) place that is the world as it is, those with the relevant qualities may owe it to their communities to pursue this imperfectly flourishing life.
Taking Stock: Dominant or Inclusive We have looked at Aristotle’s function argument and the way that he introduces the notion of eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is that at which a life aims; what constitutes the final cause or end of a human being qua human being. The discussion of theoria in Book X focuses problems for our reading of NE, given what seems to be suggested in Book I. Distinction between ‘inclusive’ and ‘dominant’ conceptions of Aristotle’s views about eudaimonia. Examples and challenges. Where do we go from here? A question: what exactly is ‘contemplation’ (theoria)? What is it that Aristotle has in mind in Book X as the most excellent mode of life?
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