Presentation on theme: "PH354 Aristotle Week 7. Man’s Nature (3) Action. Introduction Where we are Most animals are agents as well as perceivers In various places, Aristotle."— Presentation transcript:
Introduction Where we are Most animals are agents as well as perceivers In various places, Aristotle offers an influential discussion of action (praxis). But the account is disputed.
Lecture Plan 1.Action: preliminaries 2.The basic architecture of Aristotle’s account – the voluntary (hekousion), choice (prohairesis) and deliberation (bouleusis) 3.What can and cannot be deliberated on? 4.Does all action (of the relevant kind) require deliberation?
What is Action? 1.Action as ‘doing’, where that can be contrasted with ‘mere bodily movement’ 2.Much recent philosophical discussion is focussed on ‘intentional action’ 3.Intentional action is that doing to which a special sense of the question: “Why?” is applicable. (In which answer spells out reasons.)
What is Action? 4.A ‘causal theory’ of intentional action (what distinguishes intentional action from mere bodily movement is what it is caused or brought about by; beliefs and desires) 5.Perhaps it cannot simply be assumed that the notion of action that Aristotle’s account concerns is just the notion of intentional action; or that that is what he is trying to give an account of. 6.But the idea that his account is directed on doings for which a special sense of ‘Why?’ is applicable is a reasonable starting point, and helps us to understand his method.
The Voluntary (hekousion) ‘The voluntary would seem to be that of which the moving principle is in the agent himself, he being aware of the particular circumstances of the action.’ (NE, 1111a22-24)
The Voluntary (hekousion) Voluntary actions cannot be: Forced (wind moving a person) Such as to proceed in ignorance of the circumstances of the action (Oedipus and his mother) These actions are ahekousian (counter- voluntary)
Choice (prohairesis) (a) Every instance of choice is voluntary, but not all voluntary things are chosen. ‘Choice, then, seems to be voluntary, but not the same thing as the voluntary; the latter extends more widely. For both children and the other animals share in voluntary action, but not in choice, and acts done on the spur of the moment we describe as voluntary, but not as chosen.’ (1111b7-10)
Choice (prohairesis) (b) Choice is different from appetite and anger ‘Those who say it is appetite or anger or wish or a kind of opinion do not seem to be right. For choice is not common to irrational creatures as well, but appetite and anger are. Again the incontinent man acts with appetite, but not with choice; while the continent man on the contrary acts with choice, but not with appetite.” (1111b11-15)
Choice (prohairesis) (c) Choice is not wish (choosing to do something is not wishing to do it). (i) ‘But neither is it wish, though it seems near to it; for choice cannot relate to impossibles, and if anyone said he chose them he would be thought silly; but there may be a wish even for impossibles, e.g. for immortality.’ (1111b20- 25)
Choice (prohairesis) (ii) ‘Again, wish relates rather to the end, choice to what contributes to the end; for instance, we wish to be healthy, but we choose the acts which will make us healthy, and we wish to be happy and say we do, but we cannot well say we choose to be so; for in general choice seems to relate to the things that are in our power.’ Aristotle here suggests that wishes are how one may relate to the goals or aims of a course of action, but choice is how one relates to the acts that bring these goals about.
Choice (prohairesis) (d) Choice is not opinion “For opinion is thought to relate to all kinds of things, no less to eternal things and impossible things than to things in our own power; and it is distinguished by its falsity or truth, not by its badness or goodness, while choice is distinguished rather by these.” (1111b30- 11112a1) (i) Choice and opinion can be distinguished from one another because they have different objects. One chooses actions, but opinions have propositions for their objects.
Choice (Prohairesis) At the end of NE, Book III, chapter 2, Aristotle suggests that ‘choice is what has been decided on by previous deliberation (bouleusis). For choice involves reason and thought.’
Deliberation (bouleusis) Deliberation, in English, is ‘working out what to do’ The discussion at the opening of chapter 3 suggests that the objects of deliberation are constrained in the same way as the objects of choice. (a) We cannot deliberate about what is true, or necessarily true (b) We cannot deliberate about things that occur but always happen as they do (c) We cannot deliberate about things that don’t concern us and we don’t have a hand in. (“No Spartan deliberates about the best constitution for the Scythians’ For none of these things can be brought about by our own efforst.” (1112a28-30)
Deliberation (bouleusis) (iii) “We deliberate about things that are in our power and can be done… Every class of men deliberates about the things that can be done by their own efforts.” (1112a34-35) But one deliberates about things that are in one’s own power, but which are done in different ways, and do not always turn out the same (e.g. like how to write the alphabet).
Deliberation (bouleusis) ‘We deliberate not about ends but about what contributes to ends. For a doctor does not deliberate whether he shall heal, nor an orator whether he shall convince, nor a statesman whether he shall produce law and order, nor does anyone deliberate about his end.
Deliberation (bouleusis) …Having set the end they consider how and by what means it is to be attained; and if it seems to be produced by several means they consider by which it is most easily and best produced, while if it is achieved by one only they consider how it will be achieved by this and by what means this will be achieved, till they come to the first cause, which in the order of discovery is last.’ (1112b12-20 )
Deliberation (bouleusis) ‘The subject of investigation is sometimes the instruments, sometimes the use of them; and similarly in the other cases—sometimes the means, sometimes the mode of using it or the means of bringing it about. It seems, then, as has been said, that man is a moving principle of actions; now deliberation is about the things to be done by the agent himself, and actions are for the sake of things other than themselves. For the end cannot be a subject of deliberation, but only what contributes to the ends.’ (1112b27-35)
Deliberation (bouleusis) Deliberation is a form of reasoning in which a desire for an end (say, the doctor’s wish for the health of a patient) is transmitted to those things, the doing of which will contribute towards such an end being achieved. The final step in a piece of deliberative reasoning is something that can be done right away in order to take the relevant steps to the goal. At this final step, we have choice.
Deliberation (bouleusis) ‘The same thing is deliberated upon and is chosen, except that the object of choice is already determinate, since it is that which has been decided upon as a result of deliberation that is the object of choice. For every one ceases to inquire how he is to act when he has brought the moving principle back to himself and to the ruling part of himself for this is what he chooses.’ 1113a3-8
Virtue and Action ‘Similarly with regard to actions also there is excess, defect and intermediate. Now excellence is concerned with passions and actions, in which excess is a form of failure, and so is defect, while the intermediate is praised and is a form of success; and both these things are characteristics of excellence.’ (1106b23-27)
Virtuous Action The context of Aristotle’s discussion suggests that the notion of action that is in focus in Book III is that of ‘action that expresses or manifests some state of excellence’ (i.e. virtuous action) He takes himself to be spelling out the conditions for virtuous action.
Virtuous Action For one to act virtuously, it is necessary that: (a) The action is voluntary (b) The action is chosen (c) The action is the outcome of deliberation (These are necessary and not sufficient conditions. We will discuss these issues further when we talk about akrasia)
Deliberation not about Ends ‘We deliberate not about ends but about what contributes to ends (ta pros to telos).’ (1112b12) ‘For the end cannot be a subject of deliberation, but only what contributes to the ends.’ (1112b35) We can deliberate about the means but not the end
Deliberating about Means not Ends 1.Unattractive Idea 2.Goes against the grain of the idea that action can reveal moral character and the excellences (why should action that shows knowledge of instrumental means to ends reveal moral character)?
Deliberating about Means not Ends Issues about translation of ta pros to telos The distinction between constituent and productive means (see Cooper (1986)) We can deliberate about constituent means (what happiness involves for us)
What does ‘we don’t deliberate about ends’ mean then?! 1.There is a final cause/end we possess as human beings (eudaimonia) and its being such an end is entirely independent of our deliberation and choice. 2.We don’t deliberate about ends because they are presupposed or hypothesized in action (See Segvic (2008))
Deliberation is required for virtuous action Do the doctor who rushes to the operating theatre when he sees the patient with appendicitis or the woman who courageously steps in to defend someone being attacked need to deliberate and choose what to do?!
Deliberation and Virtuous Action 1.Deliberation at some time prior to action 2.Deliberation as ‘hypothetical’ (on both see the interesting discussion in Cooper (1986) chapter 1). 3.Deliberation is something different (not quite captured by English word ‘deliberation’) (See Segvic (2008).