Phil Aristotle. Instructor: Jason Sheley

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1 Phil Aristotle Instructor: Jason Sheley

2 To sum up the method 1) Human beings are naturally curious. 2) We need a place to begin our inquiry. 3) The best place to start is with commonly held beliefs. 4) We test the beliefs with the dialectical method to see if they can be refuted in some way (using sound logical argument). 5) Testing removes confusion and allows us to see the truth more easily sort out the good stuff from the garbage, so to speak.

3 And a further virtue of the method: 6) Once we investigate the truth, and start to discover truths, we will still encounter problems that seem to perplex us (paradoxes). Aristotle s method will enable us to sort these problems out, and understand them better.

4 As Aristotle says, we need to know whether we are working toward, or away from, the first principles. Aristotle s method allows him to do both things: discover first principles, and then work from them to make new discoveries (i.e., find out how the principles are connected to other things we would like to find out.) To FP From FP

5 application Now that we have a general idea of how the method works, let s see how it plays out in a couple of different problems in the Nicomachean Ethics. As we go along, ask yourself: is this a good method for pursuing answers to philosophical questions? Are there any weaknesses or problems to consider? And consider how this method compares to Plato s methods we saw earlier.

6 What is it all for? Each theoretical pursuit is found to have an end. In the case of the science of politics, the end is identified as the good for man. Aristotle s ethics begins from a teleological basis. The task is to find ends for everything in nature. This will help us find the end for human beings.

7 Happiness as the goal of life Aristotle outlines the general criteria for identifying the chief good of a human being. The general criteria include: 1) that for the sake of which everything else is done; 2) that which is the final end among other ends; and 3) that which is worthy of pursuit for its own sake. (Can you think of examples of things which fit each category?) Happiness is found to meet all of the mentioned criteria.

8 From NE 1.4: Let us resume our inquiry and state, in view of the fact that all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good, what it is that we say political science aims at and what is the highest of all goods achievable by action. Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honour; they differ, however, from one another- and often even the same man identifies it with different things, with health when he is ill, with wealth when he is poor; but, conscious of their ignorance, they admire those who proclaim some great ideal that is above their comprehension. Now some thought that apart from these many goods there is another which is self-subsistent and causes the goodness of all these as well. To examine all the opinions that have been held were perhaps somewhat fruitless; enough to examine those that are most prevalent or that seem to be arguable. (Ross trans.) (Notice that the above passage accords with the method we outlined earlier)

9 Philosophers agree that happiness is the end for which humans strive. There is much disagreement, however, about what happiness is. (Ask yourself: what do you think it is? What do people around you commonly say about it?)

10 What is happiness? Aristotle rules out some commonly held views of happiness: pleasure, wealth, and honor. See NE 1.5 (why won t these count?... notice that this accords with our method) Notice the target in NE 1.6. What s the matter with forms? Aristotle gives a more precise characterization of happiness: activity of the soul, in accordance with virtue.

11 The final end for human beings will have three characteristics: 1) Self-sufficient (lacking nothing when obtained by itself) 2) Final (never aimed at the for the sake of something else) 3) Attainable For Aristotle, happiness seems to meet all three conditions above, and his proposed definition does, as well.

12 Aristotle on the nature of ethics Here I want to look at some of the main themes in Aristotle s conception of ethics. As we do, keep in mind how Socrates and Plato seemed to think about ethics and how we investigate such matters. Earlier, Aristotle defined Happiness as activity in accordance with virtue...

13 NE 1.10 Solon s view: Call no man happy until he is dead. (See Herodotus, Histories, Bk 1) Another view: Happiness is an activity Do the fortunes of your ancestors count? Each of these views seem to have something in favor of them, and yet something against. And surely each cannot be equally true. This situation is what philosophers call a paradox.

14 It turns out that Aristotle doesn t settle the question of what happiness is (completely) until Book 10 of NE... so we ll leave this problem as a cliffhanger for now. Let s consider a different problem: how can I tell whether I ve lived a good life or not? Again, you can use Aristotle s method for yourself. Ask yourself: what do you think? What do the people around you think?

15 How should we resolve the puzzle? How does Aristotle resolve the puzzle? (hint: notice that Aristotle appeals to his own definition of happiness as activity in accord with virtue in order to answer the question...) Aristotle doesn t think that one s descendants fortunes affect the dead (at least, not much)... he discusses the view in NE 1.11.

16 Virtues Aristotle defines a virtue as a quality which enables something to perform its work (or function) well. (examples: the work of a knife... what virtues can it have?) There are two virtues corresponding to the function of reason (in the rational part of the soul): the intellectual virtues, and the moral virtues.

17 "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is a habit, not a single action."

18 the golden mean Aristotle gives an account of moral virtue in terms of the golden mean. The mean is determined by identifying excessive and deficient states with respect to a given emotional state or an activity. The mean is not determined by a rigid algorithm, but instead is determined relative to a given individual.

19 Example: Courage In order to determine whether an action is courageous, we need to ask some questions: 1) What states are concerned with courage? 2) Can we identify an excess and defect with respect to these states? 3) On the basis of the excess and defect, can we identify a mean?

20 Identifying the mean Defect (Vice = Rashness) (Note: this has implications for moral education.) Fear Excess (Vice = Too Timid, Cowardly)

21 Aristotle gives an account of specific moral virtues such as courage, liberality, and pride. Aristotle also gives an account of the intellectual virtues (although, for now we will set the intellectual virtues to one side).

22 List of Virtues in Aristotle's System

23 A quick warning: Aristotle thinks it would be a mistake to say that every state or action should be analyzed using his schema: But not every action nor every passion admits of a mean; for some have names that already imply badness, e.g., spite, shamelessness, envy, and in the case of actions, adultery, theft, murder; for all of these and suchlike things imply by their names that they are themselves bad, and not the excesses or deficiencies of them. It is not possible, then, ever to be right with regard to them; one must always be wrong. (NE II.6, Ross trans., p. 39)

24 Important points Aristotle will use this basic schema to identify all virtues and vices in his system. So we can apply this schema to a wide variety of human activities (for instance, Aristotle has virtues associated with giving money, being friendly, and telling jokes). Remember what Aristotle says about exactness. THIS SCHEMA IS NOT A DOCTRINE OF MODERATION.

25 THE FOOD ANALOGY In order to see this previous point, consider an analogy. How much food is appropriate to feed someone? Suppose that we took the largest amount that might be appropriate for someone (a wrestler, say), and the smallest amount (for someone who weighs 100 lbs.). Suppose that we average the two together, and then on that basis prescribe an ideal amount of food that everyone should eat. Is this a good idea? Why or why not?

26

27 A person who has all of the virtues is said to have practical wisdom. This is why Aristotle says that the virtuous action is one that is done (in the right way, for the right reasons, at the right time, etc.) In other words, to be truly and completely virtuous, a person needs a kind of knowhow about what to do in certain situations.

28 Aristotle says: Since we have previously said that one ought to choose that which is intermediate, not the excess nor the defect, and that the intermediate is determined by the dictates of the right rule, let us discuss the nature of these dictates. In all the states of character we have mentioned, as in all other matters, there is a mark to which the man who has the rule looks, and heightens or relaxes his activity accordingly, and there is a standard which determines the mean states which we say are intermediate between excess and defect, being in accordance with the right rule. (NE VI.1, Ross trans., p. 137)

29 Philippa Foot

30 A Problem Foot considers a possible problem: who would we regard as more virtuous: One who remains and performs a courageous action, even in the face of a desire to flee? Or another person who is never tempted to flee in the first place? The problem is that both seem plausible. On the latter point, Aristotle says that the completely virtuous person finds it easy to perform virtuous acts, and takes pleasure in them as a sign that the virtue has been instilled correctly.

31 Why virtue? People are normally better off with virtues than without them. We can see this because places where people live without virtues are often quite nasty places to live. (You might wonder: is there any such thing as a virtue in the state of nature? Or in places that most closely approximate the state of nature?)

32 Intentions play a key role in attempting to define virtue (Foot arrives at this point by considering other excellences: health and strength in the body; memory and concentration of the mind) If a person does something accidentally, generally we do not infer something about the person s character. she says... the disposition of the heart is part of virtue. In other words, virtues are relatively fixed components of a person s character.

33 Practical Wisdom According to Foot, the wise person has two chief qualities: 1) She knows the means to certain good ends (i.e., human goods such as friendship, marriage, the choice of a way of life -- and how to act in these and other situations) 2) She knows how much particular ends are worth (i.e., she is able to grasp the difference between what is important in life and what is trivial) How does wisdom differ from cleverness?

34 Correctives and Temptation Virtues also require correctives or curbs. People must learn to control their passions, if the appropriate virtues, such as courage or temperance, will be attained. Temperance: people are often tempted by pleasures (often excessively)... a virtue is needed in order to respond appropriately. Courage: people are often moved by fear excessively... because of this, a virtue is needed in order to control the fear, and perform the action. In other words, the virtues are necessary because people are often tempted contrary to what they should do.

35 Other virtues, such as Justice and Charity, are needed, not because there is a temptation, but because there is often a lack of motivation in the first place. If people were motivated already, then there would be no need for any of the virtues. (for instance, if people naturally looked after the interests of another in the way that they already do for themselves) (Note: one might wonder whether this view about the virtues presupposes an implausible account of human nature. If so, can we think of a way to fix it?)

36 Virtue for the sake of evil? Some, like Aquinas, claim that a virtue can never be employed for an evil end. Others claim that this is indeed possible. But if so, then it seems as if virtues are simply dispositions of a certain sort, and are not good in themselves, since they can be used for evil. (Of course, some philosophers seem to think this is unproblematic.) Foot seeks a compromise between these two views.

37 If P (say arsenic) is a poison it does not follow that P acts as a poison wherever it is found... Similarly courage is not operating as a virtue when a murderer turns his courage, which is a virtue to bad ends.... The resistance some of us registered was not... to the assertion that what he did took courage but rather to the description of that action as an act of courage or a courageous act... the fact that courage does not here have its characteristic operation is a reason for finding the description strange. (p. 321)

38 How Do We Develop Practical Wisdom? Aristotle s Answer: EXPERIENCE

39 At this point, compare what we see in Aristotle to what we found in Plato. How does Aristotle s conception of ethics differ from Plato s? (Bonus: See what Aristotle has to say about the forms in NE 1.6; also see Aristotle s remarks on exactness in NE 1.1)

40 The final good for human beings Recall again Aristotle s definition of human happiness: activity in accordance with virtue. (...the one that is best and most complete) Recall also that there are two kinds of virtue: moral, and intellectual. So the problem arises: which kind of virtue is highest?

41 Answer: Intellectual Virtue Why is this? (See NE Bk 10, ch. 7) Consider Aristotle s criteria for what counts as proper happiness: Self-sufficient, Final, Attainable It turns out that Intellectual virtues meet these conditions better than moral virtues do. Why is this?

42 Conflicts? There is a question about this scheme that arises: What if moral virtues and intellectual virtues come into conflict? Which do we choose?

43 Aristotle on Friendship The questions driving the investigation are: What is friendship? How many types of friendship are there? Are there better or inferior forms of friendship?

44 Conditions of friendship Conditions that must be in place (necessary) for friendship: 1) Feeling of good will towards the other 2) Good will must be reciprocated 3) The two persons must share knowledge of 1) and 2)

45 What other factors affect the strength of a friendship? What other factors affect the possibility of a friendship?

46 Types of Friendship Aristotle identifies categories of friendship by asking for the reason behind the friendship (i.e., the object of love): Utility Pleasure Virtue

47 Stability of friendship Aristotle says that some types of friendship are more stable and long-lasting than others. Why is this?

48 Note: Many unequal friendships share this scheme Defect Utility Friendship (Unequal) Person A Defect Person B Utility Exchange Utility Exchange Providing Utility Utility Excess Excess

49 Utility Friendship Person A Person B Defect Defect Utility Exchange Utility Exchange Excess Excess

50 Pleasure Friendship Person A Person B Defect Defect Pleasure exchange Pleasure Exchange Excess Excess

51 Unequal Friendship Defect Person A Defect Person B Virtue Virtue Excess Excess

52 Virtue Friendship (Perfect friendship is one of these) Person A Person B Defect Defect Virtue Virtue Love Love Excess Excess

53 Perfect Friendships What conditions are necessary for there to be a perfect friendship. Are these friendships common, according to Aristotle? Why?

54 Friends to ourselves? Can we be friends with ourselves on this model? What does Aristotle think? Does Aristotle's answer remind you of anything we have seen already?

55 The Warren Buffet Virtue Exercise

56 Step 1: Make a list of the five people you admire the most Step 2: Make a list of the five people you admire the least.

57 Step 3: Make a list of the character traits of the people you find in both lists

58 Step 4: (the hard part) Now examine yourself. Are there any traits from the positive list that you lack? If so, work to develop and add those traits. Are there any traits from the negative list that you possess? If so, work to remove those traits.

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