2014-2-PHI110-04

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__NOTITLE__ Studying 2014/2 PHI110: Philosophy, Morality and Society. Week 4. Undertaken Study Period 2, 2014. Content is quoted and/or summarised from the university website in fair dealing for purpose of research or study. See also: StudyWISE and AIMS.

Aristotle's Ethics

This week, we will examine Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. After Plato (and Socrates), Aristotle is one of the most influential philosophers in history; neo-Aristotelianism remains a live option in moral philosophy today.

Like the other Greek philosophers, the primary object of Aristotle's inquiry is to examine the nature of the good life: this will turn out to be a life of rational activities comprising a general state of well-being where we are also able to 'do well' in life. This is 'happiness' or Eudaimonia (faring well, doing well, living well). But what are our common ideas of happiness?

Links

Herewith a list of further reading:

Lectures

Lecturer for Section 1: Dr Robert Sinnerbrink.

Notes

Questions

Readings

Readings downloaded from e-Reserve.

Answers

Simon Blackburn, extract from Being Good, pp. 112-116

1. Why is there a difficulty in saying that the 'intended' or natural life for humans is a life of virtue?

Anything we do is by definition "natural", but not everything we do is by definition "virtuos". Some of the things we do are selfish, or violent, or cruel, and thus not virtuous. Therefore what is natural is not necessarily virtuous at all. If the virtue is "intended" as natural, who "intends" it?

Blackburn calls Aristotle's idea that the natural life is a life of virtue a little "too sunny". That is, it expects more of human nature than is apparent. In the limit a person may need to lay down their life for the sake of virtue, and there is no health or happiness in that.

2. How does Aristotle 'squeeze' these together, according to Blackburn? What considerations does he give in favour of the plausibility of doing so?

Aristotle emphasised that it takes education and practice to become virtuous. Blackburn says that in his 'virtue ethics' he "heroically" tries to squeeze together what is natural, what is reasonable, what leads to happiness and what is virtuous; and his main device is the socialisation of the individual. Aristotle holds that an antisocial individual's prosperity will turn to ashes -- though Blackburn notes this is not necessarily so.

3. Why could it be thought implausible that the natural life for humans is a life of virtue? How does this relate to oppression in Blackburn's view?

Blackburn says it is culture, not nature, that dictates virtue; and particular virtues are not necessarily present in cultures, such as when women have been oppressed or where children have been exploited to make cheap running shoes.

4. How could an Aristotelian respond? Do you think the response is plausible?

Aristotle might bring his elitism to bear and proclaim that his virtue ethics are only meant for the noble aristocracy, and in that forum perhaps virtue is in fact natural for the elites.

Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1

5. What is the distinction between instrumental and intrinsic goals? How does Aristotle use this distinction to argue that the pursuit of wealth, for example, cannot be central to the good life?

Instrumental goals are tools to reach some other end, whereas intrinsic goals are aimed at for their own sake. Wealth is instrumental, it can be used to attain other ends but has no intrinsic value.

6. Why does Aristotle think that different kinds of enquiry admit of different degrees of precision? What implication does this have for ethics?

Aristotle says that different enquiries require appropriately different degrees of precision but he doesn't say why. Aristotle seems to imply that ethics requires less precision than other sciences.

7. What does Aristotle mean by saying that happiness is a "complete" and "self sufficient" good? (p. 1734)

Happiness is complete and self-sufficient because when it is present it requires nothing more. It is "complete" because it is an intrinsic good pursued for its own sake and "self-sufficient" because it cannot be enhanced by the addition of other goods.

8. What does Aristotle mean by saying that happiness is a feature of "a complete life"? (p. 1735)

He means that happiness must be experienced over a long term. To be happy for a day is not sufficient for a complete happy life.

9. How does 'happiness' differ from 'pleasure' for Aristotle?

I don't know!

10. What is the function of a human being? How is determining the function of a human relevant to determining what constitutes the good life? What is good about the contemplative life?

The function of a human being is activity of the soul in conformity with excellence and in the light of reason; reason being the quintessential human capacity that sets us apart from other forms of life.

Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2

11. What is a virtue for Aristotle?

Excellence in behaviour, finding the middle ground between extremes, where each extreme is usually a vice. Aristotle lists specific virtues which from the contemporary perspective seem antiquated, clearly a product of Athenian culture as it was.

12. Does Aristotle consider a good action to be more virtuous when it is a struggle, or when it comes naturally? Why? Do you agree?

Aristotle believes that for the virtuous their actions are enjoyable, so if you're struggling you're not actually virtuous. I disagree, I think you can struggle to be virtuous.

13. What does Aristotle mean by saying that virtuous habits are more analogous to the arts than to the senses?

Because you can practice or improve on your virtue whereas your senses are innate and fixed.

14. Aristotle illustrates his idea of the good as the mean with examples from areas not directly related to ethics, such as exercise and the consumption of food and drink, where too much or too little can be harmful. Can you think of other examples?

I like Peter Baidas's answer (original) where he gives the example of "studying too little versus studying too hard. Studying to little is sure to end in failure, while studying too much may result in burnout." Seems particularly relevant at 3:32 am on Monday morning while I work through Week 4 material trying to catch up to Week 8!

15. Merely doing just and temperate things does not mean a person is just and temperate according to Aristotle, but doing just and temperate things may make a person more likely to become just and temperate. Why?

Because practice makes perfect! Aristotle believes that virtue is a consequence of habit.

16. Some actions are bad in themselves, and not only when they are excessive or deficient. What examples does Aristotle give? Can you think of other examples?

According to Aristotle there is adultery, theft and murder. You could add rape and violence. In the case of deception, corruption or greed you might be left wondering if some degree of these is necessarily bad. Deception to prevent a bad outcome could be useful; Schindler was corrupt (i.e. breaking the rules to help save lives); and the desire for more (i.e. greed) might motivate productive endeavour.

17. What does Aristotle mean by saying that the mean itself is in one sense an extreme? (See for example his discussion of courage).

Because when the mean is viewed from an extreme it can seem to be an extreme itself. For example take the median between foolhardiness and cowardice that we might call courage. To the foolhardy courage might seem cowardly and to the cowardly courage might seem foolhardy.

18. What differences can you think of between Aristotelian virtues and modern virtues?

Aristotle valued Pride whereas modern values might prefer Humility. Aristotle had Righteous Indignation whereas we might have Turn the Other Cheek.

19. On what grounds does Aristotle say that in particular cases one of the vices (either deficiency or excess) is to be preferred over the other? How do we determine which is the more dangerous vice?

Unsure. :P

Activities

Work

TODO

Things to do, most important on top:

All done!

Done

Things that are done, most recent on top:

Glossary

Herewith a list of new and/or interesting words and selected definitions:

nicomachean

nicomachean
Of or pertaining to some ancient Greek named Nicomachus; particularly, either Nicomachus, physician to Amyntas II., King of Macedonia, and the father of Aristotle, the philosopher, or Nicomachus the Younger, a son of Aristotle, who, like his father and grandfather, was also an author.
The "Ethics of Aristotle," said to have been published by Nicomachus the Younger after his father's death.

Nicomachean Ethics

Nicomachean Ethics
The Nicomachean Ethics is the name normally given to Aristotle's best-known work on ethics. The work, which plays a pre-eminent role in defining Aristotelian ethics, consists of ten books, originally separate scrolls, and is understood to be based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum, which were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle's son, Nicomachus.

eudemonia

eudemonia
A state of pleasant well-being.
A person’s state of excellence characterized by objective flourishing across a lifetime, and brought about through the exercise of moral virtue, practical wisdom, and rationality.

dialectic

dialectic
The art or practice of arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments.
The process especially associated with Hegel of arriving at the truth by stating a thesis, developing a contradictory antithesis, and combining and resolving them into a coherent synthesis.
Hegel's critical method for the investigation of this process.
The Marxian process of change through the conflict of opposing forces, whereby a given contradiction is characterized by a primary and a secondary aspect, the secondary succumbing to the primary, which is then transformed into an aspect of a new contradiction. Often used in the plural with a singular or plural verb.
The Marxian critique of this process.
A method of argument or exposition that systematically weighs contradictory facts or ideas with a view to the resolution of their real or apparent contradictions.
The contradiction between two conflicting forces viewed as the determining factor in their continuing interaction.

trait

trait
A distinguishing feature, as of a person's character. See Synonyms at quality.
A genetically determined characteristic or condition: a recessive trait.
A stroke with or as if with a pencil.
A slight degree or amount, as of a quality; a touch or trace: a sermon with a trait of humour.

teleology

teleology
The study of design or purpose in natural phenomena.
The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena.
Belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history.

ergon

ergon
A concept from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics that is most often translated as function, task, or work.

erg

erg
The centimeter-gram-second unit of energy or work equal to the work done by a force of one dyne acting over a distance of one centimetre.

treatise

treatise
A systematic, usually extensive written discourse on a subject.
bsolete A tale or narrative.

vice

vice
An evil, degrading, or immoral practice or habit.
A serious moral failing.
Wicked or evil conduct or habits; corruption.
Sexual immorality, especially prostitution.
A slight personal failing; a foible: the vice of untidiness.
A flaw or imperfection; a defect.
A physical defect or weakness.
An undesirable habit, such as crib-biting, in a domestic animal.
A character representing generalized or particular vice in English morality plays.
A jester or buffoon.
Variant of vise.

profligate

profligate
Given over to dissipation; dissolute.
Recklessly wasteful; wildly extravagant.
A profligate person; a wastrel.

wastrel

wastrel
One who wastes, especially one who wastes money; a profligate.
An idler or a loafer.

telos

telos
The end of a goal-oriented process.

knave

knave
An unprincipled, crafty fellow.
A male servant.
A man of humble birth.
A playing card marked with the figure of a servant or soldier; a jack.

finagling

finagling
Present participle of finagle.
The act of cheating or swindling.

phronesis

phronesis
The virtue of "practical wisdom" as posited by Aristotle.
Practical judgment; the faculty of conducting one's self wisely.

wight

wight
Obsolete A living being; a creature.
Archaic Valorous; brave.

slavish

slavish
Of or characteristic of a slave or slavery; servile: Her slavish devotion to her job ruled her life.
Showing no originality; blindly imitative: a slavish copy of the original.

piety

piety
The state or quality of being pious, especially:
Religious devotion and reverence to God.
Devotion and reverence to parents and family: filial piety.
A devout act, thought, or statement.
A position held conventionally or hypocritically.
A statement of such a position: "the liberated pieties of people who believe that social attitudes have kept pace with women's aspirations" (Erica Abeel).

predicable

predicable
That can be stated or predicated: a predicable conclusion.
Something, such as a general quality or attribute, that can be predicated.
Logic One of the general attributes of a subject or class. In scholastic thought, the attributes are genus, species, property, differentia, and accident; in Aristotelian thought, they are definition, genus, proprium, and accident.

predicate

predicate
To base or establish (a statement or action, for example): I predicated my argument on the facts.
To state or affirm as an attribute or quality of something: The sermon predicated the perfectibility of humankind.
To carry the connotation of; imply.
Logic To make (a term or expression) the predicate of a proposition.
To proclaim or assert; declare.
To make a statement or assertion.
Grammar One of the two main constituents of a sentence or clause, modifying the subject and including the verb, objects, or phrases governed by the verb, as opened the door in Jane opened the door or is very sleepy in The child is very sleepy.
Logic That part of a proposition that is affirmed or denied about the subject. For example, in the proposition We are mortal, mortal is the predicate.
Grammar Of or belonging to the predicate of a sentence or clause.
Stated or asserted; predicated.

platitude

platitude
A trite or banal remark or statement, especially one expressed as if it were original or significant. See Synonyms at cliché.
Lack of originality; triteness.

trite

trite
Lacking power to evoke interest through overuse or repetition; hackneyed.
Archaic Frayed or worn out by use.

banal

banal
Drearily commonplace and often predictable; trite: "Blunt language cannot hide a banal conception" (James Wolcott).

chameleon

chameleon
Any of various tropical Old World lizards of the family Chamaeleonidae, characterized by their ability to change colour.
See anole.
A changeable or inconstant person: "In his testimony, the nominee came off as ... a chameleon of legal philosophy" (Joseph A. Califano, Jr.)

anole

anole
Any of various chiefly tropical New World lizards of the genus Anolis, characterized by a distensible throat flap and the ability to change color. Also called chameleon.

decorous

decorous
Characterized by or exhibiting decorum; proper: decorous behaviour.

foursquare

foursquare
Having four equal sides and four right angles; square.
Marked by firm, unwavering conviction or expression; forthright: a foursquare refusal to yield.
In a forthright manner; squarely.
A child's game in which each of four players stands in one of four boxes drawn on the ground in a two-by-two grid and must bounce a ball into another player's box without holding the ball or stepping out of bounds.

encomium

encomium
Warm, glowing praise.
A formal expression of praise; a tribute.

arete

arete
Virtue, excellence.
Alternative spelling of arête.

profligate

profligate
Given over to dissipation; dissolute.
Recklessly wasteful; wildly extravagant.
A profligate person; a wastrel.

dissolute

dissolute
Lacking moral restraint; indulging in sensual pleasures or vices.

wastrel

wastrel
One who wastes, especially one who wastes money; a profligate.
An idler or a loafer.

idler

idler
One who idles; one who spends his time in inaction.
One who idles; a lazy person; a sluggard.

loafer

loafer
One who is habitually idle: disliked loafers on the job.

abstention

abstention
The act or habit of deliberate self-denial.
An abstaining vote or voter: 12 ayes, 10 nays, and 8 abstentions.