Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 35535
G. R. G. Mure (essay date 1932)
SOURCE: "Practical Man: Politics," in Aristotle, Ernest Benn Limited, 1932, pp. 157-62.
[In the following excerpt, Mure surveys Aristotle's Politics, asserting that Aristotle criticizes and completes the "broad outline of Platonic theory." Mure notes Aristotle's views on the role of the state, classes, and citizenship, and comments on the similarities and differences between Aristotle's and Plato's political philosophies.]
… Aristotle's Politics contains several sets of lectures, and some of them are fragmentary.1 But no other work of his displays more clearly the vast masses of fact which he mastered and analysed in order both to criticise and to complete the broad outline of Platonic theory. In history and politics he is as acute and comprehensive an observer as he is in the animal world. We can here only sketch his political views as a part of his whole system, but scarcely a chapter of the Politics has failed directly or indirectly to influence subsequent political thought.
We have already seen … that for Aristotle as for Plato the state exists by nature as the real prius of the individual, and that in consequence the main function of government is to promote the [endaimonia] of the citizens by making them virtuous: "Those may be expected to lead the best life who are governed in the best manner of which their circumstances admit" (Pol. [Politics] 1323a17).
Aristotle, like Plato, conceives political philosophy as normative, and the construction of an ideal state as an essential part of its task. He agrees too that in the ideal state the naturally better2 rules the naturally worse for the good—and the freedom—of the whole state. But he distinguishes sharply the statesman's activity from the philosopher's …, and he takes the view that Plato has over-simplified the structure of the state. To give to the state the unity of the sentient organism, which feels as its own the pains and pleasures of each several member, Plato had allowed no differentiation below the three classes of husbandmen, warriors, and rulers; and within the two latter classes he had abolished the family and private property as a menace to the loyalty of the citizen. In the Republic, justice, scarcely distinguished from friendship, culminates in a single [filia] in which love of self, kinsman, friend, and city is one undivided passion. Aristotle replies that the strength of love depends on limitation, and that the extension of family feeling to coincide with patriotism could only result in its proportionate dilution. The state is "a community of communities." Man takes to himself a wife and a slave, being fitted by nature to rule both of them; his wife as his delegate within the household, for she can deliberate; his slave, who can only obey, as "a living tool for the conduct of life," whose inferior natural function is to serve a master for their mutual benefit. Several families unite to form a village, several villages to constitute a state, which "comes to be for the sake of life, but is for the sake of the good life."3 The state is like all works of nature and man: its quantitative proportions must be precisely right. It must be neither too small to be self-sufficient, nor too great to be controlled: "Of an exceeding great multitude who shall be the general, or who the herald save a Stentor?" (ibid. 1236b5). The ideal territorial conditions can be determined accordingly.
The classes necessary to the proper functioning of the state are the serfs,...
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the husbandmen, the mechanics, the traders, the warriors, the rich who bear costly public burdens, the rulers and officials, and the priests. But the warriors are those who are to become officials and rulers in middle age, and priests when they grow old; and they alone are to own the land. Hence the four latter classes, which are thus genetically one, are the sole organic parts of the state; the remainder, though they differ in degree of importance, are meresine quibus non of the well-being of the citizen community.4 Aristotle implies that the happiness of the state requires an order of external goods, which descends through the slave—"the living tool"—to the physical features of the city's locality. This order is analogous to that according to which within rational man the nutritive ranks below the sensory-appetitive soul, and itself requires an external nutriment. Some men in fact are by nature inferior in virtue to others, just as in different degrees obedience is the virtue of children and women. Aristotle does not regard their common rationality as qualifying men for political equality, though he concedes that the son of a natural slave need not be one himself, and he condemns enslavement by right of conquest.
He does not, like Plato, favour a communistic system. Private property affords an extension of personality, and is not only a source of legitimate pleasure but also a means to generosity. Its use, however, should be common, and its excessive accumulation is an evil. But the remedy for this evil is not to equalise property by legislation which the mere increase of the population will nullify; the solution is "rather to educate the nobler natures not to desire more, and to prevent the lower from getting more" (ibid. 1267b5). Sharing the usual Greek view of trade as an illiberal pursuit, he even regards barter as less natural than use, though inevitable up to a point. The exchange of goods for money, which leads to usury, seems to him definitely unnatural, despite the convenience of currency. It must be remembered that economic organisations with large resources of invested capital were no more necessary than representative government in the small city-states of Greece. The public spirit of a few rich individuals could take the place of the one, and primary self-government of the other, to an extent impossible in the cumbrous nation-states of our day.
In actual states qualification for citizenship varies, but in general—and reasonably—the citizen is he who can claim a share in legislative and judicial functions. Yet if a man greater and better than his fellows should arise, it were well that he alone should rule. The ideal state is in fact monarchical, and the monarch's care of his subjects reflects paternal love. But the ideal monarch, as Plato had held in the Politicus, will rule as the embodiment of law. Though Aristotle distinguishes the legislative, the judicial, and the executive elements in the state, Athenian politics had taught him how dangerous the process of particularising the law's generality by ad hoc enactment could become, and he minimises the executive function.
Monarchy perverted becomes—as in Persia—tyranny, which is analogous to a dominion of master over slave for the sole benefit of the master. Failing the wise autocrat, let the best men of the state form an aristocracy, reflecting the household ruled by a wise master partly through his wife. Aristocracy perverted becomes oligarchy, the rule of a rich minority, sometimes found in actual fact ameliorated by good breeding and education; and this answers to the rule in a household of a master who interferes by force where he should not, or of an heiress who rules by "virtue" of her wealth. The most practicable ideal for actual states is polity—government by a large middle class, based on free birth and a moderate property qualification. This reflects the friendship of brothers, and its perversion, democracy, is like a family where the head of the house is weak, and all the sons claim an equal share of control irrespective of age or merit.5
Thus polity is the worst of the good constitutions; tyranny the worst, and democracy the least bad, of the perversions. Polity is possible where "there naturally exists a large warrior class able to rule and to obey in turn according to a law which gives office to the well-to-do in proportion to their desert."6 If a large middle class holds the balance between rich and poor, they will mistrust each other too much to combine against it, and polity thus has the merit of "consisting in a mean."7 To democracy, which is based on the idea of liberty and equality for all, Aristotle grants the possible advantages that a number of ordinary men may be collectively better than a few good ones, and less liable to be all moved by passion at once; and, further, that if the people are allowed to choose and dismiss their rulers, it is at all events the consumer who is made the judge. On the whole, his view of democracy, which elaborates Plato's rather than differs from it, is that it illustrates the resistance of matter to form—it is something indeterminate rather than actively vicious— and his contention that democracy is the least bad, tyranny the worst, of the perverted constitutions, accords with his own theory of evil in EN [Nicomachean Ethics] and with Plato's.…
In an unfinished sketch of ideal education (Pol. VIII), Aristotle observes that the training of youth is commonly left in private hands, and that opinion differs as to whether it should be intellectual, moral, or utilitarian. His own view is that the education of the ideal citizen will be the concern of the state. For the citizen belongs not to himself but to the state, and education is a training for the practice of virtue—the sole end for which the state exists. Sparta, despite her wrong-headed militarism, has rightly taken this view. The citizen is to be trained for leisure—neither, that is, to make a living, nor for war and politics as ultimate ends, but for self-sufficing rational activity. But Bk. VIII ends without a discussion of intellectual training, and only treats of eugenics and of the earlier stages of a liberal education. Of these the principle is that a boy must learn to obey in order that he may learn to rule. Of the subjects customarily taught Aristotle allows the need of some gymnastic—since the body must be trained before the soul; of reading and writing; of drawing, because it teaches one to appreciate the beauty of the human form. To music, a very important factor in Greek education, of which he speaks at some length, he accords a recreational, a moral … and even perhaps … a specifically aesthetic pleasure. But the type of melody must be carefully selected on moral grounds, and, though boys should be taught to play an instrument well enough to become tolerable critics of skill in execution, to be a professional player is vulgar.
For Aristotle's analysis of actually existent constitutions (Pol. III) and the right methods of governing even the worst of them by a "mean" policy (Pol. VI), and for his diagnosis of the causes and cure of revolution (Pol. V), we have no space but to say that he puts at the disposal of the practical statesman a knowledge and insight which have never been approached.
1 And probably written at different periods of his life and thought. The a priori and empirical elements do not seem in complete harmony, and Books VII and VIII on the ideal state were very likely composed before IV-VI, which deal with actual constitutions: see pp. 265 ff.
2 The reader of the Politics must always remember what human goodness means to Aristotle.
3 Pol. 1252b29. Aristotle is here describing the genesis of the state within history as we know it. In reality the state, in which alone the individual is actualised, is prior to him. Aristotle maintains that ultimately the actual is prior to the potential temporally as well as really; see note 1, p. 92.
4 The doctrine is that of the Republic, save that the rulers do not lead the speculative life in old age. Presumably Aristotle's priests do not know God as the philosopher knows him: cp. Ch. VIII, sect. 1.
5 With this order of constitutions and their domestic analogues compare the order of constitutions and corresponding individuals in Republic, IX. See also Politicus, 297c ff., where Plato is nearer to Aristotle.
6 Pol. 1288a12. Aristotle has in mind the Athenian constitution of 411, in which the 5000 hoplites dominated.
7 That the worst of the good constitutions illustrates the mean par excellence, confirms the view of the mean taken in Chap. VII, sect. 3.
David Ross (lecture date 1957)
SOURCE: "The Development of Aristotle's Thought," in Aristotle and Plato in the Mid-Fourth Century: Papers of the Symposium Aristotelicum at Oxford in August, 1957, edited by Düring and G. E. L., Göteborg, 1960, pp. 1-18.
[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1957, Ross traces the contributions of various critics toward understanding the development of Aristotle's doctrines. Ross notes some of the difficulties in the sketchy chronology outlined by some critics, and discusses in particular Aristotle's plan for Politics as developed and articulated in Ethics. He also argues that Aristotle's concept of the "unmoved first mover" appeared in successive stages through a number of works, including Metaphysics.]
It is only within the last forty years or so that a determined effort has been made to discover the line of development of Aristotle's thought; until forty years ago the tendency of scholars had been to treat the great majority of the works that bear his name as forming one single mass of doctrine, articulated into parts by his own recognition of the various branches of philosophy and science as separate studies, but bearing within itself few signs of development.1 Where works included within the traditional corpus did differ markedly in doctrine from the general mass, there was a tendency to regard this as showing that they were not genuine works of the master at all. Thus for instance Valentinus Rose, to whose work we owe most of our knowledge of the fragments of Aristotle, was so much impressed by the differences of doctrine between the dialogues and the extant works that he treated the dialogues as spurious; and the scholars who studied the Eudemian Ethics were led, by noting the difference of doctrine between this work and the Nicomachean Ethics, to treat the Eudemian Ethics as the work not of Aristotle but of Eudemus. Similarly the De Interpretatione, in which the theory of judgement was different from that which underlay the Analytics, was for that reason rejected as not being by Aristotle.
We may in this country take some pride in the fact that, as Lewis Campbell had been the pioneer in showing the way to a true chronology of Plato's dialogues, a British scholar was the pioneer in showing the way towards not only a chronology of Aristotle's works but also the tracing of a development of doctrine within them. This scholar was Thomas Case, Professor of Moral and Political Philosophy at Oxford from 1894 to 1904, and President of Corpus from 1904 to 1924. As a metaphysician, Case stood quite aloof from the Kantian and Hegelian tendencies which were dominant at Oxford through the earlier part of that period. In other matters his general attitude is tersely summed up in the Concise Dictionary of National Biography, in the remark that he 'opposed changes in church, state, and University'. In Aristotelian studies he stood outside of the general stream of Oxford scholarship; he was not one of the faithful band which met under Bywater's roof to study the Master's work. He was working on his own lines, and in 1910 he wrote for the Encyclopaedia Britannica the article on Aristotle. Partly because it was buried in this decent obscurity, and partly because he had few, if any, disciples, his account of Aristotle received little recognition. But in it he traced, in three departments, a line of development which is now pretty generally accepted. (1) He vindicated the authenticity of the dialogues, and showed them to be natural, both in form and in doctrine, as the work of one gradually emerging, as Aristotle must be supposed to have done, from Platonism into a system of his own. (2) He showed that the De Interpretatione expresses a theory of judgment akin to that expressed in Plato's Sophistes, and therefore in the same way natural to one emerging from discipleship into independence. And (3) he showed that the Eudemian Ethics stands nearer to the Platonic ethics than the Nicomachean Ethics does. Thus he not only vindicated the authenticity of the dialogues, the De Interpretatione, and the Eudemian Ethics, but placed them in their true place in the development of Aristotle's doctrine.
In the same year, 1910, another important new chapter in the discussion of the chronology of Aristotle's works was opened by D'Arcy Thompson in the preface to his translation of the Historia Animalium. He there called attention to the frequent references in that work, and (though to a less extent) in other biological works of Aristotle, to the island of Lesbos and to places in or near it. There are references to Arginussa, Lectum, Mitylene, Pordoselene, Pyrrha, and the Pyrrhaean Euripus, and perhaps to Malia, the south-eastern promontory of Lesbos. There are also references to Macedonia and to places on the coast of Asia Minor all the way from the Bosporus to the Carian coast. There are virtually none to Athens or its neighbourhood.
How does this fit into the pattern of Aristotle's life? His life falls into four roughly equal periods. There is first his boyhood in Chalcidice and in Macedonia from 384 to 367. Secondly, there is the period of his membership of the Platonic Academy from 367 to Plato's death in 348 or 347. Thirdly, there is the period of his life at Assos in the Troad, in the island of Lesbos, and at Pella in Macedonia, from 348 or 347 to 335 or 334. Finally, there is the period of his headship of the Lyceum, from 335 or 334 to his death in 322. Ignoring for our present purpose his boyhood, we may speak of his early period, his middle period, and his late period.
'I think it can be shown', D'Arcy Thompson said, 'that Aristotle's natural history studies were carried on, or mainly carried on, in middle age, between his two periods of residence in Athens: that the calm, landlocked lagoon at Pyrrha was one of his favourite hunting-grounds.' He adds that 'Aristotle's work in natural history was antecedent to his more strictly philosophical work, and it would follow that we might proceed definitely to interpret the latter in the light of the former'. This last opinion is perhaps too broadly expressed; but there can hardly be any doubt of the correctness of Thompson's main thesis, that in all probability the biological works of Aristotle were written during the middle period of his life, probably partly at Assos, partly in Pella, but mainly in Lesbos. It may be added that these works—the genuine parts of the Historia Animalium, the De Partibus Animalium, the De Motu Animalium, the De Incessu Animalium, and the De Generatione Animalium—occupy more than a fifth of the genuine Aristotelian corpus—a sufficient volume of work to have filled at least half of these thirteen years.
This line of thought has been carried on by the scholar François Nuyens, who published in 1939 his work on the evolution of Aristotle's psychology. He took as his central subject Aristotle's view of the relation between soul and body. He points out that in the dialogues (which are no doubt early works) Aristotle describes the soul as the prisoner of the body, and death as a welcome release from this imprisonment, a release which leaves the soul free to live its own life. He points out that throughout the biological works (except the De Generatione Animalium, which is probably the latest of them) a second view is found. The soul is no longer the prisoner of the body, but it is still a distinct entity which inhabits the body, and has its seat in a particular organ, the heart; and soul and body are described as acting on one another. This account Nuyens supports by many quotations which amply prove his point. These works, then, belong to a period later than that of the dialogues. But they are not the final stage in Aristotle's thought about soul and body; for in the De Anima, Book II, the soul has ceased to be a separate entity. It has become the form or first entelechy of the body, or as we might say, the organizing principle of the body. The acquisition of the faculties of soul by a body is the first stage in its development, the second stage or second entelechy being the exercise of the various faculties—the nutritive, the sensitive, the appetitive, the active, the intellectual, which together form the soul. This last-named theory, being the farthest from the early, Platonic view expressed in the dialogues, must (Nuyens argued) be the latest. He points out that the middle view characterizes not only the biological works but also most of the psychological treatises which form the Parva Naturalia; but he assigns two of these, the De Sensu and the De Memoria, to the third period.
There can, to my mind, be little doubt about the correctness of his main point, that the biological writings (the De Generatione excepted) and some of the psychological writings belong to the middle period. But he speaks too widely, I think, in assigning the De Anima as a whole, and the treatises on sense and on memory, to the third period. For the entelecheia view of soul is found only in part of the De Anima—in Book II and the first eight chapters of Book III. It is absent not only from Book I2) (which signifies little, since Aristotle says little there about his own views), but also from the latter part of Book III. Also I have, after fairly careful study of the De Sensu and the De Memoria, found no trace of the entelecheia view in them, and considerable evidence of the two-substance view.3) It would seem, then, that the whole of the psychological writings, except the central part of the De Anima, belong to the biological period, and that adds another large number of pages to those we have already assigned conjecturally to the middle period of Aristotle's activity as a writer.
This would seem to push the central part of the De Anima, and the De Generatione Animalium, into the final period, or at least towards the end of the middle period. The question arises, how much more of Aristotle's writing must be pushed forward with these works. We do not expect to find much in the Metaphysics dealing with the relation of soul to body; for that is not his subject there. But let us look at such evidence as we can find in the Metaphysics. In M1077 a 32-34 the view that soul is the form of the living body—what we may call for short the hylemorphic view—is put forward tentatively: 'How can lines be substances? Neither as a form or shape, as the soul perhaps [my italics] is, nor as matter, as the body is'. Compare this with the language of De An. 2. 412 a 19-21, 'Hence the soul must be a substance in the sense of the form of a natural body having life potentially within it.' The same view is stated quite clearly in Met.Z 1035 b 14-16, 'Since the soul of animals (for this is the substance of a living being) is their substance according to the formula, i. e. the form and the essence of a body of a certain kind', and again Z 1037 a 5-7, 'It is clear also that the soul is the primary substance and the body is matter and the man or the animal is the compound of both taken universally', and again, more explicitly, in H 1043 a 29-36, and once more in [L] 1075 b 34-36. It would seem, then, that four of the principal books of the Metaphysics—Z, H, [L], M—in their present form at least are later than the whole series of biological and psychological writings, except the De Generatione and the central part of the De Anima, and must be dated, at earliest, only shortly before Aristotle's return to Athens as head of the Lyceum, and are just as likely to belong to the Lyceum period itself.
I turn now to the most brilliant Aristotelian of our time. In 1912 Professor Jaeger published a remarkable study of the Metaphysics in which he pointed out differences of doctrine between different parts of that work, and treated these as examples of development in Aristotle's view. He pointed to the fact that in the first book Aristotle uses the first person plural in the sense of 'we Platonists', while in a part of Book M which covers much the same ground he uses the third person when speaking of the Platonists. The first book, he pointed out, thus belongs to a time when Aristotle was still a member of the Platonic school, though a critical member, while Book M belongs to a time when he had ceased to be a member of the school. He pointed out that Aristotle in the first book uses the name Coriscus as we might use the name John Smith, and reminded us that Coriscus was a member of a school of Platonists with whom Aristotle probably had associations while at the court of Hermeias at Assos in the years 347 to 344; and he dated the first book early accordingly. This conclusion is almost certainly true, but lest anyone should be tempted to do what Jaeger does not do, to assign to this period every work in which Coriscus occurs, I may point out that he occurs similarly, as Aristotle's John Smith, in the Prior Analytics, in the Sophistici Elenchi, in the De Partibus, the De Generatione Animalium, the De Memoria and the De Insomniis, books [D]EZ of the Metaphysics, and the Eudemian Ethics. It would be impossible to fit all these works into three years. Nor was Aristotle's association with Coriscus confined to Assos; for in the Physics 219 b 21 we find the phrase 'Coriscus in the Lyceum', in Aristotle's own school at Athens. I think, therefore, that references to Coriscus are not useful for the purpose of dating works of Aristotle.
In this same book Jaeger made an exhaustive and excellent analysis of the contents of the Metaphysics, assigning them to different periods of Aristotle's life; I shall say something later on this subject.
Jaeger carried his research much farther in his general book on Aristotle, published in 1923, in which he unfolded a whole theory of the development of the Master's views. He gave us in this book a striking study of the more important fragments of the dialogues, whose authenticity he effectively vindicated. He showed that in the Eudemus Aristotle expressed a purely Platonic theory of the soul, as an entity independent of the body and in some measure hostile to it. Of the Protrepticus, also, he gave an excellent account, showing that it too was thoroughly Platonic in character. He showed that in the De Philosophia Aristotle had in many respects become critical of Platonism. Broadly speaking, he gave a valuable account of these early writings; it remains the best account we have of this period of Aristotle's thought. The only other parts of the Aristotelian corpus with which he dealt in detail are the Metaphysics, the two works on ethics, and the Politics. I will begin with his study of the works on ethics. He vindicates the traditional view which includes the Eudemian Ethics among the works of Aristotle, against that which considers it to be the work of Eudemus, and, like Case, he treats the Eudemian Ethics as earlier than the better-known Nicomachean Ethics. Further, he treats the Protrepticus, which is purely Platonic in its views, the less Platonic and less theological Eudemian Ethics, and the still less Platonic Nicomachean Ethics, as showing a continuous development in Aristotle's views about ethics. This general view he supports by detailed discussion of passages from the three works, a discussion which I find convincing.
Before discussing Jaeger's views about the Politics, I shall deal with a question which has been much discussed, and to which I believe that a definite answer can be given, the question of the proper order of the books of the Politics.
The contents of the eight books of the Politics may be briefly stated as follows, taking them in the order in which they appear in all the manuscripts. The first book describes the city-state as the highest form of community, and as formed by the coalescence of villages, which in turn are formed by the coalescence of households; and it proceeds to discuss two main themes—slavery, which is an element in the Greek household, and property, of which slaves are a part. The second book discusses the ideal commonwealths described by Plato, Phaleas, and Hippodamus, and the best states existing in the world known to the Greeks of Aristotle's day. The third deals with the definition of citizenship, the classification of constitutions, and the varieties of one of them—monarchy. The fourth discusses variations in the five other types of constitution recognized by Aristotle, and the three institutions regarded by him as essential to a state—the deliberative assembly, the executive, and the law-courts. The fifth discusses revolutions and their causes, and the means of preventing them. The sixth discusses the proper organization of two inferior forms of state—democracies and oligarchies. The seventh and eighth form a continuous but unfinished discussion of the ideal state.
This is a very curious and an apparently ill-arranged, though always impressive, study in political philosophy. It raises in the mind of any attentive reader a question that has been much debated—whether the order in which we have the books is that intended by Aristotle.
Two changes in the order have been advocated. One consists of placing the sixth book before the fifth. But few scholars have adopted this change, and it is negatived by four clear references in the sixth book to the fifth (1316 b 34-36, 1317 a 37-38, 1319 b 4-6, 37-38). The other change—one which has been adopted by many scholars—consists in placing the last two books after the third. This finds some support in the fact that at the end of the third book all the manuscripts have a sentence (followed in some by a fragment of a second sentence) which seems to herald an immediate discussion of the ideal state, a discussion which we do not actually find until we come to the last two books. By means of this change, it has been maintained, we get five idealistic books followed by three realistic books. As against the change we have the fact that all the manuscripts place Books 4-6 before Books 7 and 8.
I believe that this question can be settled by considering the final words of the Nicomachean Ethics, which read as follows: "Our predecessors have left the subject of legislation to us unexamined; it is perhaps best, therefore, that we should ourselves study it, and in general study the question of the constitution, in order to complete, to the best of our ability, our philosophy of human nature. First, then, if anything has been said well in detail by earlier thinkers, let us try to review it'—that is just what Aristotle does in Book 2, 1-8 of the Politics—'then in the light of the constitutions we have collected let us study what sorts of influence preserve and destroy states, and what sorts preserve or destroy the particular kinds of constitution, and to what causes it is due that some are well and some are ill administered'—that is just what Aristotle does in the fifth and sixth books. 'When these matters have been studied we shall perhaps be more likely to see with a comprehensive view which constitution is best, and how each must be ordered, and what laws and customs it must use, if it is to be at its best'—that is just what Aristotle begins to do, but does not finish doing, in Books 7 and 8. Thus when he wrote the Ethics he contemplated a Politics to which Books 2 (chapters 1-8), 5-6, 7-8, in that order, correspond. In carrying out his scheme he added a preliminary book—Book 1—dealing in the main with the household, as the unit out of which the state emerged. He added, as a natural appendix to the account of the ideal constitutions of Plato and others, an account of what he considered the best existing constitutions (Book 2, 9-12). And, most important of all, he added his classification and description of constitutions (Books 3 and 4). Thus he carried out the scheme laid down in the Ethics, in the order laid down in the Ethics, but with additions—Books 1, 2. 9-12, 3, 4—the necessity of which he saw in the course of carrying out his plan.4 Any one who studies this passage of the Ethics is bound to say that if the Politics in its traditional order is not Professor Susemihl's idea of a Politics, it is at least Aristotle's idea of one.
The question of the proper order of the books of the Politics has been much bedevilled by the labelling of some books as realistic and of others as idealistic, and by the assumption that Aristotle passed from an idealistic period to a realistic one. Both in the adumbration of the scheme, in the execution of it, and in the additions made to it, idealism and realism are in fact present hand in hand. Aristotle knew that any sketch of an ideal state will be nothing worth if it is not based on a knowledge of human nature and of the ways in which different types of constitution work out in practice.
On the question of the proper order of the books I note with pleasure that Jaeger does not adopt the changes in the order that have been proposed.
The second general question which faces us in studying the Politics is the question when the various parts of the work were written. Jaeger thinks that there was an earlier form of the Politics, which was much more Platonic and idealistic in character, and which rested on the Eudemian Ethics, as the work in its present form rests on the Nicomachean Ethics. Time does not permit me to deal with this view in detail; I must content myself with pointing out the facts which seem to me to tell against it. It must be noted, to begin with, that in the passage of the Nicomachean Ethics which I have quoted Aristotle speaks of the Politics as a work not yet existing: there is no suggestion there that he has already written a book on the subject. Next we note that in the same passage he refers to 'the constitutions that have been collected' (Eth. Nic. 1181 b 17). I agree with Jaeger in thinking that this is a reference to the famous collection of the constitutions of 158 Greek states or cities, of which the only survivor is the Athenaion Politeia. This collection could not be made until Aristotle had a school of disciples, during his headship of the Lyceum, from 335-4 to his death in 322; indeed, to allow time for this collection to be made, we must date the formulation of the scheme in the Ethics, and its execution in the Politics, in the second half of that period.
The conclusion that the main scheme of the Politics—that which is sketched in the Ethics—was carried out during Aristotle's headship of the Lyceum is slightly confirmed by one or two details. Book 5, 1311 b 1-3 refers to the death of Philip of Macedon, which took place in 336. Newman, the learned editor of the Politics, suggests that Book 5, 1312 b 6-7, should perhaps be dated about the year 330. As Sir Ernest Barker has pointed out, Book 7, 1330 b 32-1331 a 18, which refers to the defences to be used against modern siege engines, may well be a reference to the strengthening of the walls of Athens carried out by Lycurgus between 338 and 326 B. C. The reference to guardhouses in the countryside in Book 7, 1331 b 16, may well be a reference to Lycurgus' system of military training established in that last period of Aristotle's life. We cannot be so sure about the late date of the parts of the Politics which do not fall within the programme stated in the Ethics, but there are indications that some of them at least were written at this late date. Newman suggests that the events at Andros mentioned in Book 2, 1270 b 11-13, happened in the year 333, and that the reference in Book 4, 1299 a 14-19 was probably written after 329. Thus there is evidence both that the scheme adumbrated in the Ethics, in the order there adopted, was carried out during Aristotle's headship of the Lyceum, i.e. within the last thirteen years of his life, and that the additions to this scheme were also written within that period. This being so, I find it difficult to accept Jaeger's view that parts of the Politics were written at an earlier date and during a more Platonic period of Aristotle's life. Instead of supposing that the passages written with more eloquence than those which precede them or those which follow them were written earlier, I incline to think that Aristotle's style alters as he approaches a different part of his subject, a part in which eloquence is more in place.
I turn now to say something about Jaeger's discussion of the Metaphysics. It had long been known, and is indeed obvious, upon the most cursory examination, that the Metaphysics as it stands is not a consecutive whole. In the main Jaeger followed the admirable lead given long before by Bonitz, treating AB[G] and part of E, ZH[O] I, MN as the main blocks in a planned but never completed whole, and A, [D], K, and [L] as genuine Aristotelian works but not as parts of that whole. Jaeger's chief innovation lay in his dating of the various books. The earlier tendency had been to date the whole of the Metaphysics, like most of the other major works, in the latest period of Aristotle's life, that of his headship of the Lyceum. Jaeger dated A, B, and N in the Assos period, and the remaining parts of the Metaphysics in the ten years after this, when Aristotle was in Macedonia. As regards A, B, and N, he is in all probability right. In A and B Aristotle is still saying 'we' in the sense of 'we Platonists'; but he begins to be a very critical Platonist, in particular a critic of Plato's transcendent ideas. With regard to the remaining books, Jaeger is less convincing. His view is that Aristotle's mind moved steadily away from interest in philosophy to interest in natural science and in the organization of research, such as the accounts of the constitutions of 158 Greek states, lists of victors in the Olympic games, and such-like matters. On this basis Jaeger leaves for the final or Lyceum period comparatively few of Aristotle's extant works. We may ask whether it is really likely that the metaphysical interest which appears so clearly in every book of the Metaphysics ever faded away into nothingness, or into such antiquarian pursuits as the compilation of the lists of victors in the games. If we were dealing with an ordinary man, we might suppose that an interest in metaphysics could not have coexisted with an interest in scientific, political, and antiquarian research; but we are dealing with no ordinary man. There were, it would seem, two strains in Aristotle which coexisted throughout his life. He was born into an Asclepiad, that is to say a medical, family, and into the Ionian race, and he inherited the Ionian interest in nature and the Asclepiad interest in medicine, and therefore in biology; in the first chapter, and again in the last chapter, of the Parva Naturalia he points out how the study of nature furnishes medical practice with its first principles. But he was for nineteen years a member of Plato's school, at first an enthusiastic member, as the Eudemus and the Protrepticus show, later a critical member, as the De Philosophia and the earliest parts of the Metaphysics show; but in becoming a critic of Plato he by no means became a deserter from philosophy to science or to antiquarianism. It is far more likely that while he was head of the Lyceum he delegated most of the detailed research to pupils, and himself continued to lecture on philosophical subjects, and in particular that the writing of the Metaphysics lasted on into that period.
This can be seen from a consideration of chapter 8 of Book [L]. Aristotle there refers to the astronomical theory of Callippus; now Callippus lived from about 370 to about 300, and his theory is believed to have been put forward about 330-325; and Aristotle refers to it in the imperfect tense—'Callippus used to maintain', so that we must suppose Aristotle to be writing, at the very earliest, not before 330, when he was head of the Lyceum and within eight years of his death. Jaeger contrasts this chapter very strongly with the other chapters of [L]. He stresses the amplitude of its style with the brevity of the other chapters. He thinks that the doctrine set out in chapter 8, the doctrine of the separate 'intelligences' that move the celestial spheres, is inconsistent with the doctrine of the prime mover as set forth in chapters 7 and 9. Chapter 8 may very well be later than the rest of [L]; at least we know that it is very late, and we have nothing to show that the rest of the book is so. But chapter 8 itself shows that it was intended by Aristotle to fit in at this point; for the words with which it starts, 'we must not ignore the question whether we have to suppose one such substance or more than one, and if the latter, how many', clearly refer back to the words of the previous chapter, 'it is clear then from what has been said that there is a substance which is eternal and unmoveable and separate from sensible things', and would be unintelligible apart from these words, and chapter 8 itself repeats the doctrine of the first mover; 'the first principle or primary being', Aristotle says, 'is not moveable either in itself or accidentally, but produces the primary, eternal, and single movement' (1073 a 23-25); the position is stated again quite clearly a few lines later (1073 a 28-34), 'since we see that besides the simple movement of the universe, which we maintain to be actuated by the first, the unmoved substance, there are other eternal movements, those of the planets, each of these movements also must be actuated by a substance both unmoved itself and eternal.'
The position, then, is plain. In this chapter, which belongs to the very last years of Aristotle's life, he retains the doctrine of the prime mover. But the researches of Eudoxus and Callippus had shown the movements of the sun, moon, and planets, to be not simple circular movements as those of the other stars appeared to be, but highly complex, involving more than one circular movement. Aristotle accepts these findings, but retains his belief in the prime mover which moves the non-planetary stars and gives their daily movements to sun, moon, and planets. Thus the chapter is not, as Jaeger appears to hold, a fragment found by Aristotle's editors and fitted by them into Book [L] but an addition made by Aristotle himself in view of the theories of Eudoxus and Callippus—an addition which he thought to be in no way contradictory of the view he still maintained, that the diurnal movement of the heavens, the movement common to the sun and moon and planets and to the other stars, requires a single, eternal, unmoved mover. The agent which causes this movement clearly stands on a higher plane than the departmental movers assigned to sun, moon, and to each of the planets; and so Aristotle is able to retain his triumphant conclusion to the book, 'The rule of many is not good; one ruler let there be.'
This problem of the cause of motion of the heavenly bodies is one in which it seems to be possible to trace pretty exactly the development of Aristotle's views. In what follows I shall be in the main following the arguments put forward by Professor Guthrie in his edition of the De Caelo (pages xxix-xxxi). Plato, we know from the Laws, believed in the possibility of self-movement, and ascribed it to the stars, which he regarded as living beings. In the De Philosophia, according to the account of it in Cicero's De Natura Deorum, Aristotle said that there are three causes of motion—nature, force, and free will. The motion of the stars could not be natural, since natural movement is not circular, but either upward or downward; nor could it be impressed by force, since there cannot be any force greater than that of the stars, which could move them contrary to their nature. Therefore, it must be voluntary. This ascription of voluntary movement to the stars agrees well with the ascription to them of sense-perception, intelligence, and divinity, which, like the ascription of voluntary movement to them, we learn of from the De Natura Deorum. This is the first stage in Aristotle's thought on the subject.
In the De Caelo, itself probably a fairly early work, a different account is given. In this the contrast between a voluntary self-movement of the stars and the natural movement of the four elements has disappeared. It is as natural for the ether, the substance of the heavenly bodies, to move in a circle as it is for earth to move down and for fire to move up. The references in the De Caelo to a transcendent non-moving mover of the stars are few in number, and inconsistent with the main drift of the argument; they are probably best regarded as later additions, made when Aristotle had altered his view. On the other hand, as Professor Guthrie has pointed out, there are several passages which definitely exclude any source of movement transcending the stars; e.g. 279 a 30-b 3, where the heavenly system is itself described as the highest deity, and it is added that there is nothing more powerful, nothing that could move it.
The third stage comes in Physics 7 and 8, where the movement of the heavens is explained by the introduction of an unmoving mover which causes movement not as one body moves another, by imparting its own movement to it, but 'as an object of desire', by inspiring desire to imitate as far as possible its eternal life—Dante's Tamor che muove il sole e l'altre stelle'.
The final stage comes in Metaphysics [LI, where this explanation is retained, but in consequence of the recent discoveries of Eudoxus and Callippus the machinery of the transmission of movement to the heavenly bodies has become very complicated. Thus the belief in an unmoved first mover is not an early belief but Aristotle's last word on the subject; the De Philosophia, the De Caelo, the Physics, and the Metaphysics reveal the successive stages in the development of Aristotle's view.
If at some points I have been rather critical of some of Jaeger's views I should not like to fail to express my high admiration of the originality of his work, and of the flood of light which he has shed on many dark places in Aristotle's writings. The general attitude I have been led to adopt towards his account of Aristotle is that, while I accept his belief that Aristotle moved from a Platonic, other-wordly view for which the physical world was of little interest, and super-sensual reality was all that mattered, to one for which the problems of the physical world mattered a great deal, the movement of his mind proceeded neither so far nor so fast as Jaeger describes it as having proceeded. The clearest evidence of this is Aristotle's retention of the prime unmoved mover as the mainspring of his system in the very last years of his life. But we have also seen that, while Aristotle's conception of the soul went through three distinct phases, in the last of which it had ceased to be for him an entity distinct from the body, the physical activities of living things remained for him a matter of great interest. In ethics we find the same story. The Nicomachean Ethics, by general consent a late work, breathes as high an idealism as any of his works. The same is true of the Politics; the so-called idealistic parts of it, in their present form, at least, are in all probability, no less than its other parts, to be dated near the end of his life.
In this connexion it is important to consider the significance of a passage to which Jaeger rightly attaches much importance—the fifth chapter of the first book of the De Partibus Animalium. I will quote the passage which he quotes: (1, 644 b 22-645 a 36).
Of things constituted by nature some are ungenerated, imperishable, and eternal, while others are subject to generation and decay. The former are excellent beyond compare and divine, but less accessible to knowledge. The evidence that might throw light on them, and on the problems which we long to solve respecting them, is furnished but scantily by sensation; whereas respecting perishable plants and animals we have abundant information, living as we do in their midst, and ample data may be collected concerning all their various kinds, if only we are willing to take sufficient pains. Both departments, however, have their special charm. The scanty conceptions to which we can attain of celestial things give us, from their excellence, more pleasure than all our knowledge of the world in which we live; just as a half-glimpse of persons that we love is more delightful than a leisurely view of other things, whatever their number and dimensions. On the other hand, in certitude and in completeness our knowledge of terrestrial things has the advantage. Moreover, their greater nearness and affinity to us balances somewhat the loftier interest of the heavenly things that are the objects of the higher philosophy. Having already treated of the celestial world, as far as our conjectures could reach, we proceed to treat of animals, without omitting, to the best of our ability, any member of the kingdom, however ignoble. For if some have no graces to charm the sense, yet even these, by disclosing to intellectual perception the artistic spirit which designed them, give immense pleasure to all who can trace links of causation and are inclined to philosophy. Indeed, it would be strange if mimic representations of them were attractive, because they disclose the mimetic skill of the painter or sculptor, and the original realities themselves were not more interesting, to all, at any rate, who have eyes to discern the reasons that determined their formation. We therefore must not recoil with childish aversion from the examination of the humbler animals. Every realm of nature is marvellous … we should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful. Absence of haphazard and conduciveness of everything to an end are to be found in nature's works in the highest degree, and the resultant end of her generations and combinations is a form of the beautiful. If anyone thinks the examination of the rest of the animal kingdom an unworthy task, he must hold in like disesteem the study of man. For no one can look at the primordia of the human frame—blood, flesh, bones, vessels, and the like—without much repugnance. Moreover, when any one of the parts or structures, be it which it may, is under discussion, it must not be supposed that it is its material composition to which attention is being directed, or which is the object of the discussion, but the relation of each part to the total form. Similarly, the true object of architecture is not bricks, mortar, or timber, but the house; and so the principal object of natural philosophy is not the material objects, but their composition, and the totality of the form, inde-pendently of which they have no existence.
This is a beautiful passage, and of all passages in Aristotle's works it is perhaps that in which he, generally so severely objective, most clearly strikes a personal note. Professor Jaeger treats it as implying an almost complete abandonment of interest in metaphysics, as placing, to use his words, 'metaphysics completely in the background', and 'reading like a programme for research and instruction in the Peripatetic School'. But anyone who considers the passage without prejudice will, I think, not read it so. It is a noble vindication of biological research, but it recognizes in so many words that both departments, both the study of things eternal and the study of living, perishable organisms have their own charm and attraction. The contrast Aristotle draws is not between biology and philosophy, but between biology and astronomy, what he here calls the study of celestial things; and it is a plea not for the abandonment of astronomy but for the study of biology as well.
The study of the development of Aristotle's philosophy must depend largely on the view to be taken of the comparative dates of his various works; and there is one way of studying this question which has never been strongly followed. That is by studying the references in one book to another. This would be a long task, since the references are very numerous, and it could be a dry task; but it would certainly be one worth attacking, and if I should live long enough I should feel inclined to have a try at it: it is quite possible that a clear order of the various works, and therefore of the views expressed in them, might emerge.
In his recent book The Hedgehog and the Fox, Mr. Berlin' has described Aristotle as being, in contrast with Plato, a fox. The hedgehog is a creature with only one means of defence, the fox has several, and Mr. Berlin uses them as corresponding to the thinkers who are interested in a single all-embracing world-view and those whose interest is in the multiplicity and variety of the empirical facts that lie before them. His subject is Tolstoi, and his reading of Tolstoi is that he was a natural fox trying without much success to be a hedgehog, a man intensely interested in the detail of human life, but aiming without success at a philosophy; and no one who has been, as I have been, enthralled by the narrative of War and Peace, and bored to extinction by the philosophy in it, can fail to agree with Mr. Berlin's diagnosis. But when we come to Plato and Aristotle I am not so sure of the truth of his dictum, which is, after all, only thrown off in passing. I agree that Plato had little of the fox in him; his effort is always towards generalization, and he shows little of the interest in detailed fact of which Aristotle's biological works, for example, afford so much evidence. But I think that Aristotle had a great deal of the hedgehog in him, as well as of the fox. He is striving all the time, and certainly not without success, to generalize; he is, if anything, too ready to apply his great general notions, like those of matter and form, of potentiality and actuality, to the solution of particular problems. But he did establish a general system which held the field for many centuries, and is still deserving of the closest study. Still less can I agree with Jaeger's view, that, having during the greater part of his life tried to be a hedgehog, Aristotle in the end realized that he was only a fox, and abandoned the pursuit of general ideas for the tabulation of hard facts, for such things as the descriptions of the constitutions of Greek cities and the cataloguing of Olympic victors.
1 Delivered as the Dawes Hicks lecture on Philosophy to the British Academy on 6 February, 1957.
2 Except for one passage, 402 a 26.
3 The word [entelekheia] occurs nowhere in the Parva Naturalia.
4 It is possible that the most important of these additions—Books 3 and 4—formed originally a separate larger course, the [Politeia] (two books) of Ptolemy's Aristotle's works.
5 Now Sir Isaiah Berlin.
W. F. R. Hardie (essay date 1965)
SOURCE: "The Final Good in Aristotle's Ethics," in Aristotle: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by J. M. E. Moravcsik, Anchor Books, 1967, pp. 297-322.
[In the following essay, originally written in 1965, Hardie highlights the ambiguity of Aristotle's doctrineof the final good, noting that Aristotle represents the final good as a dominant end, but that he also seems to suggest its inclusive nature. Hardie concludes that the doctrine of the final good centers on man's power to reflect on his abilities and desires and to choose a satisfactory course in life.]
Aristotle maintains that every man has, or should have, a single end …, a target at which he aims. The doctrine is stated in NE I 2. '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. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right?'1 (1094al8-24). Aristotle does not here prove, nor need we understand him as claiming to prove, that there is only one end which is desired for itself. He points out correctly that, if there are objects which are desired but not desired for themselves, there must be some object which is desired for itself. The passage further suggests that, if there were one such object and one only, this fact would be important and helpful for the conduct of life.
The same doctrine is stated in EE A 2. But, whereas in the NE the emphasis is on the concern of political science, statesmanship, with the human good conceived as a single end, the EE speaks only of the planning by the individual of his own life. 'Everyone who has the power to live according to his own choice … should dwell on these points and set up for himself some object for the good life to aim at, whether honour or reputation or wealth or culture, by reference to which he will do all that he does, since not to have one's life organised in view of some end is a sign of great folly. Now above all we must first define to ourselves without hurry or carelessness in which of our possessions the good life consists, and what for men are the conditions of its attainment' (1214b6-14). Here, then, we are told that lack of practical wisdom is shown in a man's failure to plan and organise his life for the attainment of a single end. Aristotle omits to say, but says elsewhere, that lack of practical wisdom is shown also in a man's preference for a bad or inadequate end, say pleasure or money. We learn in NE VI 9 that the man of practical wisdom has a true conception of the end which is best for him as well as the capacity to plan effectively for its realisation (1141b31-33).
How far do men in fact plan their lives, as Aristotle suggests they should, for the attainment of a single end? As soon as we ask this question, we see that there is a confusion in Aristotle's conception of the single end. For the question confuses two questions: first, how far do men plan their lives; and, secondly, so far as they do, how far do they, in their plans, give a central and dominating place to a single desired object, money or fame or science? To both these questions the answer that first suggests itself is that some men do and some do not. Take the second question first. It is exceptional for a life to be organised to achieve the satisfaction of one ruling passion. If asked for examples we might think of Disraeli's political ambition or of Henry James' self-dedication to the art of the novel. But exceptional genius is not incompatible with a wide variety of interests. It seems plain that very few men can be said, even roughly, to live their lives under the domination of a single end. Consider now the first question. How far do men plan their lives? Clearly some do so who have no single dominant aim. It is possible to have a plan based on priorities, or on equal consideration, as between a number of objects. It is even possible to plan not to plan, to resolve never to cross bridges in advance. Hobbes remarked that there is no 'finis ultimus, utmost aim, nor summum bonum, greatest good, as is spoken of in the books of the old moral philosophers.… Felicity is a continual progress of the desire, from one object to another, the attaining of the former being still but the way to the latter' (Leviathan, ch. xi). But even such a progress may be planned, although the plan may not be wise. Every man has, and knows that he has, a number of independent desires, i.e. desires which are not dependent on other desires in the way in which desire for a means is dependent on desire for an end. Every man is capable, from time to time, of telling himself that, if he pursues one particular object too ardently, he may lose or imperil other objects also dear to him. So it may be argued that every man capable, as all men are, of reflection is, even if only occasionally and implicitly, a planner of his own life.
We can now distinguish the two conceptions which are confused or conflated in Aristotle's exposition of the doctrine of the single end. One of them is the conception of what might be called the inclusive end. A man, reflecting on his various desires and interests, notes that some mean more to him than others, that some are more, some less, difficult and costly to achieve, that the attainment of one may, in different degrees, promote or hinder the attainment of others. By such reflection he is moved to plan to achieve at least his most important objectives as fully as possible. The following of such a plan is roughly what is sometimes meant by the pursuit of happiness. The desire for happiness, so understood, is the desire for the orderly and harmonious gratification of desires. Aristotle sometimes, when he speaks of the final end, seems to be fumbling for the idea of an inclusive end, or comprehensive plan, in this sense. Thus in NE I 2 he speaks of the end of politics as 'embracing' other ends (1094b6-7). The aim of a science which is 'architectonic' (1094a26-27; cf. NE VI 8, 1141b24-26) is a second-order aim. Again in NE I 7 he says that happiness must be 'most desirable of all things, without being counted as one good thing among others since, if it were so counted, it would be made more desirable by the addition of even the least of goods …' (1097b 16-20). Such considerations ought to lead Aristotle to define happiness as a secondary end, the full and harmonious achievement of primary ends. This is what he ought to say. It is not what he says. His explicit view, as opposed to his occasional insight, makes the supreme end not inclusive but dominant, the object of one prime desire, philosophy. This is so even when, as in NE I 7, he has in mind that, prima facie, there is not only one final end: '… if there are more than one, the most final of these will be what we are seeking' (1097a30). Aristotle's mistake and confusion are implicit in his formulation in EE A 2 of the question in which of our possessions does the good life consist (1214b12-13). For to put the question thus is to rule out the obvious and correct reply; that the life which is best for a man cannot lie in gaining only one of his objects at the cost of losing all the rest. This would be too high a price to pay even for philosophy.
The ambiguity which we have found in Aristotle's conception of the final good shows itself also in his attempt to use the notion of a 'function' … which is 'peculiar' to man as a clue to the definition of happiness. The notion of function cannot be defended and should not be pressed, since a man is not designed for a purpose. The notion which Aristotle in fact uses is that of the specific nature of man, the characteristics which primarily distinguish him from other living things. This notion can be given a wider interpretation which corresponds to the inclusive end or a narrower interpretation which corresponds to the dominant end. In NE I 7, seeking what is peculiar to man (1097b33-34), Aristotle rejects first the life of nutrition and growth and secondly the life of perception which is common to 'the horse, the ox and every animal' (1098a2-3). What remains is 'an active life of the element that has a rational principle' (1098a3-4). This expression need not, as commentators point out, be understood as excluding theoretical activity. 'Action' can be used in a wide sense, as in the Politics VII 3 (1325b l6-23), to include contemplative thinking. But what the phrase specifies as the proper function of man is clearly wider than theoretical activity and includes activities which manifest practical intelligence and moral virtue. But the narrower conception is suggested by a phrase used later in the same chapter. 'The good for man turns out to be the activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue in accordance with the best and most complete' (1098al6-18). The most complete virtue must be theoretical wisdom, although this is not made clear in NE I.
The doctrine that only in theoretical activity is man really happy is stated and defended explicitly in X 7 and 8. Theoretical reason, the divine element in man, more than anything else is man (1177b27-28, 1178a6-7). 'It would be strange, then, if he were to choose not the life of his self but that of something else. And what we said before will apply now; that which is proper to each thing is by nature best and most pleasant for each thing' (1178a3-6). Man is truly human only when he is more than human, godlike. 'None of the other animals is happy, since they in no way share in contemplation' (1178b27-28). This statement makes obvious the mistake involved in the conception of the end as dominant rather than inclusive. It is no doubt true that man is the only theoretical animal. But the capacity of some men for theory is very small. And theory is not the only activity in respect of which man is rational as no other animal is rational. There is no logic which leads from the principle that happiness is to be found in a way of living which is common and peculiar to men to the narrow view of the final good as a dominant end. What is common and peculiar to men is rationality in a general sense, not theoretical insight which is a specialised way of being rational. A man differs from other animals not primarily in being a natural metaphysician, but rather in being able to plan his life consciously for the attainment of an inclusive end.
The confusion between an end which is final because it is inclusive and an end which is final because it is supreme or dominant accounts for much that critics have rightly found unsatisfactory in Aristotle's account of the thought which leads to practical decisions. It is connected with his failure to make explicit the fact that practical thinking is not always or only the finding of means to ends. Thought is needed also for the setting up of an inclusive end. But, as we have seen, Aristotle fails to make explicit the concept of an inclusive end. This inadequacy both confuses his statement in NE I I and 2 of the relation of politics to subordinate arts and leads to his giving an incomplete account of deliberation.
I have represented Aristotle's doctrine as primarily a doctrine about the individual's pursuit of his own good, his own welfare.… But something should be said at this point about the relation between the end of the individual and the 'greater and more complete' end of the state. 'While it is worth while to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for city-states' NE I 2, 1094b7-10). This does not mean more than it says: if it is good that Smith should be happy, it is even better that Brown and Robinson should be happy too.
What makes it inevitable that planning for the attainment of the good for man should be political is the simple fact that a man needs and desires social community with others. This is made clear in NE I 7 where Aristotle says that the final good must be sufficient by itself. 'Now by self-sufficient we do not mean that which is sufficient for a man by himself, for one who lives a solitary life, but also for parents, children, wife and in general for his friends and fellow-citizens, since man is born for citizenship' (1097b7-11). That individual end-seeking is primary, that the state exists for its citizens, is stated in Ch. 8 of NE VI, one of the books common to both treatises. 'The man who knows and concerns himself with his own interests is thought to have practical wisdom, while politicians are thought to be busybodies.… Yet perhaps one's own good cannot exist without household management, nor without a form of government' (1142al-10). The family and the state, and other forms of association as well, are necessary for the full realisation of any man's capacity for living well.
The statesman aims, to speak roughly, at the greatest happiness of the greatest number. He finds his own happiness in bringing about the happiness of others (NE X 7, 1177bl4), especially, if Aristotle is right, the happiness of those capable of theoretical activity. Speaking in terms of the end as dominant Aristotle, in NE VI 13, sets a limit to the authority of political wisdom. 'But again it is not supreme over philosophic wisdom, i.e. over the superior part of us, any more than the art of medicine is over health; for it does not use it but provides for its coming into being; it issues orders, then, for its sake but not to it' (1145a6-9). This suggestion that science and philosophy are insulated in principle from political interference cannot be accepted. The statesman promotes science but also uses it, and may have to restrict the resources to be made available for it. If the secondary and inclusive end is the harmonisation and integration of primary ends, no primary end can be sacrosanct. But, even if Aristotle had held consistently the extravagant view that theoretical activity is desired only for itself and is the only end desired for itself, he would not have been right to conclude that there could be no occasion for the political regulation of theoretical studies. For the unrestricted pursuit of philosophy might hinder measures needed to make an environment in which philosophy could flourish. It might be necessary to order an astronomer to leave his observatory, or a philosopher his school, in order that they should play their parts in the state. Similarly the individual who plans his life so as to give as large a place as possible to a single supremely desired activity must be ready to restrain, not only desires which conflict with his ruling passion, but the ruling passion itself when it is manifested in ways which would frustrate its own object.
In NE I 1 and 2 Aristotle expounds the doctrine that statesmanship has authority over the arts and sciences which fall under it, are subordinate to it. An art, A, is under another art, B, if there is a relation of means to end between A and B. If A is a productive art, like bridle-making, its product may be used by a superior art, riding. Riding is not a productive activity, but it falls under generalship in so far as generals use cavalry, and generalship in turn falls under the art of the statesman, the art which is in the highest degree architectonic (1094a27; cf. VI 8, 1141b23-25). Thus the man of practical wisdom, the statesman or legislator, is compared by Aristotle to a foreman, or clerk of the works, in charge of technicians and workmen of various kinds, all engaged in building an observatory to enable the man of theoretical wisdom to contemplate the starry heavens. In the Magna Moralia the function of practical wisdom is said to be like that of a steward whose business it is so to arrange things that his master has leisure for his high vocation (A 34, 1198bl2-17). Perhaps the closest parallel to the function of the statesman as conceived by Aristotle is the office of the Bursar in a college at Oxford or Cambridge.
This account of statesmanship as aiming at the exercise of theoretical wisdom by those capable of it is an extreme expression of the conception of the end as dominant and not inclusive. The account, as it stands, is a gross over-simplification of the facts. When he speaks of a subordinate art as pursued 'for the sake of a superordinate or architectonic art (1094a15-16), Aristotle should make explicit the fact that the subordinate activity, in addition to serving other objects, may be pursued for its own sake. Riding, for example, has non-military uses and can be a source of enjoyment. Again two arts, or two kinds of activity, may each be subordinate, in Aristotle's sense, to the other. Riders use bridles, and bridle-makers may ride to their work. The engineer uses techniques invented by the mathematician, but also promotes the wealth and leisure in which pure science can flourish. Aristotle does not fail to see and mention the fact that an object may be desired both independently for itself and dependently for its effects (NE I 6, 1097a30-34). He was aware also that theoretical activity is not the only kind of activity which is independently desired. But he evidently thought that an activity which was never desired except for itself would be intrinsically desirable in a higher degree than an activity which, in addition to being desired for itself, was also useful. It is, so to say, beneath the dignity of the most godlike activities that they should be useful. Aristotle is led in this way, and also by other routes, to give a narrow and exclusive account of the final good, to conceive of the supreme end as dominant and not inclusive.
Aristotle describes deliberation, the thinking of the wise man, as a process which starts from the conception of an end and works back, in a direction which reverses the order of causality, to the discovery of a means. Men do not, he asserts, deliberate about ends. 'They assume the end and 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' (NE III 3, 1112bl5-20). Such an investigation is compared to the method of discovering by analysis the solution of a geometrical problem. Again in VI 2 practical wisdom is said to be shown in finding means to a good end. 'For the syllogisms which deal with acts to be done are things which involve a starting-point, viz. "since the end, i.e. what is best, is of such and such a nature" …' (1144a31-33).
This is Aristotle's official account of deliberation. But here again, as in his account of the relation between political science and subordinate sciences, a too narrow and rigid doctrine is to some extent corrected elsewhere, although not explicitly, by the recognition of facts which do not fit into the prescribed pattern. Joseph, in Essays in Ancient and Modern Philosophy, pointed out that the process of deciding between alternative means, by considering which is easiest and best, involves deliberation which is not comparable to the geometer's search (pp. 180-81). But he remarks that Aristotle does not 'appear to see' this. What the passage suggests is that the agent may have to consider the intrinsic goodness, or badness, of the proposed means as well as its effectiveness in promoting a good end. A less incidental admission that there is more in deliberation than the finding of means is involved in Aristotle's account of 'mixed actions' in NE III 1. Aristotle recognises that, if the means are discreditable, the end may not be important enough to justify them. 'To endure the greatest indignities for no noble end or for a trifling end is the mark of an inferior person' (1110a22-23). 'It is difficult sometimes to determine what should be chosen at what cost, and what should be endured in return for what gain' (1110a29-30). Alcmaeon's decision to kill his mother, on his father's instruction, rather than face death himself is given as an example of a patently wrong answer to a question of this kind. This kind of deliberation is clearly not the regressive or analytic discovery of means to a preconceived end. It is rather the determination of an ideal pattern of behaviour, a system of priorities, from which the agent is not prepared to depart. It is what we described earlier as the setting up of an inclusive end. It is a kind of practical thinking which Aristotle cannot have had in his mind when he asserted in NE III 3 that 'we deliberate not about ends but about means' (1112bl 1-12).
I have argued that Aristotle's doctrine of the final human good is vitiated by his representation of it as dominant rather than inclusive, and that this mistake underlies his too narrow account of practical thinking as the search for means. But to say that the final good is inclusive is not to deny that within it there are certain dominant ends corresponding to the major interests of developed human nature. One of these major interests is the interest in theoretical sciences. Of these, according to Aristotle, there are three; theology or first philosophy, mathematics and physics (Metaphysics E 1, 1026al8-19, cf. NE VI 8, 1142al6-18). His account of contemplation in the Ethics, based on the doctrine of reason as the divine or godlike element in man (NE X 7, 1177al3-17; 8, 1178a20-23), exalts the first and makes only casual mention of the other two. Elsewhere, in the De Partibus Animalium I 5, he admits that physics has attractions which compensate for the relatively low status of the objects studied. 'The scanty conceptions to which we can attain of celestial things give us, from their excellence, more pleasure than all our knowledge of the world in which we live; just as a half-glimpse of persons that we love is more delightful than a leisurely view of other things, whatever their number and dimensions. On the other hand, in certitude and in completeness our knowledge of terrestrial things has the advantage. Moreover their greater nearness and affinity to us balances somewhat the loftier interest of the heavenly things that are the object of the higher philosophy' (644b31-645a4).
I cannot here discuss the theological doctrines which led Aristotle to place 'the higher philosophy' on the summit of human felicity. But there is an aspect of his account of the theoretic life which has an immediate connection with my main topic. He remarks in NE VII 14 that 'there is not only an activity of movement but an activity of immobility, and pleasure is found more in rest than in movement' (1154b26-28). This doctrine that there is no 'movement' in theoretical contemplation, and the implication that its immobility is a mark of its excellence, is determined primarily by Aristotle's conception of the divine nature. The latest commentators on the NE, Gauthier and Jolif, say, with justification, that he here excludes discovery from the contemplative life. 'On pourrait meme dire que l'ideal, pour le contemplatif aristotelicien—et cet ideal le Dieu d'Aristote le relise—ce serait de ne jamais etudier et de ne jamais decouvrir …' (855-56). In NE X 7 we are told that 'philosophy is thought to offer pleasures marvellous for their purity and their enduringness' and that it is 'reasonable to suppose that those who know will pass their time more pleasantly than those who enquire' (1177a25-27). It is not reasonable at all. It is a startling paradox. I shall now suggest that Aristotle's apparent readiness to accept this paradox, like his confusion between the dominant and the inclusive end, is to be explained, at least in part, by his failure to give any explicit or adequate analysis of the concept of end and means.
Aristotle states in NE I that an end may be either an activity or the product of an activity. 'But a certain difference is to be found among ends; some are activities, others are products apart from the activities that produce them. Where there are ends apart from the actions, it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities' (1094a3-6). The suggestion here is that, when an activity leads to a desired result, as medicine produces health or shipbuilding a ship or enquiry knowledge, the end-seeking activity is not itself desired. As he says (untruly) in the Metaphysics, 'of the actions which have a limit none is an end' ([O]. 6, 1048b l8). But an activity which aims at producing a result may be an object either of aversion or of indifference or of a positive desire which may be less or greater than the desire for its product. It is necessary to distinguish between 'end' in the sense of a result intended and planned and 'end' in the sense of a result, or expected result, which, in addition to being intended and planned, is also desired for itself while the process of reaching it is not. It is true that travel may be unattractive, but it may also be more attractive that arrival. A golfer plays to win. But, if he loses, he does not feel that his day has been wasted, that he has laboured in vain, as he would if his only object in playing were to win a prize or to mortify his opponent or just to win. Doing crossword puzzles may be a waste of time, but what makes it a waste of time is not the fact that we rarely get one out. It would be a greater waste of time if we never failed to finish them. In short, the fact that an activity is progressive towards a planned result leaves quite open the question whether it is the process or the result which is desired, and, if both, which primarily. If Aristotle had seen and said this, he might have found it more difficult than he does to suggest that the pleasures of discovery are not an essential element in science as a major human interest. Philosophy would be less attractive than it is if only results mattered. God's perfection requires that his thinking should be unprogressive. But men, who fall short of perfect simplicity, need, to make them happy, the pleasures of solving problems and of learning something new and of being surprised. For them the best way of life leads, in the words of Meredith,
'through widening chambers of surprise to where throbs rapture near an end that aye recedes'.
We have seen that Aristotle's doctrine of the final human good needs clarification in terms of a distinction between an end which is inclusive, a plan of life, and an end which is dominant as the satisfaction of theoretical curiosity may be dominant in the life of a philosopher. No man has only one interest. Hence an end which is to function as a target, as a criterion for deciding what to do and how to live, must be inclusive. But some men have ruling passions. Hence some inclusive ends will include a dominant end. I shall now try to look more closely at these Aristotelian notions, and to suggest some estimate of their relevance and value in moral philosophy.
It will be best to face at once and consider a natural and common criticism of Aristotle; the criticism that his virtuous man is not moral at all but a calculating egoist whose guiding principle is not duty but prudence, Bishop Butler's 'cool self-love'. Aristotle is in good company as claiming that rationality is what makes a man ideally good. But his considered view, apart from incidental insights, admits, it is said, only the rationality of prudent self-interest and not the rationality of moral principle. Thus Professor D. J. Allan, in The Philosophy of Aristotle, tells us that Aristotle "takes little or no account of the motive of moral obligation" and that "self-interest, more or less enlightened, is assumed to be the motive of all conduct and choice" (p. 189). Similarly the late Professor Field, a fair and sympathetic critic of Aristotle, remarked that, whereas morality is 'essentially unselfish', Aristotle's idea of the final end or good makes morality 'ultimately selfish' (Moral Theory, pp. 109, 111).
When a man is described as selfish what is meant primarily is that he is moved to act, more often and more strongly than most men, by desires which are selfish. The word 'selfish' is also applied to a disposition so to plan one's life as to give a larger place than is usual or right to the gratification of selfish desires. But what is it for a desire to be selfish? Professor Broad, in his essay 'Egoism as a theory of human motives' (in Ethics and the History of Philosophy), makes an important distinction between two main kinds of 'self-regarding' desires. There are first desires which are 'self-confined', which a man could have even if he were alone in the world, e.g. desires for certain experiences, the desire to preserve his own life, the desire to feel respect for himself. Secondly there are self-regarding desires which nevertheless presuppose that a man is not alone in the world, e.g. desires to own property, to assert or display oneself, to inspire affection. Broad further points out that desires which are 'other-regarding' may also be 'self-referential', e.g. desires for the welfare of one's own family, friends, school, college, club, nation.
A man might perhaps be called selfish if his other-regarding motives were conspicuously and exclusively self-referential, if he showed no interest in the welfare of anyone with whom he was not personally connected. But usually 'selfish' refers to the prominence of self-regarding motives, and different kinds of selfishness correspond to different self-regarding desires. The word, being pejorative, is more readily applied to the less reputable of the self-regarding desires. Thus a man strongly addicted to the pursuit of his own pleasures might be called selfish even if his other-regarding motives were not conspicuously weak. A man whose ruling passion was science or music would not naturally be described as selfish unless to convey that there was in him a reprehensible absence or failure of other-regarding motives, as shown, say, by his neglect of his family or of his pupils.
The classification of desires which I have quoted from Broad assumes that their nature is correctly represented by what we ordinarily think and say about them. Prima facie some of our desires are self-regarding; and, of the other-regarding desires, some are and some are not self-referential. But there have been philosophers who have questioned or denied the reality of these apparent differences. One doctrine, psychological egoism, asserts in its most extreme form that the only possible objects of a man's first-order independent desires are experiences, occurrent states of his own consciousness. Thus my desire to be liked is really a desire to know that I am liked; and my desire that my children should be happy when I am dead is really a desire for my present expectation that they will be happy. The obvious criticism of this doctrine is that it is preposterous and self-defeating: I must first desire popularity and the happiness of my children if I am to find gratifying my thought that I am popular and that my children will be happy. To most of us it seems that introspective self-scrutiny supports the validity of this dialectic. We can, therefore, reject psychological egoism. A fortiori we can reject psychological hedonism which asserts that the only experiences which can be independently desired are pleasures, feelings of enjoyment. This further doctrine was stated as follows by the late Professor Prichard. 'For the enjoyment of something which we enjoy, e.g. the enjoyment of seeing a beautiful landscape, is related to the thing we enjoy, not as a quality but as an effect, being something excited by the thing we enjoy, so that, if it be said that we desire some enjoyment for its own sake, the correct statement must be that we desire the experience, e.g. the seeing of some beautiful landscape, for the sake of the feeling of enjoyment which we think it will cause, this feeling being really what we are desiring for its own sake' (Moral Obligation, p. 116). Surely most of us would be inclined to say that we can desire for its own sake 'the seeing of some beautiful landscape' and that we do not detect a distinct 'feeling of enjoyment'.
Was Aristotle a psychological egoist or a psychological hedonist? A crisp answer would have been possible only if Aristotle had explicitly formulated these doctrines as I have defined them. So far as I can see, he did not do so even in his long, but not always lucid, treatment of friendship and self-love in NE IX. This being so, he cannot be classed as a psychological egoist in respect of his account of first-order desires. When Aristotle confronts the fact of altruism, he does not refuse to accept benevolent desires at their face value (NE VIII 2, 1155b31; 3, 1156b9-10; 7, 1159a8-12). But he shows acuteness in detecting self-referential elements in benevolence. Thus he compares the feelings of benefactors to beneficiaries with those of parents for their children and of artists for their creations. 'For that which they have treated well is their handiwork, and therefore they love this more than the handiwork does its maker' (NE IX 7, 1167b31-1168a5).
The nearest approach which Aristotle makes to the formulation of psychological hedonism is, perhaps, in the following passage in NE II 3. 'There being three objects of choice and three of avoidance, the noble, the advantageous, the pleasant, and their contraries, the base, the injurious, the painful, about all of these the good man tends to go right and the bad man to go wrong, and especially about pleasure; for this is common to the animals, and also it accompanies all objects of choice; for even the noble and the advantageous appear pleasant' (1104b30-1105al). But there are passages in his discussion of pleasure in NE X which show that, even if he had accepted psychological egoism, he would not have accepted psychological hedonism. 'And there are many things we should be keen about even if they brought no pleasure, e.g. seeing, remembering, knowing, possessing the virtues. If pleasures necessarily do accompany these, that makes no odds; we should choose them even if no pleasure resulted' (I174a4-8). This reads like a direct repudiation of the doctrine in my quotation from Prichard. In NE X 4 he asks, without answering, the question whether we choose activity for the sake of the attendant pleasure or vice versa (1175al8-21). The answer which his doctrine requires is surely that neither alternative can be accepted, since both the activity and the attendant pleasure are desired for their own sake. But it is open to question whether, when we speak of a state or activity, such as 'the seeing of some beautiful landscape', as pleasant, we are referring to a feeling distinct from the state or activity itself.
The charge against Aristotle that his morality is a morality of self-interest is directed primarily against his doctrine of the final good, the doctrine which I have interpreted as a conflation of the distinct notions of the 'inclusive end' and the 'dominant end'. But the critic may also wish to suggest that Aristotle overstates the efficacy of self-regarding desires in the determination of human conduct. To this the first answer might well be that it is not easy to overstate their efficacy. The term 'self-regarding' applies, as we have seen, to a wide variety of motives; and there is a 'self-referential' factor in the most potent of the other-regarding motives. Altruism which is pure, not in any way self-regarding or self-referential, is a rarity. The facts support the assertion that man is a selfish animal. But the criticism can be met directly. Aristotle does not ignore other-regarding motives. Thus, while he points out that the philosopher, unlike those who exercise practical virtue, does not need other men 'towards whom and with whom he shall act', he admits that the pleasures of philosophy are enhanced by interest in the work of colleagues. 'He perhaps does better if he has fellow-workers, but still he is the most self-sufficient' (NE X 7, 1177a27-bl). When, in the EE, Aristotle speaks of philosophy as the service of God, he seems to imply that the love of wisdom is not directed merely to the lover's own conscious states (1249b20). Again, in NE IX 8, he can attribute to the 'lover of self conduct which is, in the highest degree, altruistic and self-sacrificing. 'For reason always chooses what is best for itself, and the good man obeys his reason. It is true of the good man too that he does many acts for the sake of his friends and his country, and, if necessary, dies for them; for he will throw away both wealth and honours and in general the goods that are objects of competition, gaining for himself nobility … since he would prefer a short period of intense pleasure to a long one of mild enjoyment, a twelvemonth of noble life to many years of humdrum existence, and one great and noble action to many trivial ones. Now those who die for others doubtless attain this result; it is, therefore, a great prize that they choose for themselves' (1169al7-26).
But it is not enough, if we are to do justice to the criticism that Aristotle makes morality selfish, to quote this passage, or the passage in NE I10 where Aristotle speaks of the shining beauty of the virtue shown in bearing disasters which impair happiness (1lOOb30-33). Such passages, it may be said, show Aristotle's moral sensibility and moral insight. But the question can still be asked whether their commendation of the ultimate self-sacrifice, and of endurance in suffering, is consistent with Aristotle's doctrine of the final human good. Perhaps he is speaking more consistently with his own considered views when, again in NE IX 8, he makes the suggestion (or is it a joke?) that a man may show the finest self-sacrifice, the truest love, by surrendering to his friend the opportunity of virtuous action (1169a33-34). Perhaps Aristotle's commendation of the surrender, in a noble cause, of life itself needs to be qualified, from his own point of view, as it was qualified by Oscar Wilde:
And yet, and yet Those Christs that die upon the barricades, God knows it I am with them, in some ways.
To this question I now turn. My answer must and can be brief.
We have found two main elements in Aristotle's doctrine of the final good for man. There is, first, the suggestion that, as he says in EE A 2, it is a sign of 'great folly' not to 'have one's life organised in view of some end'. Perhaps it would be better to say that it is impossible not to live according to some plan, and that it is folly not to try to make the plan a good one. The inevitability of a plan arises from the fact that a man both has, and knows that he has, a number of desires and interests which can be adopted as motives either casually and indiscriminately or in accordance with priorities determined by the aim of living the kind of life which he thinks proper for a man like himself. But in an agent naturally reflective the omission to make such a plan is not completely undesigned: the minimal plan is a plan not to plan. To this side of Aristotle's doctrine I have applied the term 'inclusive end', inclusive because there is no desire or interest which should not be regarded as a candidate, however unpromising, for a place in the pattern of life. Wisdom finds a place even for folly. The second element which we have found in Aristotle's doctrine is his own answer to the question what plan will be followed by a man who is most fully a man, as high as a man can get on the scale from beast to god. Aristotle's answer is that such a man will make theoretical knowledge, his most godlike attribute, his main object. At a lower level, as a man among men, he will find a place for the happiness which comes from being a citizen, from marriage and from the society of those who share his interests. I have called this the doctrine of the dominant end. The question whether Aristotle's doctrine of the final good can be reconciled with the morality of altruism and self-sacrifice must be asked with reference both to the inclusive end and to the dominant end.
To say that a man acts, or fails to act, with a view to an inclusive end is to say nothing at all about the comparative degrees of importance which he will ascribe to his various aims. His devotion to his own good, in the sense of his inclusive end, need not require him to prefer self-regarding desires to other-regarding desires, or one kind of self-regarding desire to another. All desires have to be considered impartially as candidates for places in the inclusive plan. To aim at a long life in which pleasures, so far as possible, are enjoyed and pains avoided it is a possible plan, but not the only possible plan. That a man seeks an inclusive end leaves open the question whether he is an egoist or an altruist, selfish or unselfish in the popular sense.2
While a man seeking his inclusive end need not be selfish, he can be described as self-centred in at least three different ways. First and trivially his desire to follow his inclusive plan is his own desire; it is self-owned. Secondly, a man can think of a plan as being for his own good only if he thinks about himself, thinks of himself as the one owner of many desires. His second-order desire for his own good is self-reflective. Thirdly, this second-order desire, being a desire about desires, an interest in interests, can be gratified only through the gratification of his first-order desires. Even the martyr plans to do what he wants to do. We can express this by saying that the pursuit of the final good is self-indulging as well as self-reflective. But 'self-indulgence' as applied to a way of life in which pleasures may be despised and safety put last carries no pejorative sense. That action in pursuit of an inclusive end is self-centred in these ways does not mean that the agent is self-regarding or self-seeking in any sense inconsistent with the most heroic or saintly self-sacrifice.
To the question whether the pursuit of the human good, understood in terms of Aristotle's conception of the dominant end, can be reconciled with the morality of altruism, and in particular the extreme altruism of the man who gives his life for his friends or his country, a different answer must be given. Here reconciliation is not possible. In order to see this it is necessary only to reflect on Aristotle's definition in NE I 7 of the dominant end, which he calls happiness, and to compare this definition with what is said about the self-love of the man who nobly gives up his own life. 'Human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete. But we must add "in a complete life." For one swallow does not make a summer nor does one day; and so too one day or a short time does not make a man blessed and happy' (1098al6-20). How then can the man who, to gain nobility … for himself, gives his life for his friends or his country be said to achieve happiness? Aristotle's answer, as we have seen, is that such a man prefers 'a short period of intense pleasure to a long one of mild enjoyment, a twelvemonth of noble life to many years of humdrum existence, and one great and noble action to many trivial ones' (1169a22-25). But the scales are being loaded. For why should it be supposed that the man who declines to live the final, if crowded, hour of glorious life will survive to gain only 'mild' enjoyments and a 'humdrum' or 'trivial' existence? If such existence is, or seems, humdrum because the 'intense pleasure' of self-sacrifice has been missed, then Aristotle's thought here is circular and self-stultifying. The intensity of the brief encounter, it is suggested, is such that by contrast the remainder of life would be humdrum. But, unless the alternative would be humdrum in its own right, the encounter would not be intense enough to compensate for the curtailment of life and happiness. A 'complete life' either is, or is not, a necessary condition of happiness. Aristotle as a theorist cannot justify the admiration which, as a man, he no doubt feels for the 'one great and noble action'. Confronted with the facts he would have to admit that the man who, whether by good fortune or design, survives a revolution or a war may live to experience intense enjoyments and to perform activities in accordance with the best and most complete virtue. He may become a professor of philosophy or at least a prime minister. We must conclude, therefore, that Professor Field was right: the doctrine of the good for man, as developed by Aristotle in his account of the dominant end, does make morality 'ultimately selfish' (Moral Theory, pp. 109, 111).
Aristotle offers us in his Ethics a handbook on how to be happy though human. To some it may seem that a treatise on conduct with an aim so practical and so prudential can do little to clarify the concepts with which moral philosophy is mainly concerned, the concepts of duty and of moral worth. 'He takes little or no account', Professor Allan tells us, 'of the motive of moral obligation' (The Philosophy of Aristotle, p. 189). Perhaps not. The topic is too large for a concluding paragraph. Certainly most men feel moral obligations which cannot be subsumed under the obligation, if there is one, to pursue their own happiness by planning for the orderly satisfaction of their self-regarding desires. But 'obligation' and 'duty' are words with many meanings, meanings variously related to the concept of moral worth. Perhaps Aristotle is not wrong, as he is not alone, in connecting the concept of moral worth with the fact that man is not just the plaything of circumstance and his own irrational nature but also the responsible planner of his own life. This aspect of Aristotle's teaching is what I have called his doctrine of the 'inclusive end', and I have argued that there is no necessity for the doctrine to be specified and developed as a recommendation of calculated egoism. Aristotle himself, as we have seen, does not adhere consistently to his own exaltation of self-regarding aims. He is, indeed, always ready to notice facts which are awkward for his own theories. Thus in NE I 10 he recognises that the actual achievement of happiness, virtuous activity, is largely outside a man's control. 'A multitude of great events if they turn out well will make life happier … while if they turn out ill they crush and maim happiness; for they both bring pain with them and hinder many activities' (1100b25-30). He adds that, even when disaster strikes, 'nobility shines through, when a man bears with resignation many great misfortunes, not through insensibility to pain but through nobility and greatness of soul' (I100b30-33). 'The man who is truly good and wise', he goes on to say, 'bears all the chances of life becomingly and always makes the best of circumstances as a good shoemaker makes the best shoes out of the hides that are given to him' (1100b35-1lOla5). The suggestion of this passage is that a man's worth lies not in his actual achievement, which may be frustrated by factors outside his own control, but in his striving towards achievement. In an earlier chapter (5) of NE I he speaks of the good as something which 'we divine to be proper to a man and not easily taken from him' (1095b25-26). Aristotle's doctrine of the final good is a doctrine about what is 'proper' to a man, the power to reflect on his own abilities and desires and to conceive and choose for himself a satisfactory way of life. What 'cannot be taken from him' is his power to keep on trying to live up to such a conception. Self-respect, thus interpreted, is a principle of duty. If moral philosophy must seek one comprehensive principle of duty, what other principle has a stronger claim to be regarded as the principle of duty?
1 Here, and in quoting other passages, I have reproduced the Oxford translation. I refer to the Nicomachean Ethics as NE and to the Eudemian Ethics as EE.
2 I owe this point, and less directly much else in my discussion of the criticism of Aristotle's ethical system as egoistic, to Professor C. A. Campbell's British Academy Lecture (1948), "Moral Intuition and the Principle of Self-Realisation" (especially pp. 17-25). Professor Campbell's lecture discusses the ethical theory of T. H. Green and F. H. Bradley, and I do not know whether he would think of his arguments as being relevant to the interpretation of Aristotle. But I have found his defence of 'self-realisation' as a moral principle helpful in my attempt to separate the strands of thought in Aristotle's doctrine of the final good.
Daniel T. Devereux (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "Aristotle on the Essence of Happiness," in Studies in Aristotle, edited by Dominic O'Meara, The Catholic University of America Press, 1981, pp. 247-60.
[In the following essay, Devereux responds to critics who have maintained that Aristotle's doctrine of the good is either dominant or inclusive, and who have noted that inconsistencies resulting from characterizing the good in this manner are apparent in the doctrine. Devereux asserts that neither view coincides with Aristotle's doctrine of the good and he suggests that Aristotle's ideas need not be understood as inconsistent.]
Recent discussions of Aristotle's doctrine of the good often take up the question whether his doctrine is inclusive or dominant. The distinction between an "inclusive" and a "dominant" conception of the final good can be briefly explained as follows. Let us suppose, first, that A, B, and C are the only goods which are desirable for their own sake and, second, that A is more desirable than B or C. According to the "dominant" conception, the final good will be identical with A, and one who seeks to be happy should devote all of his energies to the pursuit of A. On the "inclusive" conception, the good will consist of A, B, and C together, and one can achieve a happy life only by pursuing all three of these goods, paying special attention to A on account of its superiority.
W. F. R. Hardie, who first introduced this distinction some years ago, argued that Aristotle did not have a clear grasp of it, and, as a result, the discussion of the final good in Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics (NE I) suffers from a basic confusion.1 In some passages Aristotle speaks of the good as if it were an inclusive end, but in other places he clearly treats it as a dominant end. Hardie's view has been challenged by J. L. Ackrill, who tries to show that Aristotle's conception of the good in NE I is consistently inclusive.2 Ackrill believes (as does Hardie) that in NE X Aristotle commits himself to a dominant conception, but he finds no evidence of this conception in the rest of the treatise. Hardie and Ackrill are thus in agreement that Aristotle's account of the good is inconsistent. They disagree about the location of the inconsistency, Ackrill holding that it is between NE X and the rest of the treatise while Hardie thinks it can be found in NE I itself. As if to round out the picture, Anthony Kenny has recently argued that in both NE I and X Aristotle consistently adheres to a dominant conception of the end.3 Surprisingly enough, the passages he bases his argument on are the very ones appealed to by Hardie and Ackrill.
I shall not take sides in this debate, for I believe that the question at issue is ill conceived. Asking whether Aristotle's conception of the good is inclusive or dominant presents us with two models, neither of which really fits his view. If there are inconsistencies in the discussion of happiness in the NE, they do not have to do with the contrast between dominant and inclusive conceptions of the end. Before attempting to explain and substantiate these sweeping claims, let me begin with an examination of the passages in NE I and X which have given rise to the controversy.
In an important and difficult passage in NE I, 7 Aristotle asserts that the final good is "self-sufficient." The tail end of this passage is cited by both Hardie and Ackrill as evidence of the inclusive conception of the end. Kenny, however, claims that the very same passage commits Aristotle to the dominant conception. As might be expected, their preferred translations differ markedly. I shall first give the translation favored by Hardie and Ackrill.4
And further we think it [happiness] most desirable of all things, without being counted together with others … if it were countable along with other goods, it would clearly be made more desirable by the addition of even the least of goods (1097bl6-18).
As Hardie and Ackrill understand the passage, Aristotle's point can be explicated in the following way. Goods like health, honor, and friendship are apparently such that they can be "counted together" with other goods; they are like discrete quantities, and we can say, e.g., that health plus friendship is more desirable than health by itself. The passage implies that happiness differs from other goods in this respect—it cannot be made more desirable by the addition of other goods. If happiness were identical with a single good like philosophical contemplation, the addition of other goods would seem to make it more desirable: philosophical contemplation plus the possession of good friends would surely be more desirable than philosophical contemplation by itself. Only if happiness includes or presupposes the other goods could it not be made more desirable by the addition of other goods. Taken in this way, the passage clearly indicates that Aristotle was here thinking of happiness as an inclusive and not a dominant end.
The translation favored by Kenny differs mainly in the second part (the part following the semicolon).
… clearly if it is counted together with others, it is more desirable with even the least additional good.5
On this reading, happiness can be "counted together" with other goods, and if other goods are added to happiness, the sum is more desirable than happiness by itself. Happiness is thus the most desirable of all goods, taken singly. If the passage is understood in this way, it implies that happiness is just one good among others and, therefore, presupposes a dominant rather than inclusive conception of the end.
Kenny's translation seems possible, but there are strong reasons in favor of the standard translation preferred by Hardie and Ackrill. In NE X, 2 we find a parallel passage in which Aristotle says quite clearly that the final good (or happiness) cannot be made more desirable by the addition of any other good. I shall quote the passage in full.
And so it is by an argument of this kind that Plato proves the good not to be pleasure; he argues that the pleasant life is more desirable with wisdom than without, and that if the mixture is better, pleasure is not the good; for the good cannot become more desirable by the addition of anything to it. Now it is clear that nothing else, any more than pleasure, can be the good if it is made more desirable by the addition of any of the things that are good in themselves. What, then, is there that satisfies this criterion, which at the same time we can participate in? It is something of this sort that we are looking for (I172b28-35, Ross's translation).6
This passage is clearly designed to make the same point as the self-sufficiency passage in I, 7. But if we accept Kenny's translation of the latter, we have a glaring contradiction between the two passages. This is, I think, a clear and decisive reason in favor of the standard translation. And given that translation, we can safely affirm that Aristotle, at least at one point in NE I, was thinking of happiness as an inclusive end.
However, Aristotle's official definition of happiness, as Hardie points out7, evidently exemplifies the dominant rather than the inclusive conception. The definition, which is formulated near the end of I, 7, reads as follows.
Happiness … is activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more virtues than one, in accordance with the best and most perfect … (1098al6-18).
Of course, it does turn out that there are more virtues than one, so the last clause effectively tells us that happiness should be identified with one particular kind of activity—that in accordance with the best and most perfect virtue. In NE X, 7, resuming his discussion of happiness, Aristotle says: "If happiness is activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest … virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us.… That this activity is contemplative we have already said" (1177a l2-18). Here the activity of the best or most perfect virtue is identified as philosophical contemplation; in the following lines Aristotle tells us that the best virtue is philosophic wisdom (1177a22-25).
In view of the close relationship between this passage in X, 7 and the definition in I, 7, most commentators have supposed that Aristotle must have had philosophical contemplation in mind when he formulated his definition of happiness. In other words, Aristotle deliberately sets up an equation between happiness and the activity of contemplation in I, 7, but the reader can only see this in retrospect. If this is true, Aristotle's definition seems to exemplify a dominant rather than inclusive conception of the good; instead of a combination of goods, happiness turns out to be the single good of contemplation. So, as Hardie points out, within a couple of pages of I, 7, we find Aristotle first thinking of happiness as an inclusive end in the self-sufficiency passage but then committing himself to the dominant conception near the end of the chapter.
Ackrill believes that this common way of understanding the definition of happiness is based on a mistake. We need not assume that when Aristotle speaks of the "most perfect" or "most final" virtue he means some one, single virtue. Ackrill draws our attention to a passage earlier in I, 7 in which the same superlative, "most final" …, is used in talking about ends (1097a28-34);8 here a "most final" end is one which is "final without qualification," and Aristotle uses the phrase to refer to the comprehensive end which includes all partial ends. With this passage as a guide, we may understand the phrase "most final virtue" in the definition of happiness as referring to comprehensive virtue—the combination of all the virtues.
Ackrill further points out that in the parallel passage in the Eudemian Ethics Aristotle defines happiness as "activity in accordance with complete virtue" …, and it is clear from the context that "complete virtue" here means the combination of all the virtues (1219a34-39)9. Towards the end of NE I, there is a passage which apparently refers back to the definition in I, 7 in the following way: "Since happiness is an activity of soul in accordance with complete virtue …, we must investigate virtue" (1102a5-6). Aristotle here seems to treat the definition in NE I, 7 as having the same meaning as the definition in the Eudemian Ethics. So this passage, taken together with the definition in the Eudemian Ethics, provides confirmation of Ackrill's suggestion that by "most final virtue" Aristotle means comprehensive or total virtue.
On Ackrill's interpretation, Aristotle's definition of happiness in NE I, 7 represents an inclusive conception of the good. If Ackrill is right, the conception of happiness throughout NE I is consistently inclusive. However, there are several difficulties with Ackrill's interpretation of the definition of happiness. First of all, in the passage in which Aristotle talks about the "most final" end, although he does seem to be referring to an end which is comprehensive and includes other ends, this is not what he means by saying it is most final. According to his explicit account, an end which is "most final" is one which is always chosen simply for its own sake and never for the sake of anything else (1098a28-34). This account does not imply that a "most final" end must include other ends. So the appeal to what Aristotle means by "most final" in this passage does not give us a basis for understanding the "most final virtue" as comprehensive virtue, i.e., the combination of all the virtues.10
More importantly, we should notice that Aristotle does not simply say "in accordance with the most final virtue" but "in accordance with the best and most final virtue." He is implying, in other words, that if there are several virtues and not just one, we should determine which of these is best, and happiness will be identical with the activity of this one virtue. The use of "best" implies that we should rank the virtues and single out the one which is first or highest.11 Still another difficulty for Ackrill's interpretation is posed by the following passage in NE I, 8.
Happiness then is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing, and these attributes are not severed as in the inscription at Delos, … For all these properties belong to the best activities; and these, or one—the best—of these, we identify with happiness (1099a24-31).12
The upshot of this passage is clear and unambiguous: happiness should be identified not with a combination of activities but with one single activity—the best. In the light of this passage, it seems obvious that the definition of happiness in I, 7 exemplifies a dominant conception of the good.13
Ackrill thinks that Aristotle consistently adheres to an inclusive conception of the end in NE I-IX but that he then switches to a dominant conception in NE X. I have argued that the apparent inconsistency in NE I cannot be eliminated in the way that he proposes. It is interesting to note that the same apparent inconsistency also crops up in NE X. In X, 7-8 Aristotle singles out philosophical contemplation as the activity which constitutes "perfect" happiness, and all the commentators agree that this commits him to the dominant view. But in X, 2, in the passage quoted above (in which Aristotle says that the good cannot be made more desirable by the addition of any of the things that are good in themselves), we find clear evidence of the inclusive conception. Just as we cannot say that NE I consistently adheres to an inclusive conception, so we cannot say that NE X consistently adheres to a dominant conception.
We seem to be forced back to Hardie's view: there is an inconsistency in Aristotle's doctrine which runs right through the NE, from beginning to end. However, I think there is a way of understanding the doctrine which does not saddle Aristotle with this inconsistency. I said at the outset that I believe the distinction between inclusive and dominant conceptions presents us with two models, neither of which really fits Aristotle's view. Let me now try to spell out what I have in mind.
As Hardie understands the distinction, the various goods which might be ingredients in an inclusive conception of the end are "separable" in the sense that one could possess any one of them without possessing the others. One who pursues a dominant end concentrates exclusively on one of these goods and forgoes the rest; this would only be possible if the goods were independent of each other.14 But it is clear that Aristotle does not think that goods are separable in this way. In I, 9, for instance, he says:
Happiness was said to be a certain kind of activity in accordance with virtue; of the remaining goods, some belong [to the definiens] necessarily, while the others are in their nature helpmates and useful as instruments (1099b26-28).15
Aristotle is in effect denying that virtuous activity is independent of other goods; he is claiming that we cannot possess this good without possessing certain other goods. One of the chief aims of I, 8 is to show that the definiens, "virtuous activity," guarantees possession of the most important goods commonly thought to be essential to happiness. Earlier in I, 7, virtue, intellect, honor, and pleasure were mentioned as primary examples of intrinsic goods (1097b2-4). In 1, 8 Aristotle first points out that virtue and wisdom are implicit in his definition (1098b22-31). He then argues that another intrinsic good, pleasure, necessarily accompanies virtuous activity; moreover, the kind of pleasure associated with virtuous activity is of the best and most satisfying kind (1099a7-21).16 Finally he speaks of certain goods which are instrumentally necessary, or at least useful, for the performance of a full range of virtuous activities.
Yet evidently, as we said, it needs the external goods as well; for it is impossible, or not easy, to do noble acts without the proper equipment. In many actions we use friends and riches and political power as instruments (1099a31-b2; cf. 1099b27-28).
Insofar as one's ability to carry out virtuous activity is impeded if one lacks friends or is very poor, the goods of friendship and moderate means are also presupposed by Aristotle's defining formula, "virtuous activity."17
The general point Aristotle argues for in I, 8 is that most of the goods commonly thought to be ingredients in a happy life are entailed by his definition. We might say that his definition of happiness, as he understands it, is implicitly inclusive. Why doesn't he make it explicitly inclusive? To answer this question, it will be helpful to draw attention to some general and, I hope, uncontroversial points concerning Aristotle's theory of definition and essence.
A definition, for Aristotle, is a formula giving the essence of the thing defined. Fortunately we do not need to try to explain here what an Aristotelian essence is; a few very brief comments will be sufficient for our limited purposes. An essence is a necessary attribute of a thing and one in virtue of which other necessary attributes belong to that thing. Thus, Aristotle speaks of using the essence to demonstrate various properties of a thing.18 One of the most important functions of an essence, then, is explanatory: ideally one should be able to explain by means of the essence why a thing has various necessary properties.
In some places Aristotle argues that it is not possible to distinguish certain types of entities from their essences;19 in the case of such entities, it seems clear that all of their necessary properties will either be included in or entailed by their essence. But with entities which are distinguishable from their essences, it seems that not all their necessary properties need be entailed by their essences. For instance, Aristotle considers it possible that the intellect is the essence of a human being, while at the same time recognizing that a human being cannot exist without certain biological capacities and that these capacities are not entailed by possession of intellect—God possesses intellect but no biological capacities.20 The key point, however, is that the essence of a thing does not include all of the properties which are severally necessary and jointly sufficient for the existence of the thing.21 A definition which consisted of a list of such properties would be considered defective by Aristotle insofar as it would fail to indicate the important explanatory relations among the necessary properties of the thing.
In view of these general considerations about definition and essence, 'we would not expect Aristotle to mention all of the necessary ingredients of a happy life in his definition of happiness. A definition of happiness should single out that attribute which best explains how other necessary attributes are involved in a happy life. Aristotle's definiens meets this requirement: other goods such as pleasure, friendship, and external prosperity either follow from or support virtuous activity, or are related to it in some other way. An explicitly inclusive definition would treat happiness as simply a collection of goods; a formula which singles out the essence, on the other hand, points to a unity and structure among the goods which are necessary features of the happy life.
In the preceding section, we pointed out that Aristotle's definition of happiness, as he understands it, is implicitly inclusive. In this section we have noted some general points about Aristotle's theory of definition which show why he would not approve of an explicitly inclusive definition. The general lesson is clear: the fact that only one good is mentioned in the definition of happiness does not mean that Aristotle is recommending pursuit of one single good to the exclusion of all others.
In trying to show how Aristotle's definition of happiness is implicitly inclusive, we construed his definition—as he does himself in I, 8—in terms of the active life involving the exercise of the moral virtues. The goods which are implicit in the definition are goods related in one way or another to morally virtuous activity. But in taking the definition in this way, we are ignoring the factor which originally led Hardie and others to claim that it exemplifies a dominant conception of the end. We have agreed that the final clause of the definition sets up an equation between happiness and a life of philosophical contemplation. Thus, unless we can show that the contemplative life, as Aristotle understands it, includes more than the single good of philosophical contemplation, we shall have to admit after all that the definition of happiness does exemplify a dominant conception of the final good.
There is one line of reasoning in NE X, 7-8 which seems to presuppose a dominant conception of the good. Aristotle contends that contemplation is the characteristic activity of god, and he says that we partake of this activity insofar as we have a share of the divine in us (1178b8-22). Aristotle's god is a supremely happy being, and his happiness apparently involves nothing but contemplation; it would be absurd, he says, to attribute moral virtues and other goods to god. Clearly Aristotle subscribes to a dominant conception of god's happiness.
Now if the philosophical life is modelled after the supremely happy life of god, it would appear that this life must consist of the single activity of contemplation. Of course, the philosopher is not a god; he must live with other men and, therefore, must practice the virtues and partake of other human goods (1178b5-7). Although these other goods are ingredients in the happiness associated with the active life, perhaps they need not be considered parts of the philosopher's happiness.22 Some scholars have argued that in NE X, 7 Aristotle identifies each person with his theoretical intellect;23 the activity of the intellect would then be the only activity which is truly the person's own. Activities of other faculties (e.g., morally virtuous activity) would properly belong to some other being with whom the person is somehow associated (cf. 1178a3-4). The happiness of the philosopher would then have the same simplicity and purity as the life of god. And it would be true after all that the definition of happiness in NE I, 7 expresses a dominant conception of the end insofar as it equates happiness with philosophical contemplation.
Although this is a plausible way of reading some of Aristotle's remarks in X, 7-8, it does not make for a satisfactory interpretation of his general position in these chapters. We should note, first of all, that Aristotle's very tentative suggestion that the individual might be identical with his intellect24 is effectively cancelled a few lines later when he says "… if this [the intellect] most of all is man."25 He is surely not saying both (a) that an individual is a composite of several elements and (b) that an individual is identical with one of these elements. The wording suggests that an individual is made up of several different elements and that one of these elements is more responsible than any of the others for the whole entity being a man. Other passages in these chapters clearly imply that an individual human being is not simply identical with his theoretical intellect.26
In his praise of the self-sufficiency of the philosophical life, Aristotle is sometimes taken to be claiming that the philosopher can and should emulate god by living apart from other men and spending all his time philosophizing. Actually, he says that the philospher (in contrast to god) will be better off if he spends his time with friends and associates (1177a34). However, if the philosopher should suffer the misfortune of being separated from friends, he will still be able to philosophize and derive satisfaction from that activity. In this respect, the philosopher's happiness is less dependent on external factors, and therefore more self-sufficient, than the happiness of the active life (1177a27-b1).
If the philosopher is happier spending time with friends than living by himself, then his friendships with others will be a part of his happiness. These friendships will presumably be of the best kind—the kind which presupposes possession of the moral virtues and is expressed by morally virtuous actions.27 The philosopher will therefore partake of the goods associated with the active life of moral virtue, and insofar as (a) he is a human being and not just pure intellect and (b) these goods are desirable (for human beings at least) for their own sake, they will make up a part of his happiness.28
As I understand Aristotle's last words on the good for man in NE X, 7-8, there are two forms of happiness, one associated with the active life of moral virtue and the other with the contemplative life. The latter he characterizes as "perfect happiness," the former as "happiness of a secondary degree."29 Both of these forms of happiness are implicitly inclusive, though in different ways. The essence of the secondary form of happiness is morally virtuous activity. Aristotle holds that this activity by its very nature depends upon and produces other goods, and thus the life of morally virtuous activity must include a variety of other goods. The essence of what Aristotle calls "perfect happiness" is contemplation. Now it is not true that this activity by its very nature presupposes a variety of other goods; as we have seen, Aristotle's god engages in this activity and is in no way handicapped by lacking other goods like friends and moral virtue. But a human being who pursues a contemplative life will be handicapped if he lacks friends and moral virtue. It is not the activity of contemplation itself which presupposes other goods but, rather, this activity as engaged in by human beings.
1 W. F. R. Hardie, "The Final Good in Aristotle's Ethics," Philosophy (1965): 277-95. Hardie's article has been reprinted in Aristotle, A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. J. M. E. Moravcsik (Garden City, 1967). I shall refer to page numbers of the reprint. A condensed version of the article appears as part of chapter II of Hardie's book, Aristotle's Ethical Theory (Oxford, 1968).
2 J L. Ackrill, "Aristotle on Eudaimonia," Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 60 (1974): 339-59.
3 Anthony Kenny, The Aristotelian Ethics (Oxford, 1978), pp. 204-6.
4 Ackrill translates [mē sunarithmoumenen] as "not being counted as one good thing among others" (op. cit., 348). I have changed this slightly in order to make it more neutral; this way attention can be focussed on the second clause, for it is the real locus of disagreement between Kenny on the one hand and Hardie and Ackrill on the other. Another point about translation: throughout the paper I use "happiness" as a translation of [eudaimonia] and this is criticized by Ackrill (op. cit., 348-9) and others. Richard Kraut has recently given a very persuasive defense of the traditional translation in his article "Two Conceptions of Happiness," Philosophical Review (1979): 167-97. However, I should note that I have tried to use "happiness" simply as a stand-in for [eudaimonia] nothing that I say depends upon the correctness of Kraut's contentions.
5 Kenny, op. cit., 204.
6 This passage is not mentioned by Kenny. Gauthier and Jolif in their commentary (L 'Ethique à Nicomaque [Louvain, 1970]) see the relevance of this passage in X, 2 to the self-sufficiency passage in I, 7; cf. II, 1, on 1097b l6-20. This passage incidentally indicates that the goods which happiness must include are not any and all goods but rather the intrinsic goods. Cf. also 1169b5-10.
7 Hardie, op. cit., 299-300.
8 Ackrill, op. cit., 353.
9 Ackrill, op. cit., 353-4.
10 Even if we understand the definition in the way that Ackrill proposes, it would still not be inclusive in the required sense. To be inclusive in the way sketched by the self-sufficiency passage and 1172b28-35, the good would have to include all intrinsic goods; activity in accordance with "complete" or "comprehensive" virtue would apparently fall short of being inclusive in this way; if not, we need some explanation of how the other intrinsic goods are entailed by activity in accordance with complete virtue.
11 This point is mentioned by Kenny (op. cit., p. 205); cf. also John Cooper, Reason and Human Good in Aristotle (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), p. 100, n. 10.
12 Cf. 1153b9-12 and 1176a26-27.
13 Ackrill also points out that the definition of happiness is put forward as the conclusion of an argument appealing to man's characteristic activity and that if the last clause of the definition is understood as a reference to philosophical contemplation, the conclusion of the argument becomes a non sequitur; nothing in the argument justifies restricting man's characteristic activity to the exercise of the theoretical intellect (op. cit., 351-52). Ackrill's claim is justified only if the definition is understood as a simple identification of happiness and philosophical contemplation. But Aristotle formulates the definition in such a way that it can be construed as referring to the active life involving the exercise of the moral virtues, and this is the way in which he understands it in I, 8. From the vantage point of X, 7-8, taking the definition as a reference to the active life turns out to be a mistake but not a complete missing of the mark; the active life is a form of happiness, though not the highest form. So in the usual way of understanding the definition in I, 7, it both is and is not a non sequitur. In any case, the evidence is overwhelming that the final clause of the definition is a reference to philosophical contemplation.
14 Cf. Hardie, op. cit., p. 300: "… to put the question thus is to rule out the obvious and correct reply; that the life which is best for a man cannot lie in gaining only one of his objects at the cost of losing all the rest. This would be too high a price to pay even for philosophy."
15 In defense of my insertion of "to the. definiens," it should be noted that this passage refers back to points made earlier, and the earlier points concern the necessary tie between virtuous activity and various other goods; cf. 1098b22-31, 1099a7-21, 1099a31-b2.
16 Honor is apparently omitted from the list because Aristotle does not actually believe that it is an intrinsic good; cf. 1159al6-27.
17 Cf. 1153bl4-25. When Aristotle says at 1099bl-2 that "we use friends … as instruments," he might be taken to mean that friends are mere instruments to the good man. Later in his discussion of friendship, he makes it clear that in his view the best type of friendship—that in which friends value each other partly for their good moral qualities—is desirable for its own sake. Moral virtue is a necessary condition of this kind of friendship, and the friendship is expressed at least partly through the exercise of the virtues. Cf. NE IX, 9.
18 This is implied by the doctrine that definitions are "first principles" … of demonstrations; cf. Posterior Analytics 72al4-24, 72b23-25, 89al6-19, 90b24-27, 96b21-25; cf. Joan Kung, "Aristotle on Essence and Explanation," Philosophical Studies (1977): 361-83.
19Metaphysics VII, 6; cf. 1036al6-25, 1043bl-4, De Anima 429b 10-22.
20 Cf. NE 1178a6-7, 1178b22-28 and 33-35.
21 Cf. Eudemian Ethics 1214bll-27 where Aristotle distinguishes between factors which should be included in the definition of happiness and necessary conditions which are often confused with the former; cf. Politics 1328a21-35.
22 I am assuming that the active and contemplative lives are two alternative lives, not to be combined in a single best life. I have tried to give some support to this view in "Aristotle on the Active and Contemplative Lives," Philosophy Research Archives 3, no. 1138 (1977).
23 Cooper, op. cit., pp. 174-76; G. Rodier, Etudes de philosophie grecque (Paris, 1926), pp. 213-17.
24 Note the use of [doxeie] "this would seem to be each individual."
25 1178a7; compare the very similar formulations at 1166a22-23 and 1169a2. Cooper claims that there is a very important difference between these passages in NE IX and the passage in X, 7 about the intellect (op. cit., pp. 169-75). In the former passages, Aristotle is thinking of the intellect primarily as a practical faculty—a faculty which guides action and makes decisions—but in X, 7 he is thinking of it exclusively as a theoretical faculty. He gays "… Aristotle in the tenth book sharply separates the practical from the theoretical reason, associating the former with the syntheton, the living body, while making the latter a godlike thing apart" (op. cit., p. 175). Cooper seems to overlook 1177al2-15: "Whether it be reason [or 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.…" Here intellect cannot be understood as a purely theoretical faculty. Gauthier and Jolif seem closer to the mark: "Au-dessous de cette activite [contemplation] qui est son activite propre, I'intellect a une autre activite, qu'il n'exerce pas en tant qu'il est lui-meme, mais en tant qu'il est uni au corps: c'est de commander à la bête, de régler les passions, de diriger la partie irrationnelle (cf 1177al4-15)" (op. cit., II, 2, p. 895). The [suntheton] which Aristotle refers to at 1177b28 and 1178a20, need not be understood as the living body; it may be taken, as Gauthier and Jolif suggest (ibid.), as the combination of the intellect and the other elements in human nature.
26 For instance, the following passages speak of intellect as an element in man: 1177al5-17, 1177b27-28, 1177b34; cf. 1178b5-7, and 1178b33-35.
27 Cf. 1170blO-19, 1156b6-24.
28 Ackrill would apparently agree that the contemplative life includes these other goods (op. cit., 356-57); it is therefore puzzling that he regards the conception of happiness in NE X as dominant (cf. 340-41).
29 1177al7, 1177b24, 1178b8, 1178a7-10.
Terence Irwin (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: An introduction to Nichomachean Ethics, Hackett Publishing Company, 1985, pp. xi-xxii.
[In the following essay, Irwin describes the content of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, noting that the work analyzes traditional Greek ideals regarding the good life, the virtues necessary to be deemed an "acceptable and admirable" member of Greek society, as well as social problems and conflicts. Irwin also responds to common objections readers have had to Ethics.]
Why Read the Ethics?
Aristotle's ethical works matter to the student of moral behaviour. Aristotle provides the closest and most detailed analysis of Greek attitudes and aspirations, modified and criticized from his own point of view. Traditional Greek ideals of the best life (i 5); the canon of virtues that made someone an acceptable and admirable member of society (iii-v); the problems and conflicts of social life (viii 13-ix 3)—all these are examined by a dispassionate and careful observer.
For the historian of moral theory Aristotle's ethics is important as a primary source of mediaeval, and hence of modern, ethical thought. The Ethics provide the framework of Aquinas' account of the moral virtues; they have been read and cited as an influence by modern theorists—in the nineteenth century by Henry Sidgwick, in the twentieth by John Rawls, among many others.
But what has Aristotle to offer the contemporary reader interested in moral problems and in reflective thinking about them? The concrete detail that makes him interesting to the historian of Greece may seem to remove him from our concerns and interests. We do not readily value all the Aristotelian virtues; we will not be immediately inclined to find the magnanimous person (iv 3) as admirable as Aristotle finds him. And if Aristotle has been influential in moral theory, has his contribution been absorbed and superseded?
First of all, the contemporary student can learn from Aristotle's treatment of some problems of contemporary interest. His account of voluntary action and conditions for responsibility (iii 1,5); of purposive action and practical inference (iii 2-3, vii 3); of the nature and variety of pleasure (vii 11-14, x 1-5)—these have been justly admired for their stimulus to further thought on these issues.
However, Aristotle is important to the contemporary philosopher most of all because he does not share exactly our immediate concerns in moral theory. He does not ask the questions we would find it natural to ask about ethics—the contents of the Ethics look rather different from the contents of modern works on ethics. But when we take the trouble to understand Aristotle's questions, we can see that they are worth asking.
Aristotle's Life and Works
Aristotle was born in Stagira in Macedon, in 384, and hence was never a citizen of Athens, where he spent most of his life. He was a member of Plato's Academy from 367 to Plato's death in 347, when he left Athens, first for the eastern Aegean islands, and then for Macedon. Here he was a tutor of Alexander, the son of Philip the king of Macedon. He returned to Athens in 334 and founded his own school in the Lyceum. In 323 Alexander died, and Aristotle—apparently because of anti-Macedonian feeling in Athens—left for Chalcis, where he died in 322.
Aristotle was a Macedonian, and associated with the rising Macedonian dynasty that eventually founded an empire ruling over the previously independent city-states of Greece, and then over much of western Asia. Historians like to see here the transition from the age of the city-states to the age of empire, first the Macedonian and then (after 146) the Roman. It is surprising to some that this transition leaves no mark in Aristotle's ethical and political works. Aristotle still thinks of a Greek city as the natural and desirable form of community, and of the virtues of the citizen of such a city as the virtues needed for the best life. Probably we should not be surprised. Aristotle and his contemporaries did not know that the Macedonian empire would last and would be replaced by the Roman; and the rise of Macedon probably made little difference to the character of Greek social life or to individual and collective attitudes.
One major intellectual interest of Aristotle's is empirical inquiry and theory in biology—this is the subject of about a quarter of the extant Aristotelian corpus. Aristotle's biological works reflect his emphasis on detailed observation and comparison of circumstances, structure and behaviour of different animals. We may see some of the same interests in his classification and description of the virtues and the corresponding types of people.
A further major influence on Aristotle is Plato. Aristotle takes over Plato's interest in dialectic, logic, metaphysics and ethics. He is a keen critic of Plato (i 6); and Plato's concerns lead Aristotle to quite un-Platonic conclusions. In ethics Aristotle agrees rather closely with Plato's main aims and lines of argument.
It is easy, but seriously misleading, to present the 'empirical' and the 'Platonic' aspects of Aristotle as two sides of a conflict, or at least a tension, in his thought. In fact they are very closely connected. Aristotle examines nature, and interprets the empirical evidence, in the light of his own theoretical conceptions, especially his conceptions of form, matter … and end.… The clearest statements of his programme, especially relevant to the study of human nature in the Ethics, are Phys. [Physics] ii and PA i, 1.
Aristotle's works can be divided into groups:
- Logic and dialectic have no specific subject-matter, but are relevant in principle to all areas of inquiry. They examine the proper forms of argument for different purposes—dialectic, syllogistic and demonstrative … Categories, De Interpretatione, Analytics, Topics (together usually called the Organon) are in this group.
- Philosophy of nature considers the principles required for understanding movement and change in general, especially for living organisms with souls. Physics, De Caelo, De Generatione et Corruptione, De Anima, Parva Naturalia, De Partibus Animalium, De Generatione Animalium, De Motu Animalium are in this group.
- First philosophy considers being in general, both unchanging (theology) and changing (hence the principles also used in natural philosophy). The Metaphysics addresses these matters.
- Practical science considers action (in the narrow sense), and hence includes the Ethics and Politics.
- Productive science is concerned with production, including the Rhetoric and Poetics.
It is easy to see that some of the same questions about the same things might belong to more than one area of inquiry, and that (4) and (5) introduce an apparently different principle of division from (1)-(3).…
Aristotle does not obtrude the rest of his philosophy into ethical questions (see note to 1155bl). But the reader who has read Phys. ii, PA i 1, DA ii 1-4, and Met. ix 1-8, will understand the arguments better in e.g. i 7, ii 5, vii 3, ix 9, x 4-8. Aristotle's account of dialectic is presupposed in his method in ethics.…
Aristotle faces questions partly set by 'the many and the wise' …, both common views and more or less systematic reflection on them. Some of his sources may be briefly indicated.…
A traditional conception of happiness and the good person finds the ideal life in a Homeric hero, displaying strength and bravery in battle, leadership in political life and receiving honour as his reward. However, this life is dangerous; success is precarious, liable to the sort of reversal of fortune presented in, e.g., Sophocles' Ajax.
At the same time Greek moralists want to encourage justice and concern for others as a virtue that is no less fine and admirable than bravery and strength. This may require restraint on the single-minded pursuit of success and honour. It seems to require sacrifice of my own interests for the sake of other people's. When appeals to divine rewards and punishments seemed unconvincing, moralists looked for some reason to persuade someone concerned with his own happiness to be just.
Dangers and difficulties in traditional ideals provoked different reactions:
- 'Avoid the dangerous ambitions of the hero; live a quiet, unambitious and secure life, and then happiness won't be so easily lost.' (See Herodotus, iii 39-42, v 92.)
- 'Avoid the dangers of justice. The rules of justice are nothing but conventional norms imposed by the laws and expectations of society. They are irrelevant to human nature, which is best satisfied by the satisfaction of our immediate desires.' (See Plato, Gorg. 482c-492c.)
- 'Avoid the dangers of bravery and justice and turn to higher things, to the life of pure thought and study, away from the vicissitudes of the world.' (See Plato, Rep. 493b-e, Tht. 172d-177b.)
Aristotle wants to answer the criticism of the traditional virtues that makes them irrelevant to a rational person's conception of his happiness. He does not retain the traditional views unmodified; but bravery, restraint of appetites, concern for honour and other-regarding aims are all defended as parts of happiness. Their relation is clearest in the account of magnanimity (iv 3) and friendship (esp. ix 8-9). Here Aristotle's aim is very similar to Plato's in the Republic.
Misunderstandings of Aristotle
Objection: When Aristotle makes my happiness my ultimate end, he is accepting psychological hedonism. But he is wrong. I can value lots of things for their own sake apart from my pleasure or contentment.
Reply: Aristotle's conception of happiness does not identify happiness with pleasure.
Objection: When Aristotle requires me to aim at my own happiness above all, he endorses an immoral and objectionable version of egoism. Surely I can, and justifiably do, value, e.g., the welfare of other people for its own sake, not simply as a means to my happiness. Doesn't Aristotle make genuine altruism impossible?
Reply: The objection rests on a mistake about the relation between happiness and other intrinsic goods.…
Objection: Aristotle claims that virtue of character requires a mean or intermediate state, moderation that avoids extremes. But sometimes extremes are good and moderation bad. Sometimes, for instance, it is good to be extremely angry, not just moderately angry, and sometimes it is good to give away a lot of money, not just a moderate amount.
Reply: The doctrine of the mean does not advise this sort of moderation.…
Objection: Aristotle leaves no place for distinctively moral reasoning. The only practical function of reason that he allows is deliberation about means to ends. The only reasoning he allows is quasi-technical calculation about how to get what we want. He allows no reasoning about whether the ends we are pursuing are the morally right ones.
Reply: Aristotle's conception of decision and of 'things promoting ends' does not imply this sort of restriction.…
Objection: By making the judgements of the intelligent person the ultimate standard of the morally virtuous action Aristotle commits himself to a conservative view of morality. To know what the virtuous action is we must ask an intelligent person. But how do we recognize one except by relying on the conventional judgements of our society?
Reply: The intelligent person need not accept all of conventional morality. Since he deliberates about the components of happiness …, he may well form a conception of the good and of the virtues that differs from the conventional conception. To the extent that we can do some of the right deliberation ourselves, we can see that the intelligent person is right if he disagrees with conventional judgements.
Objection: The virtues Aristotle describes are perhaps suitable for a Greek gentleman wanting to act according to his station in life. But they are irrelevant to us when we live in different conditions and most of us do not think so highly of these aristocratic values.
Reply: The types of actions belonging to each virtue are, not surprisingly, suitable primarily for the social and historical conditions familiar to Aristotle. But it does not follow that the states and attitudes corresponding to the different virtues are historically limited in the same way.…
Questions about Aristotle
While some natural objections to Aristotle's theory have been found to rest on misunderstandings that can be dispelled by closer study, some related objections and questions are not to be dismissed so easily. Often Aristotle's own argument is brief, inexplicit and incomplete on some important issues.
Is happiness a reasonable first principle for ethics? Happiness is supposed to be the ultimate end which any rational agent has good reason to refer to when he decides how to live, what sort of person to be, what states of character to acquire. But can any conception of an ultimate end provide the right sort of guidance here? Should we perhaps decide what to do on moral grounds, without reference to some further end?
How informative is Aristotle's own conception of happiness? He argues that happiness is activity according to virtue. How then do we tell what states are virtues? If we are not simply to follow conventional judgements, we must apparently turn again to happiness—but what sort of answer will we find here?
How does the intelligent person know what promotes happiness? This question raises again our previous question about the informativeness of Aristotle's conception of happiness. The reader can best answer this question by asking how each of the particular virtues could be shown to promote happiness as Aristotle conceives it.… Aristotle answers the question most fully in his defence of friendship, ix 9.
Does Aristotle show that we have reason to be moral? One task of the Ethics is to support Plato's claim in the Republic that we are better off being just, concerned with the interests of others, than being unjust. Aristotle does not face this question explicitly in Book v, on justice. He comes nearest to an answer in his account of friendship.
How much practical guidance does Aristotle really offer? Despite his emphasis on the practical function of ethics, … he does not offer many specific moral rules. He discusses e.g. few of the questions that have divided utilitarians from non-utilitarians in modern ethics.… Here we should remember:
- Aristotle is more concerned with identifying the right states of character than with specifying the range of actions associated with them.
- He thinks detailed ethical instructions require reference to social and political conditions; and these are discussed in the Politics.
The Structure of the Ethics
The work translated here and often called 'Aristotle's Ethics' is the Nicomachean Ethics (Ethica Nicomachea, or EN), one of three detailed treatises on ethics in the Aristotelian corpus; the others are the Eudemian Ethics and the Magna Moralia. (Nicomachus and Eudemus may have been the original editors of the works named after them, after Aristotle's death, or he may have dedicated the works to them.) The MM is generally agreed not to have been written by Aristotle. It may still contain genuine Aristotelian doctrine identical to the doctrine of neither the EN nor the EE. The EE is by Aristotle, and is generally (but not universally) supposed to predate the EN. All three works cover many of the same topics in interestingly different ways, and comparative study is often rewarding. A special puzzle is raised by the three books common to the EN and the EE. …
Probably the EN we have was not intended for publication in exactly its present form. Like most of the Aristotelian corpus, it is probably Aristotle's lecture notes, perhaps edited after his death. This origin would explain why the argument is often compressed (e.g. in i 6)—perhaps intended for oral elaboration—and why the order of topics within a book is not always easy to follow. The order is in any case fairly loose—Aristotle takes up topics as they naturally lead into each other, and then resumes his main topic.…
Aristide Tessitore (essay date 1996)
SOURCE: "Making the City Safe for Philosophy, Book X," in Reading Aristotle's "Ethics," State University of New York Press, 1996, pp. 97-117.
[In the following essay, Tessitore examines Book X of Ethics, arguing that in this final book of the treatise, Aristotle offers a concluding statement with regard to happiness. Tessitore notes that Aristotle's conclusion—that perfect happiness may be found in philosophic contemplation, while the practice of ethical virtue offers only a secondary degree of happiness—may seem to conflict with earlier statements Aristotle presented in Book VII. Suggesting that this teaching has been implied throughout the work, Tessitore argues that its harshness is tempered by Aristotle's effort to connect philosophers and non-philosophers through the concept of moral decency, and by his emphasis on the significance of ethical virtue to non-philosophers.]
It is only in the final book of his treatise that Aristotle explicitly presents a teaching that he has intimated in different ways at various points in his study: Complete or perfect happiness is to be found in the philosophic activity of contemplation; the practice of ethical virtue is happy in a secondary degree (10.7.1177al2-18; 10.8.1178a9-10). The discussion that follows traces the rhetorical dimension of this final assessment of the relative standing of philosophic and ethical excellence by focusing on the artfulness of the argument in the concluding book of the Ethics. I will attempt to demonstrate that the harshness of this conclusion is mitigated by the rhetorical framework within which it has been placed. The inquiry in Book X proceeds through four themes: pleasure, happiness, the best way of life, and the turn to politics, each of which is considered in sequence.
Pleasure and Moral Education
Scholars have long recognized discrepancies in the double treatment of pleasure (7.11-14; 10.1-5) but, for the most part, have neglected to observe the very different horizons within which these two accounts are offered. As we have already observed, the initial treatment of pleasure in Book VII began by recommending it as a subject worthy of study for political philosophers (7.11.1152bl-3). This contrasts sharply with the didactic concern that guides the second consideration in Book X (1O.1.1172al9-25). The subject of pleasure is reintroduced because of its critical influence on the moral education of the young. Pleasure and pain extend throughout the whole of life and are of particular import for the development of virtue and the attainment of happiness.
The approach to pleasure in Book X is consistent with Aristotle's approach to the study of ethical virtue as a whole. He mediates a debate between two extreme and influential positions with a view to directing his readers toward a salutary mean. On the one hand, Eudoxus taught that pleasure was the good, a philosophic stance that gained acceptance because it was combined with a personal reputation for exceptional moderation. Eudoxus did not appear to advocate this view because he wished to indulge in pleasure and, as a result, people assumed that he must be speaking the truth. Aristotle comments that the influence of Eudoxus's position was, however, more a reflection of his good character than the quality of his arguments (10.2.1172bl6-17). On the other hand, Speussipus and members of the Academy maintained that pleasure was entirely base. Among those who adopted this second position, some really believed it to be true, whereas others maintained this view because they wanted to encourage the practice of virtue. They argued that the natural inclination toward pleasure among human beings makes it advisable to point most persons in the opposite direction, with the hope that this will bring them closer to the mean.
Aristotle takes issue with this approach, not with its aim (10.1.1172a33-b7). He explains that in matters involving feeling and action, a particular theory or position is despised or dismissed whenever it appears to be inconsistent with the most readily perceived facts. If those who condemn pleasure are, even on occasion, seen to enjoy it, their arguments become implausible because it is assumed that, contrary to their stated position, they really believe pleasure to be the good. The arguments are discredited not necessarily because they are untrue, but because most (hoi polloi) lack the capacity to discriminate (to diorizein). For most human beings, actions speak louder than words. A further consequence is that the truth itself is undermined because of the loss of credibility occasioned by the deeds of those who may in fact be speaking it. Hence, to the extent that it is possible to bring theory into harmony with practice, the theories in question will prove more useful for the conduct of life. This practical aim characterizes Aristotle's reconsideration of pleasure in Book X and distinguishes it from his more theoretical treatment in Book VII. His attempt to harmonize theory and practice is intended to "encourage" (protrepō) those capable of understanding ethical arguments to live better lives (10.1.1172b3-7). A reconsideration of pleasure is made necessary by a concern for the education of decent, although not necessarily philosophic, readers.
Aristotle's New Description of Pleasure
Aristotle lists the particular arguments used by Eudoxus and members of the Academy to support their respective positions, and in most cases supplies an immediate rejoinder (chs. 2-3).1 He then goes on to offer an account of his own (chs. 4-5). The following summary focuses on those aspects of the treatment of pleasure in Book X that distinguish it most sharply from the earlier account in Book VII.
In Book VII, Aristotle defines pleasure as "unimpeded activity" and leaves open the possibility that pleasure is both the highest good and something divine. Book X offers not so much a redefinition as a new description of pleasure. Pleasure "perfects" or "completes" (telei) activity (10.4.1174b23). The activities of both sense perception and thought have corresponding pleasures that become most acute when the activity is executed in the best possible way. These pleasures do not inhere in the activities themselves, but rather "come to be in addition" (epigignomenon) (10.4.1174b31-33). Pleasure is a kind of unlooked for bonus that enhances activity, perfecting and increasing the capacity for action. In this new view, pleasure belongs to or depends upon activity. In Book VII, pleasure is defined as activity of a certain kind. In Book X, while maintaining that pleasure and activity are inextricably bound together, Aristotle indicates that they are nevertheless distinct. The consequences of this key difference in the two treatments of pleasure will become increasingly apparent.
The most immediate and primary corollary to follow from the new distinction is that it makes possible an independent standard by which pleasures can be ranked and judged. Activity, not pleasure, is the fundamental thing, for the latter depends upon the former. On this basis, Aristotle is able to bolster a widespread opinion among the decent that pleasure is good but not the only or supreme good. If pleasure comes from or belongs to activity, the supreme good cannot be pleasure; rather, it would belong to the best activity. With the help of this distinction, readers are now provided with edifying explanations for some of the more strident suggestions and puzzles raised by the discussion in Book VII.
Aristotle begins by returning to the question with which he had concluded his account of pleasure in Book VII: Why is it that no one is able to feel pleasure continuously (10.4.1175a3-10)? He now points out that no human faculty is characterized by uninterrupted activity, an observation that he illustrates with the example of sight. The pleasure enjoyed in seeing something depends upon looking at it intently. As the activity of looking becomes less vigorous and attention relaxes, the pleasure also fades. Book VII had emphasized an absolute limit to pleasure imposed by the composite nature of human being, a limit that emerged by means of a contrast with the single simple pleasure enjoyed perpetually by god. This teaching is not retracted in the present context, although the emphasis is different: pleasure increases or decreases in the measure that one increases or decreases effort with respect to the activity from which the pleasure arises. In a book that is intended to encourage readers to take pleasure in what they ought, Aristotle's example implies that the effort necessary for excellence in any activity is not without a certain bonus in pleasure.
He next turns his attention to the initial observation of Book X; namely, that pleasure and pain extend throughout the whole of human life (10.4.1175al2-21). It turns out that human beings have good reason to pursue pleasure, for this perfects activities and, therefore, life itself. The musician and the lover of learning are given as examples. The activity of each one is sharpened, prolonged, and improved by the pleasure that belongs to that activity. Hence, pleasure perfects the life of each one by making a person a better musician or philosopher. The argument concludes with the assertion that, for the present, we ought to dismiss the question whether life is for the sake of pleasure or pleasure for the sake of life (10.4.1175al8-19). Whatever the answer, pleasure and life appear to be inseparably yoked together (suzeugnumi);2 for pleasure does not exist apart from activity, nor is there perfect activity without pleasure (10.4.1175al9-21).
It is especially in the next stages of the argument that the practical consequences of the new description of pleasure become most apparent. In contrast to an earlier puzzling suggestion that all might actually seek a single pleasure, the distinction between pleasure and activity in Book X is used to explain that pleasures differ in kind (10.5.1175a21-76a29). It is because activities differ in kind that the pleasures that belong to and augment them are seen to differ as well. In fact, pleasures derived from one activity can impede other activities. Someone may be distracted from philosophy by hearing music if the latter activity is more pleasurable. This leads to reflection upon the vast array of pleasures arising from the multiplicity of activities undertaken by different species of animals. If some maintain that each species has its own proper pleasure corresponding to its particular work or activity (10.5.1176a3-9), this view cannot be applied in an unqualified way to the human species (10.5.1176a lO-29). Human beings enjoy a bewildering variety of pleasures. Some indication of the problem is evidenced by the fact that the same things delight some people and cause pain to others. Feverish and healthy persons find different things to be sweet, and the same temperature is both painful and pleasant to the weak and the robust. The more serious difficulty, however, concerns the different kinds of pleasure sought out and cultivated by human beings. The three most conspicuous have been anticipated since the outset of the Ethics, namely, the different kinds of pleasures connected with the senses, with honors and political offices, and, less frequently but no less emphatically, with study. How is one to find an appropriate standard by which to rank these pleasures? Given the variation and irregularity that characterizes human affairs, is it even possible to speak of a distinctively human pleasure?
It is here that the ethical bearing of the distinction between pleasure and activity becomes explicit (10.5.1175b24-29). Since activity is the fundamental thing, it is possible not only to distinguish various pleasures, but to do so by determining the moral worth of the activities to which they correspond. On the basis of this distinction, pleasures accompanying morally serious activities (spoudaiai) are differentiated from those that are base (phauloi). In all cases, the thing is as it appears to the morally serious person (ho spoudaios) (10.5.1176al5-16). Moreover, if we wish to know what constitutes the distinctively human pleasure or pleasures, we should look to the best activity or activities of "the perfect and blessed man" (tou teleiou kai makariou andros). All other pleasures sought by human beings are "human" in secondary and even more tenuous ways, depending upon the activities from which they arise (10.5.1176a24-29).
More precisely, Aristotle writes that the perfect and blessed person reveals the pleasure or pleasures that are human in the most authoritative (kuriōs) sense, that other pleasures are human in a secondary (deuterōs) degree, and still others are even more remotely (pollostōs) connected with distinctively human activity (10.5.1176a26-29). Although deuterōs kai pollostōs is sometimes taken as a single idiomatic expression, it is helpful to call attention to the distinct meanings of these adverbs. Taken literally, this passage articulates the threefold hierarchy that provides the rhetorical framework for the argument of Book X. Aristotle's distinctions between primary, secondary, and remotely human pleasures correspond to the three views of happiness that he had introduced in Book I and to which he is about to return. The life of study, the moral-political life, and the life devoted to sensual pleasure are each given their proper weight as the Ethics approaches its denouement.
Before turning to the final thematic treatment of happiness, we should not allow a persistent ambiguity to pass without comment: Who, precisely, is the morally serious human being? Is Aristotle thinking of the magnanimous person or the philosopher when he speaks of the perfect and blessed person? Despite the obvious importance of this question, Aristotle has not at this point provided his readers with a definitive answer. He does not even call attention to the question; rather, he seems intent upon retaining a certain ambiguity. Indeed, such ambiguity is not without practical effect, since it is apt to elicit greater openness on the part of decent readers who are able and likely to find in these expressions recognition of the fact that they do, or at least should, provide the standard for all who fall below them. Such a reading is not incorrect but, as will become clear in the sequel, it is incomplete.
Happiness and the Pleasures of the Powerful
Whereas Book I provided an outline or sketch of the relationship between happiness and ethical virtue, Book X returns to this subject in a thematic way. It begins by recapitulating some of the initial conclusions about happiness from Book I (10.6.1176a30-76b9). Happiness is not a disposition, but some form of activity that is chosen for its own sake and is lacking in nothing. This way of describing happiness is also believed to describe the nature of virtuous actions, since noble and virtuous deeds are desirable for their own sake. The implicit identification of happiness and ethical virtue is taken over from Book I and constitutes the perspective that, with a few notable exceptions, has been adopted and clarified throughout the study. Only in Book X does Aristotle address in a serious way a problem that challenges the special or authoritative status such a view confers on morally serious persons. The pleasures of play also appear to be desirable for their own sake (10.6.1176b9-17).3 So simple an assertion is not so simply dismissed. Not only are such amusements thought by many (hoi polloi) to constitute happiness; but also and especially, those in positions of absolute power (turannoi) are seen to devote themselves to such pastimes. The life styles of the rich and famous undermine the meritorious belief that happiness is to be found in the morally serious activities of decent human beings.4
Aristotle responds with five arguments, all of which demonstrate the unique capacity of philosophy to defend and clarify the dignity of moral virtue despite the weight of actual political practice (10.6.1176bl7-77a l1): (1) It is a lack of experience in mature pleasures that leads many, like children, to think that more accessible but lesser pleasures are best. (2) The serious work that fills human life is not for the sake of fleeting moments of play. Rather, the opposite is the case; play is a form of rest that is for the sake of further activity. (3) In the measure that happiness requires virtue, it will be found in serious activities rather than amusements. (4) Things that are taken seriously are better than funny or amusing things, and happiness engages the better part of the soul. (5) The fact that no one would deem slaves happy despite their ability to enjoy bodily pleasures indicates that happiness involves activities of a different kind.
Each of these five arguments advances the claim that the example of the powerful should be judged by a more authoritative standard furnished by the activities of morally serious persons. The particular arguments used to reinforce this claim are prefaced with a general statement that reveals something of the strategy employed in this section as a whole. Since virtue (aretē) and intelligence (nous) give rise to the most pure (eilikrinē s) and liberal (eleutherios) pleasures, happiness cannot consist in the pleasures of play, but in activities in accordance with the virtue and intelligence of morally serious persons (10.6.1176bl8-28).
The arguments in this section combine the natural standard of pleasure with a standard furnished by decent opinion. Aristotle does this in two ways. First, he relies on the earlier distinction between pleasure and activity to rule out a priori the possibility that pleasure could provide an independent standard for human conduct. It should be noticed, however, that the claim that pleasure furnishes such a standard is reflected in the pastime activities of the powerful. Second, by including both virtue and intelligence within the single category of activities that give rise to pure and liberal pleasures, Aristotle does not call attention to the ambiguous meaning of these words. Virtue (aretē) explicitly embraces both ethical and intellectual excellence, and although intelligence (nous), strictly speaking, designates a theoretical activity, it has also been used, as we have seen, to refer to the activity of practical reason as well. Aristotle minimizes the extent to which different activities falling within the categories of arete and nous, and the pleasures arising from them, can lead to radically different ways of life.5 There is, of course, some warrant for this conflation, since, as the discussion of intellectual excellence in Book VI has already made apparent, the life of ethical virtue also involves reason.6 Aristotle's argument in the present context is consistent with his earlier lack of precision in this matter. Instead of emphasizing that the activities of virtue and intelligence can lead to two different ways of life, he uses both as attributes to describe the activity of the "morally serious person," an expression that is itself laden with ambiguity.
The argument effectively forges an alliance between the philosopher and the nonphilosopher. They are united in opposing the opinion of the many and even the authority of sovereigns who, by their example, teach that happiness consists in the pleasures of play. Morally decent persons possess greater authority on this issue than the rich and famous because they experience pleasures that are purer, more liberal, more serious, and, in general, more specifically human, than those typically desired by the many and indulged by the powerful.
Happiness and the Best Way of Life
It is only after eliciting this sense of solidarity among morally serious persons that Aristotle clarifies the exact relationship between ethical and intellectual excellence as it bears on the all-important question of happiness. As we have anticipated, the final book of the Ethics confronts its readers with a surprising demotion of moral virtue in light of the superior happiness of the contemplative life. If happiness consists in activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be activity in accordance with the best virtue. Unlike his initial and open-ended presentation of this argument in Book I (1.7.1098al6-18), Aristotle now specifies that the best and most perfect virtue consists in the godlike activity of contemplation. Happiness is coextensive in its range with contemplative excellence; the exercise of moral virtue is happy in a secondary way (10.7.1177al2-18; 10.8.1178b28-32; 10.8.1178a9-10).
This conclusion, in some way the culmination of the entire book, is oddly out of step with the rest of Aristotle's study. It is incompatible with the earlier and dominant teaching of the Ethics, one that emphasized the intrinsic value of both moral virtue and friendship for a flourishing human life. Moreover, apart from the dissonances of which the reader of this book is especially aware, this conclusion is in large measure unanticipated. The prominence given in Aristotle's treatise to both excellences of character (Bks. II-V) and friendship (Bks. VIII-IX) leads more readily to the conclusion that human happiness is a composite of activities involving character, friendship, and reflection. This expected conclusion is, however, unexpectedly derailed by Aristotle's elevation of the theoretical life and subsequent deflation of moral virtue.
The incongruent character of the conclusion of the Ethics returns us to the starting point for the current study. The apparent incompatibility of X.7-8 with the rest of the treatise has led scholars to the various critical assessments summarized in chapter 1. As should by now be clear, I do not think it is necessary to conclude that the Ethics is marred by a fundamental incoherence or that the arguments of X.7-8 have been carelessly grafted onto the trunk of the Ethics by Aristotle or a later editor. Rather, these chapters espouse a position that has in fact been present throughout the entire study, with two notable differences. First, whereas this argument has been kept in the background as an alternative to the dominant teaching of the Ethics, it is now given a position of preeminence. Indeed, it is made into the climax of the book as a whole. Secondly, as we shall see, this shift is accompanied by another. Aristotle's most explicit endorsement of the philosophic life mutes rather than emphasizes the extent to which a life devoted to philosophic inquiry conflicts radically with the demands of moral-political excellence. This, I shall argue, is achieved by presenting a beautiful, if rarified, image of philosophic activity that is in important respects both similar and complementary to the moral-political excellence of the kalos k 'agathos.
Aristotle's concluding teaching on the surpassing happiness of the philosophic life is supported by six arguments (10.7.1177al8-b26): (1) Contemplation is the best (kratistē) activity because it involves the best thing in us. (2) It is the most continuous activity in which human beings can engage. (3) It is held to contain pleasures of marvelous purity and permanence. (4) It is the most self-sufficient activity, for the wise need not depend upon others in order to contemplate. (5) It is loved for its own sake and produces no result beyond itself. (6) It is an activity of leisure par excellence. On the basis of these six arguments, Aristotle concludes that contemplation is the highest activity in accordance with virtue and, consequently, that complete human happiness consists in a life of study. He also anticipates the objection that such a life exceeds human capacity (10.7.1177b26-78a2). If the intellect (nous) is something divine in comparison to human capacity, then the life of the intellect would describe a divine, not a human, life. Against this objection, Aristotle urges that we must not follow those who enjoin that mortals should have thoughts of mortality. Rather, as far as possible, we ought to be immortal, and do all that we can to live in accordance with the best thing in us. In sharp contrast to the sober teaching of Book VII on the composite nature of human being, Aristotle concludes his study with a seemingly Platonic exhortation to cultivate the most divine aspect of the human soul. Human happiness is not identified with a range of activities reflecting the composite nature of human being but with the most godlike activity of which human beings are capable.
The argument of these chapters invokes a conception of philosophic activity that stands in sharp contrast to the understanding of political philosophy that Aristotle has discretely but persistently exhibited throughout his study. It suffices to recall the more jarring aspects of his teaching to bring this difference into full view. In the course of his inquiry, Aristotle has suggested the dependence of ethical virtue on orthos logos, the circular or ungrounded character of prudence from which orthos logos arises, persistent and unresolved tensions between different peaks of ethical excellence (most notably magnanimity and justice), the instrumental character of prudence for the attainment of wisdom, the possibility that pleasure could be the highest good, and the nature and limits of friendship in light of a necessary concern with self-love. I have emphasized the extent to which Aristotle's consideration of each of these issues is left deliberately open ended. It would be inaccurate to confer the status of 'ethical doctrine" upon any of these points. Quite the contrary, it is the intractable character of these problems that reveals, in a way that has yet to be fully appreciated, the essentially dialectical ground in which Aristotle's more familiar ethical and political doctrines are embedded.
In contrast to the kind of political philosophy exhibited in Aristotle's text, his concluding endorsement of philosophy is tame.7 The final image of philosophic activity is idealized in the sense that it is removed from, and therefore less apparently in conflict with, the exigencies of moral and political life. Philosophy is presented as a thing apart, a god-like activity that does not threaten decent sensibilities because it is not preoccupied with the necessities that constrain civic life. Aristotle's final teaching about the dignity of the philosophic life reflects his concern for nonphilosophic readers: His most explicit endorsement of the surpassing value of contemplation extols a domesticated version of philosophy, one in which philosophic activity is reduced to a largely private or academic enterprise, shorn of the unwieldy and disruptive political consequences that inevitably attend a life of radical inquiry.
Aristotle's arguments for the superiority of the philosophic life confront readers in an unambiguous way with a truth that many of them would necessarily find disconcerting. However, unlike Platonic versions of this teaching, which are almost invariably met by anger or ridicule on the part of Socrates' interlocutors, Aristotle has reason to expect that his presentation of the dignity of the philosophic life will be neither dismissed nor ridiculed by the majority of his nonphilosophic readers. Not only has he painstakingly clarified the horizon of ethical virtue on its own terms in the first half of the Ethics and pointed to a relatively innocuous version of theoretical excellence in the concluding chapters of his study, but, as we shall see, even this most explicit teaching on the superiority of the philosophic life is offered within a broader context that emphasizes the similar and even complementary character of ethical and intellectual virtue.
One Consistent Teaching: Similar and Complementary Ways of Life
The similarity between philosophic and ethical excellence is suggested by the particular arguments used to establish the superior happiness of the contemplative life. All six of these arguments apply, to some extent at least, to ethical excellence as well. It is possible to argue that a life characterized by the practice of ethical virtue is superior to, and happier than, a life given over to the enjoyment of bodily pleasures and amusements, the example of sovereigns notwithstanding, for precisely the reasons used to demonstrate the ultimate superiority of the philosophic life.
These arguments, or variants of them, are in fact applied by Aristotle to ethical virtue. With respect to the six propositions enumerated above, one should consider the following Aristotelian assertions: (1) Justice is considered the best (kratistē) of the virtues (5.1.1129b27-28). (2) Friendship, based on the practice of moral virtue, facilitates the continuous activity characteristic of happiness (9.9.1170a5-1 1). (3) Pure and liberal pleasures are found in the activities of virtue and intelligence (10.6.117b l8-21). Less broadly, generosity in particular and virtuous action in general are accompanied by pleasure (4.1.1120a24-31). (4) Self-sufficiency is characteristic of the magnanimous person (4.3.1125al l-12). (5) The repeated insistence that noble actions are desirable for their own sake is one of the leitmotifs of the Ethics (e.g., 3.7.1115bl l-13; 4.1.1120a23-25; 4.2.1122b6-7; 10.6.1176b6-9). (6) Justice and moderation are cited as activities appropriate to leisure (Pol. 7.15.1334al l-34).
The reason for calling attention to these statements is not to question Aristotle's final evaluation of the theoretical life. Rather, it is to make clear that the very arguments used to substantiate its superiority simultaneously suggest a similarity between philosophic and moral excellence. The philosophic life is happier than the moral life not because it is radically different from it, but because it offers to a greater and more perfect degree the very things that decent persons both seek and enjoy for themselves. It is within the broader framework of several propositions bearing on both philosophic and moral excellence that Aristotle presents his most explicit teaching on the superiority of the philosophic life.
This affirmation of the superiority of contemplative excellence necessitates some further consideration of ethical virtue. The issue is confronted in chapter 8, where ethical virtue is also said to result in happiness, but in some lesser way than the godlike activity of philosophic contemplation. However, as we shall see, the argument of this chapter as a whole also suggests that ethical and intellectual virtues are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary forms of excellence for human beings.
Moral virtue is reduced to a secondary rank because it is an activity limited by a need for, and dependence upon, others (10.8.1178a9-b7). By way of contrast, the happiness of contemplation requires less "external equipment," an expression that, in Aristotle's usage, includes other human beings. In fact, the kind of equipment necessary for doing virtuous deeds, especially great ones, might in some cases prove to be a hindrance to contemplation (10.8.1178bl-5). If this argument is more forthcoming about a dissimilarity and possible tension between the moral and contemplative ways of life, such candor is immediately restrained by asserting that the philosopher, since he lives in society, also chooses to engage in virtuous actions (10.8. 1178b5-7).
If, as Aristotle has argued in the preceding chapter, morally decent persons ought to look up to the philosopher as the exemplar of the best way of life, he now indicates that the philosopher is not, or at least should not be, indifferent to the moral-political concerns that are the special preoccupation of the city and those who bear primary responsibility for its welfare. The philosopher is human (anthr peuesthai) and for that reason needs to live among other human beings (10.8.1178b5-7; see 7.14.1154b20-31). We are thus brought to consider the possibility of a complementary relationship between theoretical and moral virtue. Whereas the life of the philosopher discloses the fullest possibility of happiness for human beings, morally decent persons embody the kind of excellence necessary to live well in the polis. The two kinds of excellence complement each other because of the essentially political character of composite beings who are able to appreciate but not sustain godlike simplicity.
Although ethical virtue is reduced to a secondary status because of its dependence upon external goods, Aristotle's final argument on this subject softens without denying this diminution (10.8.1178b33-79a9). Since human nature is not self-sufficient with respect to contemplation, even philosophers must concern themselves with external well-being. However, as the life of philosophy reveals, happiness does not require an abundance of external goods. In this respect, it is possible for the practitioner of moral virtue to imitate the philosopher, since one can also undertake virtuous actions with modest resources. It is possible, Aristotle writes, to do noble deeds without being a ruler of land and sea (10.8.1179a4-5). Indeed, he observes that private citizens are more likely to act in accord with the requirements of virtue than those in positions of political authority. This conclusion is supported by drawing from the sayings of Solon and Anaxagoras—a wise statesman and a philosopher (10.8.1179a9-17). Both citations give added authority to the final edifying teaching of the Ethics on happiness: Contrary to what most believe, happiness is not to be found in the excesses of the powerful but rather in imitating, as much as possible, the materially unencumbered activity of philosophers.8
This emphasis on the similar and complementary character of ethical and philosophic excellence points to a single consistent teaching on the best life for a human being. The argument suggests that ethical and philosophic excellence, though distinct, are not incompatible. The tentative character of the argument in Book I gives way to greater, though still incomplete, specificity in Book X. The happiness of each individual, nonphilosopher and potential philosopher alike, depends upon the full development of the soul, a development that gives first but not exclusive priority to whatever theoretical capacity one might possess. The reader is led to conclude that one should give paramount importance to the life of study, depending upon ability and circumstances, while at the same time developing the more generally accessible ethical virtues.
Two Inconsistent Teachings: Persistent Tension
We should, however, be careful to observe that although Aristotle does not emphasize dissimilarity or dissonance in the relationship between ethical and theoretical virtue in Book X, neither does he deny it.9 Indeed, he weaves into the argument of his concluding book three striking indications of persistent tension: (1) the unanswered question whether life is for the sake of pleasure (10.4.1175al8-19), (2) the suggestion that the practice of the greatest and most noble moral virtues impedes the highest human excellence (10.81178bl-5), and (3) the apparently insignificant character of moral virtue in light of divine activity (10.81178b7-23). Each of these passages is briefly discussed below.
- As we have already noted, in the course of his reconsideration of pleasure, Aristotle raises a crucial theoretical question: Is life for the sake of pleasure or pleasure for the sake of life? Gauthier and Jolif point out that the decision to put this question aside as inappropriate in the present context has occasioned a great deal of comment on the part of those who are uncomfortable with Aristotle's willingness to turn away from such a crucial issue. They observe that most major commentators (Alexander of Aphrodisias, Michael of Ephesus, St. Albert, St. Thomas, et al.) have not been able to resist the temptation to try to resolve a question that the text leaves in suspense. Gauthier and Jolif, finding some support in Burnet, proceed to argue that such efforts are misguided since, whatever the answer to this question, Aristotle is here arguing that the contemplative "activity-pleasure" (le bloc opération-plaisir) constitutes the ultimate end for human beings.10 Although they are surely correct in maintaining that this constitutes the overall argument in Book X, their explanation does not adequately account for the passage in question, which explicitly raises the question whether life is for the sake of pleasure or pleasure for the sake of life. The discomfort of earlier commentators seems more justified than the effort to minimize a deliberately open-ended question by subordinating it to the most obvious conclusion of the Ethics as a whole.
The dismissal of a question that he has nevertheless put into the minds of his readers in some sense draws attention to the question itself and, in so doing, to the central difference between Books VII and X. What constitutes the fundamental standard for human beings? Is it pleasure or a kind of life that is characterized by noble disregard for questions of this sort? The disturbing character of Aristotle's failure to resolve this question in the concluding book of the Ethics is augmented by the fact that he had earlier cited with apparent approval, the belief that nothing prevents pleasure from being the supreme good (7.13. 1153b7-8), a view that implies that life is for the sake of pleasure. Without going so far as to suggest that Aristotle advocates a kind of philosophic hedonism, it is sufficient to observe that the unanswered question about pleasure in Book X, together with the arguments from Book VII (11-14) that it recalls, evidences the continuing presence of a perspective that is alien to the teaching on ethical virtue for which the Ethics is rightly famous.
- In his final discussion of happiness, Aristotle suggests that the external equipment necessary for great and noble actions may constitute an impediment to the life of study (10.8.1178bl-5). Although he does not elaborate the problem here, it is easily clarified in light of his earlier discussions. Peak moral virtues such as magnificence and magnanimity presuppose an abundance of external goods, something that in turn requires attentiveness to the economic and political circumstances that make these virtues possible and appropriate. A preoccupation with these concerns and with the constantly shifting circumstances from which they arise reduces both suitability and appreciation for a life given over to the contemplation of the unchanging beings of nature.
Moreover, whereas the pleasure associated with each activity enhances that activity, it has the further effect of impeding other activities (10.5.1175a29-b24). Given the morally edifying horizon that prevails in Book X, it is not surprising that Aristotle fails to apply this principle directly to the different activities of ethical and philosophic excellence. He restricts himself to the considerably less controversial observation that the pleasures arising from musical harmony can be an obstacle to the activity of philosophy. It is, however, difficult to imagine that someone who has experienced the nearly divine pleasures of contemplation would not find the pleasures associated with ethical virtue to be in some respect diminished.11
- In the course of his final assessment of ethical virtue, Aristotle turns once again to the question of divine activity (10.8.1178b7-23). It is here that the problematic relationship between ethical and intellectual virtue becomes most apparent. In what does the happiness of the gods consist? It would be ludicrous to try to conceive of them as practicing moral virtue, since all forms of virtuous conduct are "trifling and unworthy" (mikra kai anaxia) of gods (10.8.1178bl7-18). The only possible activity appropriate to deities is some form of contemplation. This description of the gods, one that echoes the earlier account in Book VII (7.14.1154b26-31), is Aristotle's most severe and most explicit criticism of the human tendency to project a concern for ethical virtue onto the divine. He argues instead that happiness is coextensive in its range with contemplation (10.8.1178b28-32). Given the essentially political character of human beings, human imitation of divine indifference toward moral virtue would be reprehensible. Nevertheless, an appropriate human approximation of divine detachment expresses itself in the cultivation of ethical virtue as a means to the god-like activity of contemplation, not as an end in itself.
By way of contrast, the happiness of the kalos k'agathos is limited, not only by a need for those external goods necessary for the practice of moral virtue, but because the most sublime happiness turns out to belong to another kind of activity. Aristotle's depiction of divine disinterestedness, together with his identification of human happiness and the godlike activity of contemplation, points to the existence of a still unresolved tension between ethical and philosophic excellence. This problem is exacerbated by Aristotle's further undeveloped suggestion that the activity of nous, more than anything else, constitutes the identity of a human being (10.7.1178a5-8), a suggestion that undercuts his earlier insistence on the composite nature of human being as the most salient aspect of human identity and therefore happiness.
Whereas the dominant argument of Book X establishes the superior happiness of the philosophic life within a context emphasizing the similar and complementary character of ethical and intellectual excellence, these three brief but pointed remarks suggest that the exact relationship between them remains problematic. Those most attuned to these notes of discord are likely to detect in the Ethics the presence of two inconsistent teachings on the best way to live as a human being.
Concluding Arguments: Gods, Moral Nobility, and the City
The sharpness of the conflict between the requirements and sensibilities of moral and contemplative virtue is reflected no human and divine activity in Books VII and X (7.14.1154b20-31; 10.8.1178b7-23). This teaching, however, is at odds with the final argument of the Ethics on this subject (10.8.1179a22-29). Aristotle maintains that if, as is generally held, the gods exercise some concern over human affairs, they are likely to benefit those who most love and honor godlike excellence in themselves. Those who cultivate intelligence (nous) and undertake "right and noble deeds" (orthōs te kai kalōs prattontas) are most beloved by the gods and recompensed with godlike happiness. The premise of this argument flatly contradicts Aristotle's previous description of the gods. Divine indifference to moral virtue has given way to a more consoling preocupation with and concern for correct and noble human actions.
The contradiction, however, does not lie in Aristotle's thinking, since this final argument about the gods is explicitly drawn from a pervasive and decent opinion rather than from Aristotle himself. Thus, without actually retracting his theoretical speculations about divine activity, he overlays them with a concluding and morally edifying argument about the gods. The gods reward those who practice moral virtue and honor intelligence. Despite the profound theoretical differences that separate the two portrayals of the divine in this chapter, it is important to observe that, taken together, these accounts direct readers to a single consistent practical teaching: One ought to imitate the gods as much as possible and, depending upon one's abilities and circumstances, this means giving a privileged place to intelligence in either its theoretical or practical manifestations. Whereas the contemplative activity of theoretical intelligence enables one to experience god-like happiness, Aristotle's concluding argument holds out the promise of such happiness to those who honor intelligence by performing noble deeds. The fulfillment of this promise depends upon the veracity of the pervasive and decent opinion about divine solicitude for human affairs. Although attentive readers might be more impressed by the distance between human and divine concerns and what that implies about the best way of life for a human being, the final reference to the gods in the Ethics encourages all readers to live in accordance with the best thing in them and to revere rather than disparage those who most embody the peculiar excellence of philosophic contemplation.
The concluding chapter of the Ethics returns to a theme that has implicitly informed the study as a whole and explicitly guided the consideration in Book X, namely, the moral education of the young. Although speech may be sufficient to encourage generous youths to pursue a life of moral nobility (kalokagathia), speech by itself is unlikely to awaken a similar desire in the majority of human beings (10.9. 1179b7-10). Since most are ruled by passions, compulsion and punishment are more effective than the appeal to reason and the noble (10.9. 1180a3-5). Hence, there arises a need for laws that take their bearings from moral nobility but are also backed by the strong arm of the civic body. The application of force is necessary not only for the city in that it establishes the rudiments of political order, but also and especially for individual citizens since it encourages them to live in accordance with the best thing in them.
If the argument of the preceding two chapters demotes the life of moral virtue in light of the most perfectly happy life of philosophy, the concluding chapter of the Ethics draws upon the broader context within which that argument has been framed. The extent to which these two ways of life are similar and complementary is most evident when they are contrasted to the lower and more pervasive alternative that dominates actual political practice. Aristotle's sober evaluation of the nature and limits of the majority of human beings directs our attention to the third component of the three-fold hierarchy that has been especially prominent in Book X. Those whose lives are susceptible to the influence of reason and the noble define orthos logos for the majority of human beings whose lives are circumscribed by passion. Aristotle concludes his study of ethics and introduces the study of politics in a way that allows the resplendent character of moral virtue to stand together with philosophic contemplation as the authoritative standard for the laws of the city. In so doing, he emphasizes the dignity of a life characterized by the practice of moral virtue, its practical importance for politics, and the need that all those who bear primary responsibility for the city have for the philosopher, who—in the person of Aristotle—promises to help his readers gain a better understanding of the crucial relationship between virtue and actual political practice in the second half of his "philosophy concerning the human things."
The continuing controversy over Aristotle's teaching on the precise relationship between moral and theoretical excellence is well grounded in the text. I have attempted to show that the ambiguity of this treatment is due, at least in part, to the fact that he provides two different accounts of this relationship, a fact that is itself attributable to the different audiences to which the book is addressed.
For the majority of Aristotle's decent, reflective, but not essentially philosophic, readers, ethical virtue is presented on its own terms and with a degree of clarity and precision that is appropriate to its subject matter. Although he argues for the existence of something higher than the life of ethical virtue, the overarching teaching of Book X takes issue with the widespread human tendency to identify happiness with the pleasures of play by pointing to the greater satisfactions to be derived from the practice of moral virtue. Moreover, the emphasis on a similar and complementary relationship between ethical and philosophic excellence directs readers away from the seductive extremes of unreflective patriotism and political domination. By subordinating passion to intelligence and intelligence to contemplation, Aristotle points toward that aspect of human activity that offers the greatest possibility of happiness. Insofar as decent persons are more concerned to cultivate the life of the mind than amass money, power, and prestige, they are able to experience something of the godlike happiness of the philosopher.
To those who are most attracted to the theoretical life, Aristotle's treatment offers a second, more problematic ground for serious concern with ethical virtue. The Ethics urges attentiveness to the practice of moral virtue, not as an end in itself or as something that provides the greatest happiness but as a means to the end of contemplation. This argument is double edged. Whereas it is reassuring to learn that philosophers are or should be concerned about moral virtue, the argument simultaneously raises a question as to whether their motivation is consistent with the requirements of moral virtue itself.
A harsh expression of this so-called intellectualist argument is found in Magna Moralia, where ethical virtue is reduced to the status of a household manager who attends to daily necessities so that the lord of the house might enjoy the freedom and leisure necessary to engage in philosophic thought (MM 1.34.1198b9-20; see EE8.3.1249b4-25). The difference between this account and the one given in the Nicomachean Ethics is instructive. Although both discussions clearly affirm the superiority of the philosophic life, in the Ethics moral virtue is said to be subordinate to, but never the servant of, philosophic contemplation. Whereas the latter view suggests that ethical virtue is ultimately devoid of intrinsic dignity, the argument of the Ethics is distinctive precisely for its insistence on an independent status for ethical virtue. Indeed, Aristotle's often-repeated assertion that moral acts are undertaken for their own sake comes as close as any single line to constituting a refrain for the entire book. In the Ethics Aristotle subordinates the life of ethical virtue to the philosophic way of life while at the same time retaining a sense of its importance. The life of ethical virtue, unlike the life of slavery, does result in substantial human happiness. Nevertheless, a still greater possibility exists for those who are able to take their bearings from the supremely happy activity of philosophic contemplation.
It is, I believe, a mistake to conclude that Aristotle's teaching on the best life is inconsistent. The deeper consistency that I have attempted to bring to light is reflected in his refusal to simplify the question of the best way of life. His depiction of ethical virtue is faithful to the phenomenon of ethical virtue as it appears in the lives of its best exemplars. At the same time, his account of philosophic activity preserves without emphasizing a sense of the inevitable controversy that accompanies a life of radical inquiry. Theoretical and practical matters vie for the attention of human intelligence and, given the very different and necessarily limited capacities of human beings, the full development of one can lessen appreciation for the importance of the other.12 Aristotle consistently resists the temptation to try to reconcile completely two elevated ways of life that cannot be in every respect reconciled.
The well-known conclusion of the Ethics regarding the superiority of the philosophic life is shaped by a considerably less-appreciated Aristotelian concern for the character and limits of nonphilosophic readers. Although it would be wrong to conclude from an awareness of the rhetorical dimension of his arguments that Aristotle considers those arguments to be false, it would be equally misleading to identify them in an unqualified way with his own view of the subject. The rhetorical presentation of philosophy in the Ethics succeeds in muting, without actually denying, a fundamental tension between philosophy and politics. Careful study of the concluding book of the Ethics provides the reader with an example of the Aristotelian understanding of the art of rhetoric, an art that is used not to obscure the nature of philosophy but rather to reveal substantial, if incomplete, truths about it. If, as Aristotle maintains, Alcidamas's rhetorical claim that philosophy should be considered "a bulwark of the laws" is too exaggerated to be credible (Rh. [Rhetoric] 3.3.1406b5-15), Aristotle's rhetorical art is calculated to win at least a partial acceptance of philosophy on the part of those who are or will be most responsible for directing the affairs of the city.
1 The exceptions concern two of Eudoxus's arguments in support of the view that pleasure is the good. Eudoxus observes that all things seek pleasure and avoid pain and that pleasure is sought as an end in itself. Although Aristotle's subsequent clarification provides an implicit alternative to these arguments, it should also be recalled that Aristotle had himself employed comparable evidence in defense of the view now attributed to Eudoxus. The fact that all beings seek pleasure was cited by Aristotle to support the view that pleasure is the supreme good (7.13.1153b25-32). Similarly, his argument that some pleasures enjoy the status of ends was intended to demonstrate that there need not be anything better than pleasure (7.12.1153a7-1 1). The absence of an explicit critique for these two Eudoxian arguments might prompt attentive students to recall Aristotle's earlier endorsement of these positions.
2 Aristotle later uses the same verb (suzeugnumi) to describe the relationship between prudence and moral virtue (10.8.1178al6-17). Both the dismissal of the question of pleasure (to which we will return) and subsequent argument about prudence and pleasure share the same degree of clarity as his circular exposition of the relationship between prudence and moral virtue in Book VI. Cf. 6.12.1144a20-31 and 6.13.1144b21-24.
3 As we have had occasion to observe, Aristotle considers a similar problem in Book I; namely, that pleasure, especially sensual pleasure, appears to constitute happiness for human beings. In that context, however, he simply disparages this view, maintaining that such a life is equally well suited to cattle (1.5.1095bl4-22; see 2.9.1109b7-12).
4 The morally debilitating effect of the example of the powerful appears to motivate Polus's attack on Socrates in the Gorgias. Polus maintains that everyone, including Socrates, consciously or unconsciously envies the powerful (468e; 470e-71e).
5 Aristotle is elsewhere more forthcoming about the difference between the moral-political and contemplative ways of life. One might recall, for example, his differentiation of three ways of life at the outset of the Ethics (1.5.1095b l4-96a5) or the discussion of prudence and wisdom and the different exemplars supplied for each (see 6.5.1140a24-bl1; 6.7.1141a20-b14). His reference in the Politics to the dispute between those who agree that the most choiceworthy life is accompanied by virtue explicitly acknowledges the magnitude of the controversy that he plays down in the present context (see, esp. Pol. 7.2.1324a25-35).
6 The kinship between excellent practical activity and contemplation is central in Kraut's interpretation of the Ethics. See esp. pp. 58-59, 325.
7 I agree with Germaine Paulo's suggestion that Aristotle's account of contemplative activity in X.7-8 is to some extent a caricature of philosophic activity, although we offer different assessments of both the nature and purpose of this caricature. I disagree with her contention that these arguments are essentially ironic, although Paulo's analysis opens up the interesting possibility that Aristotle's use of rhetoric in the Ethics is also shaped by a concern for his philosophic audience, particularly those influenced by the teachings of Plato. "The Problematic Relation between Practical Virtue and Theoretical Virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics: Integration or Divergence?" Presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, 1994.
8 Although the peak moral virtues of magnificence and magnanimity require an abundance of resources, both material and political, Aristotle includes less splendid and less political versions of these dispositions in his account of moral virtue. Generosity and a nameless virtue regarding honor require only modest resources (see esp., 4.4.1125bl-8). Whereas the former two virtues may prove to be a hindrance to contemplation, this is not clearly the case with respect to the latter.
9 If the preceding section sketches the extent of my agreement with Hardie, Clark, and Kraut, the discussion that follows indicates something of my appreciation for the problems raised by Ackrill and Cooper.
10 Gauthier and Jolif, L E'thique, vol. 2, pp. 843-44. Cf. Burnet, Ethics, pp. 437-38.
11 Some indication of Aristotle's restraint on this point emerges in contrast to Plato's more grating formulation of the problem in the Republic. Socrates likens philosophic activity to dwelling among the Isles of the Blessed, in comparison to which a preoccupation with life in the polis seems to be a kind of madness (Rep. 496a-e).
12 I have been influenced by Nagel's formulation of the competition between theoretical and practical reason although we emphasize different aspects of the contest. "Aristotle on Eudaimonia," pp. 257-58.
Bibliography of Cited Works
References to Aristotle and Plato are to the page and line numbers of the Oxford Classical Text editions.
Ackrill, J. L. "Aristotle on Eudaimonia." In Essays on Aristotle's Ethics, edited by A. Rorty. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
Burnet, John, ed. The Ethics of Aristotle. London: Methuen, 1900.
Clark, Stephen. Aristotle's Man: Speculations Upon Aristotelian Anthropology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.
Cooper, John. "Contemplation and Happiness: A Reconsideration." In Moral Philosophy: Historical and Contemporary Essays, edited by Starr and Taylor. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1989.
——. "Forms of Friendship." Review of Metaphysics 30 (1977): 619-48.
——. Reason and Human Good in Aristotle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975. Reprint, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1986.
Gauthier, Rénée, and Jean Jolif, eds. L'Éthique á Nicomaque. 2 vols. Louvain: Publications Universitaires, 1970.
Hardie, W. F. R. "Aristotle on the Best Life for a Man." Philosophy 54 (1979): 35-50.
——. "Aristotle's Doctrine That Virtue Is a Mean." In Articles on Aristotle. Vol. 2, Ethics and Politics, edited by Barnes, Schofield, and Sorabji. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978.
——. Aristotle's Ethical Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968.
——. "The Final Good in Aristotle's Ethics." Philosophy 40 (1965): 277-95.
——. "Magnanimity in Aristotle's Ethics." Phronesis 23 (1978): 63-79.
Kraut, Richard. Aristotle on the Human Good. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.
Nagel, Thomas. "Aristotle on Eudaimonia." In Essays on Aristotle's Ethics, edited by A. Rorty. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
——. "Aristotle on Eudaimonia." Phronesis 17 (1972): 252-59.
Paulo, Germaine. "The Problematic Relation between Practical Virtue and Theoretical Virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics: Integration or Divergence?" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, 1994.
- Eudemian Ethics
- Magna Moralia
- Nicomachean Ethics
- Posterior Analytics
- Pos. An.