- In his natural philosophy, Aristotle combines logic with observation to make general, causal claims. For example, in his biology, Aristotle uses the concept of species to make empirical claims about the functions and behavior of individual animals. However, as revealed in his psychological works, Aristotle is no reductive materialist.
In Aristotle's terminology, "natural philosophy" is a branch of philosophy examining the phenomena of the natural world, and includes fields that would be regarded today as physics, biology and other natural sciences.
Aristotle was a classical Greek philosopher taught by Plato. He continued the same project of philosophy that Plato was doing, but believed that he was correcting many of Plato’s errors. He wrote on many subjects including science, logic, philosophy, politics and ethics. Aristotle’s life began in 384BC in Stageira, Chalcidice.
- Aristotle’s Life
- The Aristotelian Corpus: Character and Primary Divisions
- Phainomena and The Endoxic Method
- Logic, Science, and Dialectic
- Essentialism and Homonymy
- Category Theory
- The Four Causal Account of Explanatory Adequacy
- Aristotelian Teleology
Born in 384 B.C.E. in the Macedonian region of northeastern Greece in thesmall city of Stagira (whence the moniker ‘the Stagirite’),Aristotle was sent to Athens at about the age of seventeen to study inPlato’s Academy, then a pre-eminent place of learning in theGreek world. Once in Athens, Aristotle remained associated withthe Academy until Plato’s death in 347, at which time he left forAssos, in Asia Minor, on the northwest coast of present-dayTurkey. There he continued the philosophical activity he hadbegun in the Academy, but in all likelihood also began to expand hisresearches into marine biology. He remained at Assos forapproximately three years, when, evidently upon the death of his hostHermeias, a friend and former Academic who had been the ruler of Assos,Aristotle moved to the nearby coastal island of Lesbos. There hecontinued his philosophical and empirical researches for an additionaltwo years, working in conjunction with Theophrastus, a native of Lesboswho was also report...
Aristotle’s writings tend to present formidable difficulties tohis novice readers. To begin, he makes heavy use of unexplainedtechnical terminology, and his sentence structure can at times provefrustrating. Further, on occasion a chapter or even a fulltreatise coming down to us under his name appears haphazardlyorganized, if organized at all; indeed, in several cases, scholarsdispute whether a continuous treatise currently arranged under a singletitle was ever intended by Aristotle to be published in its presentform or was rather stitched together by some later editor employingwhatever principles of organization he deemed suitable.This helps explain whystudents who turn to Aristotle after first being introduced to thesupple and mellifluous prose on display in Plato’s dialoguesoften find the experience frustrating. Aristotle’s proserequires some acclimatization. All the more puzzling, then, is Cicero’s observation that ifPlato’s prose was silver, Aristotle’s was a flowing riverof...
Aristotle’s basic approach to philosophy is best grasped initially byway of contrast. Whereas Descartes seeks to place philosophy andscience on firm foundations by subjecting all knowledge claims to asearing methodological doubt, Aristotle begins with the convictionthat our perceptual and cognitive faculties are basically dependable,that they for the most part put us into direct contact with thefeatures and divisions of our world, and that we need not dally withsceptical postures before engaging in substantive philosophy.Accordingly, he proceeds in all areas of inquiry in the manner of amodern-day natural scientist, who takes it for granted that progressfollows the assiduous application of a well-trained mind and so, whenpresented with a problem, simply goes to work. When he goes to work,Aristotle begins by considering how the world appears, reflecting onthe puzzles those appearances throw up, and reviewing what has beensaid about those puzzles to date. These methods comprise his tw...
Aristotle’s reliance on endoxa takes on a still greatersignificance given the role such opinions play in dialectic,which he regards as an important form of non-scientificreasoning. Dialectic, like science(epistêmê), trades in logical inference; butscience requires premises of a sort beyond the scope of ordinarydialectical reasoning. Whereas science relies upon premises whichare necessary and known to be so, a dialectical discussion can proceedby relying on endoxa, and so can claim only to be as secure asthe endoxaupon which it relies. This is not a problem,suggests Aristotle, since we often reason fruitfully and well incircumstances where we cannot claim to have attained scientificunderstanding. Minimally, however, allreasoning—whether scientific or dialectical—must respectthe canons of logic and inference.
However we arrive at secure principles in philosophy and science,whether by some process leading to a rational grasping of necessarytruths, or by sustained dialectical investigation operating overjudiciously selected endoxa, it does turn out, according toAristotle, that we can uncover and come to know genuinely necessaryfeatures of reality. Such features, suggests Aristotle, are thosecaptured in the essence-specifying definitions used in science (againin the broad sense of epistêmê). Aristotle’s commitment to essentialism runs deep. Herelies upon a host of loosely related locutions when discussing theessences of things, and these give some clue to his generalorientation. Among the locutions one finds rendered asessence in contemporary translations of Aristotle into Englishare: (i) to ti esti (the what it is); (ii) to einai(being); (iii) ousia (being); (iv) hoper esti (preciselywhat something is) and, most importantly, (v) to ti êneinai (the what it was to be) (APo 83a7; Top.141b35;...
In speaking of beings which depend upon substance for their existence,Aristotle implicitly appeals to a foundational philosophical commitmentwhich appears early in his thought and remains stable throughout hisentire philosophical career: his theory of categories. In what isusually regarded as an early work, The Categories, Aristotlerather abruptly announces: Aristotle does little to frame his theory of categories, offering noexplicit derivation of it, nor even specifying overtly what his theoryof categories categorizes. If librarians categorize books andbotanists categorize plants, then what does the philosophical categorytheorist categorize? Aristotle does not say explicitly, but his examples make reasonablyclear that he means to categorize the basic kinds of beings there maybe. If we again take some clues from linguistic data, withoutinferring that the ultimate objects of categorization are themselveslinguistic, we can contrast things said “withcombination”: 1. Man runs. with thin...
Equally central to Aristotle’s thought is his four-causalexplanatory scheme. Judged in terms of its influence, thisdoctrine is surely one of his most significant philosophicalcontributions. Like other philosophers, Aristotle expects theexplanations he seeks in philosophy and science to meet certaincriteria of adequacy. Unlike some other philosophers, however, hetakes care to state his criteria for adequacy explicitly; then, havingdone so, he finds frequent fault with his predecessors for failing tomeet its terms. He states his scheme in a methodological passagein the second book of his Physics: Although some of Aristotle’s illustrations are not immediatelypellucid, his approach to explanation is reasonablystraightforward. Aristotle’s attitude towards explanation is best understoodfirst by considering a simple example he proposes in Physicsii 3. A bronze statue admits of various different dimensions ofexplanation. If we were to confront a statue without firstrecognizing what it was,...
Central to Aristotle’s four-causal account of explanatoryadequacy are the notions of matter (hulê) andform (eidos or morphê). Together, theyconstitute one of his most fundamental philosophical commitments, tohylomorphism: 1. Hylomorphism =dfordinary objects are composites of matter and form. The appeal in this definition to ‘ordinary objects’requires reflection, but as a first approximation, it serves to rely onthe sorts of examples Aristotle himself employs when motivatinghylomorphism: statues and houses, horses and humans. In general,we may focus on artefacts and familiar living beings. Hylomorphism holds that no such object is metaphysically simple, butrather comprises two distinct metaphysical elements, one formal and onematerial. Aristotle’s hylomorphism was formulated originally to handlevarious puzzles about change. Among the endoxaconfronting Aristotle in his Physics are some strikingchallenges to the coherence of the very notion of change, owing to Parmenides and Zeno. Aris...
We may mainly pass over as uncontroversial the suggestion that thereare efficient causes in favor of the most controversial and difficultof Aristotle four causes, the final cause.We should note before doing so, however, that Aristotle’s commitmentto efficient causation does receive a defense in Aristotle’s preferredterminology; he thus does more than many other philosophers who takeit as given that causes of an efficient sort are operative. Partly byway of criticizing Plato’s theory of Forms, which he regards asinadequate because of its inability to account for change andgeneration, Aristotle observes that nothing potential can bring itselfinto actuality without the agency of an actually operative efficientcause. Since what is potential is always in potentiality relative tosome range of actualities, and nothing becomes actual of its ownaccord—no pile of bricks, for instance, spontaneously organizesitself into a house or a wall—an actually operative agent isrequired for every ins...
Once Aristotle has his four-causal explanatory schema fully on thescene, he relies upon it in virtually all of his most advancedphilosophical investigation. As he deploys it in variousframeworks, we find him augmenting and refining the schema even as heapplies it, sometimes with surprising results. One importantquestion concerns how his hylomorphism intersects with the theory ofsubstance advanced in the context of his theory of categories. As we have seen, Aristotle insists upon the primacy of primarysubstance in his Categories. According to that work, however,star instances of primary substance are familiar living beings likeSocrates or an individual horse (Cat. 2a11014). Yet with theadvent of hylomorphism, these primary substances are revealed to bemetaphysical complexes: Socrates is a compound of matter and form. So,now we have not one but three potential candidates for primarysubstance: form, matter, and the compound of matter and form. Thequestion thus arises: which among them...
Apr 12, 2012 · Aristotle, the philosopher of the rationality (city and individuals) Aristotle is one of the most famous Greek philosophers. Aristotle was a pupil of Plato and was first reverent to him then very critical, about Plato’s theory of ideas for example. His own work lies mainly in. Physics, Metaphysics, Ethics, Rhetoric, Poetics.
Aristotle. Contents. Aristotle’s Early Life. Aristotle and the Lyceum. Aristotle’s Works. The Organon. Metaphysics. Rhetoric. Poetics. Aristotle’s Death and ... Aristotle’s Early Life. Aristotle and the Lyceum. Aristotle’s Works. The Organon.
- Philosophy of Nature
- The Soul and Psychology
- Art and Poetics
Aristotle was born in 384 BCE at Stagirus, a now extinct Greek colony and seaport on the coast of Thrace. His father Nichomachus was court physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia, and from this began Aristotle's long association with the Macedonian Court, which considerably influenced his life. While he was still a boy his father died. At age 17 his guardian, Proxenus, sent him to Athens, the intellectual center of the world, to complete his education. He joined the Academy and studied under P...
It is reported that Aristotle's writings were held by his student Theophrastus, who had succeeded Aristotle in leadership of the Peripatetic School. Theophrastus's library passed to his pupil Neleus. To protect the books from theft, Neleus's heirs concealed them in a vault, where they were damaged somewhat by dampness, moths and worms. In this hiding place they were discovered about 100 BCE by Apellicon, a rich book lover, and brought to Athens. They were later taken to Rome after the capture...
Aristotle's writings on the general subject of logic were grouped by the later Peripatetics under the name Organon, or instrument. From their perspective, logic and reasoning was the chief preparatory instrument of scientific investigation. Aristotle himself, however, uses the term \\"logic\\" as equivalent to verbal reasoning. The Categories of Aristotle are classifications of individual words (as opposed to sentences or propositions), and include the following ten: substance, quantity, quality,...
Aristotle's editors gave the name \\"Metaphysics\\" to his works on first philosophy, either because they went beyond or followed after his physical investigations. Aristotle begins by sketching the history of philosophy. For Aristotle, philosophy arose historically after basic necessities were secured. It grew out of a feeling of curiosity and wonder, to which religious myth gave only provisional satisfaction. The earliest speculators (i.e. Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander) were philosophers of n...
Aristotle sees the universe as a scale lying between the two extremes: form without matter is on one end, and matter without form is on the other end. The passage of matter into form must be shown in its various stages in the world of nature. To do this is the object of Aristotle's physics, or philosophy of nature. It is important to keep in mind that the passage from form to matter within nature is a movement towards ends or purposes. Everything in nature has its end and function, and nothin...
Soul is defined by Aristotle as the perfect expression or realization of a natural body. From this definition it follows that there is a close connection between psychological states, and physiological processes. Body and soul are unified in the same way that wax and an impression stamped on it are unified. Metaphysicians before Aristotle discussed the soul abstractly without any regard to the bodily environment; this, Aristotle believes, was a mistake. At the same time, Aristotle regards the...
Ethics, as viewed by Aristotle, is an attempt to find out our chief end or highest good: an end which he maintains is really final. Though many ends of life are only means to further ends, our aspirations and desires must have some final object or pursuit. Such a chief end is universally called happiness. But people mean such different things by the expression that he finds it necessary to discuss the nature of it for himself. For starters, happiness must be based on human nature, and must be...
Aristotle does not regard politics as a separate science from ethics, but as the completion, and almost a verification of it. The moral ideal in political administration is only a different aspect of that which also applies to individual happiness. Humans are by nature social beings, and the possession of rational speech (logos) in itself leads us to social union. The state is a development from the family through the village community, an offshoot of the family. Formed originally for the sat...
Art is defined by Aristotle as the realization in external form of a true idea, and is traced back to that natural love of imitation which characterizes humans, and to the pleasure which we feel in recognizing likenesses. Art however is not limited to mere copying. It idealizes nature and completes its deficiencies: it seeks to grasp the universal type in the individual phenomenon. The distinction therefore between poetic art and history is not that the one uses meter, and the other does not....
Everyone must do philosophy, Aristotle claims, because even arguing against the practice of philosophy is itself a form of philosophizing. The best form of philosophy is the contemplation of the universe of nature; it is for this purpose that God made human beings and gave them a godlike intellect.
Sep 10, 2019 · Aristotle’s work on philosophy influenced ideas from late antiquity all the way through the Renaissance. One of the main focuses of Aristotle’s philosophy was his systematic concept of logic....
- 3 min
Philosophy of mind Aristotle regarded psychology as a part of natural philosophy, and he wrote much about the philosophy of mind. This material appears in his ethical writings, in a systematic treatise on the nature of the soul (De anima), and in a number of minor monographs on topics such as sense-perception, memory, sleep, and dreams.
Aristotle conceives of ethical theory as a field distinct from the theoretical sciences. Its methodology must match its subject mattergood actionand must respect the fact that in this field many generalizations hold only for the most part. We study ethics in order to improve our lives, and therefore its principal concern is the nature of human well-being. Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be central to a well-lived life. Like Plato, he regards the ethical virtues (justice, courage, temperance and so on) as complex rational, emotional and social skills. But he rejects Plato's idea that to be completely virtuous one must acquire, through a training in the sciences, mathematics, and philosophy, an understanding of what goodness is. What we need, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such goods as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and wealth fit together as a whole. In order to apply that general understanding to particular cases, we must acquire, through proper upbringing and habits, the ability to see, on each occasion, which course of action is best supported by reasons. Therefore practical wisdom, as he conceives it, cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules. We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion. The principal idea with which Aristotle begins is that there are differences of opinion about what is best for human beings, and that to profit from ethical inquiry we must resolve this disagreement. He insists that ethics is not a theoretical discipline: we are asking what the good for human beings is not simply because we want to have knowledge, but because we will be better able to achieve our good if we develop a fuller understanding of what it is to flourish. In raising this questionwhat is the good?Aristotle is not looking for a list of items that are good. He assumes that such a list can be compiled rather easily; most would agree, for example, that it is good to have friends, to experience pleasure, to be healthy, to be honored, and to have such virtues as courage at least to some degree. The difficult and controversial question arises when we ask whether certain of these goods are more desirable than others. Aristotle's search for the good is a search for the highest good, and he assumes that the highest good, whatever it turns out to be, has three characteristics: it is desirable for itself, it is not desirable for the sake of some other good, and all other goods are desirable for its sake. No one tries to live well for the sake of some further goal; rather, being eudaimon is the highest end, and all subordinate goalshealth, wealth, and other such resourcesare sought because they promote well-being, not because they are what well-being consists in. But unless we can determine which good or goods happiness consists in, it is of little use to acknowledge that it is the highest end. To resolve this issue, Aristotle asks what the ergon (function, task, work) of a human being is, and argues that it consists in activity of the rational part of the soul in accordance with virtue (1097b221098a20). One important component of this argument is expressed in terms of distinctions he makes in his psychological and biological works. The soul is analyzed into a connected series of capacities: the nutritive soul is responsible for growth and reproduction, the locomotive soul for motion, the perceptive soul for perception, and so on. The biological fact Aristotle makes use of is that human beings are the only species that has not only these lower capacities but a rational soul as well. The good of a human being must have something to do with being human; and what sets humanity off from other species, giving us the potential to live a better life, is our capacity to guide ourselves by using reason. If we use reason well, we live well as human beings; or, to be more precise, using reason well over the course of a full life is what happiness consists in. Doing anything well requires virtue or excellence, and therefore living well consists in activities caused by the rational soul in accordance with virtue or excellence. Aristotle's conclusion about the nature of happiness is in a sense uniquely his own. No other writer or thinker had said precisely what he says about what it is to live well. But at the same time his view is not too distant from a common idea. As he himself points out, one traditional conception of happiness identifies it with virtue (1098b301). Aristotle's theory should be construed as a refinement of this position. He says, not that happiness is virtue, but that it is virtuous activity. Living well consists in doing something, not just being in a certain state or condition. It consists in those lifelong activities that actualize the virtues of the rational part of the soul. At the same time, Aristotle makes it clear that in order to be happy one must possess others goods as wellsuch goods as friends, wealth, and power. And one's happiness is endangered if one is severely lacking in certain advantagesif, for example, one is extremely ugly, or has lost children or good friends through death (1099a31b6). But why so? If one's ultimate end should simply be virtuous activity, then why should it make any difference to one's happiness whether one has or lacks these other types of good? Aristotle's reply is that one's virtuous activity will be to some extent diminished or defective, if one lacks an adequate supply of other goods (1153b1719). Someone who is friendless, childless, powerless, weak, and ugly will simply not be able to find many opportunities for virtuous activity over a long period of time, and what little he can accomplish will not be of great merit. To some extent, then, living well requires good fortune; happenstance can rob even the most excellent human beings of happiness. Nonetheless, Aristotle insists, the highest good, virtuous activity, is not something that comes to us by chance. Although we must be fortunate enough to have parents and fellow citizens who help us become virtuous, we ourselves share much of the responsibility for acquiring and exercising the virtues. But perhaps Aristotle disagrees, and refuses to accept this argumentative burden. In one of several important methodological remarks he makes near the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, he says that in order to profit from the sort of study he is undertaking, one must already have been brought up in good habits (1095b46). The audience he is addressing, in other words, consists of people who are already just, courageous, and generous; or, at any rate, they are well on their way to possessing these virtues. Why such a restricted audience? Why does he not address those who have serious doubts about the value of these traditional qualities, and who therefore have not yet decided to cultivate and embrace them? In any case, Aristotle's assertion that his audience must already have begun to cultivate the virtues need not be taken to mean that no reasons can be found for being courageous, just, and generous. His point, rather, may be that in ethics, as in any other study, we cannot make progress towards understanding why things are as they are unless we begin with certain assumptions about what is the case. Neither theoretical nor practical inquiry starts from scratch. Someone who has made no observations of astronomical or biological phenomena is not yet equipped with sufficient data to develop an understanding of these sciences. The parallel point in ethics is that to make progress in this sphere we must already have come to enjoy doing what is just, courageous, generous and the like. We must experience these activities not as burdensome constraints, but as noble, worthwhile, and enjoyable in themselves. Then, when we engage in ethical inquiry, we can ask what it is about these activities that makes them worthwhile. We can also compare these goods with other things that are desirable in themselvespleasure, friendship, honor, and so onand ask whether any of them is more desirable than the others. We approach ethical theory with a disorganized bundle of likes and dislikes based on habit and experience; such disorder is an inevitable feature of childhood. But what is not inevitable is that our early experience will be rich enough to provide an adequate basis for worthwhile ethical reflection; that is why we need to have been brought up well. Yet such an upbringing can take us only so far. We seek a deeper understanding of the objects of our childhood enthusiasms, and we must systematize our goals so that as adults we have a coherent plan of life. We need to engage in ethical theory, and to reason well in this field, if we are to move beyond the low-grade form of virtue we acquired as children. Read in this way, Aristotle is engaged in a project similar in some respects to the one Plato carried out in the Republic. One of Plato's central points is that it is a great advantage to establish a hierarchical ordering of the elements in one's soul; and he shows how the traditional virtues can be interpreted to foster or express the proper relation between reason and less rational elements of the psyche. Aristotle's approach is similar: his function argument shows in a general way that our good lies in the dominance of reason, and the detailed studies of the particular virtues reveal how each of them involves the right kind of ordering of the soul. Aristotle's goal is to arrive at conclusions like Plato's, but without relying on the Platonic metaphysics that plays a central role in the argument of the Republic. He rejects the existence of Plato's forms in general and the form of the good in particular; and he rejects the idea that in order to become fully virtuous one must study mathematics and the sciences, and see all branches of knowledge as a unified whole. Even though Aristotle's ethical theory sometimes relies on philosophical distinctions that are more fully developed in his other works, he never proposes that students of ethics need to engage in a specialized study of the natural world, or mathematics, or eternal and changing objects. His project is to make ethics an autonomous field, and to show why a full understanding of what is good does not require expertise in any other field. It should be noticed that all three of these deficienciescontinence, incontinence, viceinvolve some lack of internal harmony. (Here Aristotle's debt to Plato is particularly evident, for one of the central ideas of the Republic is that the life of a good person is harmonious, and all other lives deviate to some degree from this ideal.) The evil person may wholeheartedly endorse some evil plan of action at a particular moment, but over the course of time, Aristotle supposes, he will regret his decision, because whatever he does will prove inadequate for the achievement of his goals (1166b529). Aristotle assumes that when someone systematically makes bad decisions about how to live his life, his failures are caused by psychological forces that are less than fully rational. His desires for pleasure, power or some other external goal have become so strong that they make him care too little or not at all about acting ethically. To keep such destructive inner forces at bay, we need to develop the proper habits and emotional responses when we are children, and to reflect intelligently on our aims when we are adults. But some vulnerability to these disruptive forces is present even in more-or-less virtuous people; that is why even a good political community needs laws and the threat of punishment. Clear thinking about the best goals of human life and the proper way to put them into practice is a rare achievement, because the human psyche is not a hospitable environment for the development of these insights. Aristotle describes ethical virtue as a hexis (state condition disposition)a tendency or disposition, induced by our habits, to have appropriate feelings (1105b256). Defective states of character are hexeis (plural of hexis) as well, but they are tendencies to have inappropriate feelings. The significance of Aristotle's characterization of these states as hexeis is his decisive rejection of the thesis, found throughout Plato's early dialogues, that virtue is nothing but a kind of knowledge and vice nothing but a lack of knowledge. Although Aristotle frequently draws analogies between the crafts and the virtues (and similarly between physical health and eudaimonia), he insists that the virtues differ from the crafts and all branches of knowledge in that the former involve appropriate emotional responses and are not purely intellectual conditions. He often says, in the course of his discussion, that when the good person chooses to act virtuously, he does so for the sake of the kalona word that can mean beautiful, noble, or fine (see for example 1120a234). This term indicates that Aristotle sees in ethical activity an attraction that is comparable to the beauty of well-crafted artifacts, including such artifacts as poetry, music, and drama. He draws this analogy in his discussion of the mean, when he says that every craft tries to produce a work from which nothing should be taken away and to which nothing further should be added (1106b514). A craft product, when well designed and produced by a good craftsman, is not merely useful, but also has such elements as balance, proportion and harmonyfor these are properties that help make it useful. Similarly, Aristotle holds that a well-executed project that expresses the ethical virtues will not merely be advantageous but kalon as wellfor the balance it strikes is part of what makes it advantageous. The young person learning to acquire the virtues must develop a love of doing what is kalon and a strong aversion to its oppositethe aischron, the shameful and ugly. Determining what is kalon is difficult (1106b2833, 1109a2430), and the normal human aversion to embracing difficulties helps account for the scarcity of virtue (1104b1011). It should be clear that neither the thesis that virtues lie between extremes nor the thesis that the good person aims at what is intermediate is intended as a procedure for making decisions. These doctrines of the mean help show what is attractive about the virtues, and they also help systematize our understanding of which qualities are virtues. Once we see that temperance, courage, and other generally recognized characteristics are mean states, we are in a position to generalize and to identify other mean states as virtues, even though they are not qualities for which we have a name. Aristotle remarks, for example, that the mean state with respect to anger has no name in Greek (1125b267). Though he is guided to some degree by distinctions captured by ordinary terms, his methodology allows him to recognize states for which no names exist. So far from offering a decision procedure, Aristotle insists that this is something that no ethical theory can do. His theory elucidates the nature of virtue, but what must be done on any particular occasion by a virtuous agent depends on the circumstances, and these vary so much from one occasion to another that there is no possibility of stating a series of rules, however complicated, that collectively solve every practical problem. This feature of ethical theory is not unique; Aristotle thinks it applies to many crafts, such as medicine and navigation (1104a710). He says that the virtuous person sees the truth in each case, being as it were a standard and measure of them (1113a323); but this appeal to the good person's vision should not be taken to mean that he has an inarticulate and incommunicable insight into the truth. Aristotle thinks of the good person as someone who is good at deliberation, and he describes deliberation as a process of rational inquiry. The intermediate point that the good person tries to find is Aristotle replies: Virtue makes the goal right, practical wisdom the things leading to it (1144a78). By this he cannot mean that there is no room for reasoning about our ultimate end. For as we have seen, he gives a reasoned defense of his conception of happiness as virtuous activity. What he must have in mind, when he says that virtue makes the goal right, is that deliberation typically proceeds from a goal that is far more specific than the goal of attaining happiness by acting virtuously. To be sure, there may be occasions when a good person approaches an ethical problem by beginning with the premise that happiness consists in virtuous activity. But more often what happens is that a concrete goal presents itself as his starting pointhelping a friend in need, or supporting a worthwhile civic project. Which specific project we set for ourselves is determined by our character. A good person starts from worthwhile concrete ends because his habits and emotional orientation have given him the ability to recognize that such goals are within reach, here and now. Those who are defective in character may have the rational skill needed to achieve their endsthe skill Aristotle calls cleverness (1144a238)but often the ends they seek are worthless. The cause of this deficiency lies not in some impairment in their capacity to reasonfor we are assuming that they are normal in this respectbut in the training of their passions. The two kinds of passions that Aristotle focuses on, in his treatment of akrasia, are the appetite for pleasure and anger. Either can lead to impetuosity and weakness. But Aristotle gives pride of place to the appetite for pleasure as the passion that undermines reason. He calls the kind of akrasia caused by an appetite for pleasure unqualified akrasiaor, as we might say, akrasia full stop; akrasia caused by anger he considers a qualified form of akrasia and calls it akrasia with respect to anger. We thus have these four forms of akrasia: (A) impetuosity caused by pleasure, (B) impetuosity caused by anger, (C) weakness caused by pleasure (D) weakness caused by anger. It should be noticed that Aristotle's treatment of akrasia is heavily influenced by Plato's tripartite division of the soul in the Republic. Plato holds that either the spirited part (which houses anger, as well as other emotions) or the appetitive part (which houses the desire for physical pleasures) can disrupt the dictates of reason and result in action contrary to reason. The same threefold division of the soul can be seen in Aristotle's approach to this topic. Although Aristotle characterizes akrasia and enkrateia in terms of a conflict between reason and feeling, his detailed analysis of these states of mind shows that what takes place is best described in a more complicated way. For the feeling that undermines reason contains some thought, which may be implicitly general. As Aristotle says, anger reasoning as it were that one must fight against such a thing, is immediately provoked (1149a334). And although in the next sentence he denies that our appetite for pleasure works in this way, he earlier had said that there can be a syllogism that favors pursuing enjoyment: Everything sweet is pleasant, and this is sweet leads to the pursuit of a particular pleasure (1147a3130). Perhaps what he has in mind is that pleasure can operate in either way: it can prompt action unmediated by a general premise, or it can prompt us to act on such a syllogism. By contrast, anger always moves us by presenting itself as a bit of general, although hasty, reasoning. But of course Aristotle does not mean that a conflicted person has more than one faculty of reason. Rather his idea seems to be that in addition to our full-fledged reasoning capacity, we also have psychological mechanisms that are capable of a limited range of reasoning. When feeling conflicts with reason, what occurs is better described as a fight between feeling-allied-with-limited-reasoning and full-fledged reason. Part of usreasoncan remove itself from the distorting influence of feeling and consider all relevant factors, positive and negative. But another part of usfeeling or emotionhas a more limited field of reasoningand sometimes it does not even make use of it.
Aristotle wrote two ethical treatises: the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics. He does not himself use either of these titles, although in the Politics (1295a36) he refers back to one of themprobably the Eudemian Ethicsas ta êthikahis writings about character. The words Eudemian and Nicomachean were added later, perhaps because the former was edited by his friend, Eudemus, and the latter by his son, Nicomachus. In any case, these two works cover more or less the same ground: they begin with a discussion of eudaimonia (happiness, flourishing), and turn to an examination of the nature of aretê (virtue, excellence) and the character traits that human beings need in order to live life at its best. Both treatises examine the conditions in which praise or blame are appropriate, and the nature of pleasure and friendship; near the end of each work, we find a brief discussion of the proper relationship between human beings and the divine.
Though the general point of view expressed in each work is the same, there are many subtle differences in organization and content as well. Clearly, one is a re-working of the other, and although no single piece of evidence shows conclusively what their order is, it is widely assumed that the Nicomachean Ethics is a later and improved version of the Eudemian Ethics. (Not all of the Eudemian Ethics was revised: its Books IV, V, and VI re-appear as V, VI, VII of the Nicomachean Ethics.) Perhaps the most telling indication of this ordering is that in several instances the Nicomachean Ethics develops a theme about which its Eudemian cousin is silent. Only the Nicomachean Ethics discusses the close relationship between ethical inquiry and politics; only the Nicomachean Ethics critically examines Solon's paradoxical dictum that no man should be counted happy until he is dead; and only the Nicomachean Ethics gives a series of arguments for the superiority of the philosophical life to the political life. The remainder of this article will therefore focus on this work. [Note: Page and line numbers shall henceforth refer to this treatise.]
Although Aristotle is deeply indebted to Plato's moral philosophy, particularly Plato's central insight that moral thinking must be integrated with our emotions and appetites, and that the preparation for such unity of character should begin with childhood education, the systematic character of Aristotle's discussion of these themes was a remarkable innovation. No one had written ethical treatises before Aristotle. Plato's Republic, for example, does not treat ethics as a distinct subject matter; nor does it offer a systematic examination of the nature of happiness, virtue, voluntariness, pleasure, or friendship. To be sure, we can find in Plato's works important discussions of these phenomena, but they are not brought together and unified as they are in Aristotle's ethical writings.
Aristotle thinks everyone will agree that the terms eudaimonia (happiness) and eu zên (living well) designate such an end. The Greek term eudaimon is composed of two parts: eu means well and daimon means divinity or spirit. To be eudaimon is therefore to be living in a way that is well-favored by a god. But Aristotle never calls attention to this etymology in his ethical writings, and it seems to have little influence on his thinking. He regards eudaimon as a mere substitute for eu zên (living well). These terms play an evaluative role, and are not simply descriptions of someone's state of mind.
Addressing the moral skeptic, after all, is the project Plato undertook in the Republic: in Book I he rehearses an argument to show that justice is not really a virtue, and the remainder of this work is an attempt to rebut this thesis. Aristotle's project seems, at least on the surface, to be quite different. He does not appear to be addressing someone who has genuine doubts about the value of justice or kindred qualities. Perhaps, then, he realizes how little can be accomplished, in the study of ethics, to provide it with a rational foundation. Perhaps he thinks that no reason can be given for being just, generous, and courageous. These are qualities one learns to love when one is a child, and having been properly habituated, one no longer looks for or needs a reason to exercise them. One can show, as a general point, that happiness consists in exercising some skills or other, but that the moral skills of a virtuous person are what one needs is not a proposition that can be established on the basis of argument. This is not the only way of reading the Ethics, however. For surely we cannot expect Aristotle to show what it is about the traditional virtues that makes them so worthwhile until he has fully discussed the nature of those virtues. He himself warns us that his initial statement of what happiness is should be treated as a rough outline whose details are to be filled in later (1098a2022). His intention in Book I of the Ethics is to indicate in a general way why the virtues are important; why particular virtuescourage, justice, and the likeare components of happiness is something we should be able to better understand only at a later point. We have seen that the decisions of a practically wise person are not mere intuitions, but can be justified by a chain of reasoning. (This is why Aristotle often talks in term of a practical syllogism, with a major premise that identifies some good to be achieved, and a minor premise that locates the good in some present-to-hand situation.) At the same time, he is acutely aware of the fact that reasoning can always be traced back to a starting point that is not itself justified by further reasoning. Neither good theoretical reasoning nor good practical reasoning moves in a circle; true thinking always presupposes and progresses in linear fashion from proper starting points. And that leads him to ask for an account of how the proper starting points of reasoning are to be determined. Practical reasoning always presupposes that one has some end, some goal one is trying to achieve; and the task of reasoning is to determine how that goal is to be accomplished. (This need not be means-end reasoning in the conventional sense; if, for example, our goal is the just resolution of a conflict, we must determine what constitutes justice in these particular circumstances. Here we are engaged in ethical inquiry, and are not asking a purely instrumental question.) But if practical reasoning is correct only if it begins from a correct premise, what is it that insures the correctness of its starting point? It is important to bear in mind that when Aristotle talks about impetuosity and weakness, he is discussing chronic conditions. The impetuous person is someone who acts emotionally and fails to deliberate not just once or twice but with some frequency; he makes this error more than most people do. Because of this pattern in his actions, we would be justified in saying of the impetuous person that had his passions not prevented him from doing so, he would have deliberated and chosen an action different from the one he did perform.
Aristotle places those who suffer from such internal disorders into one of three categories: (A) Some agents, having reached a decision about what to do on a particular occasion, experience some counter-pressure brought on by an appetite for pleasure, or anger, or some other emotion; and this countervailing influence is not completely under the control of reason. (1) Within this category, some are typically better able to resist these counter-rational pressures than is the average person. Such people are not virtuous, although they generally do what a virtuous person does. Aristotle calls them continent (enkratês). But (2) others are less successful than the average person in resisting these counter-pressures. They are incontinent (akratês). (The explanation of akrasia is a topic to which we will return in section 7.) In addition, (B) there is a type of agent who refuses even to try to do what an ethically virtuous agent would do, because he has become convinced that justice, temperance, generosity and the like are of little or no value. Such people Aristotle calls evil (kakos, phaulos). He assumes that evil people are driven by desires for domination and luxury, and although they are single-minded in their pursuit of these goals, he portrays them as deeply divided, because their pleonexiatheir desire for more and moreleaves them dissatisfied and full of self-hatred.
Furthermore, every ethical virtue is a condition intermediate (a golden mean as it is popularly known) between two other states, one involving excess, and the other deficiency (1106a26b28). In this respect, Aristotle says, the virtues are no different from technical skills: every skilled worker knows how to avoid excess and deficiency, and is in a condition intermediate between two extremes. The courageous person, for example, judges that some dangers are worth facing and others not, and experiences fear to a degree that is appropriate to his circumstances. He lies between the coward, who flees every danger and experiences excessive fear, and the rash person, who judges every danger worth facing and experiences little or no fear. Aristotle holds that this same topography applies to every ethical virtue: all are located on a map that places the virtues between states of excess and deficiency. He is careful to add, however, that the mean is to be determined in a way that takes into account the particular circumstances of the individual (1106a36b7). The arithmetic mean between 10 and 2 is 6, and this is so invariably, whatever is being counted. But the intermediate point that is chosen by an expert in any of the crafts will vary from one situation to another. There is no universal rule, for example, about how much food an athlete should eat, and it would be absurd to infer from the fact that 10 lbs. is too much and 2 lbs. too little for me that I should eat 6 lbs. Finding the mean in any given situation is not a mechanical or thoughtless procedure, but requires a full and detailed acquaintance with the circumstances.
A defense of Aristotle would have to say that the virtuous person does after all aim at a mean, if we allow for a broad enough notion of what sort of aiming is involved. For example, consider a juror who must determine whether a defendant is guilty as charged. He does not have before his mind a quantitative question; he is trying to decide whether the accused committed the crime, and is not looking for some quantity of action intermediate between extremes. Nonetheless, an excellent juror can be described as someone who, in trying to arrive at the correct decision, seeks to express the right degree of concern for all relevant considerations. He searches for the verdict that results from a deliberative process that is neither overly credulous nor unduly skeptical. Similarly, in facing situations that arouse anger, a virtuous agent must determine what action (if any) to take in response to an insult, and although this is not itself a quantitative question, his attempt to answer it properly requires him to have the right degree of concern for his standing as a member of the community. He aims at a mean in the sense that he looks for a response that avoids too much or too little attention to factors that must be taken into account in making a wise decision. Perhaps a greater difficulty can be raised if we ask how Aristotle determines which emotions are governed by the doctrine of the mean. Consider someone who loves to wrestle, for example. Is this passion something that must be felt by every human being at appropriate times and to the right degree? Surely someone who never felt this emotion to any degree could still live a perfectly happy life. Why then should we not say the same about at least some of the emotions that Aristotle builds into his analysis of the ethically virtuous agent? Why should we experience anger at all, or fear, or the degree of concern for wealth and honor that Aristotle commends? These are precisely the questions that were asked in antiquity by the Stoics, and they came to the conclusion that such common emotions as anger and fear are always inappropriate. Aristotle assumes, on the contrary, not simply that these common passions are sometimes appropriate, but that it is essential that every human being learn how to master them and experience them in the right way at the right times. A defense of his position would have to show that the emotions that figure in his account of the virtues are valuable components of any well-lived human life, when they are experienced properly. Perhaps such a project could be carried out, but Aristotle himself does not attempt to do so.
Since Aristotle often calls attention to the imprecision of ethical theory (see e.g. 1104a17), it comes as a surprise to many readers of the Ethics that he begins Book VI with the admission that his earlier statements about the mean need supplementation because they are not yet clear (saphes). In every practical discipline, the expert aims at a mark and uses right reason to avoid the twin extremes of excess and deficiency. But what is this right reason, and by what standard (horos) is it to be determined? Aristotle says that unless we answer that question, we will be none the wiserjust as a student of medicine will have failed to master his subject if he can only say that the right medicines to administer are the ones that are prescribed by medical expertise, but has no standard other than this (1138b1834).
This enables us to see how Aristotle's treatment of the intellectual virtues does give greater content and precision to the doctrine of the mean. The best standard is the one adopted by the philosopher; the second-best is the one adopted by the political leader. In either case, it is the exercise of an intellectual virtue that provides a guideline for making important quantitative decisions. This supplement to the doctrine of the mean is fully compatible with Aristotle's thesis that no set of rules, no matter how long and detailed, obviates the need for deliberative and ethical virtue. If one chooses the life of a philosopher, one should keep the level of one's resources high enough to secure the leisure necessary for such a life, but not so high that one's external equipment becomes a burden and a distraction rather than an aid to living well. That gives one a firmer idea of how to hit the mean, but it still leaves the details to be worked out. The philosopher will need to determine, in particular situations, where justice lies, how to spend wisely, when to meet or avoid a danger, and so on. All of the normal difficulties of ethical life remain, and they can be solved only by means of a detailed understanding of the particulars of each situation. Having philosophy as one's ultimate aim does not put an end to the need for developing and exercising practical wisdom and the ethical virtues.
In VII.110 Aristotle investigates character traitscontinence and incontinencethat are not as blameworthy as the vices but not as praiseworthy as the virtues. (We began our discussion of these qualities in section 4.) The Greek terms are akrasia (incontinence; literally: lack of mastery) and enkrateia (continence; literally mastery). An akratic person goes against reason as a result of some pathos (emotion, feeling). Like the akratic, an enkratic person experiences a feeling that is contrary to reason; but unlike the akratic, he acts in accordance with reason. His defect consists solely in the fact that, more than most people, he experiences passions that conflict with his rational choice. The akratic person has not only this defect, but has the further flaw that he gives in to feeling rather than reason more often than the average person.
- related to: aristotle philosophy
amazon.com has been visited by 1M+ users in the past month