Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics Books

March 8, 2022
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Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics Books

Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics Books

We started this class by looking at the example of Rosa Parks. In that first lecture, I asked a number of questions about her particular case that I hoped to provide answers to as we went through Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Now that we are working on Aristotle, I would like you to apply the materials from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Books One and Two to a real-world example.

To do this, you will need to focus on an example of a virtuous person who made sacrifices and perhaps even suffered for their virtue. Rosa Parks is a good example. You aren’t writing a biography, and so you only need to include particular facts when they are relevant to the philosophical points you are trying to make.

Using your example, explain how we the person in question can be seen as an example of Aristotle’s claims about the relation between virtue, “function,” and happiness. What would Aristotle say is most important when assessing their virtue and why? Moreover, how would Aristotle defend the claim that your chosen example attained the best chance of personal happiness even though they may have suffered imprisonment, loss of life, or great personal sacrifice?

Hello. We are now in week nine. We’re starting Aristotle. We’re going to do it for the last two weeks, which isn’t a ton of time, but I think it’s going to be sufficient to give you a broad overview of how Aristotle views ethics and in particular, what’s distinctive about his approach to ethics, but also to philosophy. Aristotle, someone will see who’s very interested in method. How do you do philosophy and why? So let’s get right to it. So the first bit here, the first part of this lecture, I call it understanding happiness, ends and goods. As you will see, as we will see when we go through this. The Nicomachean Ethics is a book about what is translated as happiness. Okay? The Greek word which we’ll see later is eudaimonia, translated happiness. I think you can’t go wrong if you imagine human flourishing as what’s at issue when we think of happiness. So the first bit, understanding happiness. This book is in a sense a book about that. And part one, end and good. So here is the very first sentence of this work, the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle says, every end and every inquiry and likewise every action and decision seems to seek some good. That is why some people were right to describe the good as what everything Sikhs. But the ends appear to differ. Summer activities and others are products apart from the activities. Wherever their ends apart from the actions, the products are by nature better than the activities. Okay, So we get already a major departure from the style that we saw in Plato course, the dialogue style. Also though, there is a certain poetry to Plato’s style that you will see is completely absent from Aristotle. We just get a fairly straightforward discussion of how things are. And Aristotle in particular is very interested in what we might call taxonomy. Figuring out a domain by drawing distinctions within it. Okay, so here he’s making some claims. His claims are about what he calls every end and every inquiry, every action and decision. He’s telling us something about everything that we do. So what’s he telling us? Well, first of all, the difficulty of this claim, which is a difficulty that I think often happens. Philosophy, is that we’re getting a very, very abstract claim here. It’s very general. And it’s abstract. That’s not always a problem. Sometimes things are trapped because we’re trying to be general. And this is, I think certainly the case here. So Aristotle seems to be making a general claim that he thinks covers every single thing that we do. We human beings do. Whether it’s intellectual, technical, moral, or political. I mention those things because if you look, we have inquiry, action, decision. These all look like words related to those things, right? Intellectual, we get inquiry. So every time we ask a question, we try to figure something out. We’re trying to seek something that we view as good. Maybe we want knowledge. That’s why we want to figure it out. Maybe we want to figure it out because we think that figuring it out will help us improve our lives. Maybe we want to figure it out because we think we can make money that way. Okay? These are all reasons why we might engage in inquiry. We might want to find a cure for something. There’s all kinds of reasons. Engage in inquiry. Every action, everything we do with our bodies essentially. I walked to the fridge and get a glass of water. Why do I do that? Because I’m thirsty and I believe that having water might be good for me. I might also believe it will help me to alleviate suffering if I’m very thirsty, I might believe it will give me pleasure. If I’m very thirsty. Every moral action. Do seems to seek some good. That’s certainly true. By definition. If we think as a consequentialist does, that moral actions are just by definition, actions that produce the best consequences, right? Because that is just a fancy way of saying they produce the most good. But Aristotle, as we’ll see, also means this in another way. He also wants to say that every moral decision we make actually is made because it’s good for us. It’s a way for us to flourish or be happy as human beings. Political, we will see here I’ve put that in for a reason. Because as we will see very soon in this lecture, Aristotle thinks of what he’s doing in this inquiry as simultaneously moral and political. Everything that he’s saying here, when he’s talking about human happiness or human flourishing is something that a politician can use on a community to improve the happiness of a community. It’s also something that an individual can use to improve their own life. Question, what Aristotle? Same here? And secondly, is it true? It depends on how we understand it, right? I’m just saying here are these two kingdoms are connected, right? Obviously. So question is the idea that everything we do, every line of inquiry we pursue, and every decision we make has at least something good about it. That’s one way to understand this. So you could think of counter-examples in cases like this. But even that, I think there’s something to be said for this claim, for it being true. All right, so someone might say, well, what about a bully? A bully does something and there’s nothing good about what a bully does. And if you wanted to defend this thesis, you could say, look, I understand that overall the bullies action is bad, certainly bad for the individuals bullied, and maybe even for the bully themselves. But at very least, the bully perhaps derives pleasure from the bullying. This isn’t to say that this is a good way to derive pleasure. Or to say that the fact that the bully derives pleasure from the Act makes it All things considered a good thing to do, right? It can be a horrible thing to do. But insofar as anyone chooses, there has to be something to be said for it. This could be the claim that Aristotle’s make, making, right? So anything anyone does, there’s something to be said for it, even if ultimately it’s a horrible decision. Or another question is the idea that even though some of our actions and decisions might have nothing good about them, they at least appear good to the individual who choose system. This would be a slightly different claim. It would be putting the emphasis on the word seek. Aristotle says, seems to seek some good. Alright, so we’re always looking for some good example. A man fighting for racial segregation is doing nothing good. But at least in their own mind, they are, when they think they’re doing good. So perhaps the claim is about what we believe whenever we do anything. I think ultimately we will see that Aristotle holds a position that really incorporates to some extent both of these points. We won’t have a chance to talk about what Aristotle says about pleasure. But for those of you who are doing the Aristotle class with me now or who have done Aristotle and I’ve done this. You will recall that Aristotle does think that to the extent that an action is pleasant, it is to that same extent, something that he says he’s choice worthy. Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics BooksWhich isn’t of course to say that you should choose it in the circumstances. Because it might be that given all of the relevant circumstances, what you have most reason to do is choose something else. All right, so let’s say I decide to engage in really self-destructive behavior because I’m angry. And at very least what I do makes me feel better for 30 seconds. Now, overall, that was a horrible thing for me to do. An overall, it was a horrible thing for me to do it because it has brought far more that into my life and good. What Aristotle seems to believe is that insofar as at least I felt a bit of pleasure, that part of it was good. Everything else was. So Aristotle I think, is committed to some version of the first-class. The second claim aristotle also is committed to. He’s committed to the idea that we typically do when things are going correctly. What we think rationally considered is the best thing for us to do. There were also cases though, where we act against our better judgment. Those are cases where we in fact act against what we think is good. This is exactly like Plato. One of the things to say right at the outset is that aristotle inherits from Plato the idea of a tripartite soul. So Aristotle soul also has reason, spirit, and appetite. And they have roughly the same functions in Aristotle’s picture. So along with that comes the possibility of OCR Xia of acting against our better judgment in such cases. We do exactly what we don’t think is good. Even then, no, Aristotle will end up saying that we choose those actions because they give us pleasure. And so there is an explanation of the action that appeals to something good about it that would explain why we have chosen it. Okay. We could have further questions about this claim. What about actions from spite? If you do something just to spite someone else, harmful to you, but you’ve made someone else feel worse. Again, we could say this isn’t a great thing to do. But maybe to the extent that you get enjoyment from that, to that extent there’s something to be said for your action. Actions under coercion or duress. Meaning, what if we act in circumstances where someone is say, you know, threatening us, if you don’t give me your wallet, I’m going to hurt you even there, right? We can see how this claim can make sense, right? And Aristotle, we’ll talk about this. We won’t get a chance to look at it. But in Book 3, Aristotle talks about this quite a bit. And his position there is going to be that in fact, even in those circumstances, we choose, in most cases, the thing that we think is best. So, you know, we don’t want to give the money to the person trying to Mongos. But it’s at least the best thing to do in the circumstances, right? The best available option is not to be hurt. And so to that extent I am doing something I think of as good. We can also think of whims, right? There are times when people just do things. Say I did it on a whim, I didn’t really have a reason. Those things are harder to deal with. But of course, we might just want to do something spontaneous and we can think that spontaneity as good. Alright, so there’s different ways to understand this. On another understanding of this claim though, I think that it is so uncontroversial that it in fact functions as a kind of constraint on what it is that we’re doing when we understand anyone else’s behavior as rational. So what is rational behavior? Rational behavior is something that we do for a reason. So I say in the second bullet point here, what’s the difference between your intentionally stepping on my foot and accidentally doing it? What’s the difference between an R movement caused by a decision? I’ve decided to move my arm and one caused by a reflex or a nervous tic. While a plausible suggestion that lots of people make is that the rational intentional behaviours, the things I did on purpose, are in some sense caused by the thought that this particular behavior is good in some way. And I don’t need to have explicitly in my mind, I kind of thought bubble that says this is good. But if I’m acting intentionally, meaning I know what I’m doing and I’m doing it on purpose. We do tend to think that that is what it is that’s going on, right? So arguably, what allows us to figure out when someone has merely moves their body, say because of a reflex or a nervous tic. Vs. Have they actually made a decision or are they doing this on purpose? Is that the person in the case of intentional action had a thought. And the thought is of the kind. This is good to do. Okay? So you could think that this in fact serves as a constraint on our understanding of whether or not someone has done something as an expression of their intentional or rational capacities for action. If someone has move their body. And we want to figure out whether what they did reflects their use of their rational capacities in some way or another. One question to ask, of course, is, did they do it on purpose? Well, what is on purpose means, it means did they do it because they thought there was something good about their action. Okay, so I think a plausible thing to think about what Aristotle saying in this first sentence is that it’s true. And that in fact, it’s not even really controversial because that’s what it means to understand behavior as a human behavior as opposed to say, a mere reflex. So we’ve got in the first sentence some claim about rational human behavior. Some claim for the behaviors that we engage in that express in some sense or another, our use of our capacities for rationality. And that is that there is always when something that we do is in some way or another, an expression of our restaurant all capacities. There’s always something that we take to be good about the action that we’ve chosen. Now Aristotle makes that first claim. He immediately follows it up with a second one, but the ends that are sought appear to differ. Summer activities and others are products apart from the activities. Now, you might have a question, what are the square brackets? The square brackets indicate that Irwin has added something to make the text more intelligible or even just smoother. Aristotle’s writing for whatever reason, there are different theories about why this might be is often very, very point form. And that means that in order to get a grammatical and intelligible English sentence, you often need to add something or other, okay? When we do a good job at this, of course, you want to add something that is the least controversial, philosophically, meaning we don’t want to presuppose anything. That is a matter for debate in our translation. Now, of course, if we think that we can argue on independent grounds that that’s the thing that we should add. Then of course, we can add that. The point is we don’t want to presuppose are philosophical position when we’re doing translation. So There’s been an addition here. We’re going to see that fairly often. So what’s Aristotle saying here? The ends that are sought appear to differ summer activities and others are products apart from the activities. Well, it looks like he’s distinguishing between different goals or ends that you might have when you make a rational choice, rational decision, or engage in a rational action. In some cases, the goal or end that you are trying to get is a product that is external to the activity. Okay, So for example, I am building a house. I want at the end of the day to have a house, or I want to have a house so I can sell it and have money. So in one important set of cases, what I’m doing when I’m acting rationally is trying to get something that my action produces. In other cases though, our goal is just to perform the activity. If I watch a movie, say I’m not trying to make anything, I’m just trying to enjoy myself perhaps. Okay? So Aristotle thinks that there is always a goal or an end when we do something, when we choose something. And in some cases, the activity itself as a goal. And in other cases, the goal is some external product that the activity creates. Now we can usually tell if an activity has a product by asking ourselves whether there’s something that when we have produced it, would bring this activity to a suitable or appropriate clothes. When I cook a meal, for example, I continue cooking the food until it’s ready to eat, right? I don’t keep frying an egg just for the fun of it, the thrill of it. I am trying to make something that I can eat and that will be tasty. And so I know when to stop when there is a product. When an activity doesn’t have a product, There’s nothing that once it’s there, brings the activity to a close. All right, if I’m just flying a kite for the sheer pleasure it should say of it. There’s nothing that’s being made that tells me, Okay, I need to stop now. At some point I might think I need to stop now, but that’s always going to be because I’m tired or because there’s something else that I should be doing or because it’s not pleasurable anymore. But there’s nothing made. I say this because there are cases where the product, so to speak, of our action isn’t necessarily tangible. There are cases, for example, where what I am doing creates, for example, a state of understanding. We might think of that as product-driven. I’m memorizing something. I’m not doing that just for the fun of it. I’m doing it to produce something in myself. And I think that would be treated as an external product case for Aristotle. So we have a third claim that follows on these first two. Whenever there are ends apart from the actions, the products are by nature better than the activities. What’s Aristotle saying here? Well, one thing that would be especially strong that Aristotle might be saying here, I think too strong to be. A reasonable thing to say, is that, in fact, there are never cases where people do things just because they enjoy the process when there is a product. So this would be saying that whenever There’s a product produced, no one would ever do the activity. That would lead to that product just for the sake of doing the activity. And there are counter-examples. You might not be at the stage where you are able to produce a good product. And so you’re practicing, a lot of times if you’re practicing a new skill and you’re making something, your first few attempts are not very good. You’re learning. And in those cases, you’re doing what you’re doing for the sake of the activity. Now of course, even here, we could, if we wanted, say, well actually in those cases what we are doing is trying to get a product as well. Because we’re trying to create a state of proficiency in ourselves. Because we’ve been here. If we really open up what we think of as an external product, we could even treat these practice cases of that kind. What about people though, who just do something for font? Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics BooksThat looks like it might be being denied here. Like maybe I say in the third PowerPoint, what about people who just knit for fun? I think even here, is that Aristotle isn’t saying this strong thing. He’s not trying to deny that people, you know, ever engage in an activity that produces a product just because they enjoy the activity or because they enjoy the activity more. What he’s saying here is that by nature, the products are by nature better than the activities. For Aristotle by nature is a very common phrase. Okay? And what he tells us about it is that when something happens by nature, it happens always or for the most part. And in fact, great number of the kinds of things that Aristotle will say happened by nature fall into the latter category. They don’t happen always in the way that they’re supposed to happen by nature. But usually they do. So. For example, Aristotle thinks that usually in most cases, when a parent, say a tree or a dog, a human being has a child, the offspring that they have will bear some resemblance to the parent. But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes are also children that might be born without say one of their limbs. That can happen to that isn’t though, what happens? For the most part. Okay? So this is just to say that when Aristotle says here, the products are by nature better than the activity, He’s just really saying usually. And I think that is correct. There’s more that he saying here because By nature for Aristotle, when he says is it also introduces the idea that these cases are in some sense primary and the other cases are best understood with the background of the primary case in mind. Okay, So the way that Aristotle understands, say the reproduction example, is that some forces are occurring that haven’t, you know, that are aimed at a certain outcome. And those processes have in some sense failed to get that outcome. And so even those cases where things don’t match up, when Aristotle says something’s by nature, it is usually the result of a failure that occurred in the process. Okay. Now we can apply this to the current case and we can say something like, Look, when someone does do something that has a product for fun. Really. That is to be understood against the backdrop of the standard case, which is that there is this activity that we typically do to produce a product. So for example, a knitting. You can engage in knitting for fun. But if you think about it, you can’t really knit for fun. Unless you’re trying. Not very fun to just sort of pick up some string and move it around a little bit. It’s not, There’s nothing fun about that. It certainly can’t keep you occupied for hours. And really, you can only truly enjoy knitting if you are trying to knit something. So even in this case, we see that these cases where we’re not doing it because we think the product is better. We’re still doing it with the idea of a product. Okay? And so these cases that deviate from the natural are also in some sense explicable only with the idea of what normally happens in the background. So next slide, what is Aristotle doing here? And this is really the important question about what we’ve seen so far. So Aristotle’s made a bunch of very general claims about everything that we are rational beings do. Every action, decision inquiry we engage in is in some sense, trying to get something that we think is good. Now, in many cases, the thing that we want That’s good is an external product. In those cases, the product is by nature better than the activity. In other cases, there is no product. In those cases. It has to be that the reason we’re doing, why we’re doing is because there’s something about the activity itself that is good. So why is Aristotle saying these things? And more importantly, this is supposed to be a work of ethics. Why is it that someone would talk about this and it’ll work of ethics? Well, it might be strange depending on what our conception of ethics is to find this. But it reveals something very important about what Aristotle’s up to. Recall that what Aristotle is doing here is really innocent. Figuring out what human flourishing or human happiness resides in. And one thing I think that human flourishing or human happiness is going to involve on controversially, is making good choices. You can’t possibly be happy if you make bad choices. Part of what Aristotle is trying to do here is tell us what the general structure of choice looks like so that we can rule out certain ways of valuing things that might be inappropriate. To take an example, some people might be more concerned with acquiring things like money or fame. More than they’re concerned about doing things that make them happy. And they might want money or fame more than they want the things that money and fame can help them do. Now based on what Aristotle has said about activities and products thus far, it looks like he’s going to say, in fact, will say this, that this attitude towards money and fame is in some sense irrational. And it’s irrational because it gets the structure of value wrong in a significant way. Why is that? Well, because money is something that is in some sense a product of several activities that we might engage in. And in most cases by nature, when we do those things, where our primary motivation is going to be the money. Not always, but in many cases, if we’re doing something as a job, it is counterfactually true that if we weren’t being paid, we probably wouldn’t do it. And in many cases if we weren’t being paid well, we wouldn’t do it and sometimes, well doesn’t just mean exactly what we need to survive. So the idea here is that we work to make money. And the further idea is if we think that we just want money for its own sake, then we’re getting it wrong. Because actually, what money is, is something that can help us do other things that we enjoy, right? And so if we just get money and put it in a bank or put it under our about our buret. That’s valuing money in the wrong way. Okay. It’s a product, yes. And so typically when we make money, we actually do want the money more than we want the thing that we’re doing to get it. Nevertheless, money, when properly understood, has only instrumental value. And what we want to do ultimately is use it to engage in some activity that we enjoy. Okay, so we can, by looking at the ways that things can be valuable. Figure out something important about the structure of choice that can help us make better decisions. Now one of the things that we can conclude if we think ahead a bit from what Aristotle seems to be saying here is that if he’s on the right track, it seems that if we have some ultimate goal, if there is something for which we in some sense do everything else that we do, that ultimate goals should turn out to be an intrinsically valuable activity. Because if it’s a product, products are typically things that we want if we think about it because we use them. In fact, in all cases, we want a product because we use it even if using just means in the case of say, an art object looking at for enjoyment. Right? But typically I build a house. Why? Well, not just because I want the house, although I engage in house building typically because I want the house. Would then next question, why do I want the house? Well, I want the house to live in it. All right, So it looks like if we can find eventually some satisfying answer to every y question that we might pose to someone. Why are you doing that? Because I want a house. Why do you want a house? Because I want money. Why do you want money? Because I want to spend it. Well, what? Why do want to spend it? Because spending it allows me to do things that I can enjoy. Where this all ends up when we’ve answered all these questions and we’ve reached a point where really we can’t sensibly be asked any further questions. Is going to be an intrinsically valuable activity, something that we do whose value lies only in what we’re doing. This is going to turn out for Aristotle to be called happiness. So moving on. Since there are many actions, crafts and Sciences, the ends turn out to be many as well. For health is the end of Madison. A boat, of boat building, victory of generalship and wealth of household management. But some of these pursuits are subordinate to someone capacity. For instance, bridle making in every other science producing equipment for horses are subordinate to horsemanship. While this in every action in warfare are in turn subordinate in generalship. And in the same way, other pursuits are subordinate to further ones. So what does it mean for an end to be subordinate? We’re seeing this word an awful lot. What does that mean? Well, the first thing to notice here is that Aristotle is continuing his train of thought on the goals or ends of actions, crafts and sciences. There are many actions, crafts and Sciences. And since each of these we already know has some. And it follows that rational activity involves many different ends. When I engage in a particular craft, I’m trying to make something of a particular sort. That’s why house building is different from say, sculpting. And what Aristotle is telling us here is that all of these different products that are made by all of these different crafts are not just a random collection. Some of them are subordinate to others. So bridle making, he says, is subordinate to horsemanship, horsemanship to generalship. And there are two things here that Aristotle seems to have in mind. The first. And most obvious one. If one end is subordinate to another, it is true to say that its value is by nature conditional on the value and existence of the other. So bridle making a bridle is something that you use to ride a horse is subordinate to horsemanship. Because if we didn’t ride horses, bridle making would be useless. Aristotle also assume here that the primary reason for riding horses would be in a battle. And so if we didn’t have generals who would be in charge of moving the troops around in a battle. We wouldn’t need horsemanship. So the first reason that we can say that the ends are subordinate is because the value of the n’s that are lower, as Aristotle says, on the chain, is contingent on the existence in value of the ends that are higher. I add n value here because it would also be the case that bridle making would be worthless or useless to us if we could ride horses or did, and it wasn’t of any value. The second thing it means for a subordinate and to be a subordinate end is that it will take its orders from a superordinate and super-ordinate is the opposite of subordinate. The one on top. The horsemen is told what to do, how to ride horses. By the general. The general decides how much horse riding there should be of what sort. And when. I tell Aristotle understand the relationship here, because again, for Aristotle, the primary use of horses is going to be in battle. And so since status the case, the general is going to be the one who decides these things. The horse rider in turn is going to tell the bridle maker what sorts of bridal SYM-Q, how many? And so on. Because it is the person who rides the horse. Aristotle assumes who will know Vast what kinds of bridles are needed to win the battles that they are engaging in. So this doesn’t mean that the work of the subordinate ends is completely without independent value. Someone can, can make a bridle that is extremely well-made and maybe even has, in some cases some aesthetic appeal. So it’s not merely functional. That’s also something that is nice to look at and it’s well-designed. What it does mean though, is that the bridle maker decides, say, to make a sort of bridle that would be fancier, more complicated, perhaps even shows off the mastery of the art involved in making these things. If the bridle maker decides to make that kind of bridal. But it isn’t the case that this is going to be useful to the person riding the horse. Given the kinds of battles that are being waged on the orders of the general. The bridle maker will be told to do things differently. And if Aristotle is correct here, the bridle maker will have to listen or else will not be performing. The function assigned to. Bridle maker as well. Also will be producing a product that is of far less value than it could be. That’s what it means to say that the value of the subordinate end is conditional on the value and existence of the superordinate ends. So we’ve learned here what it means for one end to be subordinate. We don’t quite understand where Aristotle is going with this. Yeah. The next thing he says, in all such cases than at the ends of the ruling sciences are more choice worthy than all the end subordinate to them. Since the lower ends are also pursued for the sake of the higher. Here it does not matter whether the ends of the actions are the activities themselves. Or something apart from them, as in the sciences we have mentioned. So we get a further claim here, which in fact, I think follows on what I just said about value. Value contingency. The end of the rule in sciences are more choice worthy, meaning that they are more worthy of rational choice. So let’s take a look at what Aristotle means. He introduces the ter

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