Overall Structure of A’s NE I. The Human Good II. Two Types of Human Excellence: Intellectual & Moral III. Moral Excellence IV. Freedom & Moral Responsibility V. Intellectual Excellence VI. Concluding Discussion on the Good Life
The Human Good The Nicomachean Ethics is an attempt to describe what it takes for a human being to live a good (i.e., happy) life. The key concept in the NE is the idea of eudaimonia, usually translated into English as “happiness.”
The Goal-Directed (Teleological)Nature of Human Conduct All distinctively human (i.e., conscious, rational, & voluntary) actions aim at some good. Some goods are ends, and others are means to an end. Ends are more valuable than means. Thus, some goods are higher than others.
The idea of the Highest(or Ultimate) Good What is it?
Eudaimonia: The Ultimate Good Verbal agreement that the ultimate human good is eudaimonia (“happiness”). Human beings naturally pursue happiness. Substantive disagreement as to the nature of happiness. Will the pursuit of pleasure & the avoidance of pain make us happy? How about money, status, & power?
Aristotle’s View of Happiness --General Characteristics Finality & completeness A pure end (not a means, not an end that is also a means). Desired entirely for its own sake & not for the sake of anything else. Sufficient in itself. If you are happy, you don’t need any other good. Not one good among others, but an ultimate good above all others.
Aristotle’s View of Happiness --Specific Nature What is the distinctive & characteristic function (ergon) of a human being? It is not life (vitality) (both plants & animals are alive). It is not sentience (animals are sentient). The distinctive function of a human being is reasoning (nous).
Excellent Functioning Aristotle adds the idea of excellence (arete) to the idea of distinctive function (ergon). The function of a guitar player is to play the guitar; the function of an accomplished guitarist is to play the guitar excellently. If the function of a human being is to live in accordance with reason, then the function of a self-actualized (truly happy, eudaimonic) human being is to reason excellently.
Thus, happiness (eudaimonia) results from excellent reasoning & from living in accordance with excellent reasoning. Another formulation: Happiness results from a rational life focused on the pursuit of excellence.
However, in addition to living in accordance with excellent reasoning, human beings also need “external prosperity” or “circumstantial security” (money, friends, power, social status, etc.).
Internal & External Goods External Goods (Circumstantial Security) Friends Money Status Power Internal Goods Psychological (e.g., peace of mind) Bodily (e.g., physical health)
Eudaimonia (Happiness) – a product of Human Excellence (arete) (an internal good) plus Circumstantial Security (an external good)
II. Two Types of Human Excellence: Intellectual & Moral (Text, pp. 128-9)
Two Types of Human Excellence Intellectual Excellence = the excellent functioning of the intellect (correct thinking & reasoning) -- corresponds to the rational dimension of the self Moral Excellence = desiring and acting in accordance with reason -- corresponds to the desiring dimension of the self
Questions to think about: What about physical excellence? Is there a type of excellence corresponding to the physical-biological level of the self? Why does Aristotle not include this level of excellence? Should he include it?
(Text, pp. 129-134) III. Moral Excellence (Moral Virtue)
How is moral excellence (virtue)acquired? Early-life moral training (moral habituation) and Moral practice (repeated performance of morally virtuous actions)
What This Means Human beings have a natural potential for moral virtue, and this potentiality is actualized through early-life moral habituation and through the (life-long?) practice and performance of morally virtuous actions.
Moral Virtue in General: TheDoctrine of the Mean Objective expression: Morally virtuous feelings and actions are those that avoid the extremes of excess (too much) and deficiency (too little). Relative expression: The moral mean is relative to the individual and to the circumstances in which the individual is situated.
A Qualification The doctrine of the mean does not apply to absolute evils (e.g., murder) or to absolute goods (e.g., the pursuit of wisdom). There is no deficiency but only excess with regard to absolute evils. There is no excess but only deficiency with regard to absolute goods.
Specific Moral VirtuesSee Table of Virtues & Vices in text, p. 132.See also following slides on courage,temperance, & justice. Apply Aristotle’s Table of Virtues & Vices to yourself. Using at least three of his virtue-vice categories, how virtuous (or un-virtuous) are you?
The Major ("Cardinal") Moral Virtues Courage (fortitude) -- fear & confidence; endurance of pain Temperance -- pursuit of pleasure & avoidance of pain Justice -- doing good with regard to others
Courage The willingness & ability to expose The coward shrinks or oneself to danger & runs from danger & pain when necessary pain; & the reckless to the achievement of person exposes some real & her/himself to danger substantial good & pain even when it is not necessary to the achievement of a real & substantial good.
Temperance The willingness & ability to forego The mindless hedonist pleasure when always pursues pleasure necessary to the achievement of some & always avoids pain, real & substantial no matter what; & the good “insensible” person fails to enjoy the pleasures of life at all.
Justice:The Virtue of Doing Goodwith Regard to Others A just person is in the An unjust person is a habit of obeying the law-breaker and/or law & of treating one who takes unfair people fairly. advantage of others.
There are, then, two forms ofjustice:1. Justice as lawfulness 2. Justice as fairness
Justice as Lawfulness Good laws aim at the common good of society, i.e., the production & preservation of the happiness of the political community. A system of good laws requires us to act in a morally virtuous way, i.e., to exercise ALL of the moral virtues, and it forbids ALL immoral conduct. [Is this true? Should it be?]
Questions to think about: Is a just person always morally obligated to obey all laws, even bad laws? Why or why not? Under what circumstances is “civil disobedience” justified? Examples?
Justice as Fairness Giving and taking in accordance with • the principle of equality and • the principle of assignment by desert or merit This seems to amount to a principle of equality or inequality of desert or merit.
Fair (Equitable) Distribution ofGoods & Evils Should be based on equality or inequality of desert or merit: Equally deserving = equal shares Unequally deserving = unequal shares in proportion to inequality. That is, those who are more deserving get more; those who are less deserving get less.
Application to Penalties &Punishments Penalties & punishments should be imposed only on those who deserve them, and no one should be penalized or punished either too much or too little. What about unequal penalties or punishments imposed on the equally deserving? Mr. A & Mr. B are guilty of murder, and both deserve the death penalty. Mr. A is executed, but Mr. B receives a life sentence. This seems unjust on the basis of Aristotle’s theory of fairness, but where, exactly, is the injustice?
The Retributive The LawTheory ofPunishment-- Criminals deserve to be punished (needs clarification).-- Only criminals (& no non-criminals) should be punished (needs clarification).-- The punishment should be proportionate to the gravity of the crime.-- Where does deterrence fit in? Does it?
Questions: Why does Aristotle call justice as lawfulness “complete” or “universal” justice? Why does he call justice as fairness “partial” or “particular” justice? In what sense is justice a mean?
Summary to this point:Eudaimonia = excellence + external securityHuman excellence: intellectual & moral -- living in accordance with reasonMoral excellence • In general: pursuing the mean (except where there is no mean) • In particular: courage, temperance, justice, & the other specific moralvirtues
IV. Freedom & Moral Responsibility Next Slide(Text, pp. 134-5)
Moral Excellence, cont’d --Moral Responsibility Should we praise the morally virtuous and condemn the morally vicious? That is, should we hold people morally responsible for what they feel and do? If so, what is the basis of moral responsibility? Under what circumstances does it make sense to hold people morally responsible?
The Distinction betweenVoluntary and Involuntary Action Generally speaking, people may be held responsible for their voluntary actions, but not for their involuntary actions. What, then, are the differences between voluntary & involuntary action?
Two Types of Involuntary Action Actions performed under compulsion, i.e., (1) caused by a force external to the agent & (2) the agent contributes nothing to the action. Actions performed on the basis of ignorance of the “particular circumstances” of the action (agent, act, object of action, instrument, aim or purpose, manner).
Voluntary Action Not performed either (1) under compulsion or (2) on the basis of ignorance, but rather caused by the agent with knowledge of the “particular circumstances” of the act.
Distinction between volition &choice Some voluntary actions are not products of choice. Examples? The nature of choice: requires thinking & reasoning; a product of prior deliberation. Proper objects of deliberation: things that are possible; things we can control; means, not ends. [Not ends?]
Moral Freedom & PersonalResponsibility Voluntary actions that result from deliberation & choice are morally free. Actions that are morally free may be praised or blamed.
Questions to consider: In what sense do praising, blaming, rewarding, & punishing imply the reality of moral freedom & personal responsibility? Is it always morally incorrect to blame &/or punish people for involuntary actions based on ignorance? Why or why not? Examples?
The Determinism-LibertarianismDebate in MetaphysicsDeterminism: All human behavior is caused(determined) by environment (e.g., “society”),heredity, fate, etc. The individual is not free.Libertarianism (“self-determinism”): At leastsome human behavior is self-caused (i.e.,chosen by the individual).
VI. Aristotle’s Conclusions on the Nature of the Good Life(Text, pp. 137-8)
Aristotle’s Conclusions Why does Aristotle consider the life of intellectual excellence (at the level of theoretical reasoning) to result in the highest degree of happiness? Why does the life of theoretical reasoning bring us closest to the gods (or God)? Why does the life of moral excellence and practical reasoning result in only a secondary form of happiness?
Summary Chart on Aristotles Theory of Happiness Intuition Theoretical Reasoning Theoretical Wisdom Rational Intellect Intellectual Inference Dimension Excellence Practical Reasoning Making -- Artistry & Craftsmanship Human Doing -- Practical Wisdom Excellence Self (arete) Desire Moral The Mean Specific Moral Virtues (ergon) Excellence CourageEudaimonia Nonrational Temperance Dimension Justice Etc. Life, Nutrition, Growth (basic organic processes?) Moral Responsibility Circumstantial Security (external goods)