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Transcript
CS 201
April 4, 2017
Waddah Nasr
[email protected]
ARISTOTLE’S ETHICS: THE PRIMACY OF REASON
I. LIFE AND INFLUENCE
Aristotle (384-322 BC) could
be considered as the culmination and, perhaps, the best
expression of Classical Greek Culture and Learning.
Joined Plato’s Academy at age 17; and studied at this Academy for 20 years (until Plato’s death in 347
B.C.)
Traveled to Assos and Lesbos (where he collected a wealth of biological data) and to Macedonia
(where he taught Alexander the Great.)
Returned to Athens in 335 B.C. and established his own school (called the Lyceum).
Alexander died in 323 B.C.; Aristotle decided to flee from Athens because of the strong antiMacedonian feelings prevailing at that time. He died a year later at the age of 62.
Aristotle left an enormous body of writings which include works in Biology; Logic and Semantics;
Physics; Psychology; Metaphysics; Ethics; Politics; Rhetoric; and Poetics. Cataloguers also list under
Aristotle’s name some 158 constitutions of Greek states.
ARISTOTLE’S PHILOSOPHY CONSTITUTES A COHERENT WHOLE: A SYSTEM.
II. This part of the lecture focuses on features of Aristotle’s philosophy that are of particular
relevance to his moral philosophy.
A. TELEOLOGY (purposefulness). Aristotle’s four causes: the material, the formal, the
efficient, and the final cause. Examples: A statue or a building. Aristotle maintained that
all things have final causes, not only artifacts such as a statue or a building.
B. POTENTIALITY – ACTUALITY. The example of the acorn and the oak tree…
C. THEORY OF THE SOUL (psychology). The two parts of the soul: the rational and the nonrational. Rationality as the essence of the human person.
III. ARISTOTLE’S ETHICAL THEORY.
A. EUDAEMONIA (wellbeing or happiness).
1. Aristotle: "Every action aims at some good".
2. The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic good. According to Aristotle not all
goods can be extrinsic; there has to be at least one sort of thing which is intrinsically
good.
3. The ultimate good (or end) for human beings is happiness.
4. Emphasis on pleasure and happiness does not necessarily lead to hedonism.
Pleasure accompanies virtuous activity.
5. On virtue and pleasure: does it pay to be virtuous? Aristotle: By becoming virtuous
you become the sort of person who is likely to be happy.
6. Joint or collaborative human activities also aim at some goods. Aristotle’s notion of
a profession or practice. Aristotle’s distinction between goods that are external to the
profession and goods that are internal to it. Healing and alleviation of pain that a
physician may be able to bring about are goods that are internal to the practice of
Medicine. However, wealth or fame are goods that are external to the practice of
Medicine because they could be attained by practicing other professions or
performing other activities.
B. THE PRIMACY OF REASON AND THE VIRTUES.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
The importance of the assumption that rationality is unique to human beings.
Reason should control feelings and emotions.
Example: Fear (an emotion) when properly controlled by reason results in courage (a virtue).
When fear is uncontrolled by reason, the result is a vice: rashness or cowardice.
The doctrine of the Mean: Excess and deficiency are both irrational (hence, both are vices).
A virtue is a mean falling between two extremes.
How do we determine (locate) the mean? Aristotle’s contextualism: The determination of
the mean in specific cases is left to "perception".
Aristotelian Ethics as an “Ethics of Virtue”.
Human Beings, by nature, are neither good nor bad; but they are educable. Habit and training
could be used for the development of natural predispositions and capacities. Habit cannot
change the ‘nature’ of a thing. Human beings, by nature, are social beings.
Virtues are character traits. Once fully developed and inculcated, the virtues operate as
strong predispositions to act in certain ways.
IV. THE CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE OF ARISTOTLE’S ETHICS.
The dominant views in philosophical ethics for the past two or three centuries have been rule-oriented
theories. Normative ethical theories such as utilitarianism and Kantianism provide us with rules to
decide what is the morally right thing to do. An alternative to these rule oriented normative ethical
theories based on Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics has been adopted by an increasing number of moral
philosophers. (See the attached quotation from the entry on Virtue Ethics in the Routledge
Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Consider the following two very important, but different types of question. First Type of question:
What ought we to do? What is the morally right thing to do?
Second type of question: How do we get people to do what they ought to do?
Questions of Type One are philosophical questions. Normative ethical theories (such as Utilitarianism
and Kantianism) address this type of question. Normative ethical theories provide us with rules
(norms, standards, criteria) by reference to which we can make, and justify, our choices.
Questions of Type Two are not, strictly speaking, philosophical questions. These questions are usually
addressed by the human and social sciences. Specifically these questions fall in the domain of moral
psychology and moral education.
What are the types of situations or cases where we need advice and assistance to determine the morally
right thing to do? We do not need the services of the moral philosopher to know that it is wrong to sell
products (such as meat, cheese, or medication) that are harmful and no longer fit for consumption in
order to profit or to cut down on our losses. We do not try to prove that such acts are wrong. Rather
we want to make sure that these cases are detected and punished. But more importantly, we want to
make sure that such acts are prevented. We want to make sure that our children do not grow up to be
the sorts of men and women who will commit such acts, approve of them, or tolerate them. To
accomplish this we, perhaps, need better psychologists, educators, and appropriate role models more
than we need better philosophers.
The prevalence of corruption in a community is not necessarily an indication that there is no agreement
on how questions of type one should be answered. It is questions of type two that we must focus on.
Aristotle’s contribution is that he combines both types of questions, and addresses them in an
insightful manner.
The philosophical question now becomes: “What sort of traits of character ought to be instilled or
inculcated?”
The non-philosophical question becomes: “How best to instill these traits?”
Aristotle placed the focus on the question: “What sort of person should one be, or should want to
become?”
Aristotle’s answer: “The virtuous person )‫ (االنسان الفاضل‬will be a good citizen )‫(مواطن صالح‬and will
do the right thing.”
A Final Note: You can adopt a Neo-Aristotelian moral philosophy without accepting ALL of
Aristotle’s arguments. Examples: Aristotle on Slavery and the subordination of Women.
Quotations from Aristotle
1.
“ …ethics is not an exact science, any more than are medicine and the art of
navigation; and consequently the rules of conduct that it lays down are only of
general validity, and their application must vary with the circumstances of the
particular occasion, and be modified by the discretion of the agent.”
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chapter 2. Emphasis added.
2.
“It is from playing the lyre that both good and bad lyre players are produced.”
(1103b7) By playing over time in some way or other we acquire habits. If
these are good, then we will be good lyre players. If they are bad, then we will
be bad, and able to become good by unlearning bad habits and learning good
ones.
Aristotle and ancient virtue ethics
Modern virtue ethicists often claim Aristotle as an ancestor. Aristotle, however, was
himself working through an agenda laid down by Plato and Socrates. Socrates asked
the question at the heart of Greek ethics: ‘How should one live?’ All three of these
philosophers believed that the answer to this question is, ‘Virtuously’ (see Virtues and
vices §§1–3).
The ancient philosophical task was to show how living virtuously would be best for
the virtuous person. Plato’s Republic attempts to answer Thrasymachus’ challenge
that rational people will aim to get the most pleasure, honor and power for
themselves. His argument is that justice, broadly construed, is to be identified with a
rational ordering of one’s soul. Once one sees that one identifies oneself with one’s
reason, one will realize that being just is in fact best for oneself. Thrasymachus, of
course, might respond that he identifies himself with his desires.
Aristotle continued the same project, aiming to show that human eudaimonia,
happiness, consists in the exercise (not the mere possession of)
the virtues (see Eudaimonia; Happiness). The linchpin of his case is his ‘function’
argument that human nature is perfected through virtue, a standard objection to which
is that it confuses the notions of a good man and the good for man. Ultimately,
Aristotle’s method is similar to Plato’s. Much of Nicomachean Ethics is taken up with
portraits of the virtuous man intended to attract one to a life such as his.
For Aristotle, all of the ‘practical’ virtues will be possessed by the truly virtuous
person, the man of ‘practical wisdom’ (Aristotle’s central ‘intellectual’ virtue).
Socrates believed that virtue was a unity, that it consisted in knowledge alone.
Aristotle’s position is one of reciprocity: the possession of one virtue implies the
possession of all. At this point he joined Socrates and Plato in their opposition to
Greek ‘common sense’. This opposition to common sense is not something that
characterizes modern virtue ethics.
From the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.