Aristotle's Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
The focal concept is that of eudaimonia, which both Plato and Aristotle view as of character in relation to the emotions, and to one another; practical reasoning. But he rejects Plato's idea that to be completely virtuous one must acquire .. relation between reason and less rational elements of the psyche. For Aristotle the mean was a method of achieving virtue, but for Buddha the Middle He was the first to devise a formal system for reasoning, whereby the validity of . of Aristotle's theory: the link between the concepts of happiness and virtue.
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 themselves—pleasure, friendship, honor, and so on—and 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. 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: 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.
Aristotle on Function and Virtue
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. There is another contrast with Plato that should be emphasized: In Book II of the Republic, we are told that the best type of good is one that is desirable both in itself and for the sake of its results da. Plato argues that justice should be placed in this category, but since it is generally agreed that it is desirable for its consequences, he devotes most of his time to establishing his more controversial point—that justice is to be sought for its own sake.
By contrast, Aristotle assumes that if A is desirable for the sake of B, then B is better than A a14—16 ; therefore, the highest kind of good must be one that is not desirable for the sake of anything else.
To show that A deserves to be our ultimate end, one must show that all other goods are best thought of as instruments that promote A in some way or other. Accordingly, it would not serve Aristotle's purpose to consider virtuous activity in isolation from all other goods. He needs to discuss honor, wealth, pleasure, and friendship in order to show how these goods, properly understood, can be seen as resources that serve the higher goal of virtuous activity.
He vindicates the centrality of virtue in a well-lived life by showing that in the normal course of things a virtuous person will not live a life devoid of friends, honor, wealth, pleasure, and the like. Virtuous activity makes a life happy not by guaranteeing happiness in all circumstances, but by serving as the goal for the sake of which lesser goods are to be pursued. Aristotle's methodology in ethics therefore pays more attention than does Plato's to the connections that normally obtain between virtue and other goods.
That is why he stresses that in this sort of study one must be satisfied with conclusions that hold only for the most part b11— Poverty, isolation, and dishonor are normally impediments to the exercise of virtue and therefore to happiness, although there may be special circumstances in which they are not.
The possibility of exceptions does not undermine the point that, as a rule, to live well is to have sufficient resources for the pursuit of virtue over the course of a lifetime. Virtues and Deficiencies, Continence and Incontinence Aristotle distinguishes two kinds of virtue a1— Intellectual virtues are in turn divided into two sorts: He organizes his material by first studying ethical virtue in general, then moving to a discussion of particular ethical virtues temperance, courage, and so onand finally completing his survey by considering the intellectual virtues practical wisdom, theoretical wisdom, etc.
All free males are born with the potential to become ethically virtuous and practically wise, but to achieve these goals they must go through two stages: This does not mean that first we fully acquire the ethical virtues, and then, at a later stage, add on practical wisdom. Ethical virtue is fully developed only when it is combined with practical wisdom b14— A low-grade form of ethical virtue emerges in us during childhood as we are repeatedly placed in situations that call for appropriate actions and emotions; but as we rely less on others and become capable of doing more of our own thinking, we learn to develop a larger picture of human life, our deliberative skills improve, and our emotional responses are perfected.
Like anyone who has developed a skill in performing a complex and difficult activity, the virtuous person takes pleasure in exercising his intellectual skills. Furthermore, when he has decided what to do, he does not have to contend with internal pressures to act otherwise. He does not long to do something that he regards as shameful; and he is not greatly distressed at having to give up a pleasure that he realizes he should forego. 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.
Such people are not virtuous, although they generally do what a virtuous person does. But 2 others are less successful than the average person in resisting these counter-pressures. 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 pleonexia—their desire for more and more—leaves them dissatisfied and full of self-hatred.
It should be noticed that all three of these deficiencies—continence, incontinence, vice—involve 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 b5— 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. The Doctrine of the Mean 5. 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 eudaimoniahe 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.
In this respect, Aristotle says, the virtues are no different from technical skills: 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: 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 a36—b7.
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. Finding the mean in any given situation is not a mechanical or thoughtless procedure, but requires a full and detailed acquaintance with the circumstances.
It should be evident that Aristotle's treatment of virtues as mean states endorses the idea that we should sometimes have strong feelings—when such feelings are called for by our situation. Sometimes only a small degree of anger is appropriate; but at other times, circumstances call for great anger. The right amount is not some quantity between zero and the highest possible level, but rather the amount, whatever it happens to be, that is proportionate to the seriousness of the situation.
Of course, Aristotle is committed to saying that anger should never reach the point at which it undermines reason; and this means that our passion should always fall short of the extreme point at which we would lose control.
But it is possible to be very angry without going to this extreme, and Aristotle does not intend to deny this. The theory of the mean is open to several objections, but before considering them, we should recognize that in fact there are two distinct theses each of which might be called a doctrine of the mean. First, there is the thesis that every virtue is a state that lies between two vices, one of excess and the other of deficiency.
Second, there is the idea that whenever a virtuous person chooses to perform a virtuous act, he can be described as aiming at an act that is in some way or other intermediate between alternatives that he rejects. It is this second thesis that is most likely to be found objectionable. A critic might concede that in some cases virtuous acts can be described in Aristotle's terms.
If, for example, one is trying to decide how much to spend on a wedding present, one is looking for an amount that is neither excessive nor deficient. But surely many other problems that confront a virtuous agent are not susceptible to this quantitative analysis. The objection, then, is that Aristotle's doctrine of the mean, taken as a doctrine about what the ethical agent does when he deliberates, is in many cases inapplicable or unilluminating.
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. 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 b5— 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 harmony—for 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 well—for 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 opposite—the aischron, the shameful and ugly.
Determining what is kalon is difficult b28—33, a24—30and the normal human aversion to embracing difficulties helps account for the scarcity of virtue b10— 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 b26—7. 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 a7— Aristotle thinks of the good person as someone who is good at deliberation, and he describes deliberation as a process of rational inquiry. A standard or measure is something that settles disputes; and because good people are so skilled at discovering the mean in difficult cases, their advice must be sought and heeded.
Although there is no possibility of writing a book of rules, however long, that will serve as a complete guide to wise decision-making, it would be a mistake to attribute to Aristotle the opposite position, namely that every purported rule admits of exceptions, so that even a small rule-book that applies to a limited number of situations is an impossibility. He makes it clear that certain emotions spite, shamelessness, envy and actions adultery, theft, murder are always wrong, regardless of the circumstances a8— Although he says that the names of these emotions and actions convey their wrongness, he should not be taken to mean that their wrongness derives from linguistic usage.
He defends the family as a social institution against the criticisms of Plato Politics II. He is not making the tautological claim that wrongful sexual activity is wrong, but the more specific and contentious point that marriages ought to be governed by a rule of strict fidelity.
Similarly, when he says that murder and theft are always wrong, he does not mean that wrongful killing and taking are wrong, but that the current system of laws regarding these matters ought to be strictly enforced. So, although Aristotle holds that ethics cannot be reduced to a system of rules, however complex, he insists that some rules are inviolable.
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? 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 point—helping 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 ends—the skill Aristotle calls cleverness a23—8 —but often the ends they seek are worthless. The cause of this deficiency lies not in some impairment in their capacity to reason—for we are assuming that they are normal in this respect—but in the training of their passions. Intellectual Virtues Since Aristotle often calls attention to the imprecision of ethical theory see e.
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 wiser—just 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 b18— It is not easy to understand the point Aristotle is making here.
Has he not already told us that there can be no complete theoretical guide to ethics, that the best one can hope for is that in particular situations one's ethical habits and practical wisdom will help one determine what to do?
Furthermore, Aristotle nowhere announces, in the remainder of Book VI, that we have achieved the greater degree of accuracy that he seems to be looking for. The rest of this Book is a discussion of the various kinds of intellectual virtues: Aristotle explains what each of these states of mind is, draws various contrasts among them, and takes up various questions that can be raised about their usefulness.
Nor is it easy to see how his discussion of these five intellectual virtues can bring greater precision to the doctrine of the mean. We can make some progress towards solving this problem if we remind ourselves that at the beginning of the Ethics, Aristotle describes his inquiry as an attempt to develop a better understanding of what our ultimate aim should be. The sketchy answer he gives in Book I is that happiness consists in virtuous activity.
In Books II through V, he describes the virtues of the part of the soul that is rational in that it can be attentive to reason, even though it is not capable of deliberating. But precisely because these virtues are rational only in this derivative way, they are a less important component of our ultimate end than is the intellectual virtue—practical wisdom—with which they are integrated.
If what we know about virtue is only what is said in Books II through V, then our grasp of our ultimate end is radically incomplete, because we still have not studied the intellectual virtue that enables us to reason well in any given situation.
One of the things, at least, towards which Aristotle is gesturing, as he begins Book VI, is practical wisdom. This state of mind has not yet been analyzed, and that is one reason why he complains that his account of our ultimate end is not yet clear enough.
But is practical wisdom the only ingredient of our ultimate end that has not yet been sufficiently discussed? Book VI discusses five intellectual virtues, not just practical wisdom, but it is clear that at least one of these—craft knowledge—is considered only in order to provide a contrast with the others.
Aristotle is not recommending that his readers make this intellectual virtue part of their ultimate aim. But what of the remaining three: Are these present in Book VI only in order to provide a contrast with practical wisdom, or is Aristotle saying that these too must be components of our goal?
He does not fully address this issue, but it is evident from several of his remarks in Book VI that he takes theoretical wisdom to be a more valuable state of mind than practical wisdom. It is strange if someone thinks that politics or practical wisdom is the most excellent kind of knowledge, unless man is the best thing in the cosmos.
So it is clear that exercising theoretical wisdom is a more important component of our ultimate goal than practical wisdom. Even so, it may still seem perplexing that these two intellectual virtues, either separately or collectively, should somehow fill a gap in the doctrine of the mean.
Having read Book VI and completed our study of what these two forms of wisdom are, how are we better able to succeed in finding the mean in particular situations? The answer to this question may be that Aristotle does not intend Book VI to provide a full answer to that question, but rather to serve as a prolegomenon to an answer.
For it is only near the end of Book X that he presents a full discussion of the relative merits of these two kinds of intellectual virtue, and comments on the different degrees to which each needs to be provided with resources.
We will discuss these chapters more fully in section 10 below. One of his reasons for thinking that such a life is superior to the second-best kind of life—that of a political leader, someone who devotes himself to the exercise of practical rather than theoretical wisdom—is that it requires less external equipment a23—b7. Aristotle has already made it clear in his discussion of the ethical virtues that someone who is greatly honored by his community and commands large financial resources is in a position to exercise a higher order of ethical virtue than is someone who receives few honors and has little property.
The virtue of magnificence is superior to mere liberality, and similarly greatness of soul is a higher excellence than the ordinary virtue that has to do with honor. These qualities are discussed in IV. The grandest expression of ethical virtue requires great political power, because it is the political leader who is in a position to do the greatest amount of good for the community. The person who chooses to lead a political life, and who aims at the fullest expression of practical wisdom, has a standard for deciding what level of resources he needs: But if one chooses instead the life of a philosopher, then one will look to a different standard—the fullest expression of theoretical wisdom—and one will need a smaller supply of these resources.
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.
We began our discussion of these qualities in section 4. 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. Aristotle distinguishes two kinds of akrasia: The person who is weak goes through a process of deliberation and makes a choice; but rather than act in accordance with his reasoned choice, he acts under the influence of a passion.
By contrast, the impetuous person does not go through a process of deliberation and does not make a reasoned choice; he simply acts under the influence of a passion. At the time of action, the impetuous person experiences no internal conflict. But once his act has been completed, he regrets what he has done.
One could say that he deliberates, if deliberation were something that post-dated rather than preceded action; but the thought process he goes through after he acts comes too late to save him from error. 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.
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. 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. 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: Perhaps what he has in mind is that pleasure can operate in either way: By contrast, anger always moves us by presenting itself as a bit of general, although hasty, reasoning.
Virtue and Reason in Plato and Aristotle
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 us—reason—can remove itself from the distorting influence of feeling and consider all relevant factors, positive and negative.
But another part of us—feeling or emotion—has a more limited field of reasoning—and sometimes it does not even make use of it.
Anger is a pathos whether it is weak or strong; so too is the appetite for bodily pleasures. And he clearly indicates that it is possible for an akratic person to be defeated by a weak pathos—the kind that most people would easily be able to control a9—b So the general explanation for the occurrence of akrasia cannot be that the strength of a passion overwhelms reason.
Aristotle should therefore be acquitted of an accusation made against him by J. Plato and Aristotle, he says, collapsed all succumbing to temptation into losing control of ourselves—a mistake illustrated by this example: I am very partial to ice cream, and a bombe is served divided into segments corresponding one to one with the persons at High Table: I am tempted to help myself to two segments and do so, thus succumbing to temptation and even conceivably but why necessarily?
But do I lose control of myself? Do I raven, do I snatch the morsels from the dish and wolf them down, impervious to the consternation of my colleagues?
Not a bit of it. We often succumb to temptation with calm and even with finesse. What is most remarkable about Aristotle's discussion of akrasia is that he defends a position close to that of Socrates. When he first introduces the topic of akrasia, and surveys some of the problems involved in understanding this phenomenon, he says b25—8 that Socrates held that there is no akrasia, and he describes this as a thesis that clearly conflicts with the appearances phainomena.
Since he says that his goal is to preserve as many of the appearances as possible b2—7it may come as a surprise that when he analyzes the conflict between reason and feeling, he arrives at the conclusion that in a way Socrates was right after all b13— For, he says, the person who acts against reason does not have what is thought to be unqualified knowledge; in a way he has knowledge, but in a way does not. Aristotle explains what he has in mind by comparing akrasia to the condition of other people who might be described as knowing in a way, but not in an unqualified way.
His examples are people who are asleep, mad, or drunk; he also compares the akratic to a student who has just begun to learn a subject, or an actor on the stage a10— All of these people, he says, can utter the very words used by those who have knowledge; but their talk does not prove that they really have knowledge, strictly speaking.
These analogies can be taken to mean that the form of akrasia that Aristotle calls weakness rather than impetuosity always results from some diminution of cognitive or intellectual acuity at the moment of action.
The akratic says, at the time of action, that he ought not to indulge in this particular pleasure at this time. But does he know or even believe that he should refrain? Aristotle might be taken to reply: He has some degree of recognition that he must not do this now, but not full recognition. His feeling, even if it is weak, has to some degree prevented him from completely grasping or affirming the point that he should not do this.
And so in a way Socrates was right. When reason remains unimpaired and unclouded, its dictates will carry us all the way to action, so long as we are able to act. But Aristotle's agreement with Socrates is only partial, because he insists on the power of the emotions to rival, weaken or bypass reason. Emotion challenges reason in all three of these ways. In both the akratic and the enkratic, it competes with reason for control over action; even when reason wins, it faces the difficult task of having to struggle with an internal rival.
For Price, the important lesson from Plato's accounts of the unity of the virtues is that all of the virtues converge into a unitary and steadfast course when the virtuous agent performs an action, even if the action's particular nature and function may differ to a greater or lesser extent depending on how we interpret Plato. Price continues with a discussion of the Aristotelian unity of the virtues, in the following section. His main focus is on the way in which the various virtues calculate the mean, which constitutes their particular goal.
Price makes a distinction between the mean as calculated from a virtue's particular perspective, and the mean as seen from the perspective of the other virtues. These two perspectives and evaluations may possibly differ: The virtuous person balances the evaluations of the different virtues through a holistic approach, leading to an action that is generally most appropriate under the circumstances.
After identifying the general goal for the sake of which everything is done happiness and the way in which it is to be achieved by acting wellPrice moves to practical reasoning, i. Part Three begins with a discussion of Socrates' claim in the Gorgias that we all desire what is truly good for usand that evil people do not desire bad things, even if their actions apparently intentionally produce them.
In that case, people who do evil things could be said to act contrary to what they desire, since whatever they try to attain is desirable if it brings eudaimonia, which it obviously does not. This may make the Gorgias claim somewhat less striking, but it still fails to make a distinction between the material and the intentional objects of desire.
The distinction is made in the Meno, where Socrates discusses the desire for bad things, which are mistaken for good, and in the Republic, where harmful desires are associated with the lower, appetitive part of the soul.
Price discusses the nature of appetite and of its desires in the Republic and the extent to which appetite can reason, reaching an intermediate position, according to which appetite's evaluations enter practical reasoning even if appetite itself does not form rational inferences.
Price then moves to the Republic's account of deliberation itself. His conclusion is that the Republic provides no general rules of action that apply universally. The only absolutely good thing is the Form of the Good. Knowledge of the Form is supposed to lead to knowledge of the general and intermediate goals that need to be pursued.
But what exactly these goals are is dependent on circumstance.
Aristotle on Function and Virtue - Oxford Scholarship
Plato offers us, therefore, no "rulebook that contains a blueprint for right living" Price's discussion of Aristotle's account of practical reasoning, in the second section of Part Three, begins with a note on the indeterminacy concerning the role of practical deliberation. But there is more than that. On the one hand, practical deliberation initiates action, in the sense that what it concludes is, in the absence of any impediment, the starting point of action. Furthermore, practical deliberation seems to be involved, in some way, in the determination of one's goals.
Price argues forcefully against the "grand end" view of eudaimonia, according to which practical reason is provided with a blueprint of what constitutes acting well, which it then tries to implement according to the circumstances. Instead, Price assigns a less radical view to Aristotle, according to which the end presented to practical reasoning is "rather a priority than a monomania" Moreover, even distinctive ends are not fully specified, but need to be worked out by weighing different considerations related to one's circumstances.
The resulting picture is that of a spectrum of ends, all subordinate to eudaimonia, ranging from life-goals that guide our long-term plans to proximate goals that change constantly. Price's complex picture of Aristotelian deliberation might lack in clarity, but it is close to the way we actually think and act. Price makes a similar point with respect to Aristotle's views on the existence of absolute practical rules or principles.
With some striking exceptions, Aristotle seems to think of general principles as indefinitely qualified i. But, what provides the starting-point of deliberation, if it is not a 'grand end' supplying a full specification of eudaimonia, or some categorical principles?
Price examines a number of possible answers to the question, noting that none appears clearly in Aristotle. The account Price endorses describes deliberation's starting-points as products of some sort of moral intuition, comparable to the intuition that provides the starting-point for scientific knowledge. Part Four discusses the phenomenon of acrasia in Plato and Aristotle. Price begins by making a distinction between synchronic acrasia weakness of judgment and diachronic acrasia weakness in perseverance.
The existence of the former phenomenon only is famously denied by Socrates in the Protagoras. Price examines Socrates' argument and the ethical hedonism it is based upon, and concludes that Socrates's denial of deliberate self-harming action is intended to illuminate a particular psychological picture and should not be applied generally.
He then evaluates the Protagoras' moral psychological theory by discussing different interpretations of it. Price himself remains indecisive, noting that "what Plato puts into [Socrates'] mouth rather omits a psychology than intimates one" This stands in contrast with the detailed account of moral psychology that Plato offers in the Republic.
Price discusses the Republic's competing account of acrasia, focusing not so much on the possibility of the phenomenon itself, but rather on Plato's understanding of mental conflict and the role of the virtues in avoiding it.
The result is a rich picture of agency and motivation, which allows judgments to arise without the use of reasoning, but still be expressions of the agent's character, through the exercise of the lower soul parts. The book concludes with a discussion of Aristotelian acrasia and related problems and scholarly disagreements.
Price opts for what he calls "a fairly traditional reading" of the relevant passages mainly EN bb according to which Aristotle assigns a qualified ignorance to the acratic person. According to Price, appetite disturbs proper reasoning, not by preventing our logic, but by turning reason's attention away from premises that should be part of the practical syllogism.
Failure to take these premises into account for example, that the cake one is about to eat is unhealthy results in action that is contrary to a whole set of other beliefs about the good that the agent holds. Aristotle's account, and any interpretation of it, is not without its difficulties, and Price discusses some of the most important. His goal is to offer an interpretation of Aristotelian acrasia that is in some agreement with our actual common experience of the phenomenon.