Saturday, October 6, 2018

The "theoretical basis" of Aristotle's Ethics: a correction to technocratic discourse in Ethics

Often in the contemporary conversation regarding Aristotle's ethics, there is a linguistic error made that suggests that Aristotle's moral philosophy is "theoretically based" on the teleological assumption that everything has an end-cause. The implication, embedded in such language, suggests Aristotle is being "scientific" when he says we are impelled toward the good, toward thriving, toward happiness. Actually, when Aristotle advances the teleological argument at the beginning of the Nichomachean Ethics, he is pretty tentative about it, and moreover he quickly walks away from it and treats the phenomenon and criterion of eudemonia as self-evident. In the Eudemian Ethics, he doesn't even bother to go through the motions of discussing teleology, and--after rapidly (though clearly and reasonably) saying that the goal and criterion of eudemonia is self-evident--he goes directly into his discussion of eudemonia.

Eudemonia is the Greek word for the good, thriving, happiness, and it is exactly what Jefferson and Locke are saying, respectively, when they are describing the "pursuit of life, liberty and happiness," and the "pursuit of life, liberty and property." Earlier, in all sorts of ways, Milton is saying the same thing; across his work, this fits into the figure he develops combining Christian charity, God's love, and the purpose--central to the nature of a marriage between a man and a woman--of shared Bible study, intellectual adventure and amorous intimacy.

Ethics is not a matter of theoretical speculation, nor is it an assessment of various theories, as if through an examination of these "theories" we can progress toward a normative or prescriptive moral theory that is legitimately authoritative.  Rather, moral philosophy is the consideration of what is good, and how to achieve it.   Rather than providing rules or guidelines, moral philosophy points the way to improving our ability to act in appropriate ways.

These are interesting matters. Please click the following links for additional highbrow analysis:

Aristotle and the Meaning of Eudaimonia
An Introduction to Modernity, or a few lines on Locke, Jefferson and Milton off the top of my Head

"Adam Inspired by Eve and Rosie Dawn"  Terrance  Lindall

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