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PostSubject: Aristotle — Nicomachean Ethics Fri Jan 01, 2016 6:59 pm

I am opening this thread for the sake of the study of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, not to praise it nor in order to submit any ultimate interpretation, but because of the work's centrality in the philosophical tradition. I will provide excerpts which I feel exemplify Aristotle's intentions with the work as well as some commentary. I will refer to the work from now on as NE and references will appear either at the end of quotations or immediately preceding any commentary to indicate the part of the work dealt with. I am using the translation by W. D. Ross.


Aristotle wrote:
Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good as rightly been declared to be that which all things aim. [NE 1094a 1-3]

Aristotle wrote:
We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and foolish to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs. [NE 1094b 19-28]

[NE 1094b 29- 1095a 1]

Aristotle says that a man judges best those things he knows, and that a person receiving an education in a subject is a good judge of that subject. Aristotle does not say that a man only knows those things whose phenomena he has become familiar, as opposed to those things he becomes familiar with only as ideas. In other words, Aristotle does not distinguish between becoming familiar with a subject in theory and in practice. It remains unsaid whether one familiar with a subject in theory could be a proper judge of a subject's practice.

Aristotle wrote:
Let us, however, resume our discussion from the point at which we digressed. To judge from the lives that men lead, most men, and men of the most vulgar type, seem (not without some ground) to identify the good, or happiness, with pleasure; which is the reason why they love the life of enjoyment. For there are, we may say, three prominent types of life — that just mentioned, the political, and thirdly the contemplative life. [NE 1095b 13-19]

The study will continue...
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PostSubject: Re: Aristotle — Nicomachean Ethics Sat Jan 02, 2016 7:43 am

Aristotle wrote:
A consideration of the prominent types of life shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of political life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on those who bestow honour rather than on him who receives it, but the good we divine to be something proper to a man and not easily taken from him. Further, men seem to pursue honour in order that they may be assured of their goodness; at least it is by men of practical wisdom that they seek to be honoured, and among those who know them, and on the ground of their virtue; clearly, then, according to them, at any rate, virtue is better. And perhaps one might even suppose this to be, rather than honour, the end of the political life. But even this appears somewhat incomplete; for possession of virtue seems actually compatible with being asleep, or with lifelong inactivity, and, further, with the greatest sufferings and misfortunes; but a man who was living so no one would call happy, unless he were maintaining a thesis at all costs. [NE 1095b 22-26]

Aristotle wrote:
[O]ne might ask the question, what in the world they mean by "a thing itself", if (as is the case) in "man himself" and in a particular man the account of man is one and the same. For in so far as they are man, they will in no respect differ; and if this is so, neither will "good itself" and particular goods, in so far as they are good. But again it will not be good any the more for being eternal, since that which lasts long is no whiter than that which perishes in a day. [NE 1096a 33- 1096b 5]

[NE 1097b 7- 1098a 16]

Aristotle says that happiness is the human end, but it also a result. Aristotle interprets nature teleologically wherein a particular quality is also its purpose. Human happiness arises from reason, because it is the quality particular of man and his activities, and on the other hand he relates the happiness of animals to arise from perception (or the senses).

Aristotle's implication is that because humans are most capable of engaging in rational enterprise with excellence and with the "best and most complete" rational virtue (or art)—so that their activities will last a lifetime—this is also their end and that from which happiness results.

Why Aristotle sees a teleological purpose inherent in qualities is left unexplained here.

Aristotle wrote:
Now goods have been divided into three classes, and some are described as external, others as relating to soul or to body; we call those that relate to soul most properly and truly goods, and physical actions and activities we class as relating to soul. [NE 1098b 12-15]

Aristotle wrote:
It is correct also in that we identify the end with certain actions and activities; for thus it falls among goods of the soul and not among external goods. [NE 1098b 17-19]

[NE 1098b 30- 1099a 6]

One must not only engage in virtuous acts but also engage in them virtuously.
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PostSubject: Re: Aristotle — Nicomachean Ethics Sun Jan 03, 2016 9:18 am

[NE 1099a 7-30]

That which is best and most noble is to succeed with excellence in those acts which lead to the good things in life. Ability and virtue are tied together, as the nature of what is accomplished is tied to the nature of he who accomplishes.

Note that Aristotle makes no indication of how the human is intimately tied to temporal contingency, in fact most of his study is atemporal or ideal. In reality, humans as well as the phenomenal world is contingent upon particulars. Since NE is a 'practical' work, it must be written in consideration of contingencies, and so it must be in relation to these (manifestations of Being/Becoming) that qualities (here "contingencies") become purposive in Aristotle's teleological sense.

[NE 1099b -9]

Happiness depends on a combination of fortune (contingency, quality) and virtue.

[cf. 1101b 36- 1102a 4]

[My Comment]

Happiness is not a first principle but an epiphenomenon of other interactions which manifests in experience. It is a primal mode of telling to mind.

Aristotle's focus on happiness was based on an understanding of physis which accounted only for a limited techne. The Aristotelian focus on happiness as a guiding principle I have found to be insufficient for our time and as such find it to have dated to such a degree that I hardly consider it real philosophy. Something similiar in nature will briefly be stated about Aristotle's selection of virtues at a later point. For the purposes of this study I will underplay the Aristotelian focus on happiness as first guiding principle and it is in that light that Aristotle will be consciously interpreted. No quotations will be altered, nor will my interpretations seek to consciously distort Aristotle's views in any way. The focus on physis and quality rather than happiness is a selecting process, and for the purpose of this study I will focus on Books I, II, VI, and X ch. 9

[NE 1102b 13- 1103a 5]

Aristotle says that the processes of nutrition and growth are unconscious and irrational. Desire is also irrational but can be guided by reason as a child is guided by its parent.

[NE 1103a 3-18]

Aristotle breaks virtue into two categories, intellectual and moral. (Note there is no separation between theoretical theoretical and practical, cf. 1095b 22-26 (quoted above).

Intellectual virtue is the result of teaching and moral virtue is the result of habit. Habit relates to ability and subsequently to possible action.

[NE 1103a 14-25]

Intellectual virtues depend on teaching and require experience and time.

Moral virtue implies habituation, but the ability to be habituated is part of our nature, though the particular habit may not be.

[NE 1103a 28- 1103b]

Learn by doing.

Aristotle wrote:
It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference [between being/doing good or bad]. [NE 1103b 25]

[NE 1104b 4-13]

Aristotle reveals the nature of his concern with pleasure. His goal is that humans come to receive pleasure and pain from "the things that we ought".

Aristotelian ethics reveals itself to be part of a social engineering project.

[NE 1104b 29-36]

Virtue is right action and passion (feeling).

There are "three objects of choice and three of avoidance, the noble, the advantageous, the pleasant, and their contraries, the base, the injurous, and the painful."

This is the Aristotelian looking glass through which action is supposed to be seen and judged.

Aristotle wrote:
[W]e measure even our actions, some of us more and others less, by the rule of pleasure and pain. For this reason, then, our whole inquiry must be about these; for to feel delight and pain rightly or wrongly has no small effect on our actions.

Again, it is harder to fight with pleasure than with anger, to use Heraclitus' phrase, but both art and virtue are always concerned with what is harder; for even the good is better when it is harder. [NE 1105a 1-10]

Aristotle wrote:
[T]he man who uses [pleasure and pain] well will be good, he who uses them badly bad. [NE 1105a 12]

Aristotle wrote:
[In order to be virtuous, t]he agent also must be in a certain condition when he [acts virtuously]; in the first place he must have knowledge, secondly he must choose the acts, and choose them for their own sakes, and thirdly his action must proceed from a firm unchangeable character. [NE 1105a 31-34]
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PostSubject: Re: Aristotle — Nicomachean Ethics Mon Jan 04, 2016 8:59 am

[NE 1106a 10-11]

Virtue is a type of character.

As we see, Aristotelian virtue is a model for character, an intentioned model for character. We should also be aware that Aristotle's work in being "practical" is not theoretical in that, as we shall see, it does not discuss modes or grounds for model construction in general, but simply engages in that process from either the grounds of common sense experience or some part of his thought which remains unseen to readers of the Ethics.

Aristotle wrote:
Therefore [...] the virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well. [NE 1106a 22-24]

Which in itself says little, for what is the work or the use of man?

[NE 1106a 24- 1106b]

Virtue is acting in accordance with the mean between excess and neglect.

[NE 1106a 8-26]

By repeatedly focusing on the mean, Aristotle keeps the individual tethered between two extremes, though one can say this is a method used for measure, for to see clearly what is excess or neglect is to see better how to correct it. But where is growth in Aristotle? Condemned to the realm of the irrational.

Aristotle wrote:
[N]ot every action nor every passion admits of a mean; for some have names that already imply badness, eg. spite, shamelessness, envy, and in the case of actions adultery, theft, murder; for all these and suchlike things imply by their names that they are themselves bad, and not the excesses or deficiencies of them. It is not possible, then, ever to be right with regard to them, one must always be wrong. [NE 1106b 9-14]

[NE 1107b 1-20, also 1103b25 and above]

[My Comment]

When Aristotle presents value laden concepts in the Nicomachean Ethics he never explains their grounds, but instead seems to rely on the prejudice of the reader. Many arguments could be made about Aristotle's thought outside of the context of the work, or even the relations of humans to nature due to his relative historical period. Suffice it to say I have a problem with this method of Aristotle's and it is again reason I have chosen the selection of the work that I am presenting mentioned in the previous post. The grounds of values I would like to investigate elsewhere either on Aristotelian grounds or otherwise.

As for precisely the student of Aristotle, it is important to ask just why is focus laid upon these values, and why not others? What are the grounds of these values? Might not others be better and for better reason?

Aristotle wrote:
We must, however, not only make this general statement, but also apply it to the individual facts. For among statements about conduct those which are general apply more widely, but those which are particular are more genuine, since conduct has to do with individual cases, and our statements must harmonize with the facts in these cases. [NE 1107a 27-31]

[My Comment]

While we can appreciate the directness of Aristotle's statement, what cannot be forgiven of the Nicomachean Ethics is the way the scientific mind tears spirit apart from acting and being in the world, which his predessors Thucydides and even Plato had a keener awareness of because the mythical and poetic spirit was still alive in them. In Aristotle there is the death knell of the poetic spirit and the rise of the scientific.

[NE 1109 14-17]

Sometimes excess can be best. One may, as such, be described as good natured or manly, but all of this depends on particular circumstance. To deal with them one must excercise judgement and perception, and an eye to what it means to be human and part of a process which is human society.
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PostSubject: Re: Aristotle — Nicomachean Ethics Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:29 am

Book VI introduces the method (Aristotle calls it the rule by which things are measured). Judgement, he says, is different from that which studies invariable things, which he calls scientific. The study of variable things he calls calculative or deliberative faculties.

Aristotle wrote:
The virtue of a thing is relative to its proper work. Now there are three things in the soul which control action and truth — sensation, reason, desire. [NE 1139a 17-18]

Aristotle wrote:
Of these, sensation originates no action; this is plain from the fact that the lower animals have sensation but no share in action. What affirmation and negation are in thinking, pursuit and avoidance are in desire; so that since moral virtue is a state of character concerned with choice, and choice is deliberative desire, therefore both the reasoning must be true and the desire right, if the choice is to be good and the latter must pursue just what the former asserts. [NE 1139a 19-26]

[My Comment]

Aristotle does not speak of the relation of choice to imagination through foresight, and foresight as related to the historical consciousness. This lack of historical consciousness leaves a gap in perceptual insight.

[NE 1140a 24- 1140b 19]

Aristotle calls practical wisdom the knowledge governing action and separates it from art.

[My Comment]

Because of the separation Aristotle imposes between the theoretical mind and the practical mind, Aristotle removes types of creative acts (or skills) from what it means to be practically wise or prudent, which could be imprudent if what is necessary is a practical skill. It is likely that, because Aristotle does not write with the historical consciousness (perhaps wishing to keep his writing timeless?) he does not show the transformative and cumulative nature of human intelligence which today we cannot escape from, but which nonetheless is always a factor of history, as Thucydides explicitly states in the opening of his work and Hesiod wrote of in his myth of the ages.

For a deeper study of Aristotle's diving and categorizing technique, it is likely useful to engage in a study of the diairesis most clearly explained in Plato's Statesman, which I hope to do later in another thread.

Aristotle wrote:
[Practical wisdom] is a true and reasoned state of capacity to act with regard to the things that are good or bad for man. For while making has an end other than itself, action cannot; for good action itself is its end. [NE 1140b 4]

[My Comment]

It is worth considering why Aristotle holds action itself to be the end for which man strives. The end is 'living as one ought', or 'as is most excellent' in regard to 'human goods'.

Aristotle wrote:
Of the highest objects, we say; for it would be strange to think that the art of politics, or practical wisdom, is the best knowledge, since man is not the best thing in the world. Now if what is healthy or good is different for men or for fishes, but what is white or straight is always the same, any one would say that what is wise is the same but what is practically wise is different; for it is to that which observes well the various matters concerning itself that one ascribes practical wisdom, and it is to this that one will entrust such matters. [NE 1141a 20-28]


Last edited by Ethos on Wed Jan 06, 2016 9:16 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Aristotle — Nicomachean Ethics Wed Jan 06, 2016 7:44 am

[NE 1141a 20- 1141b 25]

Practical wisdom is without knowledge. "[E]ven some of the lower animals have practical wisdom [... P]hilosophic wisdom and the art of politics cannot be the same".

[My Comment]

But we must also remember that the practical wisdom of a human is not the same as the practical wisdom of animals, for neither the means nor ends of action are the same for humans and animals, and it is the particulars which are separated by difference which give each thing their distinctive class.

Aristotle also fails to mention that for a human it may be practically wise to obtain the knowledge lacking for given acts, but he has failed to account sufficiently for the historical consciousness in his work. Part of the intention of this commentary has been to bring that consciousness to the surface through his work.

[NE 1141b 30- 1142a]

Aristotle breaks practical wisdom into four categories: Practical wisdom, household management, legislation, and politics (and politics is in turn divided into deliberative and judicial).

Aristotle wrote:
That practical wisdom is not scientific knowledge is evident; for it is as has been said, concerned with the ultimate particular fact, since the thing to be done is of this nature. It is opposed, then, to intuitive reason; for intuitive reason is of the limiting premisses, for which no reason can be given, while practical wisdom is concerned with the ultimate particular, which is the object not of scientific knowledge but of perfection— not the perception of qualities particular to one sense but a perception akin to that by which perceive that the particular figure before us is a triangle; for in that direction as well as in that of the major premiss there will be a limit. But this is rather perception than practical wisdom, though it is another kind of perception than that of the qualities peculiar to each sense. [NE 1142a 23-31]

[My Comment]

The above two selections get to the heart of the Nicomachean Ethics because it in these two stipulations that he most clearly outlines his diairesis. Another section of the diairesis was given in the final quote of the first post when he breaks the types of life into the life of pleasure, politics or contemplation.

I would like to highlight the way that originally, the political life and the life of contemplation were placed side by side as two of three possible ways of life. Subsequently, political knowledge is placed as one knowledge aspect under practical wisdom. Furthermore, practical wisdom is itself given as a category under practical wisdom itself. As yet we are told that "practical wisdom is concerned with the ultimate particular", with ultimate ends. For man, that end would be man.

Aristotle said "It would be strange to think that the art of politics, or practical wisdom, is the best knowledge, since man is not the best thing in the world.", but! practical wisdom is not concerned with man qua man, but concerned with ultimate particulars and ends, which is the ends of man.

In regards to the contemplative life, if man poses himself as a contemplative animal, then we must understand that it is man as contemplative animal, and that the ends of contemplation are not distinct from the ends of man since man is directed through contemplation to particular ends through temporal facticity.

Furthermore, Aristotle has done no favours in separating the intuitive faculties from the faculties of practical of wisdom and further those of knowledge, so that humans are fragmented beings, mathematically calculated and categorized under the Aristotelian scientific eye.
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PostSubject: Re: Aristotle — Nicomachean Ethics Thu Jan 07, 2016 8:28 am

[NE 1142a 15]

Practical wisdom is concerned with particulars. Knowledge of particulars comes from experience. The young do not yet have experience therefore they cannot be practically wise.

[My Comment]

It is important to note here that Aristotle's practical knowledge is not intended to be knowledge in the sense of ideas which he brought over to the scientific and contemplative pursuits rather than practical. Aristotle's practical wisdom (or phronesis) is something more like the expression of excellence which comes from conscious practice or training. It is nearer to habit than to ideas, but rather than habit implies purpose, directedness and excellence.

Though Aristotle's conception of phronesis is some ways intriguing, the division Aristotle makes between practical wisdom and the ideas (embodied in the calculative and scientific faculties) is dubious especially when it is practical wisdom which deals with ends (in the human sense). Besides that, perhaps the defining activities of man are those of the intellect, by which path Aristotle means for his readers to follow the contemplative path. It is likely that it is taken from granted that those who are wise will combine the two, but if it is taken for granted that this is such, why does Aristotle neglect it precisely in his work dealing with practical wisdom?

Exploring this subject in great depth would take us too far from this study to be presently pursued. But to provide a suggestion we may wonder if the matter is caused by Aristotle's approach to the eternal and conversely the deficit of historical consciousness in his work. That is, while Aristotle's work may be immortal, this gambit was made at least equally upon the eternal as upon the historical.

[NE 1142b]

Deliberation is distinguished from "skill in conjecture". Conjecture includes readiness to act, whereas deliberation is slow.

[NE 1142a 30-35]

Practical wisdom deals with those things which are to be done.

[NE 1143a 35- 1143b]

Intuitive reason is in the perception of grounds and ends.

[NE 1143a 19-24]

[My Comment]

Aristotle speaks of equity here as if it were fact, yet distinguishes its judgement from that of correct judgement (of that which is true).

[NE 1143a 25-29]

Judgement, understanding, practical wisdom and intuitive wisdom are knit together.

[My Comment]

Intuitive reason is tied to cognition, and part of experience and therefore phenomenal interaction.

Judgement deals with descrimination. Aristotle attaches it to a concept of equity and so lodges it in legal practice and subsequently diluting his investigation of judgement as a regular (or at least unfettered) part of prudent practice simply.

[NE 1143a 28]

Particulars are ultimates.
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PostSubject: Re: Aristotle — Nicomachean Ethics Sat Jul 30, 2016 6:58 pm

[NE 1143a 29-31]

Aristotle here introduces the stipulation that the being "of good or sympathetic judgement consists in being able to judge about the things with which practical wisdom is concerned".

[My Comment]

It is strange why this is given as a definite prerequisite for what Aristotle refers to as "practical wisdom". Is this what Nietzsche accuses Socrates/Plato of? The equation of wisdom, what is highest, iwth the idea of the good, again equated with mildness, kindness, generosity, etc. What is the result of this stipulation? A lack of practical ability to distinguish (Aristotle says, distinguish among what is equitable. [1143a 22-24] We may wonder if he is not speaking cryptically here).

Aristotle wrote:
[Equities] are common to all good men in relation to other men[1143a 31-32]

[My Comment]

Aristotle's conception of good men is part of the creation of a kind of brotherhood where all 'good' men together are equitable in relation to those others - whether they be good warriors, good craftsmen, good citizens. We must notice that Aristotle's questioning does not ask in relation to what is a thing good.

[NE 1143b1-13]

Where Aristotle says listen to those of practical wisdom, I say habituate oneself to the practices where wisdom lies. Act with the virtues of foresight, agility, and a contemplation which consolidates and guides the energy.

Aristotle wrote:
[The] work of man is achieved only in accordance with practical wisdom as well as with moral virtue; for virtue makes us aim at the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means.[NE 1144a 7-10]

[My comment]

Is it a coincidence that the reiteration lacks the word "moral" when saying that virtue causes us to aim for the right mark? We may suppose that Aristotle knew better than to assume that all virtue is merely moral and practical.
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PostSubject: Re: Aristotle — Nicomachean Ethics Sun Jul 31, 2016 10:47 am

[NE 1145a 10-13]

Aristotle says that to give practical reason supremacy is like to give politics rule over gods because it conducts the state.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. This can be taken as a warning against blasphemy, and also the fallacy that men possess which makes them believe they could control the will of the gods, which is the province of theoria or philosophy, as Aristotle conceived it.

[NE 1145a 15-23]

Aristotle states that vice, incontinence and brutishness are to be avoided and opposes them to virtue, continence and a goodness which he exemplifies by figure of Hector.

Aristotle wrote:
Now it is best that there should be a public and proper care for such matters [ie. educating and habituating people into what is good, necessary and virtuous]; but if they are neglected by the community it would seem right for each man to help his children and friends towards virtue, and that they should have the powe, or at least the will to do this. [1180a 29-35]

[My Comment]

Aristotle is lacking here in a description of what a community consists. It cannot be understood as mere proximity because proximity might be shared by those with opposing natures. A community is one whose natures grow together towards a common end.

[NE 1180b 8-11]

Aristotle says that tailoring habituation to individuals is better than to groups.

Aristotle wrote:
[It] will perhaps be agreed that if a man does wish to become master of an art or science he must go to the universal, and come to know it as well as possible. [NE 1180a 20-23]
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