Saturday, April 20, 2013

Aristotle Ethics, Notes

studied under Plato
from Macedonia
Aristotle's practicality may be due to his childhood – father was a doctor
Plato formed one of the first philosophical schools
Aristotle went to Plato's school
Plato's focus is on the ultimate reality, outside of the senses
Socrates is not afraid to die because he sees it as freedom from this body that ages and decomposes
Aristotle's concern is not so much with the obvious fact that the senses deceive about the true reality
but there is not great philosophical surprise
Aristotle's orientation is about learning about this reality
yes, our senses can be misled, so let's make sure that our attention is on the reason behind the senses
don't deny your passions, they tell you something about the world

Nicomachean Ethics
written as a practical guide for his son
fairly practical – any abstraction has a practical point
Plato is not very practically oriented – lots of metaphysics, epistemology, theoretical stuff
Plato thought it was impossible to associate pleasure with the good
Plato wanted to denounce Pleasure = good and Pain = bad
Plato: pleasure is in the body, a feeling, a sensation, and so it changes
difference between the two is merely a sensation
if sensation is always changing, it is an imperfection, it is incomplete
if our measure is lesser than what we measure with it, then what we derive with that measurement will be defective
if we measured with a ruler that constantly changed length, we will misunderstand what is being measured; the pieces won't fit together
in Republic – nine books lead up to a big let down – an entire 'perfect' society is described, then it is realized that it is impossible, because
 people are always becoming
while you are on your way (becoming) you are not just (being)
Aristotle: it is not the good that is completed, not the body, but action
ethics is about action, not stagnation, perfection, completeness
ethics is about acting, living, doing
what you are doing and what you are doing it up is in constant change
Plato thought ethics are about being
once you are good, you are good (an end)
Aristotle thought ethics is about becoming
virtue is not a state of perfection or completion
it has to do with constant change
perhaps being is important for metaphysics, not for ethics
Aristotle wants framework to be honest in its concept of what the framework is
Ethics is about intellection
one cannot do what is right without knowing what is right
it is about thinking, contemplation → (highest of human undertakings)
you don't just stop when you arrive at a truth
to those who live, and do it well, it brings pleasure
virtue brings pleasure
ex. hard work and study → A grade
    → pleasure
kinds of pleasure
in book I, action is always about achieving something
action → end
1. pleasure is appropriate to the action
this is the desirable pleasure
2. pleasure not appropriate to the action and to the end
All action is directed toward an end
end – Greek telos – purposive, directive,
Aristotle's ethics is known as teleological ethics
accomplishment oriented
why are you doing that if there is no point? Well there is always a point
irrational action – when the end is negated by the action itself
some ends are worth pursuing, because they have value, and some ends are bad
the best life for any kind of thing is to pursue its nature completely
to pursue the ingredients of its nature completely
there is a different telos for every kind of thing
the telos of a cow
what that thing should be because it could be if it acted as it ought
an acorn could be an oak tree if it acted as it ought
from a small acorn, if it chooses to function well, can become a huge oak, if it does as it ought because it can
when the acorn is simply allowing itself to act in accordance with its virtue
the end for a human is to live purposeful life
to live and act as completely as you can, given what you can
be careful: you can't just hide in your academy (like Plato) and pretend that the world does not go on, as social beings this does not work
we are part of the world
people with really bad parents: moral education is important
you might have had a crappy start
good parents are like rich soil and environment for the acorn
practical reasoning → the faculty of rationality involved in the determination of proper ends
varies by kind
some are pleasures proper to human beings
what makes a pleasure proper?
proper pleasures complete the activity which generates them
pleasure is improper when it impedes 1. an activity to which it does not properly belong (the flutist)
             2. when it is generated by an activity which is improper
                     (an improper activity is directed toward not good ends / is not directed toward a good end)
why pleasure?
When people are asked what makes them happy, the answer is a pleasure
Aristotle believes we can understand the good by understanding what is happening in the world
what is the common feature? What cuts across all the answers to 'what is good?' or 'what is happy'
good is related to happiness, happiness is related to pleasurable things
anything is good, because somebody somewhere will think it is good; thinks it can't be that, because then good would be meaningless
Book 1: what unites all answers?
Looking for universal truths, which are empirically universal (not metaphysically universal)
if suddenly there were not any virtuous people, there would be no good, right, justice
Plato would say that the good always exists, even without anyone to express it
Aristotle: if no country practiced human rights anymore, there would be no such thing as human rights
Plato: human rights still exist, even when not in practice
Aristotle: if there were nothing that had the property of green, then would it make sense to still speak about green? If green was nonexistent, it wouldn't make sense to speak of green. If there was no point of reference of green, how could there be talk of green?
*telos for women: care for home, virtue is obedience*
*telos for free men: virtues are contemplation and lead/govern*
Problem with Aristotle's methodology: (as an empirically based ethics)
Bk 1 p.9
“happiness is a virtuous activity of the soul”
an activity that is virtuous is directed at the good
happiness is the highest good
an activity that brings happiness is a virtuous activity
circular: p1: happiness is a virtuous activity of the soul
: directed at the good
 : is what brings happiness
happiness is what is proper to human life
Aristotle knows this: some people are happiest when they are vicious
so how do we know know who is virtuous? By the way they act
virtue is not a fixed ideal
a virtuous action is going to be virtuous braced by certain parameters
your virtuous action may not be the same as another person in the same situation

Plato's idea of virtue:
in The Republic – what is virtuous for you is dependent on what you are good at:
a philosopher is good at philosophy, so they should do justice and serve in a political way
a cobbler should make and repair shoes
if you are a slave, obedience is your virtue
virtues are different to different people depending on what their function is
Aristotelian Intellectual Virtue
intellectual virtue is an excellence of intellect
one cannot really have moral virtue without intellectual virtue
virtues that demonstrate your excellence of intellect: capacity to formulate beliefs about the world that are true
Aristotelian Moral Virtue
an excellence of character
different for different people, because people have different natures
Soul: a dot inside of you

½ Desire – pleasure; pleasures proper to an action are qualitatively better than the improper action
½ Reason – pleasure gets reason going, identifies a need which reason can bring about
also keeps desire in check
(sounds a lot like a primitive version of Freud's ego, superego and id)
character is a measure of one's action over a lifetime
you don't make or break your character on any given action
you can mess up and still be virtuous
possible to reform one's character by reforming one's action
(Plato allows little hope for reformation of one's character)
for Aristotle, one can start out badly in life, but can change and grow
don't expect to grow into a full oak tree, but you can be virtuous, and maybe a banzai tree
virtue is the “mean between extremes”
(similar to Kongzi's “golden mean”)
 (vice)  (vice)
virtue is a perfection of character, but there are shades of imperfection
you can deviate quite some way from perfection before you get to imperfection
virtue is a becoming
one can be more or less virtuous
if Jesus was choosing between a blue Honda and a grey Honda, either one would be the moral choice, because the difference is morally irrelevant
Aristotle: one of the differences between us and vegetative things is that we are capable of acting in accordance with our telos through rationality
moral action is always directed at some end
nature is morally neutral: nature makes it possible for us to be virtuous or vicious
virtuous action is always in a context
though humans have rational souls, nothing but reason incline humans to act virtuously
nothing in our nature inclines us toward the good
(Kongzi says there is a natural inclination toward the good)
virtue is greater than social programming
habit – best way to start a person out is to teach them virtuous habits
of ourselves
of circumstances in which action is required
of others with whom one acts or who are affected by one's actions
the virtue of generosity can be exhibited depending on the circumstances, the actor, and the amount of resources

intellectual virtues → intellect; knowledge/belief about the world
moral virtues → character; action
virtue is the mean between extremes
extreme of excess--------------------------virtue--------------------------extreme of deficiency
this is not a relativistic ethics; virtues are derived from one's nature>the kind of thing one is (as a virtuous person)
this is not a mathematical mean: if that were so, virtue would be getting a C instead of an A
Aristotle's metaphysics: “Man is the moving principle”
the world can be broken down into two kinds
things with an internal moving principle
moves of its own accord – moves by itself
humans, oak tree
nothing makes an acorn sprout and grow
things without an internal moving principle
incapable of moving on its own accord
moves only by external principle
rocks, water
man is the agent who is capable of acting and acting according or against reason
man, more than anything else, can control the environment: we can grow oak trees, breed cattle, construct societies, even influence/change other people
voluntary actions – when the action is prompted by one's own passion/reason
involuntary actions – the action is prompted by an external force
1. source of the action is not the desire of the soul/human; either for action or end
[human soul: (desire/reason)]
desire moves the human to action
being made (forced, coerced) to do it
blackmail as opposed to bribery
blackmail is forced out of fear
bribery still has choice
2. desire without reason
desire without knowledge
rage – not prompted by reason
it is still your internal force
but is there any reason involved?
3. the end / the action with an end was not chosen
an involuntary action is one that has no choice
punishment shouldn't be applied these types of actions
these actions are not counted against one's character
ethics is fundamentally about ends:
many possible actions can result in a particular end: ex. A, B, C, D, E
vice—A------C--B--------(E – virtue)------------F----D---vice

addresses Aristotle's circular reasoning
Happiness → Virtue → Virtuous Action → Virtuous Man → Happiness
fallacy – premise is restating the conclusion and the conclusion is restating premise
argument is valid by self-reference
premise is supposed to provide a reason or evidence to support conclusion
using reason, a step is made form the premise to a conclusion
this step is called an inference
“it's wrong to kill because it's wrong to kill”
Aristotle's Virtuous Person becomes self-referential
a virtuous action is an action that a virtuous person does
begging the question – keep asking the question – the conclusion provides no answer
why would this lay at the heart of Aristotle's ethics?
Problem: there is no independent validation for the truth of the conclusion or the truth of the premise
invalid core at the center of a theory which severely weakens a theory
fundamentally unverifiable
no independent way to figure out what the virtuous person is
if the heart of the theory is no valid, it isn't very applicable
you can't get a prescriptive point
Aristotle is very focused on practicality
criticizes Plato for focusing on metaphysics
but by doing it without metaphysics, there is no means to validate what he is left with
Plato: a virtuous person is one who comprehends the good and acts accordingly
rather than struggling with it, Aristotle tossed it aside
Greene: Maybe there is something else going on...
clearly Aristotle does not agree with Plato's lofty arguments
maybe there is an implicit premise
whenever there is something that is very difficult to account for, Aristotle appeals to the Virtuous Person
maybe the virtuous person is Socrates
Aristotle was once put in jail for same reason of Socrates, but decided to flee and lived in exile the rest of his life
'lest Athens sin again against philosophy, I will escape'
Greene: 'Aristotle retains a lot of Plato's ideas, though he lops off the most central one'
Aristotle: 'if what you need here is a richer account, refer to the virtuous person (such as Socrates)
recall Aristotle's orientation is concerned with pragmatism
ethics is about living one's life in this world, and having a chance to be happy
Greene: What could one draw upon is something like 'everyone agrees a virtuous person is someone like X'
Aristotle draws on the all for empirical evidence to support general claims about human beings
Politiks – there are different kinds of human beings
all women are lesser than some men
some men and women are lesser than all women and some other men
not all people are virtuous
cannot draw on the all to establish what is virtuous to identify generalizations
Aristotle draws on these groups for these things
all – empirical evidence to support general claims about human beings
many – for evidence of common beliefs
few - provide grounding for basic claims and verification of those claims
doesn't every 'us' think they are superior/the way to be
Aristotle wants to avoid relativism
believes that what is good must be free of relativism
having sex with dead people cannot be good, so he believes
Greene: maybe in Athens at the time, everybody knew who the 'virtuous person' was; not all time, but in his time
(makes sense – practicality)
but even Socrates' 500 fellow citizens couldn't agree on whether Socrates was virtuous, when clearly he was. The decision was split almost down the middle, with fewer thinking he was virtuous


many people basically have a hard time believing that Aristotle could have such a vicious circle in his ethics (happiness and virtue) because he was the first person to formalize logic

    1. Happiness → an activity of the soul → Virtue (an excellence of character) → Virtuous Action (brings pleasure appropriate to the action and end) → Pleasure of virtuous action is the pleasure the virtuous man has when acting virtuously → Happiness

Hursthouse tries to put virtue theory in to practice, and in doing so finds how serious the circle is
when the theory is tried to be put into practice (as this is supposed to be a practical guide), the circle appears clearly
Plato's similar problem: you have to have an idea of the good before you can get going

    2. What is the right action? → the Virtuous Action → what the virtuous man does → the right action

Hursthouse says this is the shorthand for a larger, more circular pattern
this circle is not vicious, invalidating
vicious circles – clearly invalid – what people think Aristotle's circle is
there are non-vicious circles too
instead of asking “What is right action?”

   3. What would the virtuous man do?

Hursthouse acknowledges that there is a circle, but wants to persuade you that the larger vicious circle provides you with enough information to answer #3
'does it really make any sense, if you are a pregnant teenage girl, when contemplating an abortion, to ask yourself what Socrates would do'
this doesn't make sense; it does not answer anything because Socrates, as a virtuous person, would not get himself into a situation like that, even if he were pregnant and teenage
key facts: pregnancy occurs inside of a woman's body (not in the fridge, not in man's body, etc)
Aristotle's theory provides that two different people, both virtuous, in the same situation, could act differently and both be acting virtuously
when applying virtue theory to abortion, ruled out is:

right of women to control her body
right of fetus to life

this is not about rights, because if you grant one right then the other is denied
happiness does not equal individual pleasure, or desire, or wants, or feelings
but these are barometers
problem with rights: if I have a right to do it, I don't have to care
right to freedom of speech, you may say anything you wish to say
might not be virtuous to yell civil and gay rights to a seething group of KKK
there is no responsibility to exercise rights
if you want it, its yours
Hursthouse: dealing with rights and abortion dehumanizes the situation
Hursthouse: there is not absolute right or wrong → this is a virtuous action
this looks like relativity
there are however absolutely vicious actions

No comments:

Post a Comment