COMMENTARY ON ARISTOTLE’S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS: BOOK I, 1
(For the nature of the sections see the “General Introduction”, here.)
Abbreviations: Ar. = Aristotle, AQ= Aquinas, NE = Nicomachean Ethics, EE= Eudemian Ethics
“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action as well as choice, is held to aim at some good. Hence people have nobly declared that the good is that at which all things aim. But there appears to be a certain difference among the ends: some ends are activities, others are certain works apart from the activities themselves, and in those cases in which there are certain ends apart from the actions, the works are naturally better than the activities.
Now, since there are many actions, arts and sciences, the ends too are many: of medicine, the end is health; of shipbuilding, a ship; of generalship, victory; of household management, wealth. And in all things of this sort that fall under some one capacity —for just as bridle making and such other arts as concern equestrian gear fall under horsemanship, while this art and every action related to warfare fall under generalship, so in the same manner, some arts fall under one capacity, others under another —–in all of them, the ends of the architectonic ones are more choiceworthy than all those that fall under them, for these latter are pursued for the sake of the former. And it makes no difference at all whether the ends of the actions are the activities themselves or something else apart from these, as in the sciences mentioned.” (NE, 1094a1-18; Aristotle´s Nicomachean Ethics, Bartlett, Robert, and Collins, Susan; University of Chicago, Chicago, 2011)
I. PRIVATE PUZZLES
1) Why does Aristotle begin his text by using such complicated, even technical, vocabulary (technē, methodos, praxis, proairesis, kalos, telos, energeia, ergon, dynamis, epistēmē …..)? For surely this is not your everyday terminology, is it? I mean, one just needs to read the contrast between epistēmē and technē in Book VI to see the comprehension requirements of such a beginning, doesn’t one? Or, alternatively, one just needs to survey the complex commentaries which such a beginning has spawned in academia! But then, WHO precisely is Ar. addressing as his audience by proceeding thus? Does he wish to point to the fact that his audience must be prepared to engage a vocabulary that is not simply given in everyday experience? Will everyday experience have to somehow be “clarified” as we proceed along his path? So, wouldn’t Aristotle be seeking from the very start an audience friendly —or better, that could potentially become friendly—– to philosophical jargon, its complexities and its detailed characterizations? But, how can he guarantee this? And MUCH more importantly, doesn’t Ar. begin AS WELL by signalling to the fact that he will bow in his ethical investigations to what is “held to be” (dokein) the case? And surely “what is held to be” is precisely what thinks itself in no need whatsoever of investigation, isn’t it? So, isn´t the audience that hears Ar. comprised as well by those morally sound citizens whose opinions are seen to be noble (kalos) from the very beginning? And, aren’t the examples actually given in subsection 1 taken from the very everyday activities known to any educated citizen of the polis? For it would be odd to think that shipbuilding/war goes on in the Lyceum, wouldn’t it? Consequently, wouldn’t Ar. be pointing to the fact that this audience has a kind of dual nature? Aren’t we moved to understand that philosophers must confront a mixed kind of audience, namely, those who have been properly educated in moral things, and those —-much much fewer, one surmises—– who being properly educated in these noble things, have a underlying longing to understand whence such education? Thus, wouldn’t such an audience be conformed both by serious citizens as well as would be individuals keen in understanding the foundation of such moral education, and because GOOD, absolutely clear on the dangers of philosophy to practical life? (Warning made explicit in EE, 1216b39-1217a6)
2) But then again, why does Aristotle wish to point to the relationship between the noble and the good? Why exactly should this be THE beginning? What is it about the noble that gives it such weight that IT allows for the beginning of THE serious ethical inquiry? Who could be the audience such that the noble would be an object of admiration and desire? Who would actually be moved by such initial assumptions? All humans? Surely not. All the citizens? Perhaps only those ALREADY capable of hearing the noble? But then, what are THEY to learn? Or, is it would-be philosophers in the Lyceum? But aren’t they supposed to question “assumptions” such as this? And, crucially, what is the nature of this kind of relationship between the noble and the good that the means of communication by the philosopher is by way of rhetorical argumentation and the use of enthymeme (Rh, 1355a)? Why does rhetoric in the investigation of the ethical take precedence over the scientific and logically syllogistic? Is the enthymeme simply a truncated syllogism? Or is it the other way around, the truncated syllogism being that syllogism which is SIMPLY scientific? Don’t many modern discussion around the ethics suffer, precisely, from this illness of inversion? But then again, what if modernity has actually subverted such rhetorical skills? How then are we to prepare ourselves to be able to listen to such beginnings? Can we moderns, in fact, even listen to the noble in its true magnitude?
3) In what perhaps has to be one of the complex puzzles: Why does Aristotle introduce the issue of teleology from the start? “By nature” (physis); what does that exactly mean? Does it mean what it means for Montesquieu at the beginning of The Spirit of the Laws? Does it mean what it means for us post-Galileans? Don’t we obviously know that Aristotle deluded himself into thinking that the universe had an intrinsic teleology which can no longer be accounted for? Or rather, aren’t WE deluding ourselves into thinking we in fact understand Aristotle so that we have little or nothing to learn from him in terms of the understanding of the whole (in this regard Bolotin’s An Approach to Aristotle’s Physics: With Particular Attention to the Role of His Manner of Writing, is of the essence)? Is “nature” merely a concatenation of natural effects and causes following certain “natural” laws (see Hobbes, Leviathan, Part I, Chapter V. “Of Reason and Science”? Or rather, does it refer to a certain intelligibility of the whole? But then again, what in humans makes them capable of understanding such a whole? And how is the understanding of the whole made accessible SOLELY by way of an understanding of the ethical/political things? And if this were true, wouldn’t then the NE be THE entrance point par excellence?
4) And why the initial reference to choice? Is Aristotle prudently, gently, preparing some of us for a choice which involves getting to understand the noble and its dynamics? Why so? Because in the EE, Aristotle in contrast has NO qualms whatsoever about making it LOUD AND CLEAR to the reader that the question is, in fact, one of CHOICE (EE, 1214b6-13: “everyone who can live according to his own choice should adopt some goal for a the fine life … “) ? But then again, why is Ar. so reticent about being as LOUD in the NE? Is it because of his better understanding of the nature of the mixed audience attending his lectures? Isn’t part of the audience, the noble part, less akin to the loudness of philosophical inquiry? Wouldn’t that audience rarely —if ever—- visit the Lyceum where the activity of dialogical questioning is taken for granted? And, very importantly for students of Ar., wouldn’t this signal to the greater maturity present in the NE in contrast to the EE? Or put another way, wouldn’t the EE stand to Plato’s Republic, as the NE stands to the elder Plato’s Laws?
5) And, why does Aristotle seem to struggle with the hierarchical relation between different ends, those that are activities for their own sake, and those which have an end (a work) apart from the activities themselves? Why does he FIRST say that the those with works apart are naturally better (again, in what sense of “nature”?)? But then at the end of this very same Subsection 1, he goes on to, seemingly, contradict himself by saying that actually “it makes no difference at all whether the ends of the actions are the activities themselves or something else apart form these”? Didn’t he just a few lines before argue the exact opposite? Why exactly is Aristotle trying to “confuse” us? Is he trying to get us to see that the relation between ethical activity and its “products” is one that will be shown to be problematic? For shouldn’t one be ethical for the sake of the activity itself and not for any results stemming from these noble actions? Or put another way, what is the product of being ethical apart from being ethical? Wouldn’t that alone be the greatest pleasure? Is the product for another, or rather the product becoming oneself a certain kind of person? Or put another way, can the moral virtues be seen solely for their own sake, and not for any ulterior product which they may obtain? And we know, as well, that Ar. will go on to claim that eudaimonia, which is in fact THE end of our human activity, is in fact not a state but an ACTIVITY? So once again, Ar. seems to make us puzzle precisely as to which type of ends take precedence over the others. Or, rather, may there not be instances in which the activity undergone IS the “product”? Isn’t the relation between logos (speech) and ergon (deed) a bit like this? Because, following Ar. and the Socratic legacy, isn’t the core question HOW we should lead our lives? And, isn’t Ar. starting to signal, perhaps, that understanding is some such kind of activity?
6) And as regards the famous expression “hence people have nobly declared that the good is that at which all things aim”, why once again is Aristotle so reticent to distinguish between the “good simply” and the merely “apparent good”? For surely we may believe of our arts, inquiries, actions and choices that they may be directed towards the/our good, but be totally wrong about this! Evidently too many are not (drug trafficking, lock-picking, bullying, smoking, stealing, murdering, prostituting ….) Why is Aristotle so resistant about giving us any of the too well-known bad examples? Isn’t it, of course, because of the connection to the puzzles put forward in 2)? Or to provide an example, why would Ar. simply see with amazement —or better, disgust—- the fact that Colombian TV networks, and MANY citizens, find it unproblematic to produce a series on the life of Pablo Escobar? And what is it about our anti-Aristotelianism that allows such actions to generate HUGE ratings and economic benefits? And, beyond this, if “the good is that at which all things aim”, surely what this superior end is, must be further dealt with? For Ar. knows quite well —as he will let us CLEARLY know as he proceeds in Book I—- that there is a philosophical tradition stemming from “Plato” that seems to claim that THE Good, and most probably also those who claim to know IT, are “not even of this world”! Doesn’t Ar. know all-too-well Aristophanes Clouds?
7) Moreover, what to make of Ar.’s examples? For aren’t they a bit confusing? For instance, i) isn’t the product of medicine, namely, health, more a kind of constant activity rather than a finalized product, (and an activity properly speaking of those cases in which “things have not gone by nature”), ii) but isn’t the ship which is the end of shipbuilding clearly not an activity but rather a PRODUCT external to the activity, iii) and why it is so troubling to simply say that the end of war is simply victory (don’t generals always say to their troops things like, “have a plan b”, “nothing goes according to plan”, case in point the plan to capture Bin Laden, and besides, and what happens after generals are victorious? Do they just retire? See puzzle 8) below), and finally, iv) why should we simply accept that the end of the art of the household (oikonomia) is WEALTH, as if, as AQ. quickly points out, Ar. himself not only argues against this in the Politics (1253b12-1254a) (AQ, No. 15), but also just a few chapters on in BOOK I will criticize such an end, the life of money-making, with the harshest of words (in an almost un-Aristotelian fashion tenor!)? (Not to mention the fact that Ar.’s words contrast dramatically with what is said about the art of the household in Xenophon’s very important Economics!) Is Aristotle trying to deliberately “confuse” us once gain? Or, much more likely, is he trying to point to the very complexity of the ethical, how we need to “unpack it” to use modern terms? Or better put, that we must slowly come to place ourselves in a condition, a prudent condition, in which the activity of unpacking does not destroy the “product” already somehow pre-packaged IN us, in our minds and very beings? So that in fact, we are dealing with a kind of medicine and healing, with a kind of ship building and voyage, with a kind of war and a victory, and with a kind of new home?
8) And if the beginning is so crucial to any undertaking, why exactly does Ar. choose the example of war to exemplify how activities are hierarchically organized, and this without actually mentioning political society? Why not, for instance give a “friendlier” example such as that of shoe-making? In modern commercial terms, lace-making subordinated to shoe-making, shoe-making subordinated to the market, the market subordinated to no one but the laws of supply and demand (Smith’s “invisible hand”)? For isn’t the modern drive of authors such as Montesquieu the pacification of political life via the expansion of commercialism? Or more to the point, what exactly is war good for? For victory? But what do the victorious DO, after they have won? Do they simply retire and contemplate their hard-earned medals? Isn’t it rather to preserve those who must be defended from foreigners? And, Thucydides would ask, isn’t it all too obvious that armies lose (one can think of Lord Tennyson´s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade)? Didn’t the very Athens in which Ar. lived as a foreigner actually lose in spite of its grandeur? And once again, who is Aristotle speaking to by using such examples? Is it to the generals doing the campaigning and with little time for the Lyceum? Or is it to their children? To the sons (now also daughters) of the polis ready to defend it; to those who actually hold horses like Alcibiades, in contrast to men such as Socrates who fight on foot (Plato, Symposium)? And doesn’t the example of war immediately, though silently, bring into the discussion the issue of the polis? For aren’t the victories of war for SOME group, SET —justly or not—- AGAINST another? And besides, isn’t it obvious that there are good and bad generals? Shouldn’t we wish to come to understand what makes Grant a MUCH better general than McClellan? What is so obviously NOBLE about Grant’s victory over Lee? And what makes General Hooker such a BAD General, so bad that Lincoln has to write a letter explaining himself to one who is, supposedly, inferior? (See, below, letter by Lincoln to Hooker “Letter to General Joseph Hooker”, January 26, 1863, pp. 433-4, Lincoln “Speeches and Writings 1859-1865, ed. Library of America, quoted below.) Or put more dramatically, what makes Erwin Rommel such a good general (so good in fact he is still read for his understanding of tactics, and so “good” that he was even given the CHOICE (?) to commit suicide)? But how could any of this be of relevance to this subsection you might ask? And clearly, the relevance of such examples is made clear if one simply looks ahead in Book I at what Ar. will say about such dramatic situations (NE, 1100b23-1101a13)?
9) And perhaps the single most BEWILDERING puzzle, why does Aristotle simply try to convince us that we should accept his final words in this subsection which say: “as in the sciences mentioned”? Now, leaving aside the fact that in BOOK VI Ar. will go on to say that characteristic of epistēmē is that it deals with what exists of necessity and therefore is eternal (VI, 1139b20ff.) ——- so that NONE of his examples seem to point to such a standard; for instance, ALL ships, like the Titanic and even Noah´s Ark, will one day sink——- still Ar. himself has provided NO example of the alleged sciences he himself says he has mentioned ALREADY! Now, is Ar. just being a bit diabolical? Or rather, couldn’t he be asking us to think about which science(s) would in fact be more authoritative than all others? And doesn’t he proceed to do exactly that by mentioning political “science” in subsection 2 with its own set of puzzles? Or could it be that Ar. is doubtful whether the question of the nature of the ethical is such that the prudent and more truthful approximation to it cannot follow the character of arithmetic/geometric inquiry? In this respect, wouldn’t Ar. stand at polar opposites to Spinoza, who, for instance, claims to be able to prove in geometrical fashion his Ethics? And wouldn’t such account for both authors STRIKINGLY different beginnings?
1) The dual/ intermixed nature of Ar.’s audience
Since Aristotle himself will tell us that “the beginning seems to be more than half of the whole, and many of the points being sought seem to become manifest on account of it.” (NE, 1098b6-8), then clearly the beginning of ANY text is of paramount importance. And since we know that the beginning of the Eudemian Ethics is quite different, for it speaks of poetry and the Gods from the very start (see Section IV, 3, below), then we ought to try to understand as best as possible why Ar. has chosen to begin his more famous text on ethics in this precise way and no other. And given that hundreds if not thousands of commentaries have been provided (and will be provided) on these initial few memorable lines —for who, by way of contrast, actually readily remembers the words at the beginning of Kant’s also famous texts on practical reason— we can only just try to provide some initial and very tentative remarks. We are thus led to ask: Why does Aristotle begin his text by using such technical, by no means “everyday” kind of vocabulary (technē, gnosis, praxis, proairesis, tele/telos, energeia, ergon, epistēmē)? I mean, one just needs to read the contrast between epistēmē and technē in Book VI to see the comprehension requirements of such a beginning. Our response is that Ar. is, from the very start, making clear what kind of audience is the one he confronts and/or wishes for. By using such complex vocabulary ——one just needs to peruse the numerous and even conflicting commentaries on this section to start to get dizzy as a student seeking guidance in one´s life—— it seems Ar. wishes to point to the fact that his audience must be prepared to engage a vocabulary that is not simply given in everyday experience. In other words, he prepares/awakens us quite suddenly to the fact that some such vocabulary, and some such distinctions may be necessary along the way if we are to move beyond what is simply given. Or put yet another way, it would seem Aristotle is seeking, from the very start, an audience friendly —or better, that could potentially become friendly—– to some basic philosophical jargon, to its complexities and its detailed characterizations which may allow us to move beyond our initial perplexities. As he puts it in the Metaphysics regarding the nature of such initial perplexities:
“We must recount the things that must be puzzled over… For those who wish to get clear of perplexity it is advantageous to state the perplexities well; for the subsequent freedom from perplexity (euporia) implies the solution of the previous perplexities and it is not possible to loose a fetter one is not even aware of. But the perplexity in our thinking reveals a fetter concerning the thing [that is investigated]; for in so far as our thought is in perplexity it resembles people who are tied up; in both cases it is impossible to go forward…. people who inquire without first stating the perplexities are like those who do not know where they have to go; besides, one does not otherwise know even whether one has found what one is looking for, for the goal is not clear to such a person…” (Metaphysics, Bk 3, 995a27-b2)
So Ar., on the one hand, seeks an audience wishing to move forward, intent on ceasing to be tied up.
But, MUCH more importantly, Ar. begins AS WELL by signalling to the fact that he will bow —even if a philosopher—- in his ethical investigations to what is “held to be” (dokein) the case. What is “held to be the case”, is lexically speaking linked to what is given to us in our general opinion (doxa); and this means precisely that as such it has not been confronted with its own kinds of perplexities. That is to say “what is held to be” is precisely what thinks itself in no need whatsoever of investigation. And yet, Ar. gives in fact a huge initial bow to the accumulated understanding of the noble and morally sober consideration of the reality and the education therein ALREADY present. For surely it would be perplexing to actually think that we LEARN to be moral at the Lyceum, or any such institution.
Thus we conclude that from the very start Ar. carefully points to the fact that this audience has a kind of dual nature. That is to say, we are moved to understand that serious philosophers must confront a mixed kind of audience, namely, those who have been properly educated in moral things, and those —-much much fewer, one surmises—– who being properly educated in these noble things, have a underlying longing to understand whence such education. Such an audience would be conformed both by the serious citizens who actually are called upon to guide practical affairs, as well as would-be individuals keen on understanding the foundation of such moral education, and because GOOD, absolutely clear on the dangers of philosophy to practical life. Such dangers, are clearly stated early on in the EE:
“because it appears to be the mark of the philosopher never to speak in an unconsidered fashion but always with reason, there are some who often go undetected when they produce arguments that are foreign to the inquiry and idle; they do this sometimes because of ignorance, sometime because of charlatanry; by these are caught even those who are experienced and of practical ability at the hands of men who neither have nor are capable of architectonic or practical thought” (EE, 1216b39 -1217a6; Woods, Oxford; see also Xenophon Memorabilia, Book I, Chapter 2 on Alcibiades’ dialogue with Pericles, and Xenophon’s parallel defense of Socrates; cf. the beginning of Mein Kempf)
Ar. is intent on not becoming, and not letting us become, mere charlatans. The healthy tension between BOTH types of audiences will radically aid in preventing this. Does philosophy today confront head on this Aristotelian “principle”?
2) The intimate relationship between an ethics of the good and classical rhetoric
But moreover, besides clarifying his audience, he provides further information as regards the starting point of any ethical discussion which comes close to the reality of its actual presentation. In this respect, he lets us know that people have nobly (kalos) declared “that the good is that at which all things aim”. Ar. thereby introduces the core element of the moral life, the noble, that is to say, what is actually regarded by those well-educated to be in fact morally admirable, that which stands as exemplary in the domain of practical life. And what we can gather from such an initial approach is that Ar. once again is keen on respecting the ethical sphere ON ITS OWN TERMS. Therefore, instead of superimposing a “method” on this sphere, he refer us to the different kinds of arguments that are available to us in our different investigations. Thus, instead of using arguments/procedures/methods of a scientific nature as many early-modern political theorists actually do (see, section IV below) ——arguments which do violence to the self-understanding of those who actually inhabit and make possible the ethical sphere—- he presents us with the existence of the enthymeme type of argument as defined in the Rhetoric:
“for it belongs to the same capacity both to see the true and (to see) what resembles the true, and at the same time humans have a natural disposition for the true and to a large extent hit on the truth; thus an ability to aim at commonly held opinions (endoxa) is a characteristic of one who has a similar ability to regard the truth … but rhetoric is useful (first) because the true and the just are by nature stronger than their opposites, so that if judgements are not made in the right way (the true and the just) are necessarily defeated (by their opposites). And this is worthy of censure” (my emphasis: Aristotle; A Theory of Civic Discourse, Kennedy, p. 33, 1354bff; cf. Locke ECHU, IV, Chapter 5, final words on the nature moral truth; p. 250, Volume II, Dover edition)
So that distinguishing the kind of truth available to different spheres understood in their own terms, is the mark of maturity at any level. And it is precisely the “philosophic” audience which Ar. evidently thinks MUST be constantly reminded of this; must be somehow reigned in from its excesses. Rhetoric, then, plays a vital and revitalizing role in the investigation of the ethical; its mode of access via enthymemes taking precedence over the scientific and logically syllogistic. The enthymeme ceases to be simply a truncated kind of argument; and even going further, the enthymeme reveals that, actually, THE truncated syllogism is that which is SIMPLY scientific. And in this regard, an Aristotelian cannot but behold Spinoza’s Ethics as suffering from a certain kind of perplexing illness. (see Metaphysics4, 1011a3-13) Or put still another way, whatever truth(s) we may come to find through our investigations, they BEGIN by respecting what appears to us in the surface of our practical encounters. For it is evident that these surface beliefs are the ones seriously held by those to whom practical matters matter the most. And, Ar. seems to want us to ask; what kind of investigation would it be if we, from the start, discarded those who precisely conform and defend the sphere investigated? It would evidently be hollow and life-less; even dangerous.
3) The hierarchical ordering of activities: the example of warfare
In following this very general understanding of the practical, Ar. cannot but point out that we do IN FACT prioritize on a daily basis, so that our actions are not merely random and pointless, but actually move towards different ends we come to regard as central to our lives. We order our lives as best we see fit towards what we recognize as the good. Or better and more truthfully, it is not US who go about providing wishful “relativistic” hierarchies, rather, the ethical sphere itself has already clearly provided a certain type of hierarchal ordering within which we actually do our choosing. For as Ar. puts it with his famous example: “for just as bridle making and such other arts as concern equestrian gear fall under horsemanship, while this art and every action related to warfare fall under generalship…”. Upon birth we are already set within a world in which bridle making, horsemanship and generalship ALREADY exist. Or put another way, military service in Colombia —not in Canada or the US— is obligatory. Now, one could imprudently ask whether this example is not filled with striking perplexities, but Ar. has let us know that the ethical sphere ought to be respected in its own terms. So instead, one can readily point out that the audience to which Ar. speaks can clearly see the relevance of such words. For surely, in a world of conflicting interests, of conflicting ethical views, the condition of warfare seems to be one of great likelihood (Persian War, Peloponnesian War, The Holy War of the Crusades, American Civil War, First World War, Second World War, ….. ). And furthermore, that the example chosen is that of horsemanship also reveals that the audience to whom Ar. speaks is partly that of those who have the necessary economic independence to be able to lead on the one hand, and/or to be able to investigate on the other. Or put yet another way, instead of focusing on the issue of whether the end of generalship, which is that of victory, is not somehow troubling, Ar. bids us focus on the nature of political affairs as they do in fact appear in reality. And that this is the direction we are headed for is confirmed once we move on to Subsection 2.
4) Ends as activities, ends apart from activities, and the inexistent epistemē
Finally, it is of great importance to point out that Aristotle does seem to struggle with the hierarchical relation between different ends, those that are activities for their own sake, and those which have an end (a work) apart from the activities themselves. This is so because he FIRST says that the those with works apart are naturally better , but then at the end of this very same Subsection 1, he goes on to, seemingly, contradict himself by saying that actually “it makes no difference at all whether the ends of the actions are the activities themselves or something else apart form these”. So that somewhat perplexed one is led to ask: didn’t he just a few lines before argue the exact opposite? Perhaps we can simply say this, that Ar. is, once again, trying to make us more flexible as regards the conditions for any sort of investigation, but more importantly that of the ethical. And perhaps we can only say that in terms of the ethical, if in fact, the aim of such a study is to decide how one should live one´s life —–to be able to lead the best life possible for a human being—– then a consideration of the nature of the moral virtues for their own sakes, and not for any product ulterior to them is paramount. Perhaps we must be prepared to rethink what it means to act, what it means to choose, and more fundamentally, what it means to actually live a life sought for its own sake, a life —–to use the language of ESL teachers— sought intrinsically and not extrinsically.
And as regards the single most BEWILDERING puzzle, namely, that Aristotle simply tries to convince us that we should accept his final words in this subsection which say: “as in the sciences mentioned” while in fact he has in fact provided NO such example of the alleged sciences, perhaps we can say this. In connection to the above-mentioned characterization of the ethical sphere as hierarchically ordered, it seems Ar. is opening up the question as to which science or type of understanding will actually be the best candidate as regards top place in such hierarchical division. In other words, he seems to point, by his silence, to the fact that there are ALREADY some candidates which claim to be the ones who CALL THE SHOTS. In this way he moves us readily into the discussion of political science that will appear in the next subsection.
But perhaps he is also intent on again emphasizing the question as to whether it is actually a “science” as such which will grant us the most veritable access to the ethical sphere, and thus guarantee in a certain sense that our investigation will not be truncated from the start. For how could one learn to live one’s life from an investigation that cannot grasp the nature of human life in its most fundamental aspects? And that such anti-Aristotelianism is part of WHO WE ARE AS MODERNS can be seen by simply rereading what Hobbes takes to be the correct methodological procedures as regards the access to the ethical sphere. Thus in Leviathan he states:
“that is the privilege of absurdity, to which no living creature is subject but man only. And of men, those are of all most subject to it that profess philosophy …. that there can be nothing so absurd, but may be found in the books of philosophers. And the reason is manifest. For there is not one of them that begins his ratiocination from the definitions, or explications of the names they are to use; which is the method that hath been used only in geometry, whose conclusions have thereby been made indisputable.” (Lev, I, V, (7), p. 24; Hackett Edition; cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics 4, 1011a3-13)
By leaving the alleged epistemē blank, Ar. allows us a very different beginning, and from the start prepares us against such Hobbesian absurdities.
We conclude then that Ar. has put forward in BOOK I, Subsection 1: 1) the nature of the intermixed audience he will be dealing with; 2) the character of the ethical presuppositions which give the noble centre stage in terms of the discussion, and its relation to the rhetorical types of arguments available to us; 3) a teleological understanding which provides a certain hierarchy in everyday affairs guided by certain practices that already are present in the ethical sphere, and finally; 4) a certain ambivalence and silence which allows us to begin to think for ourselves the direction of the arguments presented in the NE.
Ar. thus confirms his very own words which will later on state that “the beginning seems to be more than half of the whole, and many of the points being sought seem to become manifest on account of it.” (NE, 1098b6-8)
III. PUZZLES REGARDING COMMENTARY BY AQUINAS
1) The very beginning of AQ. Commentary could not be more markedly different than that of Ar. For as AQ. is quick to point to the Metaphysics, as we have argued Ar. By contrast, it seems, is quick and RESOLUTE not to mention it. And in the same vein AQ. is quick to mention the wise man, and his core function,namely, that of ordering: “The reason for this is that wisdom is the most powerful perfection of reason whose characteristic is to know order” (AQ 1, p. 1). Astonishingly, Ar. Is absolutely silent in this regard; and we surmise he is so, as we have argued because of the dual nature of his audience. And this leads us inevitably to ask, what kind of audience would Aq. wish for/seek/teach? Wouldn’t it be radically different? What would a serious citizen with little time for University, make of such a beginning? And, dramatically, doesn’t AQ. kind of spoil the dialogical process itself to which Ar. Invites us, by giving out the ALLEGED answers from the very start? Wouldn’t this be one of the greatest dangers of philosophy to practical life of which Ar. Speaks in his EE?
2) But even p more problematically, why does Aq. go on to mention in (4) that a human being is by nature a social animals “needing many things to live which he cannot get for himself if alone, he naturally is a part of a group that furnishes him help to live well .. the domestic group ..and likewise individuals who are members of the family ……”. What kind of whole is AQ. placing the reader of the NE, even prior to actually getting on with the “dirty” business of interpretation? Isn´t this stirring the argument in a direction which in no way appears to be that of Aristotle? Isn´t AQ. supposing that the discussion of the Politics are somehow the background for the NE? But does not Aristotle, actually go precisely in the OPPOSITE direction? For aren’t the final chapters of the NE, those which OPEN the realm of the political? In other words, doesn’t Ar. FIRST wish to safeguard Ethics in its own sphere and under its own terms? In other words, isn’t it clear that Ar. wishes to separate civic virtue from moral virtue? For if virtue ought to stand on its own, they shouldn’t it be sought FOR ITS OWN SAKE (intrinsically), and not for the sake of the community (extrinsically)? Put in other terms, doesn´t AQ.’s interpretative strategy blind us PRECISELY to many of the dilemmas we will in fact face in reading the NE (for instance, why Aristotle DOES not mention civic courage as the maximum expression of courage in Book 3, or how Aristotle provides us with two conflicting peaks of the moral virtues, one as lived by the moral person himself (megalopsuchia), and another as regards others and the common good (dikaiosynē)?
3) Likewise, while AQ. mentions repeatedly the role of reason, even once referring to the divine intellect (no. 11), as well as teh constant reference to an understanding of the whole; these issues are ones which Ar. Is silent about. One could also ask why AQ is so prompt to say that Aristotle is mistaken in assuming that the end of household management is wealth, when we see that Ar. THOUGH he could have said this –and indeed DOES say it later on— is at the beginning reticent to do so? Is it perhaps because some of those attending his lectures are, in fact, wealthy; and in fact, in a certain sense, guarantors ——or better, potential guarantors—— of a certain civic nobility?
4) Finally, one could in fact simply quote the VERY different beginning of the Bible which for the believer is in FACT the book on how one should ultimately lead one´s life.
“1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2. And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis, 1: 1-4).
The notion of good thus expressed signalling to the incontrovertible fact that that to which all things aim is the goodness of GOD who remains and will remain as the model of what THE good stands for. Or, as The Scofield Study Bible quoted above, wisely points out in the footnote “The Bible begins with God, not with philosophical arguments for His existence” (p. 2, fn 2, my emphasis)
IV. FLEXIBLE SECTION
1) For the different beginnings/procedures on the investigation of the ethical on one can compare Aristotle with the modern political thinkers who rebelled against his views:
i) Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter V, Of Reason and Science, pp. 22-23.
ii) Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, BOOK I, 1 with its radically different conception of “nature” and its laws.
iii) Spinoza, Ethics, subtitled accordingly, Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata (!)
All of which reveal, not only a devaluation of the role of rhetoric as regards the presentation of the investigation of ethics, but also, a formidable revaluation of the role that the philosopher plays in such a revaluation and direct interest in the very transformation of the political sphere itself.
2) In a similar vein, it is of the utmost importance to realize that even if what Ar. claims remains true for us moderns, namely, that “people have nobly declared that the good is that at which all things aim”, then what we moderns consider the good to be stands at a much lower level than any good the ancients could have considered worthy of admiration and strict nobility. The modern good of “self-preservation” would certainly appear to Ar. as solely an apparent good in urgent need of dialectical confrontation and healing. Thus Hobbes in Leviathan:
“The final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves in which we see them live in commonwealths is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby” (Leviathan, Part II, Chap XVII; p. 106, my emphasis)
3) The very different beginning found in the EE, much more related to the question of the divine, and the notion of tragedy reads:
“The man who, in the shrine art Delos, published his opinion by composing an inscription ion the propylaeum of the temple of Leto, distinguished the the good, the fine and the pleasant as not belonging to the same thing. There were his verses:
´The most just is finest, being healthy is best; most pleasant to achieve none´s heart’s desire.”
But we do not agree with him: for happiness, the finest and best thing of all, is the most pleasant.
As pointed out above, a core puzzle is that of the appearance of this very same passage much later on in the argument of the NE, specifically, subsection 8. And strikingly disconcerting is the fact that Woods, the translator of the EE, begins his commentary by actually saying that Ar. Agrees with this words! (p. 47 “with which Aristotle expresses his agreement” (!)”.
4) The discussion of the dangers of philosophy to practical life as discussed in the EE: “because it appears to be the mark of the philosopher never to speak in an unconsidered fashion but always with reason, there are some who often go undetected when they produce arguments that are foreign to the inquiry and idle; they do this sometimes because of ignorance, sometime because of charlatanry; by these are caught even those who are experienced and of practical ability at the hands of men who neither have nor are capable of architectonic or practical thought” (EE, 1216b39 -1217a6; Woods, Oxford)
5) On the role of enthymeme in the Rhetoric:
“for it belongs to the same capacity both to see the true and (to see) what resembles the true, and at the same time humans have a natural disposition for the true and to a large extent hit on the truth; thus an ability to aim at commonly held opinions (endoxa) is a characteristic of one who has a similar ability to regard the truth … but rhetoric is useful (first) because the true and the just are by nature stronger than their opposites, so that if judgements are not made in the right way (the true and the just) are necessarily defeated (by their opposites). And this is worthy of censure” (Aristotle; A Theory of Civic Discourse, Kennedy, p. 33, 1354bff.)
6) Lincoln’s letter to General Hooker:
“.. And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier ….. (but) …. I have heard , in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government need a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the Army, of criticizing their Commander ……will now turn upon you. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army, while such a spirit prevails in it. And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.”
(“Letter to General Joseph Hooker”, January 26, 1863, pp. 433-4, Lincoln “Speeches and Writings 1859-1865, ed. Library of America)
7) The 6th Stanza of Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade reads:
“When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.” (my emphasis)
8) “We must recount the things that must be puzzled over… For those who wish to get clear of perplexity it is advantageous to state the perplexities well; for the subsequent freedom from perplexity (euporia) implies the solution of the previous perplexities and it is not possible to loose a fetter one is not even aware of. But the perplexity in our thinking reveals a fetter concerning the thing [that is investigated]; for in so far as our thought is in perplexity it resembles people who are tied up; in both cases it is impossible to go forward…. people who inquire without first stating the perplexities are like those who do not know where they have to go; besides, one does not otherwise know even whether one has found what one is looking for, for the goal is not clear to such a person…” (Metaphysics, Bk 3, 995a27-b2)
9) “Some… are perplexed (aporousi) because they want to know who will judge who is healthy, and in general on each subject [who is to say] who will judge it correctly. Such perplexities (aporēmata) are similar to the perplexing question (tō aporein) “Are we now asleep or awake?” and they will have all the same force. For those who pose them ask for an argument for everything; for they seek a principle, and they seek to get it through demonstration…. Their trouble is just as we have stated: for they seek an argument for something for which there is no argument, for a principle of demonstration is not a demonstration” (Metaphysics4, 1011a3-13)
V. IMPORTANT GREEK TERMS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
technical art or craft
is held to be
activity/being engaged in an act/carry deed (cf. ergon)
end/goal of a thing
bring forth, produce, put forth,
VI. NICOMACHEAN ETHICS, BOOK I, 1 GREEK text at Perseus (based on Bywater)
πᾶσα τέχνη καὶ πᾶσα μέθοδος, ὁμοίως δὲ πρᾶξίς τε καὶ προαίρεσις, ἀγαθοῦ τινὸς ἐφίεσθαι δοκεῖ: διὸ καλῶς ἀπεφήναντο τἀγαθόν, οὗ πάντ᾽ ἐφίεται. διαφορὰ δέ τις φαίνεται τῶν τελῶν: τὰ μὲν γάρ εἰσιν ἐνέργειαι, τὰ δὲ παρ᾽ αὐτὰς ἔργα τινά. ὧν δ᾽ εἰσὶ τέλη τινὰ παρὰ τὰς πράξεις, ἐν τούτοις βελτίω πέφυκε τῶν ἐνεργειῶν τὰ ἔργα. πολλῶν δὲ πράξεων οὐσῶν καὶ τεχνῶν καὶ ἐπιστημῶν πολλὰ γίνεται καὶ τὰ τέλη: ἰατρικῆς μὲν γὰρ ὑγίεια, ναυπηγικῆς δὲ πλοῖον, στρατηγικῆς δὲ νίκη, οἰκονομικῆς δὲ πλοῦτος. ὅσαι δ᾽ εἰσὶ τῶν τοιούτων ὑπὸ μίαν τινὰ δύναμιν, καθάπερ ὑπὸ τὴν ἱππικὴν χαλινοποιικὴ καὶ ὅσαι ἄλλαι τῶν ἱππικῶν ὀργάνων εἰσίν, αὕτη δὲ καὶ πᾶσα πολεμικὴ πρᾶξις ὑπὸ τὴν στρατηγικήν, κατὰ τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον ἄλλαι ὑφ᾽ ἑτέρας: ἐν ἁπάσαις δὲ τὰ τῶν ἀρχιτεκτονικῶν τέλη πάντων ἐστὶν αἱρετώτερα τῶν ὑπ᾽ αὐτά: τούτων γὰρ χάριν κἀκεῖνα διώκεται. διαφέρει δ᾽ οὐδὲν τὰς ἐνεργείας αὐτὰς εἶναι τὰ τέλη τῶν πράξεων ἢ παρὰ ταύτας ἄλλο τι, καθάπερ ἐπὶ τῶν λεχθεισῶν ἐπιστημῶν.