COMMENTARY ON ARISTOTLE’S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS: BOOK I, 4
(For the nature of the sections see the “General Introduction”, here.)
Abbreviations: Ar. = Aristotle, AQ= Aquinas, NE = Nicomachean Ethics, EE= Eudemian Ethics
“Now, let us pick up again and —since all knowledge and every choice have some good as the object of their longing —let us state what it is that we say the political art aims at and what the highest of all the goods related to action is. As for its name, then, it is pretty much agreed on by most people; for both the many and the refined say that it is happiness, and they suppose that living well and acting well are the same thing as being happy. But as for what happiness is, they disagree, and the many do not give a response similar to that of the wise. The former respond that it is something obvious and manifest, such as pleasure or wealth or honour, some saying it is one thing, others another. Often one and the same person responds differently, for when he is sick, it is health; when poor, wealth. And when they are aware of their ignorance, they wonder at those who say something that is great and beyond them. Certain others, in addition, used to suppose that the good is something else, by itself, apart from these many good things, which is also the cause of their all being good.
Now, to examine thoroughly all these opinions is perhaps rather pointless; those opinions that are specially prevalent or are held to have a certain reason to them will suffice. But let it not escape our notice that there is a difference between the arguments that proceed from principles and those that proceed to the principles. For Plato too used to raise this perplexity well and investigated, whether the path is going from the principles or to the principles, just as on a racecourse one can proceed from the judges to the finish line or back again. One must begin from what is known, but this has a twofold meaning: there are things known to us, on the one hand, and things known simply, on the other. Perhaps it is necessary for us, at least, to begin from the things known to us. Hence he who will listen adequately to the noble things and the just things, and to the political things generally, must be brought up nobly by means of habituation. For the “that” is the principle, and if this should be sufficiently apparent, there will be no need of the “why” in addition, and a person of the sort indicated has or would easily get hold of the principles. As for him to whom neither of these is available, let him listen to the words of Hesiod:
This one is altogether best who himself understands all things
But good in his turn too is he who obeys one who speaks well.
But he who neither himself understands nor, in listening to another,
takes this to heart, he is a useless man. ” (NE, 1095a14-1095b13; Aristotle´s Nicomachean Ethics, Bartlett, Robert, and Collins, Susan; University of Chicago, Chicago, 2011)
I. PRIVATE PUZZLES
1) Why does Ar. proceed in such a STRANGE manner, first telling us that after the previous digression he will get back on track with his own argument regarding the architectonic good of the political art, only to, a few lines later, digress once again (!) (at, “but let it not escape our notice”)? Why is he going about things as he is? Why is he so very hesitant to get to the point, so to speak? What is so crucial about getting things right from the beginning? For surely it seems a sign of prudence and sensitivity towards the actual independence, specially from the philosophical, of the practical sphere, doesn’t it? And isn’t this precisely WHY Ar. has become so relevant to us moderns, children of the Copernican revolution who attempted for centuries to side-step these initial Aristotelian “preludes” or digressions? Because, aren’t WE children of the scientific/technological grid, virtually unaware of such beginnings? Isn’t this why we find in the writings of Husserl the clear example of this procedural history? For, Husserl first wrote a very strange defence of philosophy IN TERMS OF the natural sciences themselves in his weirdly named “Philosophy as Rigourous Science”, only in his later years to back off from such a “kneeling” posture to a defence of a more Aristotelian notion, that of the “life-world” in his last book revealingly entitled The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Philosophy? Isn’t it, then, precisely out of respect for the independence of the practical that Ar. digresses anew, before going back to the argument presented? Doesn’t he have us LISTEN to a defence of the practical political life as AGAINST a certain kind of IMPRUDENT scientific/philosophical undermining of the realm of serious practical human things? Or put yet another way in terms of the history of philosophy, isn’t the young Wittgenstein of the Tractacus also guilty of not having begun in such a prudent way? For, doesn’t his logical attempt give way to the language as a way of life in his much more mature Philosophical Investigations? And much more importantly, in the early history of this constant tension, did not Socrates himself tell us that there came a point in his life in which he too had to undertake a “second sailing” (see, Phaedo), one in which philosophy was brought down from the Heavens to Earth for the very first time in time in philosophical inquiry (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations)? Don´t we see this clearly in Aristophanes´ comic presentation of the early Socrates in his Clouds? And don´t we see it MUCH MORE clearly in Xenophon´s Economics where we are told Socrates saw the need for a radical shift in HIS philosophical undertaking while simply LISTENING to the best of gentlemen, Ischomachus? Isn’t this respect for the dignity of the practical what redefines Socratism —and the whole of classical political philosophy— as against the pre-Socratics and their apolitical concern with the whole? But if so, what are the impending dangers of Heidegger´s and Nietzsche´s urging US to “return” to the PRE-Socratics who themselves did not know of this initial starting point for ethical inquiry? Isn’t this, in part, why Heidegger could not take back his troubling past? Musn’t THIS destabilizing danger, this mocking of logos within the practical sphere, be the one to be confronted HEAD ON (see Pangle ‘s poignant and ironical remarks on Rorty in The Ennobling of Democracy)? And, in Aristotelian terms, isn’t his different attitude from the EE to the NE precisely a similar expression of such a change in procedural outlook as well? Isn’t this THE key to understanding how the EE must be regarded as an earlier, less mature, work (vs. Kenny)?
2) Furthermore, what to make of the appearance of the central term happiness (eudaimonia)? How are we to get clear on the fundamental differences between the ancients´ concern for eudaimonia —which evidently goes beyond a feeling of temporary joy—- and OUR very own notion of the constitutionally defended “pursuit of happiness” (e.g., Constitution of the United States)? Won’t we make a MASSIVE mistake by not seeing the tension in which they stand? For instance, what are we to make of Kant’s very secondary, not so say, dismissive use of the term in his own ethical foundations (see section IV below)? Or, what to make of Locke’s reduction of the term and, crucially, its liberation (by way of redefinition and exclusion) from the Aristotelian moral virtues which will become the core of Ar.´s own argument (difference which is pregnantly developed by Pangle in his The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Visions of the American Founders and the Philosophy of Locke, see section IV below)? And isn’t this equally true of the difference between Ar.’s eudaimonia and Hobbes’s little inspiring felicity (see section IV below)? Isn’t the modern connection quite Anti-Aristotelian in that it DOES NOT believe there is an actual END to our longings? Doesn’t then modern desire –—-and particularly the desire for a certain kind of power that guarantees self-preservation—- lead the way, while reason deforms into mere utilitarianism? Similarly, can one not easily find in the Federalist vs. Anti-federalists debates over the US Constitution, precisely this very same debate on the appearance/delineation of happiness as THE END of the political (see section IV below)? Isn’t this why Brutus is so crucially upset by the unheard of proposals of Hamilton/Madison/Jay (proposals which “won the day”)? And, looking at Ar. more specifically; what exactly does it mean that happiness involves a living well and an acting well? Is living merely the substratum for acting? I mean, do we live simply to act, and specially in a moral sense? Or, in other MUCH more problematic terms, is life simply/exclusively the occasion for the presentation of the moral virtues in their alleged splendour? And if so, how are the moral virtues as the core of acting well, to be related to happiness which is BOTH acting AND living well? For surely, as we have said in our previous commentaries, sometimes the actual performance of certain virtues, such as courage, seems to GO AGAINST living itself as Ar. HIMSELF has pointed out in previous subsections? And, how is this consideration of happiness to be related to the context of the quote we find from Hesiod at the very end of this subsection (see puzzle No. 11 below)?
3) Moreover, why exactly does Ar. first mention two groups, the many (oi polloi, usually used in pejorative terms in Aristotle, see e.g., discusses of democracy in the Politics) and the refined (χαρίεντες; with the connotations of the beautiful, the graceful, the elegant, the courteous and the educated), only lines later to go on to mention a VERY different second pair, namely, the many and the wise? Are we to understand that the refined are to be passed over in silence? Or rather, that the refined are precisely THE most problematic in that they are already to a large extent educated by their society as such? What is one to learn about ethics if one is, to a large extent, ALREADY educated and courteous and graceful and …? And very importantly, what makes one part of the refined: good looks? Elegance? Or more likely, education; but WHICH education? I mean, why would the refined NEED the NE? And, are the refined variable as the just and the noble seem to be? Besides, put in modern terms, wouldn’t Ar. see the refined more in terms of Locke’s virtue of civility? And therefore, being refined —seeing oneself as one of the refined—- doesn’t THAT mean that one must appear to be refined to SOMEONE? Specially to those who are refined as well? But then, IF Ar.´s digressions are precisely to RESPECT some such education, how are we to MOVE beyond its already set parameters of what is beautiful and noble and just? In other words, aren’t we here speaking of the Ischomachus’s –the best of gentlemen (kalos kágathos)—- of our lives (see Xenophon’s crucial Economics)? For, don´t we see in Xenophon’s compelling (though little studied) text how SOCRATES is TRULY SILENT and merely listens to one of the most refined of Athens? Wouldn’t THAT be the respect of the practical sphere that Ar. seeks? But then, how to get the conversation going, so to speak, if Ar. goes on to say that the WHY should not be asked? And as regards the many, what are we to make of those thinkers who see in Ar. the beginning of radical social democracy (Nussbaum)? Aren’t they caught irredeemably in a MODERN LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC framework which has little to learn from Ar. himself? For surely Ar., in quoting Hesiod´s words in this very subsection seems little democratic in spirit, doesn’t he? But more problematic still, Ar. CLEARLY tells us that it is the many who mistakenly hold eudaimonia to be leisure, wealth or honour? But then again, who are these “many”: for surely one would tend to think that the many are the poor and therefore, in political terms, the ones least like to have the potential for honour in political office in particular? Or could it be, but this would be rather problematic given the type of digressions Ar. has made, that the many and the refined, when it comes to the CORE issues, to what truly defines happiness as the end of this “kind of political inquiry”, and more importantly to what truly defines happiness as THE END of the best human life possible simply, are very close to each other? Could it be that the refined and the many turn out to be, in their essence, almost indistinguishable; particularly when compared to/confronted by the wise? And, wouldn’t this allow us to NOT be so surprised once we reach the stunning conclusions of BOOK X? But then again, WHO are the wise? Are our professors the wise as Ar. uses the term? If not, then WHO?
4) What are we to make of the examples Ar. provides as regards the variability of happiness within multiple individuals? Why does he choose sickness and poverty as his examples? Will the refined, in particularly, ever actually come into contact with these conditions of need? Should they? Is Ar. trying to make us understand that one cannot, under any circumstances, be happy in poverty? But why not? Doesn’t HE have (unlike us moderns) THE example, the PRIME philosophical example in the life of Socrates (See Socrates´ striking defence of his poverty in Xenophon’s Memorabilia? And, could it be that the essential nature of eudaimonia is such that the presence of illness does not in fact affect it? But, if ill, how do I go about proving my courage, IF eudaimonia´s core are the moral virtues? Can one imagine an army of the ill? Isn´t this too Aristophanic to even imagine? “Man the borders with the best among the sick”; can one not see? Or put another way, isn’t Ar. trying from the very start to let us see that in general what THE MANY think of as happiness is simply the satiation of a need we have, so that happiness ONLY MEANS the satisfaction of that need and nothing beyond it (which is PRECISELY how Locke and Hobbes redefine happiness AGAINST Ar.!)? But then again, wouldn’t it be strange that one had to SUFFER to see/desire/achieve/actualize happiness? Can moderns defend their FUNDAMENTAL presupposition that we were, are and will be creatures of an insatiable nature? Is longing for longing´s sake? Is desiring the never ending condition which we simply mask by way of the moral? Philosophically speaking, is Nietzsche’s “Will to Power”, IT and no more? Isn’t Ar. preparing us better for such a challenge which other thinkers take for granted?
5) And what to make of the VERY strange first appearance of the notion of ignorance (ἄγνοιαν: “ignorance or want of perception”) in the text? What is so strange about it? Well that Ar. seems to be saying that the awareness of ignorance makes those involved in the practical sphere susceptible to a certain dangerous activity, doesn’t he? In other words, Ar. seems not to be praising ignorance, at least initially, as Socrates does in Plato’s Apology (note: not in Xenophon’s!)? Why so? For he says: “and when they are aware of their ignorance, they wonder at those who say something that is great and beyond them”. Doesn’t it seem that Ar. is trying to say —and he is EXPLICIT about it in the EE—- that once those involved in these types of inquiry confront those who seem to know, their feeling of their own ignorance leaves them DOUBLY empty; namely, without the guidelines of practical life which they once possessed, AND further more in a state of paralysed wonderment which makes practical decisions impossible? But isn´t this precisely the UNDERMINING of the practical and its independence? And how can a political society, specially a Republican one intent on the preservation AND good life of its citizens (a polis), function thus? And, very problematically, what if this were to be EXACTLY the condition we live under in modernity: all of us quite dosed by Lockeans and Hobbesians and Machiavellians and Kantians and Marxians and Nietzcheans? How to WAKE UP, then? And even more problematically, might not there be in our current post-modern climate such dangerously misleading thinkers (e.g., Rorty and other post-modernists)? Or perhaps, to put it much more fairly, is Ar. here beginning to let us become IGNORANT IN THE RIGHT WAY? What would THIS mean?
6) And similarly, who are these who IN ADDITION speak of such strange things as that “the good is something else, by itself, apart from these many good things, which is also the cause of their all being good.”? Plato? But crucially Plato is NOT mentioned here, though he WILL BE mentioned in a positive light a few lines below in the text, won’t he? Are we coming here across Ar.’s critique not merely of Plato, but rather of Platonism, particularly as presented by Nietzsche in his Twilight of the Idols (see section IV below)? That is to say, isn’t Ar. warning us against the usual and very shallow understanding of Plato’s notion of ideas as being part of an ethereal beyond accessible ONLY to god-like humans who deplore the earthly? And in the same vein, isn’t this why it becomes of utmost importance to truly come to grips with Leo Strauss’s reinterpretation of the ideas in Plato as presented in The City and Man (see section IV below)? And furthermore, why is this such a crucial point of view that Ar. deems it necessary to confront it in MUCH greater depth later in BOOK I subsection 6? Why does it matter so much to get THIS right from the very start?
7) Furthermore, what are we to make of the second digression after we have been EXPLICITLY told that we are back into the argument itself regarding the architectonic end and the architectonic art that deals with it? Why does Ar. proceed once again to provide clarifications to his own argument? Why the need to proceed SO cautiously? For surely in the EE he does not so do, does he? Is he proceeding thus SOLELY to preserve the argument? Or rather, could it be that the very process itself which is presented in the NE might turn out to be SO radical —for EVERYONE knows the conclusion in Book X—– that it cannot but be listened to by a few who can carefully read “between the lines”? And wouldn’t this be the crucial difference between a more public presentation of the NE, and a more puzzling “private” presentation? Wouldn’t his be the very difference between OUR puzzles, which are intended to a more private audience, and OUR commentaries, which would restate Ar. in a much more prudent fashion?
8) But most important OF ALL, how are we to begin to understand the very famous differentiation between arguments that proceed from principles and those than go to principles? Why does Ar. seem to think this is obvious if obviously KANT thinks quite the opposite? Can one think of examples of the difference? For us English teacher, isn’t it clear when we speak of presenting grammar points deductively or inductively? For deductively we actually present the formula as it is (Passive voice = Object + (AUX) + BE + PP + by + subject), but inductively we allow the learner to actually DICOVER THE RULES FOR HIMSELF as he experiences the language and learns? Isn’t inductive teaching/learning truly more dialectical, though perhaps less “efficient”? And in the ethical sphere, isn’t Aristotle once again letting us understand that the initial bow to the education ALREADY provided by society is the CORE of a beginning? Wouldn’t someone like Confucius –and his utter respect for tradition—– to a certain extent agree? Wouldn’t the East have MUCH to praise in Ar. in this regard alone? Because, in terms of learning what generosity, for instance is, doesn’t repeating almost to death “share it with your little brother” by the mother and the father and ….. make ALL the difference? For, if one is not generous, how to even begin to discuss possible predicaments in generosity? But then again, if Ar. is trying emphatically to defend his project from within such an inductive view, then what would he think of Kant’s procedural approach? Wouldn’t Kant´s formalism fall a bit into the category of those who speak of certain beyonds, and therefore dangerously cloud the realm of practical affairs making us unable to see it for what it is? And thinking of the example of the racecourse, WHO is (are) the judge(s) in the practical sphere? And is eudaimonia to be found precisely in the COMPETITIVE arena given the example of athletics? For, in a sense, aren’t we clearly setting Kant against Aristotle, Locke against Aristotle, Machiavelli against Aristotle, Nietzsche against Aristotle? But, what exactly do athletes compete for? Is it for happiness (if they win), or rather for recognition (if they win)? But isn’t honour confused with happiness, Ar. just told us? And furthermore, doesn’t it make all the difference where the judges are LOCATED? For if at the start won’t they, like Aristotle bids, be able to see FALSE starts more easily (and do remember Husserl’s false start in his early Philosophy as a Rigourous Science)? But then again, how will the judge be able to see what happens at the finish line? Is it because he has run the course, run the argument, so to speak, in himself/herself? Or perhaps, is it that the FINISH line is not our greatest concern? And further, and MUCH more problematically, isn’t there another alternative and powerful option, namely that the judge observes ALL FROM ABOVE in His omnipotent and omnipresent love, so that as we are repeatedly told, HE is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega (see section III below)? What is Ar. to make of this alternative position?
9) Besides, and as a consequence of the previous difference between the direction of principles, what are we to make of the way things are known, namely, “known to us”, and/or (?) “known simply”? Why does Ar. NOW refer to what is “known simply”, though he could have made a similar reference in Subsection I,1 to the difference between the “apparent good” and the “good simply”? And why is the “known simply” so quickly set aside in silence? For we ask, if the political is variable so that it is by nomos, and happiness is variable as well, then won’t we despair of ever moving beyond such relativism into the elusive “what is known simply”? Could this “known simply” just be a figment of our imagination? Isn’t this the reason why Ar. clearly says that PERHAPS it is necessary for US AT LEAST to start from what is “known to us”? But doesn’t he also seem to imply that there are/may be other beings (or, perhaps, even superior human beings!) who can actually side-step this starting point? But what would THAT mean? WHO could they be? For instance, in the EE the alternative in the parallel passages is clear, for in that text Ar. does not tire himself of mentioning another option, namely, that of divine inspiration, doesn’t he? In this respect, but within another tradition, Moses need not have the staring point Ar. provides, PRECISELY because his starting point IS GOD, isn’t HE? Isn’t this why Abraham too can wait it out, until he is a VERY VERY old man (in the 90’s), to see God’s grace appear in all its majesty? Would Abraham be at all moved by anything akin to what is “known to us” (though he IS moved by Sarah’s formidable beauty)? And furthermore, how are we to understand US here? Is it the many, the refined, the wise, all of them together, two of them, some from within each group? Or is it those sitting there listening to Ar.? And is it only the Greeks, as some erroneously believe, and not the universal audience of those intent on understanding? Or much more likely, isn’t it those of “us” actually reading the NE, seeking to understand who we truly are? But then, wouldn’t us end up being a very small group indeed, a group very different from that sought in the universal democratic education of the modern project (see, among others, Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education)?
10) Furthermore, how is it we are to understand the line preceding the truly famous procedural conclusion of the second digression, namely, “Hence he who will listen adequately to the noble things and the just things, and to the political things generally, must be brought up nobly by means of habituation.”? But hasn’t Aristotle just a few lines above told us that what the many and the refined hold to be happiness, the very end of the political, is truly in serious need of investigation? And did he not ALSO tells us in the previous subsection that the noble and the just vary to such an extent that they appear to be by nomos? So, mustn’t one, in all earnestness ask: isn’t this a kind of vicious circle? Namely, to listen adequately to the just and noble thing, one must be brought up nobly, and to be brought up nobly those who have actually brought one up nobly must have, THEY themselves, listened to the noble and just things? But, won’t at one point later on, Ar. ask whether the refined actually know (care?) where their wealth came from? For clearly what Ar. seems, in part, to be saying is this: We cannot do away with Cephalus as quickly as Plato does in the Republic, can we? For what is the point of an ethical investigation without the heads of society (kephalos = head)? Isn’t Aristotle’s prudential rhetoric at the core of his access to the world of the practical AS IT IS IN ITSELF? But isn’t there a world of difference between listening to the just and noble things and INVESTIGATING them, inquiring about them and their puzzles? Don’t we get the same feeling of those who hold, erroneously, that Ar. is simply defending Greeks values? For if in reality there is no need for the why, because the that suffices, then why even read the why’s of the NE? Or, are we to understand that this is just the BEGINNING? In other words, if we are NOT going to accept the Thrasymachus of life (who in fact question radically the held views on nobility and justice, but who —– in defence of Plato—- in the end become friends of Socrates), what are we to do with THEM? Are we to simply close our minds to the very real challenges of the Thrasymachus’s/Alcibiades’s of our lives? But isn’t this rhetorical play, more like an EXTREMELY dangerous rhetorical gamble? Doesn’t Athens lose the War? And besides, are we just simply speaking of Thrasymachus, or ALSO of the “refined” brothers Glaucon and Adimantus, for THEY also question Socrates as to the problematic nature of the noble and the just? Are we to avoid THEM as well? But then, who would remain the listeners of the NE? Or rather, to repeat, and much more likely, is Ar. not confronting such a radical posture at the beginning of the inquiry PRECISELY because of a certain damage that MIGHT HAVE ALREADY occurred in the practical arena itself in terms of the relation between the political and the philosophical? But, if so, then how will Ar. proceed to PRESENT AND DISENTAGLE the contradictions within the moral sphere itself; even to show the dilemmas found in considering the moral life and its virtues to be the CORE of the happiest life? Are we to understand that the disruption of the why can ONLY be carried out in the PRIVATE arena, for the disrupting of the why in the PUBLIC arena will disrupt the very foundations of ANY philosophical inquiry whatsoever by destroying the political stage within which these inquiries can best be carried out? Aren’t liberty and liberal education intertwined, if not identical? And if this is so, then what will be of those who, moving beyond the that to the why, can no longer see the that as THE foundation of their lives? What if, in reading the NE they came to understand, to have a glimpse, so to speak, of what is “known simply” as set apart from what is simply “known to us”?
11) And finally, what to say of the lines quoted from Hesiod? Why did Ar. “deliberately” leave out the line he did? Why not the 3rd or 4th lines? And what about the nature of the quote itself, taken from Hesiod’s Works and Days? What to make of ITS very own context, namely, a brother reprimanding his brother (Perses), and defending the truth of divine justice in human affairs as carried out by Zeus? Doesn’t THIS in particular shed light into why Ar. omits the 2nd line (which reads : “and sees how things will turn out at the end.)? Are we speaking of a transformation such that another end may come to appear as we move along in our investigation? Or put another way, what is the kind of “happiness” found in Hesiod’s work? Why aren’t brothers all that happy together no matter the tradition (see also Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus)? Isn’t the poem about the nobility of toil, the nobility of just toil, and the divine defence and backing up of such nobility? Aren’t the Gods, in essence, THE just? But why would justice require a backing up, if it is good in and of itself? Will this be not one of the most striking conclusions found in BOOK X, “but what sort of actions ought we to assign to (the Gods)? Just acts? Or will they appear laughable as ….” (BOOK X, 8, 1178b ff.)? And who exactly does Ar. refer to when he speaks of that human who “himself understands all things”? Is he speaking of the modern specialized genius? But isn’t it more likely that the ancient polymaths are closer to Ar. in this regard? Isn’t Avicenna, for instance, one of these (known by Aquinas simply as “The Commentator”, of Aristotle of course)? And, is this why Ar. saw the need to found the Lyceum even if there already existed Plato’s Academy? Furthermore, as regards this absolutely unique individual, who FIRST taught HIM/HER to see things as he/she does? And could we ask, like Rousseau: does he/she walk alone (Les rêveries du promeneur solitaire)? But isn’t this a kind of POLITICAL inquiry, not one of solitary despair? Will the inquiry in the two Books “On Friendship” (BOOKS VII and IX, close to the very end) help us in this regard? And returning to the three groups, the many, the refined and the wise: would it it be too exaggerated to say that Ar. considers the many to conform to the final line of the poem? But if so, how can WE, born out of modern liberal democracies, recover Ar. for ourselves without doing EXACTLY what Ar seems to fear the MOST, namely disrupting our THAT by incessantly asking for a WHY which as moderns we can barely listen to? Musn’t we take even greater heed of Ar.’s carefully planned and WISE digressions? However, aren’t we in a CRISIS?
1) The variable nature of happiness
2) The social groups
3) Yet another digression on procedural concerns
III. PUZZLES REGARDING COMMENTARY BY AQUINAS
1) One must at all times remember the incredible powers AQ. has in helping us clarify the different parts of Ar.´s argument. This subsection is EXEMPLARY in this regard.
2) But one could ask: Why does AQ. clarify that when Ar. quotes the last line of Hesiod´s poem ( “that that man is useless), he adds, “as far as a science is concerned”? Is it because of the Christian notion of loving all thy neighbours? But then, isn it clear that Ar. truly seems to mean that that man is useless simply, and not with regards to science?
3) As for the question of happiness in The Bible, the evident Book to look at is that of Job and his famous lament, mentioned in our previous commentary. But it may be said as well here that after Job´s education, we here God speaking thus, reminding him who lamented and despaired, of the happiness he had never even lost:
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
Who is it that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now gird up your loins like a man,
And I will ask you and you instruct Me!
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
Who set its measurements, since you know?
Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning star rang together,
And the sons of God shouted for joy?” (my emphasis; Job 38: 1-7)
The sons of God shouted for joy.
IV. FLEXIBLE SECTION
1) The complete section of Hesiod’s Work and Days reads:
“Perses, out all this deep in your mind,
obey the voice of justice and always refrain form violence.
This is the law Zeus laid down for men,
Zeus who sees far and wide and blesses the affairs
of the man who knows justice and proclaims it before the public ….
But the immortals decreed that man must sweat
to attain virtue; the road to it is steep and long
and rough at first, but even so the journey
gets easy once you set foot on the peak.
Best is the man who thinks for himself
(and sees how things will turn out at the end.)
Noble too, is the man who listens to good advice.
But useless is the man who has no brains of his own
and, worse yet, pays no heed to the words of others.”
(Citation by Aristotle in bold, omitted section by Ar. in parenthesis; Hesiod, Works and Days 275-297)
Which of course prompts the questions as to the relation of moral virtue and happiness as well as the relation between the virtue of justice and the divine.
2) Our previous subsection highlighted Kant’s methodological approach (see Commentary I, 3 Section IV), but here we must emphasize as well the very different conception of happiness that one finds in Kant and his followers (including Habermas)
“Now if its preservation, its welfare —in a word, its happiness– were the real end of nature in a being having reason and will, then nature wold have hot upon a very poor arrangement in appointing the reason of a creature to be the executor of this purpose …. And, in fact, we find that the more a cultivated reason deliberately devotes itself to eh enjoyment of life and happiness, the man falls shot of true contentment” (Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, First section; Macmillan, p. 11, 12ff.)
To which of course Ar. would reply whether Kant was at all clear about what happiness (eudaimonia) is truly all about; for surely equating happiness with preservation is already heading the wrong way.
3) And that Kant is not the original exponent of this view can be seen in Locke’s concern for joy and his definition which results for the minimization of the good, a radical reconsideration of the role of ethical inquiry and the role of the moral virtues as pointing beyond themselves to the philosophical life:
“124. The great and chief end, therefore of men´s uniting into commonwealths and putting themselves under government is the preservation of their property (Locke define these as lives liberties and estates) 123)” …
131. But though men when they enter into society they give up the equality, liberty and executive power they had in the state of nature into the hands of society, to be so far disposed by the legislative as the good of society will require, yet it being only with an intention in every one the better to preserve himself, his liberty and property —for no rational creature can be supposed to change his condition with an intention to be worse ….” (Two Treatises of Government, The Second Treatise of Civil Government, Chapter IX, “Of the ends of Political Society and Government”; Haffner, p. 186)
Or , one can look at Hobbes´s definition of Felicity which also stands in stark contrast to Ar.´s own:
“Continual success in obtaining those things which a man from time to time desireth, that is to say, continual prospering, is that men call FELICITY; I mean the felicity of this life. For there is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of mind, while we live here; because life itself is but motion and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more than without sense. What kind of felicity God hath ordained to them that devoutly honour Him, a man shall no sooner enjoy, being joys that now are as incomprehensible as the word of school-men beatifical vision is unintelligible” (Leviathan, Part I, Chapter vi, “Of the Passions”, p. 34-5; Hackett)
4) The passage in the Politics which contrasts the rule of law or that of a superior Human being reads:
“If there is one person so outstanding by his excess of virtue .—or a number of persons, though not enough to provide a full complement for the city—– that the virtue o fall others and their political capacity is not commensurable to their own (if there are a number) or his alone (if there is one), such person can no longer be regarded as part of the city. For they will be done injustice if it is claimed that they merit equal things in spite of being so unequal in virtue and political capacity; for such a person would likely be like a god among human beings” (Politics, III; 13, 1284a3-11, Lord)
5) It bears citing, of course, the very different beginning which is held by Greek Tragedy as regards happiness, or the unattainably of it thereof. This is crucially exemplified in the Oedipus King. Upon Oedipus realizing the truth of his action and his hubris, which is of the political kind, the Chorus says:
O generations of men, you are nothing!
You are nothing!
And I count you as not having lived a t all!
was there ever a man,
was there ever a man on this earth
who could say he was happy,
who knew happiness, true happiness,
not an image, a dream,
an illusion, a vision, which would disappear?
our example, Oedipus,
your example, your fate, your disaster,
show that none of us mortals
ever knew, ever felt what happiness truly is”
(Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, 1185-1195; Lucas)
6) In the incredibly different parallel section in the EE, Ar. writes as regards the wise:
“Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, when asked who was happiest said.. None of the people you think; he would seem a strange person to you.” He answered in this fashion because he saw that his inquirer supposed that it was impossible for anyone who was not powerful and attractive, or rich, to win this appellation; whereas HE perhaps thought that it was the man who led a life without pain and free from stigma in matters of justice, or participated in some divine speculation, who was, humanly speaking, divinely-happy” (EE, Book I , Chapter 4, 1215b6-14; Woods)
We are lead to ask: Isn´t the main difference between the EE and the NE, that we actually are given the answer in the EE for the start, but in the NE we have to become transformed to actually SEE the answer and its principles? Isn´t this why in the EE we are given this characterization of the wise in BOOK I, while in the NE we are given the VERY SAME EXAMPLE (to which the example of Solon is added) but only until the very end in BOOK X? (Subsection 8, 11179a10-16)
7) As regards the differentiation between Plato and Platonism see Nietzsche:
“1. The true world —attainable for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it , he IS IT.
(The oldest form of the idea, relatively sensible, simple and persuasive. A circumlocution for the sentence, “I, Plato, AM THE TRUTH.” (Twilight of the Idols, How the True World became a Fable: The History of an Error; Section VI, 3:74-75 p. 485)
(Revealingly Nietzsche writes that his cure against classical political rationalism is Thucydides: “My recreation, my preference, my CURE from all Platonism has always been Thucydides… .. In the end it is courage in the face of reality that distinguishes a man like Thucydides from Plato.” (TotI, “What I owe the ancients”, 2; p. 558 Portable Nietzsche)
8) The crucial quotation regarding procedural questions regarding the first principles in The Republic is found in BOOK VI (shortly after two of the waves, and before the most incredible of the waves discussed, namely that of the rule by philosopher-kings):
“Well, then, go on to understand that by the other segment of the intelligible I mean that which argument itself grasps with the power of dialectic, making the hypotheses not beginnings, but really hypothesis —that is, stepping stones and springboards — in order to reach what is free from hypotheses at the beginning of the whole (Footnote 38) When it has grasped this, argument now depends on that which depends on this beginning and in such fashion goes back down to the end again; making no use of anything sense in any way, but using forms themselves, going through forms to forms , it ends in forms too.” (Republic 511b-c; See Bloom´s interpretation)
to which we must add Strauss´s sobering words:
“The doctrine of ideas which Socrates expounds to his interlocutors is very hard to understand: to begin with, it is utterly incredible, not to say that it appears to be fantastic. Hitherto we had been given to understand that justice is fundamentally a certain character of the soul or of the city, i.e., something that is not self-subsisting. Now we are asked to believe that it is self-subsisting, being at home as it were in an entirely different place from human beings and everything else participating in justice (cf. 509d1-510a7; Phaedrus 247c3) . No one has ever succeeded in giving a satisfactory or clear account of this doctrine of ideas.” (my emphasis; The City and Man, “On Plato´s Republic”; Chicago, p. 119)
And of course such a position is radically amplified/questioned by the appearance of the dialogue THE LAWS where Socrates is not even mentioned by name, and which occurs FAR beyond the limits of the actual city of Athens and ITS practical concerns. Moreover, the dialogue develops with elders; that is to say “Cephalus” is no longer banished as he is in The Republic.
9) On the crucial role that Strauss sees with regards to the spirit of an Aristotelian beginning point:
“We are in sympathy with the simple opinion about Machiavelli, not only because it is wholesome, but above all because a failure to the that opinion seriously prevents one from doing justice to what is truly admirable in Machiavelli, the intrepidity his thought, the grandeur of his vision, and the graceful subtlety of his speech. Not the contempt for the simple opinion, nor the disregard of it, but the considerate ascent from it leads to the core of Machiavelli´s thought. There is no surer protection against the understanding of anything than taking for granted or otherwise despising the obvious and the surface. The problem inherent in the surface of things, and only in the surface of things, is the heart of things.” (my emphasis: Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli, Introduction, p. 13)
10) Likewise, on the question of principles one can look at Strauss´s words on two methodological approaches and their “charms”:
“Men are constantly attracted and deluded by two opposite charms: the charm of competence which is engendered by mathematics and everything akin to mathematics, and the charm of humble awe, which is engendered by meditation on the human soul and its experiences. Philosophy is characterized by the gentle,i f firm, refusal to succumb to either charm” (Strauss, What is Political Philosophy, Chicago, p. 40)
11) For the Anti-Federalists’s critique of the Federalists’s conception of happiness, I will simply quote myself:
“we hear Brutus confronting the Federalists by asking emphatically whether they are altogether clear as to the what the very end of government is. As he puts it in the 6th Letter: “Is this end simply to preserve the general government, and to provide for the common defines and general welfare of the union only? Certainly not.” ( here ) Notice how Brutus here answers himself emphatically without awaiting any response. He seems to be quite clear on the issue. And in the very next letter Brutus reminds us as well that, in contrast to any Hobbesian-inspired pessimistic scheme of things (and Pangle briefly points out to a certain pessimism in the Federalists conception of human nature), the question over the relation between the virtues, both the moral and the intellectual, cannot but be connected under the classical way of approaching things, with a serious attempt at elucidating the very puzzles/questions regarding “happiness” (eudaimonia). As Brutus indignantly —and we share some part of that indignation (!)—- puts it:
“The European governments are almost all of them framed, and administered with a view to arms, and war, as that in which their chief glory consists; they mistake the end of government — it was designed to save men’s lives, not to destroy them. We ought to furnish the world with an example of a great people, who in their civil institutions hold chiefly in view, the attainment of virtue, and happiness among ourselves. Let the monarchs, in Europe, share among them the glory of depopulating countries, and butchering thousands of their innocent citizens, to revenge private quarrels….: I envy them not the honour, and I pray heaven this country may never be ambitious of it.” (Brutus VII, the letter has a total of 4 distinct references to the question of happiness) http://www.constitution.org/afp/brutus07.htm (see also Federal Farmer, Letter XVII, with 5 distinct references to the question of happiness, http://www.constitution.org/afp/fedfar17.htm )
In a very important sense, the Anti-Federalists, and specially Brutus —–Robert Yates who, we recall, had left the Convention in “utter disgust”——- wish to safeguard to some extent for us the intrinsic worth of political virtue, not its mere utility; they wish for the Americans the republican view of virtue as an end-in-itself, not merely the commercial view of virtue as a means to lesser ends.” (taken from my review of Professor Pangle’s course The Great Debate.)
12) As to the question of the complex relation between illness and happiness, one would do well ——at the very least—— to read physicians who have been influenced by the humanities such as doctor Edmund Pellegrino; in particular his very important: “The Healing Relationship, The Architectonics of Clinical Medicine”. There he writes, in STRIKING Aristotelian fashion:
“Medicine is therefore praxis and not theory. It contains its end within itself. Medical knowledge is incomplete as knowledge until it translates into action. It is also ethical knowledge because it is used for a good end. Although it uses science and art, medicine is closer in its moment of decision to the ancient definition of virtue —an exercise in prudent action.” (my emphasis; Edmund Pellegrino: Physician and Philosopher Chapter XVII, Carden Jennings, 2001, p. 89)
Something similar is argued by Professor Mintzberg as regards Management in the area of Business Education.
13) Husserl´s radical transformation from his earlier anti-Aristotelian and pro-Cartesian Philosophy as a Rigourous Science, can be seen in the complex concept of the “life-world” (Lebenswelt):
“In whatever way we may be conscious of the world as universal horizon, as coherent universe of existing objects, we, each “I-the-man” and all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through this ‘living together.’ We, as living in wakeful world-consciousness, are constantly active on the basis of our passive having of the world… Obviously this is true not only for me, the individual ego; rather we, in living together, have the world pre-given in this together, belong, the world as world for all, pre-given with this ontic meaning… The we-subjectivity… [is] constantly functioning.”(Husserl, Edmund. (1936/1970). The Crisis of the European Sciences, pp. 108-109)
V. IMPORTANT GREEK TERMS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
To wonder at
VI. NICOMACHEAN ETHICS, GREEK, BOOK I, 4; text at Perseus (based on Bywater)
λέγωμεν δ᾽ ἀναλαβόντες, ἐπειδὴ πᾶσα γνῶσις καὶ προαίρεσις ἀγαθοῦ τινὸς ὀρέγεται, τί ἐστὶν οὗ λέγομεν τὴν πολιτικὴν ἐφίεσθαι καὶ τί τὸ πάντων ἀκρότατον τῶν πρακτῶν ἀγαθῶν. ὀνόματι μὲν οὖν σχεδὸν ὑπὸ τῶν πλείστων ὁμολογεῖται: τὴν γὰρ εὐδαιμονίαν καὶ οἱ πολλοὶ καὶ οἱ χαρίεντες λέγουσιν, τὸ δ᾽ εὖ ζῆν καὶ τὸ εὖ πράττειν ταὐτὸν ὑπολαμβάνουσι τῷ εὐδαιμονεῖν: περὶ δὲ τῆς εὐδαιμονίας, τί ἐστιν, ἀμφισβητοῦσι καὶ οὐχ ὁμοίως οἱ πολλοὶ τοῖς σοφοῖς ἀποδιδόασιν. οἳ μὲν γὰρ τῶν ἐναργῶν τι καὶ φανερῶν, οἷον ἡδονὴν ἢ πλοῦτον ἢ τιμήν, ἄλλοι δ᾽ ἄλλο—πολλάκις δὲ καὶ ὁ αὐτὸς ἕτερον: νοσήσας μὲν γὰρ ὑγίειαν, πενόμενος δὲ πλοῦτον: συνειδότες δ᾽ ἑαυτοῖς ἄγνοιαν τοὺς μέγα τι καὶ ὑπὲρ αὐτοὺς λέγοντας θαυμάζουσιν. ἔνιοι δ᾽ ᾤοντο παρὰ τὰ πολλὰ ταῦτα ἀγαθὰ ἄλλο τι καθ᾽ αὑτὸ εἶναι, ὃ καὶ τούτοις πᾶσιν αἴτιόν ἐστι τοῦ εἶναι ἀγαθά. ἁπάσας μὲν οὖν ἐξετάζειν τὰς δόξας ματαιότερον ἴσως ἐστίν, ἱκανὸν δὲ τὰς μάλιστα ἐπιπολαζούσας ἢ δοκούσας ἔχειν τινὰ λόγον. μὴ λανθανέτω δ᾽ ἡμᾶς ὅτι διαφέρουσιν οἱ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀρχῶν λόγοι καὶ οἱ ἐπὶ τὰς ἀρχάς. εὖ γὰρ καὶ ὁ Πλάτων ἠπόρει τοῦτο καὶ ἐζήτει, πότερον ἀπὸ τῶν ἀρχῶν ἢ ἐπὶ τὰς ἀρχάς ἐστιν ἡ ὁδός, ὥσπερ ἐν τῷ σταδίῳ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀθλοθετῶν ἐπὶ τὸ πέρας ἢ ἀνάπαλιν. ἀρκτέον μὲν γὰρ ἀπὸ τῶν γνωρίμων, ταῦτα δὲ διττῶς: τὰ μὲν γὰρ ἡμῖν τὰ δ᾽ ἁπλῶς. ἴσως οὖν ἡμῖν γε ἀρκτέον ἀπὸ τῶν ἡμῖν γνωρίμων. διὸ δεῖ τοῖς ἔθεσιν ἦχθαι καλῶς τὸν περὶ καλῶν καὶ δικαίων καὶ ὅλως τῶν πολιτικῶν ἀκουσόμενον ἱκανῶς. ἀρχὴ γὰρ τὸ ὅτι, καὶ εἰ τοῦτο φαίνοιτο ἀρκούντως, οὐδὲν προσδεήσει τοῦ διότι: ὁ δὲ τοιοῦτος ἔχει ἢ λάβοι ἂν ἀρχὰς ῥᾳδίως. ᾧ δὲ μηδέτερον ὑπάρχει τούτων, ἀκουσάτω τῶν Ἡσιόδου: “οὗτος μὲν πανάριστος ὃς αὐτὸς πάντα νοήσῃ,
ἐσθλὸς δ᾽ αὖ κἀκεῖνος ὃς εὖ εἰπόντι πίθηται.
ὃς δέ κε μήτ᾽ αὐτὸς νοέῃ μήτ᾽ ἄλλου ἀκούων
ἐν θυμῷ βάλληται, ὃ δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἀχρήιος ἀνήρ.