COMMENTARY ON ARISTOTLE’S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS: BOOK I, 5
(For the nature of the sections see the “General Introduction”, here.)
Abbreviations: Ar. = Aristotle, AQ= Aquinas, NE = Nicomachean Ethics, EE= Eudemian Ethics
“Let us speak from the point where we digressed. For on the basis of the lives they lead, the many and the crudest seem to suppose, not unreasonably, that the good and happiness are pleasure. And thus they cherish the life of enjoyment. For the specially prominent ways of life are three: the one just mentioned, the political, and, third, the contemplative.
Now, in choosing a life of fatted cattle, the many appear altogether slavish; but they attain a hearing, because many people in positions of authority experience passions like those of Sardanapalus. The refined and active, on the other hand, choose honour, for this is pretty much the end of the political life. But it appears to be more superficial than what is being sought, for honour seems to reside more with those who bestow it than with him who receives it; and we divine that the good is something of one´s own and a thing not easily taken away. Further, people seem to pursue honour so that they may be convinced that they themselves are good; at any rate, they seek to be honoured by the prudent, among those to whom they are known, and for their virtue. It is clear, then, that in the case of these people at least, virtue is superior.
And perhaps someone might in fact suppose that virtue is to a greater degree the end of political life. Yet it appears to be rather incomplete. For it seems to be possible to posses virtue even while asleep or while being inactive throughout life and, in addition to these, while suffering badly and undergoing the greatest misfortunes. But no one would deem happy somebody living in this way, unless he were defending a thesis. But enough about these things: they have been spoken adequately also in the circulated writings.
Third is the contemplative life, about which we will make an investigation in what will follow.
The money-making life is characterized by a certain constraint, and it is clear that wealth is not the good being sought, for it is a useful thing and for the sake of something else. Thus someone might suppose that the previously mentioned things are ends to a greater degree than money is, for at least they are cherished for their own sakes. But they do not appear to be ends either, and many arguments have been widely distributed in opposition to them. So let these things be dismissed.” (NE, 1095a15-1096a10; Aristotle´s Nicomachean Ethics, Bartlett, Robert, and Collins, Susan; University of Chicago, Chicago, 2011)
1) What are we to make of the sudden first appearance of pleasure (ἡδονήν) in the argument? What does becoming ethical have to do with pleasure? Don’t we find this, in a sense, counterintuitive? For surely, those of us brought up under monotheism see pleasure in a very particular transcendental kind of way, don’t we? Or is it that Ar. is, in some respects, more akin to OUR modern utilitarianism and ITS conception of pleasure, than to any transcendental view of things (J.S. Mill; see section IV below)? But, wouldn’t that be odd, since 2500 years separate OUR hedonistic utilitarianism from Ar.’s prudential presentation? And, will it turn out that the primary architectonic good is connected to pleasure in some way? Isn’t this the reason why, having barely touched upon the question of pleasure for MANY books (specially those dealing with the moral virtues) throughout the NE, we are again suddenly confronted by it in BOOK X and its stunning conclusions? And as concerns the question of pleasure, why is Ar. SO very careful in its initial presentation? Why does he FIRST mention the many and the CRUDEST in this regard? Why not mention the refined or the WISE first? Don’t THEY hit the target better as regards the pleasurable? Is it because PLEASURE might hold the key to many of the reflections in the NE (not to mention the whole of classical political thought)? Isn’t this why, though careful, Ar. ALSO says that the many and the crudest think thus, BUT pregnantly adds: “and not unreasonably”? But if this is the general movement, then aren’t we moving in a direction in which another kind of life, that of a lovingly AND chosen self-sacrifice, will become unavailable? Specially so because Ar. reduces the variability of reasonably available lives to THREE lives: the life of pleasure, the political and the contemplative? Where exactly does a monk, a nun, or a hermit fit in? Or might it be that Ar. doubts whether true self-sacrifice makes sense for a human being once one dwells more into underlying considerations? And furthermore, where exactly does a CEO fit; under the later mentioned money-making life? Besides, before proceeding, haven´t we been told before that as regard the noble and the just, AND happiness, the variability is disconcerting? So, we need ask, don’t these lives TOO, vary according to the political regime in which they are lived? Won’t the pleasures of a democracy vary from those of an aristocracy, as Tocqueville CLEARLY shows in his Democracy in America? For it is evident that the pleasures of an aristocratic regime may actually be despised in a democracy; and the political life of the democratic seen in pejorative terms under an aristocracy? And, much more importantly, shouldn’t we be taken aback —– listening intently as we have regarding the architectonic end of the political art—— by SUDDENLY being brought up against a life which we HAVE not heard of before? And if it is true that the audience LISTENING to Ar. is varied, how are THEY to react to its appearance? Is it SO obvious that the “contemplative life” is one of THE lives to consider; then why exactly was Socrates condemned to death? And much more poignantly, why is it that WE moderns are not so taken aback by this third life? “The contemplative life, sure that is obviously familiar”, we say to ourselves, don’t we? Is it because we CONFUSE it with our very own ideas of what theory is, so that theory has become universally understood and unproblematically accepted? That is to say, what if for us theory signified an altogether different kind of life, one in which scientific reason, power and technology had created a dangerous theoretical fortress unbeknownst to Ar.? For isn’t it true that we easily speak of THEORY in modern times, a theory whose primary purpose it the guidance of our practical lives in the political arena? Actually, isn’t this THE CORE of the modern project? To exaggerate, don’t we think of theory more like a kind of “social engineering”? Isn’t this why OUR states are BUREAUCRATIC? For what would a theory be like that were not sought primarily to be IMPLEMENTED? Can we moderns conceive of this? What if Ar. had a VERY different conception of the relationship between theory and practice (cf. Kant’s Theory and Practice)? And what to make of the EXTREMELY pregnant silence that ensues regarding this life in the NE; for as Bartlett’s footnote attests to, ONLY until BOOK X will it come back, really, “to bite us”? What are we to make of this SILENCE if Ar. is asking us to be good listeners? What exactly are we supposed to listen to, so that in BOOK X we are not so shocked by the revelation of a surprising conclusion? And what to make of the fact that the very word for contemplation in Greek, namely theoria, is closely linked to being able “to see” (ὁρᾶν)? If there turns out to be something like the EYE OF THE SOUL; WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? And isn’t it obvious that Ar. considers this to be crucially relevant given that in the very next subsection (I, 6) , he goes on to get clearer on what some previous “theorists”, evidently Plato, have inadequately “theorized” about? How could THEIR eye of the soul, turn out to see not so well? Or did it? And, finally, doesn’t Ar. AGAIN “trick us”, and proceeds to tell us just a few lines below that, actually, there is a 4th kind of life, that of money-making? So which is it: 3 lives, or 4 (or 5?), or perhaps 1 and only 1? And if only 1, whence the reduction?
2) Moving along, why does Ar. HERE use such a censorious tone, such an “un-Aristotelian” tone, rarely used by him elsewhere? And why is this extremely censorious tone (the many = fatted cattle) so rarely picked up by modern commentators? Can one not see that Ar. is clearly defiant of radical democracy? Is it that commentaries on Ar. are much less defiantly so? Could they appeal to a “washed out” Aristotelianism? But then, are we democratic moderns more like fatted cattle all around, if ours are, in a sense, democracies of the “many”? Nietzsche seems to think something like this in his notion of the last man, doesn’t he (See “Prologue” Thus Spoke Zarathustra)? And doesn’t AQ. also completely agree with Ar., though he changes the animal to PIGS (!; section 60)? And, don’t WE say exactly the same when we observe certain bestial humans and say: “now, that is a pig”? Or should we just omit these Aristotelian words to make him more “relevant”? But then DOESN’T Ar. want us to listen to them? Could Ar. have come up with a better image to let us now how WE humans can fall to the most bestial of levels, specially with regards to pleasure? But, if so close the bestial, why does Ar. STILL say that they TOO attain a hearing? Why should they? And moreover, isn’t the reason extremely strange, even WEIRD? Aristotle says: one ought to hear the fatted cattle, because many of the powerful experience such feelings? Isn’t these like hearing the drunk because some drunks drink the most expensive liquor around and show it off? What might Ar. be driving at? Could it be that he SEES the political DANGERS of not confronting the relation between pleasure and power; that is, of showing how Sardanapalus and the like get it SO wrong and thus are truly dishonorable? Wouldn’t the refined, specially, despise being remembered thus? And don’t we then have to take much more seriously Xenophon’s On Tyranny in this regard; a conversation by a poet with a kind of Sardanapalus? And, being more inquisitive, is the pleasure of Sardanapalus found in the banquets, in the feasts, in the parades, OR RATHER IS IT NOT FOUND in the power that political power bestows upon its holder? For aren’t we speaking of the architectonic art, the political art as we have agreed in the course of the argument? Furthermore, why does Ar. go on to add that as regards the refined (and he sees the need to add, AND ACTIVE) that they choose honour? What would the refined, but inactive, look like? Is Ar. encouraging the refined to BECOME ennobled for they are the ones that truly have the means to do so? But, one would ask, isn’t Sardanapalus as part of the POLITICAL process, part of the struggle for honor, himself? So how is it that SOME who hold positions of power choose honor and others CHOOSE banquets and other less mentionable activities? Isn’t this WHY the many have a hearing, for wouldn’t it be utterly confusing to see some of the “refined” —or at least some of those who could have become refined—- becoming LIKE Sardanapalus? For surely Sardanapalus, one has a feeling, was perhaps once among the refined? And why does Ar. mention ONLY Sardanapalus in the NE, but in the EE he mentions many many more (EE, I, 5; and even goes into much greater detail, less prudently it seems, as to the content of the contemplative life (!): “They say that Anaxagoras …”, even mentioning the elder Socrates´ views on virtue)? Isn’t it because by mentioning ONLY ONE, we have a clear sense for what it is to be remembered for the wrong reasons? For surely now we all know, even 2500 years after, WHO Sardanapallus was? Who could wish to bestow such fame upon him/herself? Wouldn’t this be desiring a kind of inverted sickly end for eternity? But if so, then why would the many be confused about it?
3) Besides, as regards honor, why does Ar. say that HONOR is pretty much (that is to say, not wholly) the end of political life? Is he pointing to another END of political life which perhaps political life cannot on its own see? But what could THAT be? For what is the aim of public service, other than the fame of being honoured throughout the centuries? Isn’t that kind of “immortality” “as good as it gets” for those who give themselves to the political life “for the right reasons”? Besides, couldn’t other kinds of “immortalities” actually decrease the desire to be recognized IN THIS WORLD for one’s WORLDLY practical political activities? Is this why the “priestly life” is nowhere to be found here? And, if there is such OTHER end of political activity, how can one recognize what cannot be seen once one sees it? Will our eyes somehow be made to change? Is it that the NE will let it be seen (theorein), at least to some? But very importantly, how to guarantee, that this new SIGHT is not itself detrimental to political activity itself? For surely we do not wish to be the target of Aristophanes, do we (The Clouds)? Moreover, what to make of the 2 critiques with which Aristotle confronts the end of the political life, namely honor? To repeat, why can’t honour be the ultimate end of politics? Why does there have to be an architectonic end beyond FAME? Isn’t his precisely what the Federalists argue, only to be radically questioned by the Anti-Federalists in the US Constitutional debates (See section IV below, Federalists No. 72)? For Ar. says honor is a lesser end because it resides more with those who bestow it than who receives, “and the good is one’s own and not easily taken away”? But what does that mean? Let us suppose we are honoured for the right reasons, HOW EXACTLY will that be taken away if one has been honored for the right reasons? Could one think of the example of Bolívar who, after liberating us all, ended up dying in solitude in our beautiful Santa Marta? But what exactly does it mean that his good was taken away? Or rather is Ar.’s point that the refined can get hooked up into honour; do anything for honour; even, as Machiavelli would put it, pretend to be honourable? If so, is Ar. trying to, in their own terms, challenge the refined as regards the limits of their political desires, even nightmarish dreams? For it is clear, Pericles desired empire, didn’t he? Or, as Machiavelli does not tire of emphasizing, what if there isn’t enough honour to go around (I mean there is ONE Libertador, and all Colombian will understand, it is NOT Santander whom I ASSURE you is not readily known outside our borders). Isn’t his precisely why Ar. goes on to say that the political seek honour TO CONVICE THEMSELVES that they are good? But isn’t his VERY odd, for surely we need ask, are politicians SO really torn up within about this? Is Ar, not providing a NORMATIVE ideal from the very start to his audience? But hasn’t Ar. HIMSELF just told us about Sardanapalus, who governs, is presumably envied for the wrong reasons and yet it seems has not even the remotest inkling about Ar.’s dilemmas? Does Sardanapalus NEED to convince himself? Isn’t he ALREADY convinced, and his actually possessing power a great aid in his own convincing? Or put another way, doesn’t one have the feeling that many who served under Hitler —or Gadhafi, or Mubarak , or Senator Escobar…..—- had really NO sense of what Ar. is talking about? Did they actually seek to be held so by the good and the prudent? Now, what does Ar. mean, that the refined seek to be honoured by the prudent? What to make of the appearance of this term here linked to the word for practical wisdom (phronesis); such a complex word that it will take up most of BOOK VI later on? For, apologizing for being rather imprudent, we nonetheless need to ask, WHO are the prudent SIMPLY, if each and every society varies according to nomos? And how exactly do the prudent GET the politically refined to LISTEN to them? Did ALCIBIADES listen much? Did Cyrus? Ironically, wouldn’t the most prudent be those who DO NOT belong to one’s political society? To exemplify: didn’t a FRENCH man write Democracy in America? Didn´t a Macedonian write the NE in Athens? And thinking of Plato, doesn’t an Athenian Stranger (obviously, Socrates) speak of The Laws in Crete? And keeping in the same spirit, what does it mean that the refined seek to be honored by those to whom they are known? By their mom’s and dad’s? So, if I am a democrat, I will seek to be honored by the democrats; and if an oligarch, by …… , and if a tyrant, by who exactly? But who will honor the best simply, in a democracy, and the best simply, in an oligarchy? In other words, how do we go about challenging erroneous presuppositions if we seek to be somehow part of these presuppositions (see specially The Republic, BOOK VI, 492a-e)? Or is the key to all these misguided puzzles, the very notion of VIRTUE (arete)? Wouldn’t Ar. tell us “hold on your horses”? Isn’t this why he adds : “It is clear, then, that in the case of these people at least, virtue is superior.”? Doesn’t he mean by “these people”, those who seek honor, for the right reasons, namely to be held as virtuous, that is to say, for their goodness? Don’t we know that Washington declined being King, for instance? Isn’t this why Washington is Washington, and Sardanapalus, well, is and will always be, Sardanapalus? But, shouldn’t we be made aware of Washington’s OWN struggles with honor (see section IV below)? And in this very regard, don’t we have to get clear on the stunning difference in the appraisal of a General like Nicias, one from Plato, who mocks him in the Laches, and the other, from Thucydides who suffers with him in his History?
4) And of the entrance of the term virtue (aretē), what are we to say? Why is Ar. so NEGATIVE about it from the start; “And perhaps someone might in fact suppose that virtue is to a greater degree the end of political life. Yet it appears to be rather incomplete”? Wouldn’t a moralist find these sentences odd, to say the least? Is Ar. curbing the spiritedness (thumos) of the moralists from the very beginning? Actually, why hasn’t Ar. mentioned spiritedness at all? And if virtue is so incomplete, then what are we going to fill our ETHICAL outline with? Or is it that truly we must remind ourselves of the vast differences between the English word “virtue” and the Greek word aretēwhich can be attributed even to inanimate things?What does the arete (excellence) of a knife mean?But, are we to take this linguistic differentiation to mean that the MORAL excellences, are ONLY part of the ethical, not the whole of its horizon? And if so, then, where do THE moral overtones of the word aretēactually stand? Are these moral tones like the ROCK? Are they like a veil? Furthermore, what can we say of the argument that one can possess virtue while being inactive, specially asleep? What is Ar. getting at with this is EXTREMELY weird example? What difference does it make if one sleeps, or not, in regard to virtue?Suppose I am sleeping; do I cease to be virtuous? Well, only if one wants to defend a thesis, wouldn’t we say? Or perhaps, the point Ar. is making, and this is precisely why he adds inactive, that the idea of moral virtue is closely linked to the performance of the ACTION themselves? For, how am I to know whether I am courageous if I do not SHOW it in a kind of situation that actually requires the performance of the virtue of courage? Surely an army caught asleep (as many have been) is dead, isn’t it? And, how am I to SHOW my generosity if not by actually acting and giving to others (if you expect generosity for those asleep you will wait a LONG time, won´t you)? In other words, what would be of the virtues if we did not constantly seek occasions for their execution? And furthermore isn’t the political arena precisely the stage for such occasions at their best? Won’t this be the case for magnanimity and magnificence in particular? But then, how am I to prove my courage, if there is no war which provides the occasion? Wouldn’t there be occasions in which one would wish such a person rather remain asleep, rather remain INACTIVE than purposely pursue dangerous courses of action? Isn’t this in part why The Federalists write in No. 9:
“A FIRM Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection. It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions by which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy. If they exhibit occasional calms, these only serve as short-lived contrast to the furious storms that are to succeed. If now and then intervals of felicity open to view, we behold them with a mixture of regret, arising from the reflection that the pleasing scenes before us are soon to be overwhelmed by the tempestuous waves of sedition and party rage. If momentary rays of glory break forth from the gloom, while they dazzle us with a transient and fleeting brilliancy, they at the same time admonish us to lament that the vices of government should pervert the direction and tarnish the lustre of those bright talents and exalted endowments for which the favored soils that produced them have been so justly celebrated.” here
And even much more problematically, as AQ. points out (67), how am I going to prove my magnanimity if I am but poor? Furthermore, if there is some kind of relation between the active life and the contemplative life just mentioned, what is it? If the virtues REQUIRE action, does contemplation require an action of its own? Are these two types of actions compatible; for instance, how do I go about finding the leisure to contemplate? Moreover, why does Ar. add: “in addition to these, suffering badly and great misfortunes.”? What does Ar. mean? Why doesn’t he give any examples of what he takes this to mean’? Is he referring to illnesses and such? Or is he referring to poverty? But didn’t he say that these do not affect happiness in our previous subsection? Is it a misfortune not to have the capital to become and keep on being a magnanimous individual? Or is it that in executing the virtues, one can actually do damage to oneself, i.e., die in battle? For don’t we think, of those who survived, “Well, aren´t THEY lucky”? But wouldn’t this be odd, aren’t the lucky ones those who give their lives for us, so that they will BE HONORED AND REMEMBERED eternally precisely for their virtuous behaviour? Aren’t we “lucky” to survive, only to recede in anonymity for the rest of our lives, and poignantly after death? And if these remarks are even half way in the right direction, then WHO is Ar. speaking of when he mentions those who are defending a thesis? What does Ar. mean that no one is happy under these circumstances unless defending a thesis? And then why does he dismiss this view so RAPIDLY? Does it have to do with the fact that ONCE we go into a discussion of the moral virtues themselves in BOOKS 3 and 4, there will be NO MENTION of happiness? Is Ar. simply trying to divert our attention, so as to NOT to shock the audience of refined and educated which alone can guarantee that honour and virtue remain connected to the good in SOME way, if not the highest way? But honestly speaking WHAT are we to make of Socrates’s troubling end? Is THAT a thesis? Are we to believe a person like Nietzsche when he says that Socrates lived apparent happiness in this life? Or isn’t it clear, as Socrates makes it clear to all present in the PHAEDO, that he is NOT living a misfortune and THUS wants to EDUCATE us into not crying but rather understanding what true happiness and complete virtue (arete) is all about?
5) To conclude these puzzles: what of the sudden appearance of the money-making life (χρηματιστὴς), when we have been told just a few lines above that there were only 3 lives in all? Did Ar. forget to mention it? Wouldn’t THAT be a very odd explanation from someone like him? “Oh, yes, oops, didn’t have much time for my notes, forgot to add it, really really, there are 4”; wouldn’t this way of thinking be rather odd? And wouldn’t we moderns, citizens of liberal commercial republics see here a CRUCIAL bridge to the Ancients? But alas, isn’t what Ar. tells us, merely negative and thus to a high degree —-for us modern homo economicus—- difficult even to see or understand? For isn’t Ar. clear about these issues also in the Politics: “usury is most reasonably hated because ones possessions derive from money itself and not from that which is supplied, of the sorts of business this is the most contrary to nature”.(Politics, Lord, I, 10, 1258a35-b5). But, as we have argued previously, if our THAT is that of commercial republics, then how not to destabilize their fundamental presuppositions if we begin asking the WHY’s which arise from OUR reading Ar.´s rather foreign views on things? To put it bluntly, “let there be no more usury in the modern world; It is so decreed”; wouldn’t this be not only illusory, but rather dangerous as well for OUR political stability? Or is it that Ar is providing us with a HIERARCHY of lives with which we can judge the excellence of cultural types? And if so, where would our commercial republics stand? Wouldn’t they stand QUITE low? Besides, what are we to make of the troubling reference linked to money making, namely that it deals with a CONSTRAINT (Baios) ? What does the constraint refer to; specially given the idea of he Greek baios as “violence” or “force”? Why doesn’t Ar. spell it out? Is he referring to the troubling political conditions of enrichment? Or is it rather that he refers to a certain violence done to the higher natural capacities we possess as humans? But then, what to make of the totally opposite idea presented by early moderns such as Montesquieu and their praise of commerce as leaning, NOT to violence, but on the contrary to greater peace among nations: “The natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace. Two nations that trade with each other become reciprocally dependent; if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling, and all unions are founded on mutual needs.” (TsoL, PART IV, Chapter 2, p. 338)? Or is it that the early modern commercial model itself could not guarantee such peace in the long run? And in much more personal terms, don’t we find examples of similar ideas in analysts of business who themselves see the modern violence done by certain CEO’s intent on bonuses? Aren’t we to take heed of Professors Mintzberg’s critique of modern moneymaking CEO´s intent on bonuses?:
“Actually, bonuses can serve one purpose. It has been claimed that if you don’t pay them, you don’t get the right person in the CEO chair. I believe that if you do pay bonuses, you get the wrong person in that chair. At the worst, you get a self-centred narcissist. At the best, you get someone who is willing to be singled out from everyone else by virtue of the compensation plan. Is this any way to build community within an enterprise, even to foster the very sense of enterprise that is so fundamental to economic strength?
Accordingly, executive bonuses provide the perfect tool to screen candidates for the CEO job. Anyone who insists on them should be dismissed out of hand, because he or she has demonstrated an absence of the leadership attitude required for a sustainable enterprise.
Of course, this might thin the roster of candidates. Good. Most need to be thinned, in order to be refilled with people who don’t allow their own needs to take precedence over those of the community they wish to lead.” Wall Street Journal, here
Wouldn’t recovering Ar.´s views, in this regard alone, aid us in preventing greater crises?
1) The three —-or is it four?—– kinds of life.
2) Multitudes, power, the pleasurable
3) Honor’s dilemmas
4) Sleeping Virtue?
III. PUZZLES REGARDING COMMENTARY BY AQUINAS
1) One must signal as well to AQ.’s own discussion of the question of usury and interest in the Summa II-II Question 78 AA 1-4 “Of the sin of interest taking” which rings dramatically unknown to us:
“Now money, according to The Philosopher, was invented chiefly for the purpose of exchange, and, consequently, the proper and principal use of money is its consumption or alienation, whereby it is sunk in exchange. Hence, it is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as interest.” (my emphasis: Summa II-II, Question 78 AA 1-4, “Of the sin of interest taking”, Hackett, p. 200)
2) For a contrasting view to be found in the Bible one must look at King David’s words prior to his dying as regards his thanksgiving to God, and his recognition of God as the sole origin of ANY recognition, honor and glory in men:
“”Thine o Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and in the earth, Thine is the dominion, O Lord, and Thou dost exalt Thyself as head over all.
Both riches and honor come from Thee and Thou dost rule over all, and in Thy hand is power and might; and it lies in Thy hands to make great and to strengthen everyone …
For we are sojourners before Thee and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope” (my emphasis: Bible, 1 Chronicles, 29: 11-15)
Likewise as regards the question of the money-making life, one need look at the Parable of the rich fool as spoken by Jesus, son of God in the New Testament:
“The land of a certain rich man was very productive.
And he began reasoning to himself , saying. “What shall I do, once I have no place to store my crops.”
And he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.
But God said to him, “You fool. This very night your souls is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?”
So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (my emphasis: Luke 12: 17-21; Schofield Study Bible.)
IV. FLEXIBLE SECTION
1) i) It is quite revealing to contrast AQ.’s words on the nature of usury with the defense of the Spirit of Commerce by Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws:
“The natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace. Two nations that trade with each other become reciprocally dependent; if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling, and all unions are founded on mutual needs.” (TsoL, PART IV, Chapter 2, p. 338)
Perhaps to understand the constraint (baios) of which Ar. speaks as regads the moneymaking life, one can refer to Montesquieu’s own words on the commercialism of Marseilles,
“It has been seen everywhere that violence and harassment have brought forth economic commerce among men who are constrained to hide in marshes, on islands, on the shoals, and even among dangerous reefs … They had to live; they drew their livelihood from the whole universe.” (ibid., Chapter 5)
ii) The un-Aristotelian defense of the money making life is also found in Locke´s views as presented in his Two Treatises of Government:
“49. Thus in the beginning all the world was America, and more so than that is now; for no such thing as money was anywhere known. Find out something that hath the use and value of money amongst his neighbours, you shall see the same man will begin presently to enlarge his possessions.
50. But since gold and silver, being little useful to the life of men in proportion to food … has its value only from the consent of men .. it is plain that men have agreed on a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth, they having, by a tacit an voluntary consent, found out a way how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of…” (Two Treatises of Government, Second Treatise, Chapter V, 46-51; Hafner p. 145)
iii) For the first early modern critique of this posture see Rousseau Discourse on the Origin of Inequality:
“The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared had someone pulled up the stakes or filed in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: “Do not listen to this impostor. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one! But it is quite likely …” (Rousseau., Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Part Two, Hackett, p. 60)
iv) For a defence of the nature of American commerce as against European commerce see Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Some Considerations concerning the causes of the commercial greatness of the United States,VOL, PART II, Chapter 10, Anchor Press, p. 402)
“The Americans have introduced a similar system into commerce. What the French did for the sake of victory, they are doing for the sake of the economy.
The European navigator is prudent about venturing out to sea; he does so only when the weather is suitable; if any unexpected accident happens, he returns to port; at night he furls some of his sails …
The American neglecting such precautions, braves these danger; he sets sail while the storm is still rumbling; by night as well as by day. He spreads full sails to the wind; he repairs storm damage as he goes; and when at last he draws near the end of his voyage, he flies towards the coast as if he could already see the port….
I cannot express my thoughts better than by saying that the Americans put something heroic into their way of trading.” (my emphasis: Democracy in America, Some Considerations concerning the causes of the commercial greatness of the United States,Vol. I, Part II, Chapter 10; Anchor Press, p. 400 ff.)
2) For what is perhaps the single most stunning critique of the moneymaking life as against the possibility of the contemplative life see Xenophon’s Memorabilia:
“It is worthwhile in this regard also not to omit his conversations that he had with Antiphon the sophist. For Antiphon, wishing to draw his close companions away from him, once approached Socrates when they were present and said the following.
“Socrates, I, for my part, thought that those who philosophize should become happier. But you, in my opinion, have reaped from philosophy just the opposite. You live, at any rate, a way of life such as no slave would abide from a master. You eat and drink the poorest food and drink, you wear a cloak that is not only poor but the same one during summer and winter, and you are continuously without shoes or tunic.”
“Moreover, you do not take in wealth —-a thing that both delights in its acquisition and makes those who possess it live more freely and pleasantly. If, accordingly, you too dispose your companions as do teachers of other work as well, who show their students to be their imitators, you should hold that you are a teacher of unhappiness.” And Socrates replied to this:
“In my opinion, Antiphon, you have supposed me to live so painfully that I am persuaded you would rather die than choose to live as I do. Come now, let us examine what you have perceived to be hard in my life.
“ Is it that those who accept money are under necessity to produce what they are paid for, but that by not receiving it I am in no necessity to converse with whomever I do not wish? Or do you deem my way of life poor in the belief that I eat less healthy things than you, or things that provide less strength? Or is it that my regimen is harder to procure than yours because it is more rare and costly? Or that what you furnish yourself is more pleasant for you than what I furnish myself is for me? Don’t you know that the one who eats most pleasantly has the least need of relish, and the one who drinks most pleasantly least desires drink that is not at hand?
“Regarding cloaks, you know that those who change them do so for reasons of cold and heat , and that they put on shoes so that they will not be prevented from walking due to what pains their feet. Now then, have you ever perceived me more than another remaining inside because of the cold, fighting with someone over a spot in the shade because of the heat or not going wherever I wish because of pain in my feet?
Don’t you know that when those bodies are naturally weakest practice they become stronger at what they practice and more easily bear it than the strongest who does not practice? And don’t you think that, by always practices patient endurance of the things that chance to befall my body, I bear all things more easily than you who does not practice?
“Do you think that anything is more responsible for my not being enslaved to stomach or sleep or lust than that I have other things more pleasant than these that delight not only in their use but also by providing hopes that they will benefit always? Moreover, this at any rate you know; that those who do not think that they are doing well do not experience delight, but those who believe that they are nobly progressing, either in farming or seafaring or whatever else they chance to be working at, are delighted on the grounds that they are doing well.
Then, do you think that the pleasure from all these things is as great as that from believing that one is becoming better and acquiring better friends? I, for my part, spend my life holding these things. And if indeed it should be necessary to benefit friends or city, is there more leisure to attend to them in my present way of life or in the one that you deem blessed? And who would go on a campaign more easily, a person unable to live without a costly way of life, or one for whom what is at hand is enough? And who would surrender more quickly to a siege, the person needing what is hardest to find, or the one who has enough when he makes use of what is easiest to abstain?
“You seem, Antiphon, like one who thinks that happiness is luxury and extravagance. But I, for my part, hold that to need nothing is divine (theios), that to need as little as possible is nearest to the divine, and what is divine is best, and that what is nearest to the divine is nearest to what is best.” (Memorabilia I 6, Xenophon, Translated by Amy L. Bonnette; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994)
3) An example of the best political education of the refined by the refined can be found, according to Xenophon in the type of education prevalent in the Persian Empire prior to the rise of Cyrus and his republican reforms:
“He was, moreover, educated in the laws of the Persians. These laws do not seem to begin where they begin in most cities, but by caring for the common good. For most cities allow each to educate his own children however he wants and they allow the adults themselves to live however they please; then they enjoin then not to steal or plunder, not to use violence in entering the house, not to strike whoever it is unjust to strike, not to commit adultery, not to disobey a ruler, and similarly with other such matters. If someone transgresses some of these strictures they punish him.
But the Persian laws, starting earlier, take care that the citizen will not in the first place even be such as to desire any wild or shameful deed. They exercise this care in the following way ….” (Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus, Book I, Chapter 2, Ambler. p. 23; the contrast to permissive democracy astounds.)
4) For the crucial relation to Utilitarianism see the beginning of J.S. Mill´s work:
“There are few circumstances among those which make up the present condition of human knowledge …more insignificant of the nature of backward state in which speculation on the most important subject still lingers, than the little progress which has been made in the decision of the controversy respecting the criterion of right and wrong” (Mill, Utilitarianism, Penguin, p. 272: Of course, for Mill, Ar. has been of little help here, even if he too speaks of the crucial role of pleasure and happiness in the discussion of the ethical.)
5) i) Regarding the idea that the ULTIMATE end of honor is greatness and fame, see the final Exhortation of Machiavelli’s The Prince:
“Circumstances are now very favourable indeed …if only your family will imitate the methods of men I have proposed as exemplars. Moreover, very unusual events, which are signs from God, have recently been observed here: the sea has opened; a cloud has shown you the way; water has flowed from the rock; manna has rained down here. Everything points to your future greatness. But you must play your part, for God does not want to do everything, in order not to deprive us of our freedom and the glory that belong to us.” (my emphasis: The Prince, Cambridge, Exhortation to liberate Italy, p. 88-9)
ii) One can also look at the new understanding of honor in Hobbes’s appropriately titled “Of Power, Worth, Dignity, Honour and Worthiness”:
“(5) Reputation of power is power, because it draweth with it the adherence of those that need protection,
… (8) Good success is power, because it maketh reputation of wisdom or good fortune, which makes men either fear him or rely on him. ….
(12) Eloquence is power , because it is seeming prudence….
(16) The value or WORTH of a man is, as of all other things, his price, that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power; and therefore is not absolute, but a thing dependent on the need and judgement of another … For let a man (as most men do) rateth themselves at the highest value they can; yet their true value is no more than is esteemed by others” (Leviathan: Part I, Chapter X “Of Power, Worth, Dignity, Honour and Worthiness”; Hackett, p. 51)
iii) For one of the most famous expression of FAME as the fundamental motivation even of the noblest of minds see The Federalists No. 72 where we read:
“One ill effect of the exclusion would be a diminution of the inducements to good behaviour. There are few men who would not feel much less zeal in the discharge of a duty when they were conscious that the advantages of the station with which it was connected must be relinquished at a determinate period, than when they were permitted to entertain a hope of OBTAINING, by MERITING, a continuance of them. This position will not be disputed so long as it is admitted that the desire of reward is one of the strongest incentives of human conduct; or that the best security for the fidelity of mankind is to make their interests coincide with their duty. Even the love of fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds, which would prompt a man to plan and undertake extensive and arduous enterprises for the public benefit, requiring considerable time to mature and perfect them, if he could flatter himself with the prospect of being allowed to finish what he had begun, would, on the contrary, deter him from the undertaking, when he foresaw that he must quit the scene before he could accomplish the work, and must commit that, together with his own reputation, to hands which might be unequal or unfriendly to the task. The most to be expected from the generality of men, in such a situation, is the negative merit of not doing harm, instead of the positive merit of doing good.” (my emphasis: http://constitution.org/fed/federa72.htm )
Position against which Anti-Federalists such as Brutus argue intensely: What is so noble about actions done for the sake of future fame, rather than actions done for the sake of themselves IN SPITE of fame?
6) On the question of honor in times of peace one can look at Machiavelli’s The Discourses in which he too alludes to Thucydides and Nicias:
“We see, thereof, in this incident a disorder to which republics are liable, namely that of showing but little esteem, in time of peace for men of worth. This arouses their indignation on two accounts. First, they themselves are deprived of their position. Secondly, they find unworthy men who lack their competence, being made their associates and their superiors.” ( The Discourses, BOOK III, Chapter 16, Penguin, p. 452)
5) i) For an example of the virtues as the end of political life one need only look at Washington´s “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation”:
“37th, In speaking to men of quality do not lean nor look them full in the face, nor approach too near them at least keep a full pace form them”.
61st Utter nor base for frivolous things amongst grave and Learn´d Men nor very Difficult Questians or Subjects, among the ignorant …”
110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience” (Washington , The Library of America, p. 3-10.)
ii) For a revealing discussion of the question of honor in Washington see:
a. “The Classical and Modern Liberal Understandings of Honor.” In The Noblest
Minds: Fame. Honor, and the American Founding, edited by Peter
McNamara, 207-19. Lanham. Md.: Rowman and Littlefield.
b. “George Washington and the Life of Honor.” Co-authored with Lorraine Smith
Pangle. In The Noblest Minds:, edited by Peter McNamara, 59-71.
iii) For the dilemmas as presented in Bolívar, one can read his letter to L. Perú de Lacroix. It reads:
“La corona que se le puso a Napoleón sobre la cabeza la miré como una cosa miserable y de modo gótica; lo que me pareció grande fue la aclamación y el interés que inspiraba su persona. Esto, lo confieso, me hizo pensar en la esclavitud de mi pais y en la gloria que conquistaría el que la liberase, pero cuán lejos me hallaba de imaginar que tal fortuna me aguardaba!” (my emphasis: Brevario del Libertador, Ramon de Zubiría, Documento 9, p. 31.)
7) For a literary recreation of a kind of Sardanapalus one can look at Camus´s Caligula. There we read as regards the life of pleasure:
“Caligula: Yes, I wanted the moon.
Caligula: It’s one of those things I haven’t got …. I couldn’t get it ….That’s why I’m tired.” (Camus, Caligula, Vintage, p. 7)
V. IMPORTANT GREEK TERMS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
practically wise, prudent
to be in distress
constraint, violence, force
VI. NICOMACHEAN ETHICS, GREEK, BOOK I, 5; text at Perseus (based on Bywater)
ἡμεῖςδὲλέγωμενὅθενπαρεξέβημεν. τὸγὰρἀγαθὸνκαὶτὴνεὐδαιμονίανοὐκἀλόγωςἐοίκασινἐκτῶνβίωνὑπολαμβάνεινοἱμὲνπολλοὶκαὶφορτικώτατοιτὴνἡδονήν: διὸκαὶτὸνβίονἀγαπῶσιτὸνἀπολαυστικόν. τρεῖςγάρεἰσιμάλισταοἱπρούχοντες, ὅτενῦνεἰρημένοςκαὶὁπολιτικὸςκαὶτρίτοςὁθεωρητικός. οἱμὲνοὖνπολλοὶπαντελῶςἀνδραποδώδειςφαίνονταιβοσκημάτωνβίονπροαιρούμενοι, τυγχάνουσιδὲλόγουδιὰτὸπολλοὺςτῶνἐνταῖςἐξουσίαιςὁμοιοπαθεῖνΣαρδαναπάλλῳ. οἱδὲχαρίεντεςκαὶπρακτικοὶτιμήν: τοῦγὰρπολιτικοῦβίουσχεδὸντοῦτοτέλος. φαίνεταιδ᾽ἐπιπολαιότερονεἶναιτοῦζητουμένου: δοκεῖγὰρἐντοῖςτιμῶσιμᾶλλονεἶναιἢἐντῷτιμωμένῳ, τἀγαθὸνδὲοἰκεῖόντικαὶδυσαφαίρετονεἶναιμαντευόμεθα. ἔτιδ᾽ἐοίκασιτὴντιμὴνδιώκεινἵναπιστεύσωσινἑαυτοὺςἀγαθοὺςεἶναι: ζητοῦσιγοῦνὑπὸτῶνφρονίμωντιμᾶσθαι, καὶπαρ᾽οἷςγινώσκονται, καὶἐπ᾽ἀρετῇ: δῆλονοὖνὅτικατάγετούτουςἡἀρετὴκρείττων. τάχαδὲκαὶμᾶλλονἄντιςτέλοςτοῦπολιτικοῦβίουταύτηνὑπολάβοι. φαίνεταιδὲἀτελεστέρακαὶαὕτη: δοκεῖγὰρἐνδέχεσθαικαὶκαθεύδεινἔχοντατὴνἀρετὴνἢἀπρακτεῖνδιὰβίου, καὶπρὸςτούτοιςκακοπαθεῖνκαὶἀτυχεῖντὰμέγιστα: . τὸν δ᾽ οὕτω ζῶντα οὐδεὶς ἂν εὐδαιμονίσειεν, εἰ μὴ θέσιν διαφυλάττων. καὶ περὶ μὲν τούτων ἅλις: ἱκανῶς γὰρ καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἐγκυκλίοις εἴρηται περὶ αὐτῶν. τρίτος δ᾽ ἐστὶν ὁ θεωρητικός, ὑπὲρ οὗ τὴν ἐπίσκεψιν ἐν τοῖς ἑπομένοις ποιησόμεθα. ὁ δὲ χρηματιστὴς βίαιός τις ἐστίν, καὶ ὁ πλοῦτος δῆλον ὅτι οὐ τὸ ζητούμενον ἀγαθόν: χρήσιμον γὰρ καὶ ἄλλου χάριν. διὸ μᾶλλον τὰ πρότερον λεχθέντα τέλη τις ἂν ὑπολάβοι: δι᾽ αὑτὰ γὰρ ἀγαπᾶται. φαίνεται δ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἐκεῖνα: καίτοι πολλοὶ λόγοι πρὸς αὐτὰ καταβέβληνται. ταῦτα μὲν οὖν ἀφείσθω.