COMMENTARY ON ARISTOTLE’S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS: BOOK I, 6
(For the nature of the sections see the “General Introduction”, here.)
Abbreviations: Ar. = Aristotle, AQ= Aquinas, NE = Nicomachean Ethics, EE= Eudemian Ethics
“As for the universal [good], perhaps it is better to examine it and to go through the perplexities involved in the ways it is spoken of, although undertaking such an inquiry is arduous, because the men who introduced the forms are dear. But perhaps it might be held to be better, and in fact to be obligatory, at least for the sake of preserving the truth, to do away with even one’s own things, specially for those who are philosophers. For although both are dear, it is a pious thing to honor the truth first.
Now, those who conveyed this opinion did not make ideas pertain to those cases in which they spoke of the prior and posterior: hence they did not set up an idea of numbers either. But the good is spoken of in relation to what something is, and in relation to what sort of thing it is, and as regards its relation to something: but that which is the thing in itself –that is, the being —is prior by nature to any relation it has (for it is like an offshoot and accident of the being). As a result, there would not be any common idea pertaining to these things
And further, the good is spoken of in as many ways as is the term is —for the good is spoken of in relation to what something is (for example the god and intellect); as for what sort of thing something is, the good is spoken of as the virtues; as for how much something is, it is spoken of as the measured amount; in its relation to something, as what is useful; as regards time, as the opportune moment; as regards place, as the [right] location; and other things of this sort [Since all this is so,] it is clear that the good would not be something common, universal, and one. For if that were the case, it would not be spoken of in all the categories but in one alone.
And further, since there is a single science of things that pertain to a single idea, there would also be some single science of all the good things. But as things stand, there are many sciences even of the things that fall under a single category –for example, the opportune moment: in war, it is generalship, in illness, medicine; and in the case of the measured amount of nourishment, on the one hand it is medicine, but in that of physical exertions, on the other, it is gymnastic training.
But someone might be perplexed as to whatever they mean by the “thing-as-such”, if in fact the very same account of human being pertains both to “human being-as-such” and to a given human being. For in the respect in which each is a human being, they will not differ at all. And if this is so, [then neither the good as such nor a good thing will differ] in the respect in which each is good. Moreover, the good will not be good to a greater degree by being eternal either, if in fact whiteness that lasts a long time will not be whiter than that which lasts only a day.
The Pythagoreans seem to speak more persuasively about it by positing the One in the column of the goods, and it is indeed they whom Speusippus seems to follow. But about these things let there be another argument.
A certain dispute over the points stated begins to appear, because the arguments made [by the proponents of the forms] do not concern every good: things pursued and cherished by themselves are spoken of in reference to a single form, but what produces these (or in some way preserves them or prevents their contraries) is spoken of as being good on account of the former sorts of goods and in a different manner. It is clear, then, that the good things would be spoken of in two senses: those that are good in themselves, others that are good on account of these.
Separating the things good in themselves from those that are advantageous, then, let us examine whether the former are spoken of in reference to a single idea. What sort of things might one posit as being good in themselves? Is it so many things as are in fact pursued for themselves alone —-for example, exercising prudence and seeing, as well as certain pleasures and honor? For even if we pursue these on account of something else as well, nonetheless one might posit them as being among the things that are good in themselves. Or is nothing good in itself except the idea? The result will be that the form [abstracted from all individual things] is pointless. But if in fact these things [that is, exercising prudence, seeing and the like] are among the things good in themselves, the definition of the good will need to manifest itself as the same in all cases, just as the definition of whiteness is the same in the case of snow and in that of white lead. But the definitions of honor, prudence and pleasure are distinct and differ in the very respect in which they are goods. It is not the case, therefore, that the good is something common in reference to a single idea.
But how indeed are they spoken of [as good]? For they are not like things that share the same name by chance. It is by dint of their stemming from one thing or because they all contribute to one thing? Or is it more that they are such by analogy? For as there is sight in the body, so there is intellect in the soul, and indeed one thing in one thing, another in another. But perhaps we ought to leave these consideration be for now: to be very precise about them would be more appropriate to another philosophy. The case is similar with the idea as well: even if there is some one good thing that is predicated [of things] in common,, or there is some separate thing, itself in itself, it is clear that it would not be subject to action or capable of being possessed by a human being. But it is some such thing that is now being sought.
Perhaps someone might be of the opinion that it is better to be familiar with it, with a view to those goods that can be possessed and are subject to action. By having this [universal good] as a sort of model, we will to greater degree know also the things that are good for us; and if we know them, we will hit on them. Now, the argument has a certain persuasiveness, but it seems to be inconsistent with the sciences. For although all sciences aim at some good and seek out what is lacking, they pass over knowledge of the good itself. And yet it is not reasonable for all craftsmen to be ignorant of so great an aid and not even to seek it out.
A further perplexity too is what benefit the weaver or carpenter might gain, in relation to his own art, by known this same good, or how he who has contemplated the idea itself will be a more skilled physician or general. For it appears that the physician does not examine even health this way, but inquires rather into the health of a human being and even more, perhaps into that of this particular human being. For he treats patients individually.
And let what pertains to these things be stated up to this point.”
(NE, 1096a11-1097a14; Aristotle´s Nicomachean Ethics, Bartlett, Robert, and Collins, Susan; University of Chicago, Chicago, 2011)
I. PRIVATE PUZZLES
1) Why exactly can’t Ar. seem to get his argument going? Why does he lead us into a third and even more complex, not to say impossible (from the point of view of practical things), digression? Put bluntly, does one imagine a Pericles/Xenophon/Thucydides listening intently? Is a Pericles/Xenophon/Thucydides, so interested in THESE perplexities? But if not, then WHO are we speaking to in terms of the ETHICAL? To philosophy students? Wouldn’t that be utterly ODD, if we seek to respect the dignity of the practical (as that appears to be clearly the objective of the previous two digressions!)? Shouldn’t one, as well, ask more explicitly what is the actual relation between these three digressions (from the type of student, to the kind of methodology, to a discussion of the erroneous views of his friends on the absolute good)? Are we ascending in some sense to more and more impenetrable perplexities? Or do they stand at the same level of importance? Moreover, why does Ar. indeed connect the second and third digressions in the EE BOOK I, Ch. 8 1218a15-ff; “They ought in fact to demonstrate….”) and does NOT so proceed in the NE (see section IV below)? Is it because he wants us in the NE to assume a more active role in OUR coming to see the sources of our perplexities? And what are we to make of the very LENGTH of the digression? I mean, doesn’t AQ. actually divide his commentary into three sections, while our translators only deal with one very long and complex one? But leaving this aside, why is it SO important to get THIS one right? Why is our stance on the Forms/Ideas, the crux of the matter, so to speak? And, very importantly, why does Ar. go, as rarely he does in his Ethics, into his much less practical works, for instance, the Categories? Is he telling us that, in the end, we DO need some such vocabulary to get clear of our PRACTICAL perplexities? However, IF his audience has a dual character, then what are the less philosophically inclined to do with this section? For it is clear, notions like substance, predicates, the “thing-as-such” etc… are NOT the concern of the practical, and much less so –at least explicitly— of the political art? And putting it provocatively, isn’t this why one does NOT find any mention of the “Theory of the Forms” in the work of Xenophon (or Alfarabi, for that matter)? And isn’t this , in part, why modern philosophy and political science departments —with their modern procedural approaches—- find Xenophon, who knew of this Socratic tradition, rather irrelevant? Isn’t the overwhelming amount of academic writings of Plato´s “Theory of Ideas”, precisely, in part, what reveals the stance of OUR modern philosophy departments as regards the practical arena? But doesn’t this reveal a certain perplexing blindness which Ar. DOES see? Isn’t this why he explicitly tells us that these concerns are those of another kind of philosophy which can actually harm praxis as we saw in previous commentaries? Again, is this to safeguard the dignity and independence of the practical sphere in its own terms? But then, why even mention them, if they belong elsewhere? So, shouldn’t we conclude that Ar. is purposely confronting his audience with such complexities PRECISELY to get clear on how HE will, at least initially, move away from them? For it is clear, the idea of the ideas will NOT ever return to the argument in the NE, will they? And surely at the end of the NE we are not asked to go read the Categories or the Metaphysics, but rather to go read the Politics, aren´t we (with some exceptions, perhaps, dealing with the private education which BOOK X defends, so that SOME may read both)? In other words, is it perhaps that his audience, at least part of it, has already been misled by those who attended Plato’s Academy? Don’t they clearly still have in their minds all the Apology affair (which Ar. did not witness)? Isn’t Ar. rather troubled by the radical nature of the rhetorical skills used in the Republic, even if he might agree with its core dialectics? Doesn’t he see that such philosophical projects undermine the practical so that the relation between the practical and the speculative reach insolvable breakdowns of communication (to use modern language)? But if THIS is true, don’t we and Ar. also know that Plato wrote his more mature The Laws, where such critiques are better responded? Furthermore, as regards the Straussian interpretation of the so-called Platonic “Theory of the Forms” (for instance, Blooms famous reading of The Republic as a comic response to Aristophanes´s Clouds, or Strauss´s own unique conception; see section IV below) , then why exactly does one not find anything “comic” about Ar.’s presentation of these ideas? Doesn’t HE seem to think that Plato took them seriously? Or is it rather that he is criticizing a rather incomplete, not to say an erroneous interpretation of Plato’s thought (as one could easily see, for instance, also in the very purposely minimalistic critique of Plato’s communism in Politics Book II)? For surely Ar. seems to CONVENIENTLY forget that these theories appear in DIALOGUES with all the dramatic complexities that this entails ( and we know Ar. himself wrote many dialogues as well!)? So why does he find it “convenient” to leave these obvious, yet crucial, issues aside? For aren’t we to realize that, for instance, the presentation of the ideas in the Republic is given precisely within Socrates’ description of three incredible waves that Socrates himself tells us are so utterly incomprehensible they will hardly be believed? (see section IV below for references to the ideas in the Republic). Isn’t this perhaps THE key to this subsection? Isn’t it perhaps the key to the relationship between Plato and Aristotle as Alfarabi saw it (see beginning of The Philosophy of Aristotle: “Aristotle sees the perfection of man as Plato sees it and more.”; Mahdi p. 71, )
2) But if Ar. is not being wholly fair to his Platonic heritage, then why is he SO clear about the fact that Plato got it wrong and therefore tells us how arduous criticizing those who are dear is? Is it, as AQ. wisely tells —revealing his masterful skills as interpreter— because one ought not to criticize one’s friends in public (AQ., section 75; “It is, however, contrary to good morals…”)? But then if this is so, why write the subsection in the first place? And in the same vein, as regards the very first appearance of the word for “philosophers”, what can we say? Who, more precisely, are they? Is a philosopher who, allegedly, gets it so wrong still a philosopher? Besides, isn’t it clear that the word´s first appearance has NOTHING to do with pleasure? Doesn’t Ar. tells us that this confrontation between philosophers is ARDUOUS, it is rather OBLIGATORY and even demands “to do away with even one’s own things”? What does “one´s own things” mean here? Surely not properties, right? Can one even begin to comprehend the nature of said sacrifice? And, is the search for truth a life of sacrifice; but isn’t the NE about happiness? Will one need to even sacrifice one’s friends (even though Ar. prudently adds, BOTH are dear)? But honestly speaking, so in the end, are they TRULY friends? For, what does it mean to have a severely misguided friend that may, in turn, seriously misguide you? And, as regards the first appearance of the term friendship (philia), strikingly linked in its first appearance to the first appearance of philosophy (philosophia: “friend to wisdom”)—- how to understand its full reappearance only until we reach the longest section of the NE itself, namely, books VIII and IX? So, one gives up even one’s best friends; but what does the TRUTH look like so that even this is obligatory? Or put another way, why exactly does Ar. add that “it is a pious thing to honor the truth first”? What does he mean by pious? Is this piety, the piety owed Zeus? Or, is it another KIND of piety? Bluntly, how can a rational investigation of the practical be based on a certain piety? For, isn’t it UTTERLY strange that, though Ar. HERE sees it fit to mention piety, ironically it will NOT appear in the list of moral virtues to be discussed in Books III and IV? But if so, if we are in fact speaking of a reconsideration of the Gods, and of our attitude towards them, then, how do we move from one to the other? That is to say, how to introduce new Gods without falling into Socrates´s fate (which we must remind ourselves was almost Ar.´s own)? I mean, wasn’t Socrates accused of NOT believing in the cities Gods (see Strauss´s words on Meletus in section IV below)? And revealingly, doesn’t even the prudent Xenophon remain strikingly quiet on this very point? But then, following Ar.’s own previous digressions, how exactly will we start from the THAT, turn to asking the WHY, and NOT upset the THAT as presumably had been in fact upset PRECISELY by those who believe in these IDEAS and their independent existence in the first place? Doesn’t it seem that Ar. truly wants to have his cake and eat it too? What is it about the truth, then, that involves all these rhetorical manoeuvres? And, why are they so unknown to us moderns?
3) Now, then, why exactly does Ar. begin his discussion with the issue of numbers? Very tentatively, isn’t Ar. actually even telling Platonist —who were proud of their mathematical concerns— that they didn’t even get the numbers right (particularly as they relate to the human sphere)? Or, is it that they got the RELATION between numbers and the mathematical and virtue and the practical/rhetorical upside down? And how exactly is looking at the Categories, in particular at the different cases of predication/modes of speaking of being (of something that IS), help US in our ethical inquiry? Do the diversity of categories (substance, quality, quantity, time, place, kind, …) SHOW the diversity of the ethical, or rather is it the diversity of the ethical/political which helps us get clearer on the multiplicity of the categories? For aren’t the examples used by Ar. himself, namely, “the opportune moment”/”the measured amount” (and such), precisely that which deals with practical wisdom? Isn’t this why his primary examples are those of generals and physicians; men/women who deal with DEATH when mistaken? Moreover, why, more precisely, does Ar. add quite quietly that the categories refer, for example, NOT to place in general but rather to the right place (or the opportune moment) ? Wouldn’t some moderns (e.g., Hume) immediately counterargue that Ar. has naively mixed the relations between facts and values, confused the is and the ought? But in turn, wouldn’t Ar. argue that it is US who have naively separated that which is inseparable? Hasn’t modernity actually made us inhabitants of a kind of inverted world? Moreover, are we to understand that THESE abstract concerns ARE part of the inquiry? But then, did not Ar. tell us in our previous digression, that one ought not to expect the same degree of exactitude from a mathematician (or we add, logician) than from a rhetorician? How exactly then, does going into the much more original structure of reason help US in the practical argumentation (as Ar. himself points out at the end of the subsection)? Now specifically, why does Ar. provide the example he does, namely God (theos) and the intellect (nous) in his presentation of how the good is spoken of as regards to what something IS? But, what is nous? Will we have to wait until BOOK VI which deals with the intellectual virtues, to “get it”? Now, how exactly, and this is THE concern of practical life, does one differentiate between what IS and what merely appears to be so? How, in other words, to move beyond Protagorean humanistic relativism? Is it that the categories hold the key? But wouldn’t THAT be utterly counterintuitive? And more problematically, hasn’t Ar. himself provided many examples already that ironically seem to favor Protagoras himself as against Plato? Didn’t he say that it APPEARS that all things aim at the good? And that it APPEARS that noble and just vary so that they are considered to be by nomos and not by physis? Are we to think that via the Categories, and primarily a critique of previous perspectives on HOW TO STUDY the practical life, we will move from appearance to being? Does nous have to do everything with this dialectical movement? But, don’t we need to ask, isn’t this movement at the core, not that different from Plato’s concerns? Doesn’t Alfarabi think precisely this (see section IV below)? Put bluntly, isn’t Ar. truly “playing with fire” in disrupting the objective foundation that the Forms provide and leaving “us” in a position in which relativism may become the unchangeable norm? Wouldn’t, ironically, relativism become THE ABSOLUTE unquestionable Form? Will the NE show us how to not fall into such despair, while simultaneously help us in not falling into the dangers of a simplistic and empty presentation of ANY kind of objective standards (standards which may actually be out of reach)? What, then, are Ar.´s objective standards for justice as presented in the initial words of BOOK V with their almost cryptic understanding of natural justice (i.e., not by nomos)?
4) And as regards the discussion of the “thing-as-such”, wouldn’t a Kantian not be so troubled by it, given Kant´s famous differentiation between the phenomenal and the noumenal spheres (of course, with all the complexities entailed)? Or is it that, as modern interpreters seem to hold, we can simply do away with this Kantian distinction and STILL speak of Kant? Or is it rather that the foundation for this Kantian distinction is precisely one that moves beyond reason in a way that Ar. cannot accept as properly being philosophical? And moreover, doesn’t this very separation permeate Kant’s own modern conception of the Categories in his Critique of Pure Reason so that we begin the argument in a radically un-Aristotelian fashion? For we need ask, wouldn’t Aristotle see Kant’s much more individualistic and epistemologically-oriented start rather problematic? Wouldn’t Ar., if he were alive, have to write another subsection which would start something like “But perhaps it might be held to be better, and in fact to be obligatory, at least for the sake of preserving the truth, to do away with even one’s own things”? Doesn´t Professor Taylor, influenced as he is by a certain Aristotle, get this critique partly, though not completely, right in his “Kant and Freedom”? For it seems it would make all the difference –in terms of the practical and the political— if one started the epistemological and ontological discussions from a position which holds that humans are NOT by nature political animals, but rather come together politically by way of a social contract intent on the preservation of life and property, rather than seeking not only life but fundamentally the “good life” as Ar. states in the Politics? And in this respect, wouldn’t Kantians have much to learn from Aristotelians? Wouldn’t the Critique of Pure Reason take “second” place with regard to the Critique of Practical Reason?Furthermore, in this regard, doesn’t Kant invert the relation between epistemology and ontology in a way that Heidegger did in fact see in his adequate critique (see his Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics)? But we need ask, isn’t Heidegger himself trapped by his inability to actually take seriously the Aristotelian position regarding the WAY we access being as the political and ethical beings we are from the very start? Isn’t Heidegger´s misunderstanding of the relation between reason, the political and the philosophical, that which makes him endorse SILENCE precisely in the practical issues that concern “the opportune moment”/”the measured amount”/”the right place”? For we need emphasize there is much in Heidegger that was NOT opportune, isn’t there? Put bluntly, don’t Heideggerians fall precisely into Ar.´s category of those who IN FACT are dangerous to the very stability and consequent dignity of the practical sphere, dangerous to the men and women who see practical wisdom not only as an honourable goal, but one which may even provide the conditions for republican philosophical thought itself? Or, is it that Heidegger sees our technological grid as THE result of the very presentation of the Forms?
5) Additionally, what are we to make of Ar.’s mention of eternity with regards to the issue of the Ideas? Why exactly do we as humans long in a sense for such eternity? Will the question of the Forms become absolutely relevant once one considers the connection of the eternity of the Forms and the actual immorality of the human soul? Isn’t the Aristotelian notion of “hylomorphism” that which is, to a great degree, at stake here? For if form and matter are reconceived via the biological treatises in Aristole, then won’t we see much more clearly why exactly Ar. is troubled by Platonic Forms and their alleged “other-worldliness”? Or is it, perhaps, that Ar. is pointing to the possible misuse by inadequate reappropriations of Plato by less austere and careful Platonisms (including Plotinus and St. Augustine)? And doesn’t this, crucially, point to the very STRANGE subsection 11, which deals with the question as to whether we can speak of the fortunes of the living affecting the dead? For if the issue of eternity and the issue of immortality of the individual are not here intertwined, then how to come to understand the nature of this unique subsection?
6) Besides, with reference to the science that we are looking for in terms of the discussion of these topics, hasn’t Ar. already told us that we have in fact found it? Wasn’t it the political art which actually guided and hierarchically ordered all activities and studies? Or is it rather that now it becomes increasingly clear why Ar. constantly said that in fact it seemedto do so? But then, if this is true, if the appearance of “philosophy” in the argument radically transforms the science which guides us, then why must Ar. once and again bring his argument to a close, telling us —for the third time—- that he won’t proceed to develop it further? That is, why drop the argument continuously? What is that other philosophy? How does one access its realm? And of the greatest concern for us, how does it relate to the ethical so that in discussing the nature of the ethical we both have to mention it AND at the same time be SILENT about it? For doesn´t Ar. tell us that it is the business of the wise man to order: “that the superior science is wisdom to a higher degree than the subordinate science, for the wise must not be placed in rank by another, but must set the ordering, and he must not obey another but must be obeyed by the less wise.” (Metaphysics, Book I, Ch. 2 982a18; AQ., 1)? Is it any wonder that one must remain silent?
7) Finally, as regards the possibility that the Forms may be considered as models: Why does Ar. add, the argument holds “ a certain persuasiveness.” But, why then does Ar. dismiss it so easily? What is so wrong about considering the Forms as MODELS which actually provide the ideal —never to be actualized— conditions for the hierarchical ordering of etico-political societies? Wouldn’t THIS understanding allow us to understand better the Platonic presentation of the Ideas in the Republic in the first place? And we tire not of repeating, given the critical danger of Protagorean relativism, what exactly will we find Ar.´s places in place of these ideal forms themselves as guides for the practical and the political? For doesn’t that make all the difference for us moderns who have come to take for granted the primacy and unquestioning presence of something like the Protagorean relativistic view of things and of beings? Or, once again, is Ar. simply trying to reach a similar conclusion but rather through a path braking reorientation of the relation between philosophy and politics? Isn’t then the NE THE model is this respect? And isn’t this why Alfarabi adds to a previous quote: “However, because man’s perfection is not self-evident or easy to explain by a demonstration leading to certainty (Aristotle) saw fit to start from a position anterior to that from which Plato had started.” (Alfarabi, TpoA, 5-10; Mahdi, p. 71) For truly, won’t the legislator be in real trouble if he comes to be merely guided by nomos and not by physis, even if redefined (see BOOK X, conclusion)? And, in this respect, why does Ar. use the examples of weavers and carpenters as HIS argumentative basis? Didn’t Ar. just, a subsection before, tell us that the MANY are like fatted cattle? But, then, aren’t the weavers and the carpenters part of the “many”? Or not? Why exactly does Ar. seem to reverse his position granting these craftsmen the sufficient authority so as to give him the adequate backing against Platonic ideas? But moreover, wouldn’t a Platonist simply respond that Ar. seems to forget that besides being a craftsman, or being a weaver, or being a general, or being a physician, each and every one of them is a human being, and as such will certainly not be guided in his whole life by weaving, or building, or fighting or curing? For it would in fact make all the difference if one weaved and built and fought and cured Sardanapalus and the like, rather than Solon and the like, wouldn’t it? Isn’t this why physicians such as Pellegrino clearly point to the inadequacies, the dangerous inadequacies, of considering the independence of physicians from overarching notions of the good beyond their own specialized activities (see section IV below)? Or, put yet another way, why does Xenophon, a general, deem it so fundamental to write not only of Cyrus, but perhaps more importantly of Socrates? For, even though, it is true, as Ar. concludes, that our concern is the health of the individual, wouldn’t we as patients desire a physician, a physician of the soul, so to speak, who understood him/herself as part of the whole, rather than enclosed in his own limited perspective of things? And isn’t this why “The Commentator” (according to AQ.) of Aristotle, namely Avicenna, was indeed –—as Aristotle himself with his fundamentally anti-Platonic biological concerns—- a physician and a philosopher (see, 14-volume The Canon of Medicine)?
1) Friends, truth, piety
2) Good, substance and multiple categories
3) The single science of all good things; the thing in itself
4) Things good in themselves and formalism
5) The Ideas as models: practical disinterest and disregard
6) Formalism vs. individual education
III. PUZZLES REGARDING COMMENTARY BY AQUINAS
1) Two examples of what it would mean to think the thoughts of God in the Bible, are:
i) “Seek you the LORD while he may be found, call you upon him while he is near:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (Bible, Isaiah, 55:8-9)
ii) “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians, 2:11)
One could say: God is the Idea and the Form and the Cause and the Model and the Origin; and we can barely even begin —let alone any science— to understand his ever-present and omnipotent Being. A dialectics of wonder must give way to a “unilectics” of obedience.
IV. FLEXIBLE SECTION
1) For Plato’s words on the ideas in the Republic see:
i) For the very first appearance of the word idea in the Republic see 369a in relation to the comparison of justice in the city and in man:
“So then, perhaps there would be more justice the bigger and it would be easier to observe closely. If you want, first we´ll investigate what justice is lie in the cities. Then, we´ll also go on to consider it in individuals, considering the likeness of the bigger in the idea of the littler?” (see Bloom, fn. 1 Book II p. 446; fn. 24 Book II, p. 448; Chicago)
ii) On the relationship between the idea and the critique of the Gods in the Republic:
“Do you suppose the god is a wizard, able treacherously to reveal himself at different times in different ideas, at one time actually changing himself and passing from his own form into many shapes, at another time deceiving us and making us think such things about him? Or is he simple and does he least of all depart form his own idea?….
So, in this way the god would least of all have many shapes.” (Rep, 380d-381c)
iii) As regards the greatest study which is Dialectics:
“That´s a very worthy though,” he said. “However, as to what you mean by greatest study and what it concerns, do you think anyone is going to let you go without asking what it is?
“Certainly no,” I said,. “Just ask. At all events, it´s not a few times already that you have heard it; but now you are either not thinking or have it in mind to get hold of me again and cause me trouble. I suppose it’s rather the latter, since you have many times heard that the idea of the goo s the greatest study and that it´s by availing oneself of it along with the just things and the rest that they become useful and beneficial. And now you know pretty certainly that I´m going to say this and, besides this, that we don’t have sufficient knowledge of it. And if we don´t know it, and should have ever so much knowledge of the rest without this, you now that it´s n profit to us, as there would be none in possessing something in the absence of the good. Or do you suppose it´s of any advantage to possess everything except what´s good? Or to be prudent about everything else in the absence of the good?, while being prudent about nothing fine and goo?”
“No, by Zeus,” he said. “ I don’t”. (Rep, 504e- 505b)
iv) On the issue between apparent goods and the good:
“Isn’t’ it also the same with the good? Unless a man is able to separate out the idea of the good from all other things and distinguish it in the argument, and, going through every test, as it were in battle —eager to meet the test of being rather than that of opinion— he comes through all this with argument still on its feet; you will deny that such a man knows the good itself, or any other good? And if he somehow lays hold of some phantom go it, you will say that he does so buy opinion and not knowledge, and that, taken in by dreams and slumbering out his present life, before waking up here he goes to Hades and falls finally asleep there?
“Yes, by Zeus,” he said. “ I shall certainly say all that.”
“Then, as for for those children of yours whom you are rearing and educing in speech, if you should ever rear them in deed, I don’t suppose that while they are as irrational as lines you would let the rule in the city and the the sovereigns of the greatest things.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” he said.
“Then will you set it down as a law to the that they pay special attention to the education of the basis of which they will be able to question and answer most knowledgeably?”
“I shall join with you,” he said, “in setting doesn´t this law.”
“Is is your opinion,” I said, “that we have placed dialectic at the top of the studies like a coping stone, and that no other study rightly be set higher than this one, but that the treatment of the studies has already reached its end?”
“Yes, it is my opinion.” (Republic, Book VII, 534b-535a)
(For the appearance of the Ideas in the shorter dialogues see the Greater Hippias, 289d and 297b in The Roots of Political Philosophy)
v) For a discussion of the tension between the Gods of the City and the Platonic/Socratic introduction of the Ideas see Strauss’s “On the Euthyphron”:
“Mellitus is right to this extent. Socrates really does not believe in the gods of the city. And he really introduces different beings. Bt Mellitus is wrong in assuming that the different beings which Socrates introduces are gods or demonic things. In fact they are the ideas. If we want to speak of gods, we would have to say that the differ gods which Socrates introduced are the ideas. One could also say that Mellitus erred grossly in speaking of Socrates´introducing novel things.” (The Rebirth Political Rationalism, p. 200, and crucially p. 206)
vi) For Strauss explicit contrasting relation to The Bible:
“If we compare what More said about Jesus with what Plato tells us about Socrates, we find that “Socrates laughed twice or thrice, but never find we that he wept as much as once.” A slight bias in favour of laughing and against weeping seems to be essential to philosophy. For the beginning of philosophy as the philosophers understood it is not the fear of the Lord, but wonder. Its spirit is not hope and fear and trembling, but serenity on the basis of resignation. To that serenity, laughing is a little bit more akin than weeping. Whether the Bible or philosophy is right is of course the only question which ultimately matters. But in order to understand that question one must first see philosophy as it is. One must not see it form the outset through Biblical glasses. Wherever each of us may stand, no respectable purpose is served by trying to prove that we eat the cake and have it. Socrates used all his powers to awaken those who can think out of the slumber of thoughtlessness. We ill follow his example if we use his authority for putting ourselves to sleep.” (ibid, p. 206)
2) Strauss words on interpreting the very strange appearance of the Ideas in the Republic can be found here in The City and Man:
“The doctrine of the ideas which Socrates expounds to his interlocutors is very hard to understand; to begin with, it is utterly incredible, no to say that it appears fantastic. Hitherto we had been given to understand that justice is fundamentally a certain character of the human soul or of the city, i.e., something which is not self-subsisting. Now we are asked to believe that it is self-subsisting, beings at home as it were in an entirely different place from human beings and everything else participating in justice.” (cf. 509d1-510a7; Phaedrus 247c3)” (The City and Man, p. )
3) Bloom analysis of this passage and its relation to the character of both Glaucon and Adeimantus reads:
“a while new world of incredible beauty emerges; Glaucon ad Ademimantus are shown an unexpected realm, from the standpoint of which everything looks different. If the republic can be understood as a gradual ascent, we have reached the peak … The true science, to which the others are only ministerial, is the study of the good. This comes as surprise to Adeimantus, who is totally devoted to the city It is a step beyond the earlier recognition that the idea of justice transcends any possible city. In turn, the idea of justice is only one of many ideas, which are treated in the comprehensive study of the good” ….
“The good, however, must also be a super idea, and idea of ideas, for the other ideas, for example, justice , man beauty are also good, Therefore these other ideas, the many ideas, are participation in the one idea of the good. Since the ideas are, the good, then, is the source of being but beyond being, in the sense that it sexists in a away different from other beings. The good isn’t the transcendental principle of the whole, the cause of the begin of things and of the apprehensions of things. As experienced by man, the good is an overpowering combination of pleasure and knowledge:” (Commentary, p. 402)
4) For an understanding of the question of science in the shorter Platonic dialogues see Lovers. Christopher Bruell poignantly begins his interpretative essay thus:
“The question posed by my title is a historical question …. “ ( “On the Original Meaning of Political Philosophy: An Interpretation of Plato´s Lovers, p. 91, in The Roots of Political Philosophy)
5) Locke’s contrasting view of the ideas:
“Let us the suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas: —–How comes it to be furnished? .. To this I answer, in one word, experience” (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding BOOK II, Chapter I (Of ideas in general and their original; )
6) As regards Ar.’s own words:
i) In the Categories:
“A substance —that which is called a ….” (Chapter 5, 2a12)
ii) The initial critique in the Metaphysics:
“Above all, one might go over the difficulties raised….. (Bk. I, Ch. 9, 901a10-30)
7) i) Perhaps one of the greatest puzzles is that of Alfarabi’s not even mentioning the ideas in his Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. As Mahdi puts it in the introduction:
“In no regard is this more important than in respect to Alfarabi’s treatment of “dialectic”. Dialects as the art of friendly refutative conversation by which the Platonic Socrates “converts” a select few of the young. He takes form an adherence to the world as conceived by pre-philosophical life (the “cave”) to a radically different, because simply rue or enlightened, experience of the world ………. Alfarabi never depicts this activity.” (Introduction, p. xiv, Muhsin Mahdi)
ii) Of crucial relevance is Plato’s critique of Protagoras´ relativism. See specifically The Philosophy of Plato with the crucial pregnant question:
“Or is it the case —–as Protagoras (the carrier of bricks) asserts—– that man cannot attain such knowledge of the beings, that this is not the knowledge that is possible and that man is natural capable of attaining, that the knowledge he attains about the begins is rather the opinion of each of those who speculate about things and the conviction each happens to hold, and that the knowledge natural to man s relative to the conviction formed by each individual and os not this other knowledge that one may aspire to but will not reach?”
iii) And in the very same vein the NONE appearance of the question of the ideas in Xenophon and thus less philosophical for academia!
“Hereupon Socrates exclaimed : “Tell me, Euthydemus, have you ever been to Delphi? …. Then did you notice somewhere on the temple the inscription ‘Know thyself’? … And what do you suppose a man must know to know himself, his own name merely? Or must he consider what sort of a creature he is for human use and get to know his own powers …?”
“That leads me to think that he who does not know his own powers is ignorant of himself.”
“Is it not clear too that through self-knowledge men come to much good, and through self-deception to much harm? For those who know themselves, know what things are expedient for themselves and discern their own powers and limitations. (iv, 2, 24-26)
“But perhaps you never even thought about these things, because you felt so confident that you knew them.” (iv, 2, 36; and all the context of Memorabilia IV, 1-7, as well as the Oeconomics)
8) To begin to even understand what would be involved in a possible critique of Ar.´s point that the physician would have little to gain from an understanding of THE good, see Edmund Pellegrino “The Medical Profession as a Moral Community” in Philosopher and Physician:
“Medicine qualifies as a de facto moral community not simply because its members are dedicated to a common purpose and a common set of ethical ideals but because those ideas are morally grounded. This involves something more fundamental than the arbitrary commitments of physicians. Four aspects of medicine as a special kind of human activity give a moral status to its individual members and to the collectivity that we call the profession: the inequality of the medial relationship, the nature of medical decisions, the nature of medical knowledge, and the ineradicable moral complicity of the physician in whatever happens to his patient ….” (p. 209; see also relevant quote from Socrates in the Memorabilia)
This is particularly relevant given the dynamic and troubling relation between medicine, power and technology which is the fruit of the modern revolution in healthcare.
9) Finally as regards the EE one does well in asking: i) Why does the discussion of the Forms bring Book I in the EE to an end while the NE proceeds?:
“The good is an end for human beings and the best among the things that are realizable —we must see in how many ways the best thing of all is (so) called, since the best is this, making a new start at this point”(my emphasis; 1218b27-27)
and, ii) what to make of Ar. separating his digressions in the NE, while they remain connected to some extent in the EE?:
“They ought in fact to demonstrate (the existence of) the good itself in the opposite way to that in which they do now. As things are, beginning with objects not agreed to possess the good, they demonstrate what are agree to be goods; starting with h¡numbers (they prove) that justice is a good, and health, on the ground that they are forms of order and numbers, good belonging to numbers and monads because the one is the good-itself. They ought to start with agreed (goods), such as health, strength and temperance, (in order to show) that the fine is present even more in unchanging things. For all those things are (examples of) order and state of equilibrium; so if (they are good), those things must be even more so, as these properties being even more so to those things.” (EE; Book I, Chapter 8, 1218a15-24)
V. IMPORTANT GREEK TERMS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
loved, beloved, dear
that which is seen: form, shape
lover of wisdom
feminine present participle of εἶναι (to be)
to be quite at a loss, to be in doubt
without passage, having no way in, out,
VI. NICOMACHEAN ETHICS, GREEK, BOOK I, 6; text at Perseus (based on Bywater)
τὸ δὲ καθόλου βέλτιον ἴσως ἐπισκέψασθαι καὶ διαπορῆσαι πῶς λέγεται, καίπερ προσάντους τῆς τοιαύτης ζητήσεως γινομένης διὰ τὸ φίλους ἄνδρας εἰσαγαγεῖν τὰ εἴδη. δόξειε δ᾽ ἂν ἴσως βέλτιον εἶναι καὶ δεῖν ἐπὶ σωτηρίᾳ γε τῆς ἀληθείας καὶ τὰ οἰκεῖα ἀναιρεῖν, ἄλλως τε καὶ φιλοσόφους ὄντας: ἀμφοῖν γὰρ ὄντοιν φίλοιν ὅσιον προτιμᾶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν. οἱ δὴ κομίσαντες τὴν δόξαν ταύτην οὐκ ἐποίουν ἰδέας ἐν οἷς τὸ πρότερον καὶ ὕστερον ἔλεγον, διόπερ οὐδὲ τῶν ἀριθμῶν ἰδέαν κατεσκεύαζον: τὸ δ᾽ ἀγαθὸν λέγεται καὶ ἐν τῷ τί ἐστι καὶ ἐν τῷ ποιῷ καὶ ἐν τῷ πρός τι, τὸ δὲ καθ᾽ αὑτὸ καὶ ἡ οὐσία πρότερον τῇ φύσει τοῦ πρός τι （παραφυάδι γὰρ τοῦτ᾽ ἔοικε καὶ συμβεβηκότι τοῦ ὄντος）: ὥστ᾽ οὐκ ἂν εἴη κοινή τις ἐπὶ τούτοις ἰδέα. ἔτι δ᾽ ἐπεὶ τἀγαθὸν ἰσαχῶς λέγεται τῷ ὄντι （καὶ γὰρ ἐν τῷ τί λέγεται, οἷον ὁ θεὸς καὶ ὁ νοῦς, καὶ ἐν τῷ ποιῷ αἱ ἀρεταί, καὶ ἐν τῷ ποσῷ τὸ μέτριον, καὶ ἐν τῷ πρός τι τὸ χρήσιμον, καὶ ἐν χρόνῳ καιρός, καὶ ἐν τόπῳ δίαιτα καὶ ἕτερα τοιαῦτα）, δῆλον ὡς οὐκ ἂν εἴη κοινόν τι καθόλου καὶ ἕν: οὐ γὰρ ἂν ἐλέγετ᾽ ἐν πάσαις ταῖς κατηγορίαις, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν μιᾷ μόνῃ. ἔτι δ᾽ ἐπεὶ τῶν κατὰ μίαν ἰδέαν μία καὶ ἐπιστήμη, καὶ τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἁπάντων ἦν ἂν μία τις ἐπιστήμη: νῦν δ᾽ εἰσὶ πολλαὶ καὶ τῶν ὑπὸ μίαν κατηγορίαν, οἷον καιροῦ, ἐν πολέμῳ μὲν γὰρ στρατηγικὴ ἐν νόσῳ δ᾽ ἰατρική, καὶ τοῦ μετρίου ἐν τροφῇ μὲν ἰατρικὴ ἐν πόνοις δὲ γυμναστική. ἀπορήσειε δ᾽ ἄν τις τί ποτε καὶ βούλονται λέγειν αὐτοέκαστον, εἴπερ ἔν τε αὐτοανθρώπ καὶἐνἀνθρώπῳεἷςκαὶὁαὐτὸςλόγοςἐστὶνὁτοῦἀνθρώπου. ᾗγὰρἄνθρωπος, οὐδὲνδιοίσουσιν: εἰδ᾽οὕτως, οὐδ᾽ᾗἀγαθόν. ἀλλὰμὴνοὐδὲτῷἀίδιονεἶναιμᾶλλονἀγαθὸνἔσται, εἴπερμηδὲλευκότεροντὸπολυχρόνιοντοῦἐφημέρου. πιθανώτερονδ᾽ἐοίκασινοἱΠυθαγόρειοιλέγεινπερὶαὐτοῦ, τιθέντεςἐντῇτῶνἀγαθῶνσυστοιχίᾳτὸἕν: οἷςδὴκαὶΣπεύσιπποςἐπακολουθῆσαιδοκεῖ. ἀλλὰπερὶμὲντούτωνἄλλοςἔστωλόγος: τοῖςδὲλεχθεῖσινἀμφισβήτησίςτιςὑποφαίνεταιδιὰτὸμὴπερὶπαντὸςἀγαθοῦτοὺςλόγουςεἰρῆσθαι, λέγεσθαιδὲκαθ᾽ἓνεἶδοςτὰκαθ᾽αὑτὰδιωκόμενακαὶἀγαπώμενα, τὰδὲποιητικὰτούτωνἢφυλακτικάπωςἢτῶνἐναντίωνκωλυτικὰδιὰταῦταλέγεσθαικαὶτρόπονἄλλον. δῆλονοὖνὅτιδιττῶςλέγοιτ᾽ἂντἀγαθά, καὶτὰμὲνκαθ᾽αὑτά, θάτεραδὲδιὰταῦτα. χωρίσαντεςοὖνἀπὸτῶνὠφελίμωντὰκαθ᾽αὑτὰσκεψώμεθαεἰλέγεταικατὰμίανἰδέαν. καθ᾽αὑτὰδὲποῖαθείητιςἄν; ἢὅσακαὶμονούμεναδιώκεται, οἷοντὸφρονεῖνκαὶὁρᾶνκαὶἡδοναίτινεςκαὶτιμαί; ταῦταγὰρεἰκαὶδι᾽ἄλλοτιδιώκομεν, ὅμωςτῶνκαθ᾽αὑτὰἀγαθῶνθείητιςἄν. ἢοὐδ᾽ἄλλοοὐδὲνπλὴντῆςἰδέας; ὥστεμάταιονἔσταιτὸεἶδος. εἰδὲκαὶταῦτ᾽ἐστὶτῶνκαθ᾽αὑτά, τὸντἀγαθοῦλόγονἐνἅπασιναὐτοῖςτὸναὐτὸνἐμφαίνεσθαιδεήσει, καθάπερἐνχιόνικαὶψιμυθίῳτὸντῆςλευκότητος. τιμῆςδὲκαὶφρονήσεωςκαὶἡδονῆςἕτεροικαὶδιαφέροντεςοἱλόγοιταύτῃᾗἀγαθά. οὐκἔστινἄρατὸἀγαθὸνκοινόντικατὰμίανἰδέαν. ἀλλὰπῶςδὴλέγεται; οὐγὰρἔοικετοῖςγεἀπὸτύχηςὁμωνύμοις. ἀλλ᾽ἆράγετῷἀφ᾽ἑνὸςεἶναιἢπρὸςἓνἅπαντασυντελεῖν, ἢμᾶλλονκατ᾽ἀναλογίαν; ὡςγὰρἐνσώματιὄψις, ἐνψυχῇνοῦς, καὶἄλλοδὴἐνἄλλῳ. ἀλλ᾽ἴσωςταῦταμὲνἀφετέοντὸνῦν: ἐξακριβοῦνγὰρὑπὲραὐτῶνἄλληςἂνεἴηφιλοσοφίαςοἰκειότερον. ὁμοίωςδὲκαὶπερὶτῆςἰδέας: εἰγὰρκαὶἔστινἕντιτὸκοινῇκατηγορούμενονἀγαθὸνἢχωριστὸναὐτότικαθ᾽αὑτό, δῆλονὡςοὐκἂνεἴηπρακτὸνοὐδὲκτητὸνἀνθρώπῳ: νῦνδὲτοιοῦτόντιζητεῖται. τάχαδέτῳδόξειενἂνβέλτιονεἶναιγνωρίζειναὐτὸ πρὸςτὰκτητὰκαὶπρακτὰτῶνἀγαθῶν: οἷονγὰρπαράδειγματοῦτ᾽ἔχοντεςμᾶλλονεἰσόμεθακαὶτὰἡμῖνἀγαθά, κἂνεἰδῶμεν, ἐπιτευξόμεθααὐτῶν. πιθανότηταμὲνοὖντιναἔχειὁλόγος, ἔοικεδὲταῖςἐπιστήμαιςδιαφωνεῖν: πᾶσαιγὰρἀγαθοῦτινὸςἐφιέμεναικαὶτὸἐνδεὲςἐπιζητοῦσαιπαραλείπουσιτὴνγνῶσιναὐτοῦ. καίτοιβοήθηματηλικοῦτοντοὺςτεχνίταςἅπανταςἀγνοεῖνκαὶμηδ᾽ἐπιζητεῖνοὐκεὔλογον. ἄπορονδὲκαὶτίὠφεληθήσεταιὑφάντηςἢτέκτωνπρὸςτὴναὑτοῦτέχνηνεἰδὼςτὸαὐτὸτοῦτοἀγαθόν, ἢπῶςἰατρικώτεροςἢστρατηγικώτεροςἔσταιὁτὴνἰδέαναὐτὴντεθεαμένος. φαίνεταιμὲνγὰροὐδὲτὴνὑγίειανοὕτωςἐπισκοπεῖνὁἰατρός, ἀλλὰτὴνἀνθρώπου, μᾶλλονδ᾽ἴσωςτὴντοῦδε: καθ᾽ἕκαστονγὰρἰατρεύει. καὶπερὶμὲντούτωνἐπὶτοσοῦτονεἰρήσθω.