COMMENTARY ON ARISTOTLE’S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS: BOOK I, 9
(For the nature of the sections see the “General Introduction”, here.)
Abbreviations: Ar. = Aristotle, AQ= Aquinas, NE = Nicomachean Ethics, EE= Eudemian Ethics
“This is also why the perplexity arises as to whether happiness is something that can be gained through learning or habituation or through some other practice, or whether it comes to be present in accord with a sort of divine allotment or even through chance.
Now, if there is in fact anything that is a gift of the gods to human beings, it is reasonable that happiness is god given, and it specially among the human concerns insofar as it is the best of them. But perhaps this would be more appropriate to another examination —yet it appears that even if happiness is not god sent but comes to be present through virtue and a certain learning or practice, it is among the most divine things. For the prize of virtue or its end appears to be best and to be something divine and blessed. It would also be something common to many people, for it is possible for it to be available, through a certain learning and care, to all who have not rendered defective in point of virtue. And if it is better to be happy in this way rather than through chance, it is reasonable that this is how [happiness is acquired] — if in fact what accords with nature is naturally in the noblest possible state, and similar too is what accords with art and with cause as a whole, especially the best [art or cause]. To entrust the greatest and noblest thing to chance would be excessively discordant.
What is being sough is manifest also on the basis of the argument [or definition], for happiness was said to be a certain sort of activity of soul in accord with virtue. Now, of the resulting goods, some must necessarily be present, others are coworkers and by nature useful in an instrumental way. And this points would be in agreement also with those made at the beginning: we posited the end of the political art as best, and it exercises a very great care to make the citizens of a specific sort —namely, good and apt to do noble things. It is to be expected, then, that we do not say that either a cow or a horse or any other animal is at all happy, for none of them are able to share in such an activity. It is because of this too that a child is not happy either: he is not yet apt to do such things, on account of his age, though some children are spoken of as blessed on account of the expectation involved in their case. For, as we said, both complete virtue and a complete life are required: many reversals and all manner of fortune arise in the course of life, and it is possible for someone who is particularly thriving to encounter great disasters in old age, just as the myth is told about Priam in the Trojan tales. Nobody deems happy someone who deals with fortunes of that sort and comes to a wretched end. ” (NE, 1099b9-1100a9; Aristotle´s Nicomachean Ethics, Bartlett, Robert, and Collins, Susan; University of Chicago, Chicago, 2011)
I. PRIVATE PUZZLES
1) To begin, why does Aristotle CLEARLY connect this subsection to the previous one, specially with the reappearance of the question of luck and ethical upbringing? For didn’t he end the previous subsection pointing in this direction? Put directly; why does Ar. —-towards the end of this subsection— tell us that leaving happiness to chance is EXCESSIVELY discordant, but NOT simply COMPLETELY discordant? Why is he SO open to this possibility, or at the very least, its influences? To contrast, haven’t we seen many OTHER subsections ending abruptly? And surely The Bible does not so argue, does it? How could it, given God’s omnipotence and foreknowledge? And surely Kant doesn’t either, does he? What is it about the Kantian categorical imperative that allows it to be blind to fortune? What are the political consequences of this Kantian blindness? Is Habermas aware? And, coming back to the passage, don’t WE take it for granted —and specially the spoudaios— that it is EDUCATION (habituation and learning), moral education in particular, that allegedly makes us in the end good and happy? Isn’t this why parents SEND their children to pre-school, school and university: to aid them in making them fulfilled and complete human beings? Doesn‘t the complex matrix of social education make, allegedly, ALL the difference? Put very succinctly, what is Ar.’s mentioned PERPLEXITY all about: “This is also why the perplexity arises”? What does he MEAN that HAPPINESS may NOT be up to us? Isn’t our modern mindset truly oblivious to THIS possibility? In other words, WHO is thus perplexed: evidently not parents, are they? Law-makers? Or, is it rather that Ar. has ANOTHER aim in mind? Could he be preparing the terrain to make us more OPEN to the complexities of life, more attuned to the myriad situations that may occur and that in FACT we do not, cannot and should not wish to control (see also Plato´s Phaedrus and the initial speeches related to erotic domination, and some of Nussbaum insights)? Won’t we see something like this in BOOK VI, and the crucial discussion of prudence (phronesis) as part of the correction of a certain blindness behind justice AND, more importantly, THE just? Or, in moral terms: isn´t Aristotle slowly opening a serious critique of the radical moralistic claims that underlie the life of the spoudaios? How so? Precisely because perhaps the spoudaios HAS TO believe in the utter responsibility for HIS and OUR own actions? Isn’t this the core element of his “seriousness”, of his noble justice? And don’t we hear it in our daily lives: “take responsibility for …” (specially, and STRIKINGLY, as regards illness)? But, if this were so, if learning the moral virtues by way of a certain serious habituation is the path, the HOW exactly are we to critically, philosophically, Socratically, question the very presuppositions of such seriousness which knows itself not only to have found THE answers, but furthermore, and more problematically, has found in THOSE answers the MEANING of its self-worth? Isn’t this PRECISELY why Plato’s Laws can be seen as setting the stage in which righteous indignation ——which KNOWS of its seriousness and its self-created responsibility— can be softened to EVEN include the philosophical critique of the gods? For, isn’t impiety perhaps the single most IRRESPONSIBLE crime committable by any human? And so that we may be understood, wasn’t Ar.´s departure from Athens the result of such accusations of impiety? Don’t we have to keep constantly in mind both Socratic Apologies in this respect? And, what if Ar. were heading in a similar direction? For isn´t it striking, for instance, that righteous indignation (which is one of the virtues Ar. lists initially), will in fact, NOT be analyzed by Ar. as he proceeds? What is it about nemesis in particular and its relation to justice as punitive retribution that Ar. finds, from the point of view of the philosopher concerned with the truth of the whole, SO deeply troubling? Furthermore isn’t this why Ar. is so adamant about pointing out that there is a BIG difference between voluntary and involuntary actions in BOOK II? And even going further, could this be the very beginning of Ar.’s concern with Socrates’s famous idea that “no one does evil voluntarily”? But, what is THE POINT OF this idea as regards the greatest most complete and happiest life available to us humans? Won’t Ar. take up that challenge in BOOK VII dedicated to the phenomenon of akrasia (Book which strikingly begins criticizing a Socratic position, ONLY to agree with it in the end!)?
And so that we may be better understood as regards the importance of Ar.’s explicit reference to chance/fortune (tuche); what are we to make of MACHIAVELLI’S distinctively un-Aristotelian and un-biblical concern with chance (fortuna) both in the Prince and in his Discourses (see section IV below)? Shouldn’t we attentively hear Machiavelli’s words when he memorably says in this regard:
“When I have thought about this sometimes, I have been in some part inclined to their opinion. Nonetheless, so that our free will not be eliminated, I judge that it might be true that fortune is arbiter of half of our actions, but also that she leaves the other half, or close to it, for us to govern. And I liken her to one of these violent rivers which, when they become enraged, flood the plains, ruin the trees and the buildings, lift earth from this part, drop in another; each person flees before them, everyone yields to their impetus without being able to hinder them in any regard. And although they are like this, it is not as if men, when times are quiet, could not provide for them with dikes and dams so that when they rise later, either they go by a canal or their impetus is neither so wanton nor so damaging.”
What, then, is the aim of the New Rational Political Science inaugurated by Machiavelli and developed by all early modern theorists (Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu; albeit in different forms)? Put more directly, how does SCIENCE and the reconsideration of NATURE as purely materialistic and interconnected solely in terms of efficient causality, define the WAY we moderns relate to political things (see Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws)? Won’t we tend to believe, contrary to what Ar. is telling us is perplexing, that we can in fact control events —both natural and social—- to such a degree that Ar.´s call for a serious concern with such PERPLEXITIES might be seen as rather naïve (see quote Hobbes section IV below)? But, hasn’t this idea of progressive control, within a materialistic universe founded upon discoverable casual laws, come into question via different angles? Politically speaking, didn’t THE political sphere of the 20th century show this collapse most dramatically of all? But then, if Ar. truly believes that it is the political which ORDERS the human ends towards happiness, how exactly are we to retrace our steps, or regain our footing, beyond the calamities of mere chance OR the calamities of radically directed and deadly political programs? Put another way, isn’t Ar.´s perplexity OUR deepest perplexity once again? In Straussian terminology, doesn’t chance invite a debate between a return and progress?
2) But leaving aside the question of chance, what exactly does Ar. mean by saying that happiness can be gained by learning OR habituation OR —–dramatically—– “some other practice”? First off, isn’t learning a kind of habituation; can they be so easily separated? And how will habituation in BOOKS 2 and 3 be related to the moral virtues in particular so that IT becomes the KEY element in the education of our virtuous character? And, if we are habituated INTO something, that is to say, some way of being, how exactly can we say that WE have made ourselves into such a being? And if so, once again one need ask, did not Ar. say just a few subsections before tell us that justice appears to be by nomos (custom/convention) rather than by physis (nature)? So, aren’t we really speaking of different sorts of habituation depending on the regimes we live under? But then, WHO decides which one is better than another? HOW does one so decide, specially if, as we moderns tend to believe, all cultures are relative and worthy of EQUAL respect? Aren´t all cultures, all habituations, simply historically “determined”? And, thinking of the very way we INTERPRET Ar. himself: isn’t this precisely the issue with those who see in Ar. a duped defense of the Greek virtues per se? Don’t THEY think that Ar. was simply habituated into thinking that philosophy cannot go beyond the limits of what is morally given at any given time by the society of which we are a part? But it is clear Ar. thinks otherwise, doesn’t he? In other words, if there is nothing BEYOND the claims of habituation to form us, how exactly can we even truly speak of LEARNING? Aren’t those who argue that Ar. simply defended the Greek virtues simply submitting to this VERY MODERN belief, rather than tackling Ar.’s realistic challenges to the limits of the moral/political sphere? For, wouldn’t it be extremely ODD that he who is called THE philosopher, were so easily duped in the ESSENTIALS? But if Ar. is not so duped, then what does that say about OUR modern relativistic and historicist self-deceptions? What would Ar. have to offer us THEN? Simply that we become Greek again? The answer is “certainly not”, isn’t it? Or is it we are to learn anew, precisely because a certain kind of HABITUATION has NOT allowed us to see beyond its spheres, respectable as they may be? Isn’t THIS why Ar. adds the striking words “or some other practice”? Couldn’t this OTHER practice be moving US in that direction? For we need ask, why does Ar. not simply say WHAT that other practice might be? Is it because he wishes to be seen as open-minded so that we can add WHAT we wish depending “on the historical times”? Or rather, he PRUDENTLY points to a path for the serious reader who —given the digressions of previous subsections— understands the dangers of philosophical inquiry to the practical political sphere, and consequently is willing to take up this highly critical task within the contours of a much more private educational setting, a setting which perhaps leads towards the most complete and self-sufficient happiness?
3) Besides, what of the continued appearance of the divine as it relates to happiness in its HUMAN form? Isn’t it clear that Ar. separates with a comma two great possible fields: on the one hand “learning and habituation, or another practice”; and on the other, “divine allotment or luck”? BUT, why does he keep chance SO close to the divine, even if —it is true—he adds as regards chance, “or even”? And suppose it IS given by divine allotment; should we somehow not radically transform what learning and habituation might mean under THAT context? To exemplify: isn´t this PRECISELY the case in the Bible where Adam (and Eve) were EXPLICITLY told not to eat out of the Tree of Knowledge (see section IV below)? Now, isn’t learning ALL about different kinds of knowledge? So, what exactly does the Bible bid us do besides OBEYING? Is obedience a kind of knowledge? Isn’t it rather founded simply on faith and its overpowering mysteries? Put bluntly, can one LEARN as a believer? Or mustn’t Ar.’s clear relation between happiness and rational activity be seen not only with suspicion, but as a kind of blind and interminable hubris? Moreover, why does Ar. again not say “by divine allotment” simply, but rather by “a SORT of divine allotment”? Troubled we ask, are there DIFFERENT sorts of divine allotments, and some that are KIND of divine allotments, but really really are not? How does one KNOW? (see Ar. discussion in his striking piece On Dreams; or even more closely, the very odd character of subsection 11 towards which we are in fact heading!) And just to mention a troubling issue for Classical Political Philosophy, what are we to make of Socrates’s daemon in THIS regard? Is THAT a SORT of divine allotment that really really is not? But then, why is Socrates SO serious about its, as Pangle brilliantly puts it, “spooky” presence? Don’t we have to seriously reconsider this element by looking closely at Plato’s Thaeges (see, The Roots of Political Philosophy, Pangle´s essay on said dialogue, specially, “Conclusion”: “We learn that Socrates introduced …”; p. 173”)?
Now, pushing the point a bit further, what does Ar. mean by saying that it is REASONABLE that happiness be god given? Isn´t THIS an odd way to speak of divinity, namely that divinity, somehow, has to be accountable to our rational understanding of things? And, IF the gods in fact provide us with THIS gift, WHAT does it mean that the GODS give US gifts? Isn´t life enough of a gift? And IF the gods DO give us gifts, WHY do they do it? IS it because they are REWARDING us precisely for living UP TO THEIR demands? But, as we saw above, doesn’t this MEAN that what we should learn, and what we should be habituated to do is precisely to obey and accept the overpowering presence in our lives of divine justice (we shall look at this below when speaking of Priam)? Aren’t those who try to make of Ar. an extremely prudent philosopher, not truly able to explain how Ar. can ASK —-or make his audience ask itself—- whether the God’s DO actually give us gifts? For don’t believers speak and continuously remind us of the justice involved in being GRATEFUL to the God(s) for their blessings? So, doesn’t Ar., SIMPLY by thus asking, really make his audience engage in a kind of activity that is perhaps quite dangerous to faith? Besides, doesn’t Ar. HIMSELF point to this very issue by telling us that this is a matter PERHAPS better left to another more appropriate examination? But we MUST protest, aren’t we in the NE deciding HOW to live our lives, only to be suddenly told something like: “well, THAT issue of the Gods, well, we’ll leave that issue on the side as regards the NE”? But, will he? WHY is Ar. so clearly aware of the dangers of THIS particular inquiry? And doesn’t his biography, his having to leave Athens under the charge of impiety —as with Socrates— reveal the dilemmas? And dramatically, given the materialistic atheistic premises of our modern academic, isn´t this leaving the issue to another sphere, quite ”convenient” for us? That is to say, doesn’t modern academia in particular find it all too welcome to think that Ar. leaves this issue aside permanently? Why so? In part, isn’t this precisely why such interpreters are surprised when the question of happiness returns in BOOK X and, lo and behold, it returns with the question of the divine clearly set against any reductive materialistic humanism? (“But one ought not – as some recommend— to think only about human things because one is a human being, nor only about mortal things because one is moral, but rather to make oneself immortal, insofar as that is possible …” BOOK X, Chapter VII 1177b 31). What are we to make of this anti-humanistic connection? Or put dramatically, as with the Republic, have the gods become OTHERS?
Moreover, as regards the virtuous life, why does Ar. adds this puzzling phrase: “For the prize of virtue or its end appears to be best and to be something divine and blessed.”? What prize, more precisely, is Ar. speaking about? Hasn’t he told us that whatever constitutes happiness must be an end-in-itself, the most complete/ perfect and SELF-SUFFICIENT activity, but NOW deems it necessary to add that virtue has —in fact—- some kind of prize? Why exactly does virtue need a prize if it is sought for its-own-sake via habituation and learning? And more revealingly, why must the prize have a divine character to it? Put bluntly, what is it about justice that requires such a massive backing by the Gods so that WE in fact come to believe and trust their presence in our lives? And of great concern to US moderns, don’t early modern political writers simply “do away” with any such talk as kind of irrelevant to the political sphere? Isn’t Locke´s radical reinterpretation of the Bible precisely his most striking educational project? Isn’t Spinoza being excommunicated of the greatest of relevance here? Isn’t Hobbes´s highly negative reception of further importance? Doesn’t Montesquieu bring to silence the religious element of virtue precisely by being silent about it? So if moderns have strictly drawn lines separating Church and State, how to make ours Ar.´s own rational project with its much more prudential approach to the question of the divine (“its end appears to be best and to be something divine and blessed”)? And in connection to these points, we need seriously ask —–as we near the end of this puzzling commentary—– what exactly is the prize for King Priam’s virtuous life?
4) To conclude: why does Ar. return once again to the temporarily lost connection between virtue and the political art? And why exactly does THIS connection appear once the question of the divine has prudently been “left aside”? As we said, wouldn’t we moderns simply find in Ar. a convenient backing for OUR separation between Church and State? But, wouldn’t be quite wrong in thinking thus? For, as Ar. will CLEARLY show when looking at the individual virtues, the political and the divine WILL be clearly connected in the lives of those who lead their lives virtuously and justly? Isn’t this complex interconnection KEY to actually understanding, for instance, the character of the magnanimous human being in BOOK IV whose happiness has been the result of a certain habituation and a certain kind of learning such that:
“”Of expenditures, we say that some kinds are honorable, such as those that concern the gods —votive offerings, [sacred] buildings, and sacrifices — and similarly too, those that concern the entire divine realm and are proper objects of ambition in common affairs: for example, if people should suppose that they ought to endow a chorus splendidly or outfit a trireme or even provide a feast for the city.” (BOOK IV, Chapter 2, 1122b19-24)
But leaving this issue aside, WHO exactly is the prime example from political life that Aristotle chooses in order to end this subsection which touches on so many aspects, and does so, so sparingly? Well, NOT Pericles, or Diodotus, or Xenophon, or … but rather, of all possibilities, King Priam of Troy? Now, IF the Greeks, as we all know, have come to be habituated and to learn primarily through the memorization and oral repetition of the actions found in Homer’s poetic works; then truly it seems Ar. is EXPLICITLY making it clear that his examples will be taken precisely from that education and from that type of habituation, won’t they? But then, if the NE seeks to better understand the question of happiness, then truly the examples taken from Homer signal, by way of stark contrast, to a striking challenge, don’t they? For, if happiness requires, as we have been told, the virtues in their most complete expression, and ALSO external goods which set the stage for their execution, and the leisure for actually learning about these connections, then WHO could come ever closer to actually being able to actualize such possibilities if not the very King of the richest and most memorable of cities? However, Ar. is absolutely clear about his appraisal of Priam: “Nobody deems happy someone who deals with fortunes of that sort and comes to a wretched end.”? (And , can one not think here also of Cyrus and the striking negative conclusion found in Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus? See section IV below) In other words, is Ar. somehow letting us see, in the horizon, other types of “heroes” who are more sober and more knowledgeable of themselves, thus happier? Isn’t this, in part, why Socrates himself says, in ironical jest and in dead seriousness, that he is the NEW Achilles in the very trial that sets the path to his execution? Now, leaving these perplexing points aside, one need ask why Ar. likewise adds —–very revealingly—– that these tragic conditions are particularly related to “someone who is particularly thriving to encounter great disasters in old age.” Why exactly is being “particularly thriving” so BAD for you in the end? But, if we are not “particularly thriving”, then how to secure the goods which allow for the actual expression of the virtues themselves, particularly in their highest of modalities?
Put very problematically, what is it about Hector’s learning and habituation that generated the conditions for his unhappy, untimely, death? What is it about the virtue of courage in particular –as we have argued in previous commentaries—- that is so problematic once one takes the first steps towards an ethics of eudaimonia? And STRIKINGLY, following Ar.’s own words, don’t WE pity Priam? But, what are we to make of the actual words spoken by Priam as they appear in the Illiad:
“And the old man rejoiced at that, bursting out,
my child how good it is to give the immortals
fit and proper gifts! Now take my son —
or was he all a dream? Never once in his halls
did he forget the gods who hold Olympus, never,
so now they remember him: …if only after death.
Come, this handsome cup; accept it from me, I beg you!
Protect me, escort me now —if the gods will it so—
All the way till I reach Achilles´s shelter.” (Illiad, BOOK XXIV, “Achilles and Priam”, 500-508)
Doesn’t this passage summarize clearly the questions advanced above? Aren´t we struck thus by the DIRECT relation in this subsection between, i) its concern for happiness as a POSSIBLE gift from the Gods, ii) Priam´s astounding words as regards Hector’s continuous piety in his life, iii) Hector’s OWN tragic death at the hands of Achilles for an erotic “chance” event such as the kidnapping of Helen by Paris —his unthinking brother—- AND finally, iv) more importantly, OUR TRUE perplexity as to the incredible amount of interconnections that Ar. allows us to see in what are merely his “course notes” for a subsection that truly seems quite less interesting for us moderns at first?
III. PUZZLES REGARDING COMMENTARY BY AQUINAS
1) For AQ.´s much lesser appreciation of the role of chance see (my emphasis; 172) “Man´s zeal in pursuing these would vanish, a most perilous situation ….”. One need ask, so how does one counter this peril, through divine sanctions?
2) See also in this respect (173): “It follows that happiness does not spring from chance but from some human cause immediately and from a divine cause principally.” One wonders whether Ar. is so explicit about this connection.
3) For AQ.’s take on the tragic character of Priam see (178) “The fact that one has been reduced from great prosperity to extreme wretchedness seems to add to his misery.” One wonders whether THAT is primarily Ar.’s point.
4) i) For the inexistence of the question of chance/luck with regards to individual moral responsibility in the Bible see the beginning of Genesis and the story(ies) of creation:
“The Lord God took the
man and put him into the garden
of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
And the Lord God commanded to man saying. “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you
Shall not eat, for in the day that
You eat from it, you shall surely die.”( my emphasis; Genesis)
ii) Or the prime role of divine justice and obedience to God’s calls, see King David´s words:
“Praise the Lord!
How blessed is the man who fears the Lord
Who greatly delights in His command
His descendents will be mighty on earth;
The generations of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house.
And his righteousness endures forever.
Light arises in the darkness for the upright:
HE is gracious and compassionate and righteous.
It is well with the man who is gracious and lends;
HE will maintain his cause in judgment
For HE will never be shaken;
The righteous will be remembered forever.” (my emphasis; Psalms 112)
iii) For Strauss´s connections between the Bible and Classical Political Philosophy as to the core value of the moral life see, “Progress or Return”:
“Now, what then, is the area of agreement between Greek Philosophy and the Bible? Negatively we can say, and one could easily enlarge on this position, that there is a perfect agreement between the Bible and Greek Philosophy in opposition to those elements of modernity which were described above…. They agree, if I may say so, regarding the importance of morality, regarding the content of morality, and regarding its ultimate insufficiency. They differ as regards the x which supplements or completes morality, or, which is only another way of putting it, they disagree as regards the basis of morality.” (my emphasis; The Rebirth Of Classical Political Rationalism, p. 246)
IV. FLEXIBLE SECTION
1) For a radically different perspective of chance/luck in early modern political theory see:
A) Hobbes, Elements of Philosophy Concerning Body, Part II, “The First Grounds of Philosophy”, Chapter IX, Cause and Effect, Subsection X, “Contingent accidents, what they are.”
“Accidents, in respect of other accidents which precede them, or are before them in time, and upon which they do not depend as upon their causes, are called contingent accidents; I say, in respect of those accidents by which they are not generated; for, in respect to heir causes, all things come to pass with equal necessity; for otherwise they would have no causes at all; which , of things generated, is not intelligible.” (p. 76-77)
B) i) see also, Machiavelli, the Discourses BOOK II, 7-9 “Adaptation to the Environment”, subsection 9, “That it behooves one to adapt Oneself to the Times if one wants to enjoy continued Good Fortune”:
“How One Must Vary with the Times If One Wishes Always to Have Good Fortune I have often considered that the cause of the bad and of the good of men is the matching of the mode of one’s proceeding with the Urnes. For one sees that some men proceed in their works with impetuosity, some with hesitation and caution. And because in both of these modes suitable limits are passed, since one cannot observe the true way, in both one errs. But he comes to err less and to have prosperous fortune who matches the time with his mode, as I said, and always proceeds as nature forces you. Everyone knows that Fabius Maximus proceeded hesitantly and cautiously ….” (Mansfield translation)
ii) As regards The Prince, see Chapter XXV, “How Much Fortune Can Do in Human Affairs, and in What Mode It May Be Opposed”:
“It is not unknown to me that many have held and hold the opinion that worldly things are so governed by fortune and by God, that men cannot correct them with their prudence, indeed that they have no remedy at all; and on account of this they might judge that one need not sweat much over things but let oneself be governed by chance. This opinion has been believed more in our times because of the great variability of things which have been seen and are seen every day, be beyond every human conjecture. When I have thought about this sometimes, I have been in some part inclined to their opinion. Nonetheless, so that our free will not be eliminated, I judge that it might be true that fortune is arbiter of half of our actions, but also that she leaves the other half, or close to it, for us to govern. And I liken her to one of these violent rivers which, when they become enraged, flood the plains, ruin the trees and the buildings, lift earth from this part, drop in another; each person flees before them, everyone yields to their impetus without being able to hinder them in any regard. And although they are like this, it is not as if men, when times are quiet, could not provide for them with dikes and dams so that when they rise later, either they go by a canal or their impetus is neither so wanton nor so damaging. It happens similarly with fortune, which demonstrates her power where virtue has not been put in order (199) to resist her and therefore turns her impetus where she knows that dams and dikes have not been made to contain her.”
iii) Strauss’s commentary, and their relation to Ar., can be found in Thoughts on Machiavelli:
“In order to bring out more clearly…” (p. 208)
2) i) The complete passage of Priam in the Iliad reads as follows, in contrast to Aristotle’s analysis, he even “rejoices”:
“And the old man rejoiced at that, bursting out,
“my child how good it is to give the immortals
fit and proper gifts! Now take my son —
or was he all a dream? Never once in his halls
did he forget the gods who hold Olympus, never,
so now they remember him: …if only after death.
Come, this handsome cup; accept it from me, I beg you!
Protect me, escort me now —if the gods will it so—
All the way till I reach Achilles’ ‘shelter.” (Illiad, BOOK XXIV, “Achilles and Priam”, 500-508)
ii) For the death of another great human see Thucydides´s account of Nicias, and its striking contrast to the “Platonic Nicias” as presented in the Laches:
“Nicias, was for the same reasons one of the greatest friends …. For these reasons the Spartans felt kindly towards him; and it was in this that Nicias himself mainly confided in when he surrendered to Gyllipus …; others, specially the Corinthians, of his escaping by means of bribes (As he was wealthy), and living to do them further harm; and these persuaded the allies to put him to death This or the like was the cause of the death of a man who, of all the Hellenes in my time, least deserved such a fate, seeing that the whole course of his life had been regulated with strict attention to virtue” (Thucydides, BOOK Seven, p. 478, Strassler , The landmark Thucydides.)
iii) For the fall of Cyrus see Xenophon´s The Education of Cyrus, Book VIII, Chapter 8 with its striking negative conclusion. (Ambler, p. 273 ff; see Ambler´s commentary p. 10)
iv) For astonishing readings on luck and death see Decameron, 4th day, specially novel 7.
3) i) For the question of teleology and spontaneity in Aristotle see Lear Quoting the Physics:
“Spontaneity is thus a serious threat to Aristotle´s world-view. For it undermines the candidacy of form to be primary cause” (The Desire to Understand, p. 38)
ii) Contrast Bolotin’s views on the Physics in his Introduction:
“Now at this point, the question arises of why Aristotle would not straightforwardly communicate whatever he thought about the natural world. I will try to answer this question more fully at the conclusion of my study, after I present the evidence that he did disguise his thinking. For now, however, on the assumption that the evidence will prove persuasive, let me limit myself to two general remarks. First, one cannot begin to understand Aristotle’s rhetorical posture without taking into account the political vulnerability of natural philosophy, and thus also of those who pursued it, in the ancient world. We are told, in fact, that late in his life Aristotle himself was formally charged with impiety and that he was compelled to flee from Athens in order no avoid the fate of Socrates.” (Bolotin , Introduction, pg. 6-7 )
4) i) The desire to naively control politics can be seen in The Politics following Ar.’s critique of the first political theorist, Hippodamus of Melitus:
“who invented the division of cities and laid out Peiraeus …” (Politics, BOOK 2, Chapter 8, 1267b23 ff; Lord edition)
ii) One finds a striking parallel in Descartes:
“Se ve así que las construcciones iniciadas y acabadas por un sólo arquitecto suelen ser más bellas y mejor ordenadas, que aquellas que han intentado reparar utilizando viejos muros que habían sido construidos con otros fines. Como esas ciudades antiguas que no fueron en un comienzo más que aldeas y llegaron a ser con el paso del tiempo grandes ciudades; son de ordinario tan mal acompasadas (Nota; mal trazadas con compás), en comparación a aquellas plazas regulares que un ingeniero traza en una llanura según su fantasía …….. Se diría que han sido más la fortuna la que los ha dispuesto así y no la voluntad de algunos hombres que usan la razón” (mi enfasis; Descares, Rene. Discurso del Método, Segunda Parte pg. 25 (Editorial Norma).
5) For a radically different perspective on the end of life, see Benjamin Franklin´s Epitaph which reads:
The body of
B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Strip of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ’d) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.
V. IMPORTANT GREEK TERMS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
|τῆς πολιτικῆς||the political|
|βίου τελείου||perfect/complete life|
|ἀθλίως||winning the prize|
VI. NICOMACHEAN ETHICS, GREEK, BOOK I, 9; text at Perseus (based on Bywater)
ὅθεν καὶ ἀπορεῖται πότερόν ἐστι μαθητὸν ἢ ἐθιστὸν ἢ καὶ ἄλλως πως ἀσκητόν, ἢ κατά τινα θείαν μοῖραν ἢ καὶ διὰ τύχην παραγίνεται. εἰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἄλλο τί ἐστι θεῶν δώρημα ἀνθρώποις, εὔλογον καὶ τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν θεόσδοτον εἶναι, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων ὅσῳ βέλτιστον. ἀλλὰ τοῦτο μὲν ἴσως ἄλλης ἂν εἴη σκέψεως οἰκειότερον, φαίνεται δὲ κἂν εἰ μὴ θεόπεμπτός ἐστιν ἀλλὰ δι᾽ ἀρετὴν καί τινα μάθησιν ἢ ἄσκησιν παραγίνεται, τῶν θειοτάτων εἶναι: τὸ γὰρ τῆς ἀρετῆς ἆθλον καὶ τέλος ἄριστον εἶναι φαίνεται καὶ θεῖόν τι καὶ μακάριον. εἴη δ᾽ ἂν καὶ πολύκοινον: δυνατὸν γὰρ ὑπάρξαι πᾶσι τοῖς μὴ πεπηρωμένοις πρὸς ἀρετὴν διά τινος μαθήσεως
καὶ ἐπιμελείας. εἰ δ᾽ ἐστὶν οὕτω βέλτιον ἢ τὸ διὰ τύχην εὐδαιμονεῖν, εὔλογον ἔχειν οὕτως, εἴπερ τὰ κατὰ φύσιν, ὡς οἷόν τε κάλλιστα ἔχειν, οὕτω πέφυκεν, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὰ κατὰ τέχνην καὶ πᾶσαν αἰτίαν, καὶ μάλιστα τὰ κατὰ τὴν ἀρίστην. τὸ δὲ μέγιστον καὶ κάλλιστον ἐπιτρέψαι τύχῃ λίαν πλημμελὲς ἂν εἴη. συμφανὲς δ᾽ ἐστὶ καὶ ἐκ τοῦ λόγου τὸ ζητούμενον: εἴρηται γὰρ ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια κατ᾽ ἀρετὴν ποιά τις. τῶν δὲ λοιπῶν ἀγαθῶν τὰ μὲν ὑπάρχειν ἀναγκαῖον, τὰ δὲ συνεργὰ καὶ χρήσιμα πέφυκεν ὀργανικῶς. ὁμολογούμενα δὲ ταῦτ᾽ ἂν εἴη καὶ τοῖς ἐν ἀρχῇ: τὸ γὰρ τῆς πολιτικῆς
τέλος ἄριστον ἐτίθεμεν, αὕτη δὲ πλείστην ἐπιμέλειαν ποιεῖται τοῦ ποιούς τινας καὶ ἀγαθοὺς τοὺς πολίτας ποιῆσαι καὶ πρακτικοὺς τῶν καλῶν. εἰκότως οὖν οὔτε βοῦν οὔτε ἵππον οὔτε ἄλλο τῶν ζῴων οὐδὲν εὔδαιμον λέγομεν: οὐδὲν γὰρ αὐτῶν οἷόν τε κοινωνῆσαι τοιαύτης ἐνεργείας. διὰ ταύτην δὲ τὴν αἰτίαν οὐδὲ παῖς εὐδαίμων ἐστίν: οὔπω γὰρ πρακτικὸς τῶν τοιούτων διὰ τὴν ἡλικίαν: οἱ δὲ λεγόμενοι διὰ τὴν ἐλπίδα μακαρίζονται. δεῖ γάρ, ὥσπερ εἴπομεν, καὶ ἀρετῆς τελείας
καὶ βίου τελείου. πολλαὶ γὰρ μεταβολαὶ γίνονται καὶ παντοῖαι τύχαι κατὰ τὸν βίον, καὶ ἐνδέχεται τὸν μάλιστ᾽ εὐθηνοῦντα μεγάλαις συμφοραῖς περιπεσεῖν ἐπὶ γήρως, καθάπερ ἐν τοῖς Τρωικοῖς περὶ Πριάμου μυθεύεται: τὸν δὲ τοιαύταις χρησάμενον τύχαις καὶ τελευτήσαντα ἀθλίως οὐδεὶς εὐδαιμονίζει.