COMMENTARY ON ARISTOTLE’S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS: BOOK I, 12
(For the nature of the sections see the “General Introduction”, here.)
Abbreviations: Ar. = Aristotle, AQ= Aquinas, NE = Nicomachean Ethics, EE= Eudemian Ethics
“With these things defined, let us examine closely whether happiness is something praised or rather honored, for it is clear it does not belong among the capacities, at any rate. Now, everything praised appears to be praised for its being of a certain sort and for its condition relative to something: we praise the just person, the courageous person, and, in general, the good person as well as virtue itself, on account of the action and works involved; and we praise the strong man and the swift runner and each of the rest for their being, by nature, of a certain sort and for their condition in relation to something good and serious. This is also clear on the basis of the praises offered to the gods, since it is manifestly laughable for them to be compared to us; but this happens because praise arises through comparison, as we said. And if praise is of things of that sort, it is clear that not praise, but something greater and better than praise applies to the best things, as in fact appears to be the case: the gods we deem blessed and happy, and the most divine of men we deem blessed.
The case is similar with the good things too, none praise happiness the way they praise justice; rather, people deem happiness a blessed thing, on the grounds that it is something more divine and better. And Eodoxus too seems to have nobly pleaded his case that the first prize belongs to pleasure. For the fact that it is not praised as being among the good things reveals, he supposed, that it is superior to the things praised; and such, he supposed, is the god and the good. For it is to these that all else is compared. Indeed, praise belongs to virtue: people are apt to do noble things as a result of virtue, whereas encomiums belong to the works of both body and soul alike. But perhaps being very precise about these things is more appropriate to those who have labored over encomiums; to us it is clear, on the basis of what has been said, that happiness belongs among the things that are honored and complete. This seems to be the case also on account of its being a principle: for it is for the sake of this that we all do everything else, and we posit the principle and the cause of the good things as being something honorable and divine. ” (NE, 1101b10-1102a4; Aristotle´s Nicomachean Ethics, Bartlett, Robert, and Collins, Susan; University of Chicago, Chicago, 2011)
I. PRIVATE PUZZLES
1) Aren’t we somewhat caught off guard by the sudden appearance of this extremely short and striking, not to say strange and foreign, subsection? But then again, should be really SO surprised by its appearance if we have listened carefully to what Ar. has said (and not said) in previous subsections? For isn’t this subsection a “recapitulation” of sorts? Doesn’t Ar. here once again mention the courageous man and the just man, the exemplars of political life in a sense? For, what is there to be of political life without its defenders in battle and its defenders in virtue? And, what is there to be of political life without the just and their healthy obedient submission to the law? But also, doesn’t Ar. mention once again the athletic humans who, we imagine, participate in the kind of competitions Ar. mentioned way back in subsection I, 8; namely, the swift runner/the strong man? Weren´t we there led to think, like Nietzsche has us believe about that Greeks, that Ar. too favored primarily this competitive politically inspired spirit (for the athlete, as in the Olympics, REPRESENTS his city/nation, doesn’t he?)? And, if happiness is related not to a capacity as Ar. himself puts it here (though he will question this at 2.1 and 2.5 (see section IV below)), but rather perhaps to a kind of activity (let us assume so for a moment), then —to our amazement— this ODD short section would certainly seem to point out that the highest form of activity is NOT that characteristic of those who consider themselves and are considered to be the just and the courageous and the sportive within society, wouldn’t it? But honestly speaking, who could be more active than, for instance, the courageous? Isn´t war THE action par excellence? “But what, more exactly, is so astounding?”, a reader might ask. Well, precisely that if we are looking for the architectonic science which “calls the shots” as regards the good and happiness, then even here, when we are just barely finishing ONLY BOOK I of the NE —–out of 10 difficult books all complex in their own right, and besides without ANY sustained argumentation having explicitly pointed in this direction—— Ar. CLEARLY gives the adherents to political life previously mentioned as “appearing” to be the architectonic good (I, 2) ONLY a SECONDARY position, doesn’t he? And if all this is at least half so, then we need ask why many interpreters are so SURPRISED, as we have argued in previous subsections, once Ar. reaches similar conclusions at the END of the NE in Book X? Put another way, what is it about OUR current paradigmatic forms of philosophical understanding that the overall direction of Ar. own thought cannot be seen, let alone properly appreciated? However, in the just and courageous defense of ourselves: haven’t OUR commentaries at least pointed —- however inadequately, of course—- in THIS direction? For instance, haven’t we painstakingly mentioned again and again the “conundrums of courage”? That is to say, how exactly will courage in defending one´s own come to line up with the happiness in being one´s own?
But let us move back a bit, and ask again: How exactly did we GET HERE? What if this passage held the KEY to the whole of the NE? Actually, one could argue that one could seriously dedicate one’s whole life to an understanding of this passage alone, couldn’t one? But also, isn’t what we learn from other commentators even more revealing and perplexing in this regard? For isn’t it striking to see, for instance JOACHIM —in his very detailed, almost line-by-line commentary—- speaking of this passage in the following terms: “The passage has no philosophical interest, as indeed Aristotle himself recognizes … when he says that the topic is more appropriate (to those who have made a study of encomia) (Joachim, p. 61) But, why exactly does Joachim say it has “no philosophical interest”, as IF Ar. here ONLY, or even primarily, spoke of encomia? Perhaps, wouldn’t it be more precise to say that it is of no philosophical interest to JOACHIM? (!) For wouldn’t it be odd that Ar., who is so careful in all his philosophical endeavors, once again slipped up —do remember how we were once told there were three lives only to find out there were really, really four (!)——and added a subsection which was really, really, not relevant as Joachim claims? Wouldn’t that kind of interpretative attitude be in the same ballpark as those who say that the books on the virtues must be “skipped over as irrelevant”? But isn’t this a kind of a reflective surrender? For even if we cannot fully ANSWER a puzzle, shouldn’t we at least RECOGNIZE the puzzle for what it is in the first place? And what if our philosophical interests as MODERN philosophers were genuinely FOREIGN to those of Aristotle? Wouldn’t it then become OBVIOUS that we wouldn’t see them? For what if we could not even see the problematic nature of justice itself (one might think of the differing roles played by the Greek dikaiosune in Ar., in contrast to the concept of Recht in both Kant and Hegel: for a personal political example see here)? Moreover, aren´t we also struck by the fact that this subsection 12 of BOOK I is kind of a conclusion —–or very close to a conclusion, as Book I is composed of 13 subsections—– to the introductory BOOK I we are almost about to finish?
Let us be a bit bold before looking at the details: could this be making explicit Ar.‘s own hypothesis which will, following Plato’s dialectical reasoning in the Republic, truly be a steppingstone by means of which we will ascend to give the principle which at the start must be assumed, its real power, argumentative solidity and living strength? As Plato allows Socrates to say:
“Well, then, go on to understand that by the other segment of the intelligible I mean that which argument itself grasps with the power of dialectic, making the hypotheses not beginnings but really hypotheses—that is, steppingstones and springboards—in order to reach what is free from hypothesis at the beginning of the whole. When it has grasped this, argument now depends on that which depends on this beginning and in such fashion goes back down again to an end;”(my emphasis: Republic, 511b)
And thus we ask, conscious we are entering deep waters: will we (or better, some of Ar. listeners) by the end of the NE be much less puzzled and much more aware about why this passage reveals the direction of the whole: that is to say, the whole of the text, and even the whole of our lives? Isn’t this why Ar. ends this extremely strange subsection by SUDDENLY making reference to THE principle (arche)? That is to say, doesn´t he write as regards happiness (eudaimonia):
“This seems to be the case also on account of its being a principle: for it is for the sake of this that we all do everything else, and we posit the principle and the cause of the good things as being something honorable and divine.”
Or put yet another way, what we mean to ask dialectically is whether by the end of the NE this principle posited as a hypothesis (understood as a steppingstone) will have been rationally proven to be THE principle by which some of us choose to lead our lives (and perhaps aid a few interested others in at least trying to have a faint image of its presence)? Or put still another way, will this principle achieve life beyond mere formality, freeing the hypothesis “at the beginning of the whole”? Or will we, pace Ar., end up in a kind of Kantian formalism which remains quite aloof both from the way the best of statesmen/stateswomen actually do lead their political, as well as from the way the best of living philosophers live theirs?
2) But leaving aside such perplexing —perhaps even counterproductive (!)—- generalities,we must ask as regards the specifics of the subsection: why does Ar. ONCE again give us an either/or, namely happiness is EITHER praised OR honored? Why not leave it at its being USEFUL, as modern Utilitarianism has it? Or, why not take the AESTHETIC route as Nietzsche does in his reference to Stendhal? Or, why not leave it at CIVILITY as in Locke? Why is Ar. so reticent to go DOWN these modern roads? Isn´t Ar., instead, rather keen on puzzling philosophically about utility, beauty and civility (nobility)? Why don´t WE seem to puzzle thus? Or, from a different point of view: don´t we find in the religious Spanish word “alabar”, for instance, BOTH a praising and an honoring of God? I mean, does THAT difference —between praising and honoring— make ANY sense as we read the Bible (see section III below)? Is there really ANY difference between praising and honoring God in the Bible? What is Ar. getting at then? Why does he wish to separate them thus, and so poignantly? Where is the alleged “Aristotelian flexibility” so many interpreters seem to speak of, to be found here? Or, is it rather than when seeking rationally the TRUTH about the essential, tough choices are in order?
For truly Ar. says, happiness can be either something PRAISED (τῶν ἐπαινετῶν) OR something honored (τῶν τιμίων)? But doesn´t this assertion lead US to an even more EXTREME puzzle? For doesn’t Ar. seem to be going at the argument as if HE HAD NEVER said anything about honor in the first place? However, didn’t he tell us —in what, it is true, seems a long time ago— that the life of honor is only SECONDARY to that of contemplation (the latter which of course, as we pointed out, Ar. mentioned ONLY to silence immediately!). But shouldn’t WE refresh our memory and recall the words Ar. had told us just some subsections before as regards the nature of “honor”, namely: “but it appears to be more superficial than what is being sought, for honor 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”? So, a bit dizzy we ask: do we understand clearly? According to subsection I, 5, the life of honor is NOT the highest in part because it depends on the recognition by others, right? But NOW Ar. asks us to consider the question as to whether happiness is PRAISED OR HONORED? But isn’t what we hear here about praise EXTREMELY akin to what we have heard about honor previously, specially as regards its being dependent on others? Let’s listen to what Ar. himself has to say regarding PRAISE in THIS subsection I, 12: “Now, everything praised appears to be praised for its being of a certain sort and for its condition relative to something … because praise arises through comparison.” Now we need ask, what makes these two —-that is to say, the honor of previous subsections and the praise of this subsection—– SO different? And to make things even MORE confusing; isn’t Ar. asking us HERE to really see the radical difference between PRAISE and HONOR with regards to the best, most complete and self-sufficient principle which IS happiness? Unlike Joachim, we must persevere in our puzzle, mustn’t we? Isn’t this dramatic tension precisely why we say again that one could spend one’s entire life trying to understand this, usually found to be rather irrelevant passage?
Or is it that Ar. is pointing to a striking possibility, namely, that perhaps we may need still reach a point in our philosophical endeavor in which ANOTHER kind of honor may surface? But how exactly would THAT higher or (rationally) purified kind of honor appear in the argument? For surely this subsection clearly points out that it will not be within the confines of the POLITICAL life, doesn’t’ it? Moreover, we can see that Ar. has no qualms about being direct here, don´t we? Doesn´t he write, with the very first appearance of the comedic (of the kind of laughter most interpreters miss when trying to understand Ar.) that: “this is also clear on the basis of the praises offered to the gods, since it is manifestly laughable for them to be compared to us”?But, do WE modern materialistic secularists laugh here? For if there are no Gods, how then to understand this comedic comparison? Do we even GET IT? Nonetheless, if such a truly strange conception of honor were to surface indeed as we get involved in the core BOOKS of the NE (see specially BOOK IV and what can be considered a decline form the virtue of magnanimity onwards: as well as the discussion of friendship as NOT requiring justice in BOOK IX), then; what exactly would THAT mean for our “everyday/common/noble” ideas on honor as the prize given to those deserving recognition in meritocratic/aristocratic regimes? Isn´t there a stunning radical nature to this generally overlooked subsection? For isn’t our use of meritocratic ideals (that is to say; rightly praise the just and the courageous who DESERVE it for their sacrifices) done so without pursuing more critically the dangers of a certain kind of meritocratic infatuation? Put bluntly, what is SO wrong about our meritocratic mind, that is to say, about the idea that some DESERVE the recognition BECAUSE OF THEIR ACTIONS and others don’t (recall the devaluation of such politically oriented activity in THIS subsection)? For, if others deserve to be AND to be seen as lower (for instance, the homeless ”because lazy”: the ill “because irresponsible”; the unemployed “because …”), then how can we breed a certain generosity, a sense of belonging together as a community, or more broadly, a sense of humanity (even towards our political enemies)? Or put yet another way, doesn’t meritocracy go hand in hand with a certain praise of just indignation (recall, they “rightly deserve it”)? Nevertheless, isn’t Socratism à la Aristotle verily a bulwark against such indignation (see for instance the fact that the discussion of nemesis in BOOK II promised by Ar. is NOWHERE to be found later on)? And thus, could Ar. already here —so early on—be pointing to a DIFFERENT conception of honor, and a different conception of what merits being held in esteem? But even if this were to be a way out of the difficult conundrums here presented, that is to say, i) that some such “reformed” honor did exist (see the question of honor in the discussion of magnanimity BOOK IV), and ii) that Ar. did give us clues about its characteristics beyond mere formalism, then STILL we would need to ask—given the definition ITSELF of honor as being referred to and being given by ANOTHER— WHO exactly would give this superior form of honor? And, even more problematically, WHO would want to receive it if reaching such a position would seemingly be one which would go hand in hand with the greatest completeness and self-sufficiency? For isn’t THAT what characterizes happiness as a principle? And, to repeat, isn’t this WHY Ar. so boldly says in this subsection:
“This is also clear on the basis of the praises offered to the gods, since it is manifestly laughable for them to be compared to us; but this happens because praise arises through comparison, as we said.”
To repeat: of this “reformed” sense of honor, shouldn´t one also ask: WHO awards it? Is it the WISE, or as Ar. puts it in this subsection “(the) most divine of men (whom) we deem blessed”? But, we do not tire of asking, WHO are these divine humans? Are they the wise? Why doesn’t Ar. provide examples? Or is Eodoxus, mentioned here, one of them? In what does their WISDOM or BLESSEDNESS consist in? Or is it we will we have to wait until BOOK VI (on the intellectual virtues) to actually receive a definition of what sophia is, and their —kind of miraculously— end up somehow understanding what wisdom is all about? But wouldn’t that be odd (and furthermore: isn´t Book VI itself striking in its own right in that “phronesis” returns “emboldened”)? For, wouldn’t we much rather suppose that AS WE READ the NE and confront its puzzles, we are –if not becoming altogether wise—at least becoming less ignorant and thus becoming more prepared for the exigencies of truth? Will the NE in its very deployment give us a taste of blessedness? Won’t becoming better through learning be part of such blessedness? And coming back to the kind of honor to which this section seems to be pointing to: Are the most blessed truly interested in being honored? But why would they? What need would they have to do so (not to mention the thornier question of why God in the creationist tradition of monotheistic religion would somehow require being honored by his creation (see section on Aquinas below for Noah’s misunderstanding of what Honoring God entails)? Or as Ar. himself puts it here: “happiness belongs among the things that are honored and complete”: but then, if COMPLETE, why exactly are those somehow “in tune” with its principles in need of being honored, or of honoring? (In this regard see for instance the complex discussion of self-love in BOOK IX; specially the way it is introduced as a RESPONSE to some of the puzzles regarding the best of friendships.)
3) Finally, what of the sudden appearance of Eodoxus as THE authority in such matters? Don’t we find it striking that Ar.’s own teacher is here nowhere to be found? For we know Plato wrote dialogues about pleasure, don’t we (and some politically thorny ones, like the Gorgias!)? Is Ar. letting us know, partly, that one cannot go about discussing pleasure in the way Socrates does in such dialogues (think, for instance, of the not “all-too-decent” examples provided in the confrontation with Callicles; contrast the overall decency of Xenophon´s Socrates)? Is Ar. continuing his critique of Plato clearly revealed in subsection I.6 previously? But if so, then how exactly does Ar. CONFRONT the sophists in the NE? But leaving this debate among giants aside: what are we to make of Eodoxus’s position as presented by Ar. and which is expressed in the following words: “Eodoxus too seems to have nobly pleaded his case that the first prize belongs to pleasure”?First of all, what does it mean to plead NOBLY in behalf of pleasure? Doesn´t this connection to nobility once again presume the values of the moral virtues, namely those of courage and justice? For doesn´t it all sound like Eodoxus truly had to “courageously” DEFEND his “just” claim? Or is it that one can act nobly without these? But how, exactly? Or rather, is Ar. pointing once again —–as we argued above—- to a higher (and truer) form of nobility and of pleasure (see below) characteristic of those who, while leading a just life, UNDERSTAND the troubling dynamics that may underlie a life FULLY dedicated to justice and/or courage (this latter being the very topic of the Gorgias)?
Moreover, aren´t these words on Eodoxus THE key to understanding the very difference between PRAISE and (the new form of) HONOR as presented in THIS subsection? For, as we have remarked, doesn´t Ar. already here make it abundantly clear that in terms of happiness, the just human and the courageous human and the swift runner and the strong man, all of them seem not to be altogether clear on the highest of human possibilities? Could one go so far as to say that, on the one hand the just man and the courageous man in reference to virtues of the soul, and on the other hand the swift runner and the strong human in reference to the virtues of the body, only but faintly grasp the underlying motivations underlying their praised actions, no to say their praised lives? Could one even go so far as to say, taking up what was said above, that in their cases a certain addiction to recognition might become unalterable? But if so, how to move from such a predisposition of the morally best, to a new disposition that reaches seriously to the most full completeness and self-sufficiency available to us as humans? In other words, how can political philosophy –while clearly critical of the political life as in this subsection— signal towards an upwards path without at the same time not doing away with the lower steps altogether (recall Diotima´s ladder of love)? For, will not the just man and the courageous man be difficult to convince as to the secondary nature of their lives? Will they just take it standing? And, suppose (a HUGE supposition) , they do indeed succeed in realizing the precarious nature of their position from a rational perspective with a view to the whole: won´t they have to rethink courage to such an extent that courage itself will have ceased to be what it was? What would THAT kind of courage mean and require? Bluntly: “quién podrá defendernos” (who´ll defend us), as the famous Latino Chapulín Colorado used to say? In other words, isn´t Ar.’s position, of course just now being deployed in this subsection, that it is the rational understanding of these discrepancies which will in fact allow us to see how the political life itself POINTS to a higher more complete life beyond its necessary but nebulous confines? Looking at it another way, isn’t this why Ar. makes clear the difference between praise, encomia and felicitation in the Eudemian Ethics (EE II, 1, 1219b8-16)? Wouldn’t it be odd to felicitate/congratulate the courageous man for his sacrifices (specially given that to really really fulfill his goal he DIES)? Don’t we PRAISE sacrifice, and thus in the very act of doing so signal to its inferiority (if the life of eudaimonia is possible, that is)? For it not simp0ly PRAISED, how could they be really considered to be sacrifices then? Isn’t this why we praise them instead, for WE understand that –if one could choose—one would not so choose? But, attempting to pursue the puzzle again, in reality doesn’t the courageous human (not to mention the just!) REALLY and in full consciousness so choose? For isn’t it BECAUSE OF THIS that in thus choosing he/she EXPECTS the recognition by those FOR WHOM such sacrifice is offered? And, to make things a bit clearer, won’t this very thematic —the tension between the need for praise and the self-sufficiency of happiness—- reappear anew in the discussion of ALL the moral virtues as presented in BOOKS II, III and IV? For don’t we find it striking that once we enter the domain of the ethical virtues (and isn´t this a book about ETHICS?), suddenly and precipitously the question of happiness ceases to appear?
But even if these puzzles may guide us, still isn´t Ar. once again kind of quietly slipping something before our very eyes? For just as in the case of honor, which as we pointed out above Ar. discussed earlier in a very negative form, didn’t Ar. ALSO ALREADY discuss pleasure in PREVIOUS subsections and in terms that involved speaking of humans as “fatted cattle”, and providing striking examples such as those of the tyrant Sardanapalus? So, as we did with the conception of honor above, we need ask as well: is Ar. preparing the ground for our understanding a reformed, or better, refined, sense of pleasure? Isn´t this why Eodoxus was believed; because of his refinement as a human being (ethos and its connection to the character of a person)? For one would have difficulty believing that pleasure is connected to the highest of principles from one of our Colombian drug “lords”, wouldn’t one? But if we are to move in that direction, how exactly will the transformation come about? Won´t BOOK VII be THE key in this respect with its discussion of the problematic dilemmas underpinning akrasia? In other words, don´t we come to see retrospectively that this subsection I, 12, with its apparent simplicity, actually carries with it –—in the form of seeds— a multitude of puzzles that Ar. will slowly help us start to confront as we read along?
4) And finally, to conclude: why does Ar., a philosopher, say that actually it is those who write encomia who are more prepared to speak about these topics? Isn´t it strange for him to say: “But perhaps being very precise about these things is more appropriate to those who have labored over encomiums; to us it is clear, on the basis of what has been said, that happiness belong among the things that are honored and complete.” But then, if OTHERS are more prepared to speak about such topics, in what exactly does philosophy aid US? What is its expertise, if not the discussion of praise and justice and courage and some such ETHICAL topics?
And, for a moment going beyond the letter of the text, could we not mention that one of the most famous encomia among the Greeks is the encomium by Gorgias for Helen? And what does this encomium speak of? Isn´t it primarily about how the Sophist Gorgias can use rhetorical speech to defend Helen against accusations of her voluntarily seeking to do harm to the Greeks by letting herself be persuaded and consequently being THE cause of the most important of Greek wars as presented in Homer’s The Ilyad (core text of the ethical education of the young; contrast Thucydides’ claim that the greatest war is the Peloponnesian War)? Doesn’t Gorgias proceed to disprove Helen’s guilt by speaking of four factors that allow us to see why Helen in fact “had no choice” in the matter, namely: because of the gods, physical force, love, or by speech (logos) (see section IV below)? Could it be that a sophist such as Gorgias has the ability to use language as a tool and thus dangerously reverses the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy (see BOOK X, 1180b30)? In fact, don’t we remember how Gorgias concludes said encomium by saying it was “his plaything” (here) ? But the deaths of the Ilyad appear far from being so, or not? And besides, doesn´t his encomium reveal how truly “useless” and “powerless” rational thought may be; especially in erotic matters? And to our initial surprise don´t we find Ar. instead moving on to discussing in the whole of BOOKS II and III the question of RESPONSIBILITY? But going out on a limb (and a very thin one at that), doesn’t THIS subsection I,12 –recall what we have said above— truly make us prepared to understand that WHATEVER Ar. will say about the question of responsibility (and thus of the praise or blame that such responsibility deserves), he at least PARTLY seems to follow Gorgias’ strategy by implying that the PHILOSOPHER cannot hold the life of the just and the courageous —the life of praise—- as the EPITOME of human possibilities? That is to say, even now is Ar. not also preparing a kind of defense for the striking conclusions to which his OWN philosophical investigation will eventually lead (only barely outlined here; for we assume that Ar. does indeed KNOW where HE is headed!)? For let us repeat; what will the just and the courageous think of THEIR being considered SECONDARY in terms of truth; and furthermore secondary not just to anyone, but to the PHILOSOPHER (!)? And to see how problematic this discussion might turn out to be, don’t we recall as well how the NE ends, by praising legislation and the need we have to understand move on to an understanding, not of metaphysics, but rather of politics?
But leaving these rather incomplete and truly imaginative meanderings alone, still doesn´t Ar. CLEARLY differentiate himself from those who generally write encomia? In other words, doesn’t he imply that those who write encomia are rather “thoughtless”; praising for praise’s sake (or blaming for blame´s sake)? And isn´t this negative definition one that marks the difference between a philosopher and a poet/sophist? For won’t a philosopher rather than sing the praises of words and/or of deeds, truly not be simply charmed by listening to the enticing beauty of praise, but will rather seek the completeness of the realm of “felicitation/congratulation” as it is called in the Eudemian Ethics, or of “honoring” as it is called here in this subsection of the NE? For instance, isn´t it clear that although Plato and Xenophon wrote APOLOGIES of Socrates (a kind of praise for his having died unjustly), Ar. does NOT do so? And more to the point, won´t this philosophical attitude —let us repeat, the simultaneous i) affirmation of Eodoxus´s defense of the primacy of happiness, AND, ii) the devaluation of praise and encomia, allow Ar. to both PRESENT the best of the Greek virtues (for instance, that of magnanimity) while at the same time, and for the careful reader, critically point out why he does not merely seek to praise such massively important moral virtues, but will instead lead some of us to understand the nature of their incompleteness? Don’t those who see Ar. as merely repeating and admiring (praising) the Greek virtues truly have to puzzle about the questionable nature of their naive interpretations? Or could we not be a bit unjust and skip all the way to the end of text and read Ar.’s stunning conclusions in BOOK X, Chapter 8 —-which itself appears only after the reappearance and a reconsideration of pleasure (Eodoxus being mentioned once again in Chapter 2)—– furthermore, strikingly using almost the very sample examples of THIS subsection:
“But that complete happiness us a certain contemplative activity would appear also from this: we have supposed that the gods especially are blessed and happy — but what sort of action ought we to assign them? Just acts? Or will they appear laughable as they make contracts, return deposits, and do anything else of that sort. But what about courageous acts? Do the gods endure frightening things and run risks, because doing so is noble? Or liberal acts? But to whom will they give? …. All that pertains to actions would appear, to those who grow through it, petty and unworthy of gods” (1178b8-17)
It is true that we have a long way to go in reaching these argumentative heights, but how to see those heights if we are blind to their possibility from the start? How not to be perplexed if we simply leave THIS crucial subsection as a strange appendix with little philosophical interest, as Joachim has us believe? Or put yet another way: wouldn’t it be true that to comprehend the words of this crucial subsection we, as moderns accustomed to lowering our eyes and our minds to more secure and yet more unfulfilling conceptions of happiness —-security, equality, property, matter—- must first (kind of forcibly it would seem) set our eyes on goals higher than those to which we have become accustomed as the moderns that we have been very successfully —and quite unknowingly— taught to become? Subsection I, 12 stands as THE counterbalance, doesn´t it?
III. PUZZLES REGARDING COMMENTARY BY AQUINAS
1) Aren´t we even more puzzled by AQ.’s own interpretation of the difference between Praise and Honor in (214); for, we ask, is he right in pointing out that the question is merely one of the relative extension of each, honor being “more extensive” as he puts it, than praise? But why doesn’t Ar. say THAT? Why is the difference between honor and praise so difficult for AQ. (and us) to grasp, especially within a monotheistic tradition? But moreover, what of AQ.’s own examples, namely honor signifying “testimony manifesting a person´s excellence whether by word or deed, as when one genuflects to another or rises for him.” Would this be at all an example Ar, would give? Don’t we know the story about one Aristotelian who did not genuflect for Alexander the Great (see article Carnes Lord)?
2) Now at (217) can we fully agree with AQ. that “the good of man consists in the act of virtue”? But then why does Ar. so clearly SAY here that the just and the courageous don´t seem to represent the highest possible completeness available to humans?
3) Besides, in (219) why does AQ. make no mention whatsoever of the fact that Ar. has already spoken of honor previously? And instead AQ. now, kind of miraculously, tells us that “honor, a thing better than praise, is concerned with things to which other things are ordered.” But, has Ar. proven this if he HIMSELF criticized honor previously as severely lacking as a principle?
4) Finally, why does AQ. not puzzle over the transformation from the plural gods, to the singular God in this passage, asserting rather, that “God is the principle of all good”? (223)
5) For the question of honoring (praising?) God in the Bible, see Proverbs 3:9,
“Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of thane increase.”
6) For the secondary position of honor over LOVE (agape) of God in the Bible see, Deuteronomy 6:5,
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
7) It is noteworthy to point out that in cases such as that of the sacrificial offering of animals by Noah to God after the deluge, God himself has in no way required said sacrifices. (see Pangle, Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham, see the puzzles presented in “Pollution and Purgation”, p. 114) So that whatever the Bible understands by honoring/praising God, it is NOT what Noah proceeds to do through his polluting animal sacrificial offering.
IV. FLEXIBLE SECTION
1) For the question of honor in previous subsections and modern conceptions critical of Ar. see the already provided commentary for “Reflections: Commentary on Aristotle’s NICOMACHEAN ETHICS; BOOK I, 5”, here.
2) Ostwald provides a relevant quote form the Magna Moralia, I, 2 1183b20-30), p. 277 Ostwald (also quoted un Broadie and Rowe, p. 290.)
3) Broadie and Rowe provide an important quote from the Rhetoric on the nature of Encomia I 9, 1367b26-35.
4) The text of Gorgia’s Encomium of Helen: here.
“(1) The order proper to a city is being well-manned; to a body, beauty; to a soul, wisdom; to a deed, excellence; and to a discourse, truth–and the opposites of these are disorder. And the praiseworthy man and woman and discourse and work and city-state and deed one must honor with praise, while one must assign blame to the unworthy–for it is equal error and ignorance to blame the praiseworthy and to praise the blameworthy.
(2) It being required of the same man both to speak straight and to refute [crooked speech, one should refute] those blaming Helen, a woman concerning whom the testimony of those who are called poets has become univocal and unanimous–likewise the repute of her name, which has become a byword for calamities. And by bestowing some rationality on the discourse, I myself wish to absolve this ill-reputed woman from responsibility, and to show that those who blame her are lying–and, having shown the truth, to put an end to ignorance.
(3) It is not unclear, not even to a few, that the woman who is the subject of this discourse was the foremost of the foremost men and women, by nature and by birth. For it is clear that her mother was Leda and her father was in fact the god, but said to be mortal, Tyndareus and Zeus–of whom the one, by being, seemed, while the other, by speech, was disproved–and the one was the mightiest of men while the other was tyrant over all.
(4) Born of such parentage, she had godlike beauty, which having received she not inconspicuously retained. She produced the greatest erotic desires in most men. For one body many bodies of men came together, men greatly purposing great things, of whom some possessed great wealth, some the glory of ancient and noble lineage, some the vigor of personal strength, and others the power of acquired cleverness. And they were all there together out of contentious love and unconquerable ambition.
(5) Who it was, then, who fulfilled the love by gaining Helen, and the means and manner of it, I shall not say; for to tell knowing people things they know supplies corroboration but does not convey enjoyment. Having now finished the first section, I shall advance to the beginning of the next section, and I shall set out the causes through which Helen’s journey to Troy was likely to come about.
(6) Either by the wishes of Fortune and plans of the gods and decrees of Necessity she did what she did, or abducted by force, or persuaded by speeches, <or conquered by Love>. Now in the first case, the responsible party deserves the responsibility. For the will of a god cannot be hindered by human forethought. For it is not natural for the superior to be hindered by the inferior, but for the inferior to be ruled and led by the superior–for the superior to lead and the inferior to follow. And a god is superior to a human being in force, intelligence, etcetera. Accordingly, if one must attribute responsibility to Fortune and the god, one must acquit Helen of infamy.
(7) But if she was abducted by force, unlawfully constrained and unjustly victimized, it is clear on the one hand that the abductor, as victimizer, committed injustice–and on the other hand that the abductee, as victim, met with mishap. Accordingly the barbarian assailant deserves to meet with barbarous assault, by speech and custom and deed–deserves to be blamed in speech, dishonored by custom, and penalized indeed. She who was forced and bereft of fatherland and orphaned of friends–how is she not to be pitied rather than reviled? For he did terrible things; she was the victim; it is accordingly fair to pity her and hate him.
(8) And if persuasive discourse deceived her soul, it is not on that account difficult to defend her and absolve her of responsibility, thus: discourse is a great potentate, which by the smallest and most secret body accomplishes the most divine works; for it can stop fear and assuage pain and produce joy and make mercy abound. And I shall show that these things are so: (9) explanation to the audience, by means of opinion, is required. Discourse having meter I suppose and name (in the general sense) to be poetry. Fearful shuddering and tearful pity and sorrowful longing come upon those who hear it, and the soul experiences a peculiar feeling, on account of the words, at the good and bad fortunes of other people’s affairs and bodies. But come, let me proceed from one section to another.
(10) By means of words, inspired incantations serve as bringers-on of pleasure and takers-off of pain. For the incantation’s power, communicating with the soul’s opinion, enchants and persuades and changes it, by trickery. Two distinct methods of trickery and magic are to be found: errors of soul, and deceptions of opinion.
(11) Those who have persuaded and do persuade anyone about anything are shapers of lying discourse. For if all people possessed memory concerning all things past, and awareness of all things present, and foreknowledge of all things to come, discourse would not be similarly similar; hence it is not now easy to remember the past or consider the present or foretell the future; so that most people on most subjects furnish themselves with opinion as advisor to the soul. But opinion, being slippery and unsteady, surrounds those who rely on it with slippery and unsteady successes.
(12) Accordingly what cause hinders Helen … praise-hymn came … similarly would … not being young … just as if … means of forcing … force was abducted. For the mind of Persuasion was able … and even if necessity … the form will have … it has the same power. For discourse was the persuader of the soul, which it persuaded and compelled to believe the things that were said and to agree to the things that were done. He who persuaded (as constrainer) did wrong; while she who was persuaded (as one constrained by means of the discourse) is wrongly blamed.
(13) Persuasion belonging to discourse shapes the soul at will: witness, first, the discourses of the astronomers, who by setting aside one opinion and building up another in its stead make incredible and obscure things apparent to the eyes of opinion; second, the necessary debates in which one discourse, artfully written but not truthfully meant, delights and persuades a numerous crowd; and third, the competing arguments of the philosophers, in which speed of thought is shown off, as it renders changeable the credibility of an opinion.
(14) The power of discourse stands in the same relation to the soul’s organization as the pharmacopoeia does to the physiology of bodies. For just as different drugs draw off different humors from the body, and some put an end to disease and others to life, so too of discourses: some give pain, others delight, others terrify, others rouse the hearers to courage, and yet others by a certain vile persuasion drug and trick the soul.
(15) It has been said that if she was persuaded by discourse, she did no wrong but rather was unfortunate; I proceed to the fourth cause in a fourth section. If it was love that brought all these things to pass, she escapes without difficulty from the blame for the sin alleged to have taken place. For the things we see do not have whatever nature we will, but rather that which befalls each. The soul receives an impression in its own ways through the sight.
(16) For example, whenever hostile bodies put on their bronze and iron war-gear of ward and defense against enemies, if the visual sense beholds this, it is troubled and it troubles the soul, so that often panic-stricken men flee future danger <as if it were> present. For the strong habitual force of law is banished because of the fear prompted by the sight, which makes one heedless both of what is judged by custom to be admirable, and of the good that comes about by victory.
(17) Some who have seen dreadful things have lost their presence of mind in the present time; thus fear extinguishes and drives out understanding. And many fall into useless troubles and terrible diseases and incurable dementias; thus sight engraves in the mind images of things seen. And the frightening ones, many of them, remain; and those that remain are just like things said.
(18) But truly whenever the painters perfectly complete one body and figure from many colors and bodies, they delight the sight; and the making of statues and production of figurines furnishes a pleasant sight to the eyes. Thus it is in the nature of the visual sense to long for some things and for other things to give it pain. And in many there is produced much love and desire for many things and bodies.
(19) Accordingly, if Helen’s eye, taking pleasure in Alexander’s body, transmitted to her soul the eagerness and struggle of Love, is it any wonder? If Love, <being> a god, <has> the divine power of gods, how could the weaker being have the power to reject this and to ward it off? But if it is a human disease and an error of the soul, it ought not to be blamed as a sin but ought rather to be accounted a misfortune. For she went, as she started out, in the clutches of fortune, not by plans of the mind; and by the constraints of love, not the preparations of art.
(20) How then is it necessary to regard as just the blame of Helen, who either passionately in love or persuaded by discourse or abducted by force or constrained by divine constraints did the things she did, escaping responsibility every way?
(21) By this discourse I have removed infamy from a woman; I have continued in the mode I established at the beginning. I tried to put an end to the injustice of blame and ignorance of opinion; I wanted to write the discourse, Helen’s encomium and my plaything.”
Brian Donovan’s copyright notice
“Translation ©1999 by Brian R. Donovan. This translation is offered by the translator (a Professor of English at Bemidji State University) for the free and unrestricted use of students, teachers, and scholars everywhere, consistent with academic integrity. The translation may be non-commercially reproduced in full in any format, provided that such reproduction includes this copyright notice. Quotations from this translation should be accompanied by due acknowledgment of their source. Commercial publishers wishing to make use of this translation should contact the translator.”
“The source text is that of H. Diels and W. Kranz, eds., Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th ed., vol. 2 (Berlin: Weidmann, 1952, rpt. Dublin 1966), as reproduced on the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae CD ROM #D (compilation ©1992 by the Regents of the University of California). Other available translations are those by George Kennedy, in Rosamond Kent Sprague (ed.) The Older Sophists (Columbia: U. of South Carolina P., 1972, rpt. 1990), and by Kathleen Freeman in her Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1948).
I have made no attempt here to reproduce or imitate the obtrusively artful and paronomastic style of the original, as Kennedy did; rather, my focus has been on reproducing literal meaning. Where the literal meaning of this translation differs from Kennedy’s translation and/or Freeman’s, I would suggest that all three versions represent valid optional interpretations.
Notable among my departures from the lead of Kennedy and Freeman are my division of the discourse into five Roman-numbered sections, and my fragmented rendition (in italics) of the first half of Arabic-numbered section 12. All but the last of the Roman-numbered sections are explicitly identified as distinct sections, in my view, by the original’s use of the term logos, which in these instances I have translated “section”; and the last seems obviously enough a distinct peroration or coda. As to the first half of Arabic-numbered section 12, which Diels/Kranz aptly describes as “heillos verderbt,” I have opted for the admittedly peculiar procedure of “translating” the unemended original mess, partly because Freeman and Kennedy had already gone the other way, translating from the emended Greek version suggested in the Diels/Kranz apparatus. This was thus the road less traveled.”
4) In terms of the political reference to the question of honor and God, one can look at the work of Abraham Lincoln. In Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address we should inquire what he might mean when he writes, with one minor reference to God:
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
And, subsequently contrast it with his Second Inaugural Address where Lincoln makes multiple references to God once the TRAGIC civil war has ended:
|“Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”||3|
|With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”|
6) Bartlett provides an important reference to NE 2.1 and 2.5 in trying to understand the question of capacity in this passage. (Bartlett, footnote 69, p. 22)
7) For an understanding of the Nietzschean conception of honor see the notion of nobility and greatness in Beyond Good and Evil, No. 212.
8) In terms of some of the discussion by the early and late moderns on honor, see:
i) For Montesquieu’s concept of honor in Monarchies see his astounding words in The Spirit of the Laws BOOK 3 Chapter 6 “How virtue is replaced in monarchical government”. (Cambridge p. 26)
ii) For an analysis of the transformation of the virtues by early modern thought, particularly in Locke, see Pangle’s The Spirit of Modern Republicanism, “The Eclipse of the Intellectual Virtues” and “The Active Virtues”, in particular the virtue of civility as found in Locke p. 221 and the corresponding puzzles found in 227.
iii) For Tocqueville’s discussion of honor see Democracy in America, VOLUME 2, PART III Chapter 18, “Concerning Honor In The United States And Democratic Societies”, p. 627; “Thus …”
iv) For a discussion of honor in Descartes, see professor Taylor´s Sources of the Self, “Descartes Disengaged Reason”, p. 153; “This explains the crucial place…”
v) As for other moderns, see point 1) above with reference to a previous commentary.
V. IMPORTANT GREEK TERMS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
to be praised
oo be honored
τῶν γε δυνάμεων
serious moral human
θεοὺς μακαρίζομεν καὶ εὐδαιμονίζομεν
the gods we deem blessed and happy
VI. NICOMACHEAN ETHICS, GREEK, BOOK I, 12; text at Perseus (based on Bowater)
διωρισμένων δὲ τούτων ἐπισκεψώμεθα περὶ τῆς εὐδαιμονίας πότερα τῶν ἐπαινετῶν ἐστὶν ἢ μᾶλλον τῶν τιμίων: δῆλον γὰρ ὅτι τῶν γε δυνάμεων οὐκ ἔστιν. φαίνεται δὴ πᾶν τὸ ἐπαινετὸν τῷ ποιόν τι εἶναι καὶ πρός τι πῶς ἔχειν ἐπαινεῖσθαι: τὸν γὰρ δίκαιον καὶ τὸν ἀνδρεῖον καὶ ὅλως τὸν ἀγαθόν τε καὶ τὴν ἀρετὴν ἐπαινοῦμεν διὰ τὰς πράξεις καὶ τὰ ἔργα, καὶ τὸν ἰσχυρὸν δὲ καὶ τὸν δρομικὸν καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἕκαστον τῷ ποιόν τινα πεφυκέναι καὶ ἔχειν πως πρὸς ἀγαθόν τι καὶ σπουδαῖον. δῆλον δὲ τοῦτο καὶ ἐκ τῶν περὶ τοὺς θεοὺς ἐπαίνων: γελοῖοι γὰρ φαίνονται πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἀναφερόμενοι, τοῦτο δὲ συμβαίνει διὰ τὸ γίνεσθαι τοὺς ἐπαίνους δι᾽ ἀναφορᾶς, ὥσπερ εἴπομεν. εἰ δ᾽ ἐστὶν ὁ ἔπαινος τῶν τοιούτων, δῆλον ὅτι τῶν ἀρίστων οὐκ ἔστιν ἔπαινος, ἀλλὰ μεῖζόν τι καὶ βέλτιον, καθάπερ καὶ φαίνεται: τούς τε γὰρ θεοὺς μακαρίζομεν καὶ εὐδαιμονίζομεν καὶ τῶν ἀνδρῶν τοὺς θειοτάτους μακαρίζομεν. ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τῶν ἀγαθῶν: οὐδεὶς γὰρ τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν ἐπαινεῖ καθάπερ τὸ δίκαιον, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς θειότερόν τι καὶ βέλτιον μακαρίζει. δοκεῖ δὲ καὶ Εὔδοξος καλῶς συνηγορῆσαι περὶ τῶν ἀριστείων τῇ ἡδονῇ: τὸ γὰρ μὴ ἐπαινεῖσθαι τῶν ἀγαθῶν οὖσαν μηνύειν ᾤετο ὅτι κρεῖττόν ἐστι τῶν ἐπαινετῶν, τοιοῦτον δ᾽ εἶναι τὸν θεὸν καὶ τἀγαθόν: πρὸς ταῦτα γὰρ καὶ τἆλλα ἀναφέρεσθαι. ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἔπαινος τῆς ἀρετῆς: πρακτικοὶ γὰρ τῶν καλῶν ἀπὸ ταύτης: τὰ δ᾽ ἐγκώμια τῶν ἔργων ὁμοίως καὶ τῶν σωματικῶν καὶ τῶν ψυχικῶν. ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν ἴσως οἰκειότερον ἐξακριβοῦν τοῖς περὶ τὰ ἐγκώμια πεπονημένοις: ἡμῖν δὲ δῆλον ἐκ τῶν εἰρημένων ὅτι ἐστὶν ἡ εὐδαιμονία τῶν τιμίων καὶ τελείων. ἔοικε δ᾽ οὕτως ἔχειν καὶ διὰ τὸ εἶναι ἀρχή: ταύτης γὰρ χάριν τὰ λοιπὰ πάντα πάντες πράττομεν, τὴν ἀρχὴν δὲ καὶ τὸ αἴτιον τῶν ἀγαθῶν τίμιόν τι καὶ θεῖον τίθεμεν.