Aristotle’s Method of Inquiry in Eudemian Ethics 1 and 2

In: Thinking, Knowing, Acting: Epistemology and Ethics in Plato and Ancient Platonism
Author: Andrea Falcon

Abstract

Bridging the gap between ethics and science has emerged as an important concern in the most recent research on Aristotle. In this essay, I contribute to the ongoing discussion with a study of the method of inquiry adopted in Eudemian Ethics (EE) 1–2. In a nutshell, this method entails the progressive clarification of what is initially confounded (rather than confused). The obvious question is whether, and eventually to what extent, the method employed in the Eudemian Ethics reflects the procedures of scientific inquiry mandated by the Posterior Analytics.

My essay is divided into four main parts. I begin with an examination of the methodological remarks offered in EE 1.6. Then, I try to determine whether, and to what extent, the method that Aristotle outlines in this chapter controls the overall argument advanced in the first two books of the Eudemian Ethics. I argue that both the investigation of happiness and that of virtue of character are conducted by adopting the method of progressive clarification of what is initially confounded. That is not surprising, especially considering that the second investigation is a natural, and indeed inevitable, continuation of the first. In the third part, I turn to Physics i. I show that there are some striking similarities between EE 1–2 and in Physics i. In both cases, Aristotle is engaged in a progressive clarification of something that is initially confounded. There are also some obvious differences. While in EE 1–2 Aristotle is engaged in a search for an answer to a τί ἐστι question, there is no concern for definition in Physics i. With this conclusion in place, I finally turn to the nature of the method adopted in EE 1–2. This method has been described as being quasi-mathematical (Allen 1961) or endoxic (Devereux 2015). By my lights, the method adopted in the first two books of the Eudemian Ethics does not reflect the procedures outlined in the Topics but rather those sketched in the second book of the Posterior Analytics.

My paper fits well with recent attempts to see whether, and to what extent, the ethical investigation follows the theory of scientific inquiry outlined in second book of the Posterior Analytics (most notably, , , and ). These attempts have focused on the Nicomachean Ethics. I am persuaded that the Eudemian Ethics is a more promising case study.