Chapter Five

Aristotle's Conception of Morality

in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
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Chapter Five

Aristotle's Conception of Morality

in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy


1. "Philosophy" in The Legacy of Greece, ed. M.I. Finley, (Oxford, 1981), p.251.

2. Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, MA, 1985), p. 6 Further references are given in parentheses. 3. He recognizes, e.g., that universal concern is only "often" associated with morality (p. 14), and this qualification must presumably be added to the claim in the next sentence that for morality "the ethical constituency is always the same: the universal constituency.'

4. A good example of such a quality is provided by Aristotle's description of eugeneia 'good birth', 'good breeding', as "long- established wealth and virtue," Pol. 1294a 21-2.

5. The sort of argument I allude to is presented in A.W.H. Adkins, Merit and Responsibility (Oxford, 1960). 1 do not claim to be representing all of Adkins' argument accurately, and I will not try to comment on the fruitful controversy that it has produced. A major part of the view I am considering might also be derived from reflection on Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. In fairness to Williams I should point out that he does not accept all the grounds for doubt that I discuss. 6. See, e.g., the revision of W.D. Ross's translation published in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. J. Barnes (Princeton, 1984). Ross himself used 'virtue'. 7. By 'proper pride' I mean the nameless virtue of EN iv 4. 8. 'Friendliness' is the nameless virtue of iv 6.

9. I use 'fine' throughout as a fairly non-committal translation of kalon. The proper translation is discussed by J. Owens, "The Kalon in Aristotelian Ethics," in Studies in Aristotle, ed. D.J. O'Meara (Washington, 1981), ch. 11, who suggests 'right' (p. 267), while recognizing its disadvantages. The connexion between to kalon and b deon (see part 7 below) supports Owens's suggestion. It is unfortunate that Ross sometimes uses 'honour' to represent kalon (e.g. 1121b 1, 1123a 25), since that irresistibly suggests a connexion with time, which is not the virtuous person's aim. (In the second of these passages, but not the first, the revision of Ross in Complete Works substitutes his usual rendering 'noble'.) The use of 'honour' is not inappropriate in itself. See R.A. Gauthier and J.Y. Jolif, Aristotle: L' Éthique à Nicomaque (2nd ed., Louvain and Paris, 1970), Commentaire, p. 277: "Par le mot d' honneur, nous entendons souvent en francais la vertu elle-meme, par autant qu'elle merit A quelqu'un le respect et la consideration d' autrui."

10. Similarly, when the EEspeaks of kalos zen, 1214b8-16, 1215a13, 'rt may intend something narrower than euzen. 11. "Because it is fine," hoti kalon; 1116a11, b3, 1117b9, MM 1191 a20. "For the sake of the fine," tou kalou heneka; 1115b12-13, 23, 1116b31, 1117a8 (dia to kalon), 1120a24-8, 1122b6-7, 1123a24-5, EE 1230a27-33, 1248b36-7, MM 1190a28-34, 1191 a23-4, b15. With reference to what is fine; 1119a18, b16, 1120a12, b4, 1121b1, 9-10, 1126b29, 1127a24, EE 1129a1-5, MM 1191 b20-1. For the equivalence of hoti kalon and tou kalou heneka see Gauthier Comm. p. 226, and W.D. Ross, Aristotle (London, 1923), p. 204.

12. This is Ross's view; see n.25 below. 13. In that case Aristotle will hold the view that Sidgwick describes as "aesthetic intuitionism." See Methods of Ethics (7th edition, London, 1907), pp. 228, 456.

14. The contrast between what is fine and what is expedient or good for someone or something explains why "fine" is the appropriate evaluative term when no question of any goal or anyone's good arises, in EE 1218a22-3, Met. 1078a31-b2. See M.J. Woods, Eudemian Ethics I, II, VIII (Oxford, 1982), p. 186f; D.J. Allan, "The fine and the good in the EE," in Untersuchungen zur Eudemischen Ethik, P. Moraux and D. Harlfinger eds. (Berlin, 1971), pp. 65-8.

1 S. In 1176bk9 kai ton paidi6n de stresses the contrast with the kala kai spoudaia that include virtuous actions. 16. Praiseworthy, epaineton; EE 1248b17-25, Rhet. 1366a32-3, EN 1101b31-2, 1109a29-30, 1144a26, 1155a28-30. The virtues; EE 1219b8-9, 1220a4-7, 1223a9-10, 1228a10, 17-18, 1233a4, 32-3, EN 1103a8-10, 1105b31-1106a2. In 1101 b32 praktikoi gar makes clear the connexion between being fine and being praiseworthy. On praiseworthiness see further E. M. Cope, An Introduction to Aristotle's s Rhetoric (London, 1867), pp. 212-15. 17. See 1101b12-34, EE 1219b12-17. MM 1183b26-7. These three passages do not make exactly the same points; but they rely on different aspects of the same set of distinctions.

18. Allan, "Fine and good," p.70 considers the connexion between being fine and being commended, epaineton, and suggest that either (a) fine things are commended for the qualities of order, symmetry and definiteness mentioned in Met. 1078b1, or (b) they are not commended for any one quality at all, so that to call an action fine is simply to say it is commended for something (suggesting a prescriptivist account of 'fine'). I doubt if either of Allan's answers is quite right. (1) He prejudices the issue by rendering epaineton as "commended" rather than "commendable" (= worthy of commendation, as haireton often indicates what is choiceworthy, not what is actuaily chosen). (2) Though not all fine things need to be fine because of the same quality, there may still be some quality that is common to all the virtuous actions done for the sake of the fine; and I think we can find something more informative than Allan's (a) and (b).

19. See 1101b31-5, Rhet. 1367b28-35. On other uses of the term epainos see Cope, Introduction, p.215f.

20. See Gauthier, Comm. ii p.571.

21. The quotation is from Williams, Ethics, p.16. The appropriateness of reference to duty and obligation in understanding to deon is convincingly defended by Gauthier, Comm. pp. 569-72. On the general issue he rightly opposes A. Grant, Ethics of Aristotle (4th ed., London, 1885), i, p. 424, commenting on 1094a24, who claims that the Greeks had not yet developed a conception of "'our duty' in the modern sense." See also J.A. Stewart, Notes on the Nlcomachean Ethics (Oxford, 1892), i, p.16, dissenting from the view that "the Greeks had not developed the conception of 'Duty,' as we find it -- to take a typical modern instance -- in Kant." (I agree, however, with Grant and Stewart against Gauthier in claiming that to deon does not have this force in 1094a24.) 22. E.M. Cope, Aristotle's Rhetoric (London, 1877), i, p.159, comments on the definition of virtue in the Rhet; "ft regards virtue solely on the side of its usefulness, probably because this feature of it is likely to produce the greatest effect upon the popular mind. Instead of a hexis it is a mere dunamis....the prohairesis, the special moral element, is omitted...." Cope is challenged by W.M.A. Grimaldi, Rhetoric I (New York, 1980), p.194f, who replies that Aristotle recognizes, at 1367b22- 6, the place of prohairesis in virtue, and that a hexis is itself a kind of dunamis. These true points do not undermine Cope's main contrast. To define virtue as a dunamis for certain effects is to make the effects primary; to define it as a hexis prohairetik6 is to make the pattern of thought and choice primary.

23. Probably we should read oregesthai tou kalou 6 tou dokountos sumpherein, omitting (with one ms.) the e that other mss. insert before tou kalou. See Stewart and Gauthier ad loc. against J. Burnet, Nic. Ethics (London, 1900).

24. For a helpful discussion of ix 8 and the kalon see T. Engberg- Pederson, Aristotle's Theory of Moral Insight (Oxford, 1983), ch.2, esp. pp.37-45. I agree with much of his account of the virtues. 1 disagree especially with his crucial argument at p.44 ff., and hope to discuss the question elsewhere.

25. Cope, Rhetoric, ii, p.147, comments on 1389b36-7: "But our author is here departing from his Eudaemonistic ethical system...and substituting for it the more popular and higher view of the telos, which represents it as the abstract good and noble, or the right, to kalon... This view of the telos appears incidentally, as an excrescence upon the systems (to which it is opposed), in the Nic. Ethics..." A similar objection is raised by Gauthier, Comm., p.226: "La fin que poursuit la vertu, le mobile pour lequel le vertueux accomplit son acte de vertu, c'est la beauté meme de cet acte. Ross ... souligne juste titre la contradiction qui existe entre cette théorie de la vertu et I'analyse de I'action proposee dans les premiers chapitres du livre III; encore faut-il bien marquer que c'est cette analyse de I'action qui constitue, dans I' Éthique Nicomaque, I'anomalie." The reference is to Ross, Aristotle, p.264; see especially: "He (sc. Aristotle) treats the agent as being moved to action by the contemplation of the fineness' of the good act itself, and thus becomes in his detailed treatment an intuitionist. The formal theory remains in the air, and we are left with the impression that when Aristotle came face to face with the facts of morals he felt its inadequacy." These critics agree that there is a conflict within the Ethics, but disagree about which claim is the anomaly (Cope thinks it is the claim about the fine; Gauthier thinks it is the analysis of action; and Ross expresses no opinion).

26. 1144b1-17 shows that the virtue needed to make the prohairesis correct is the kuria arete that requires phron6sis.

27. Allan, "Fine and good," p.69f, also denies that there is the conflict of motives that Cope and others have alleged (see n.25). He suggests that (a) tou kalou heneka does not represent "Vllhat the political theorist would think or say, about the action under review...(b) The fine is the immediate aim of action...(c) The same person, then, who does good actions...because they are fine, will at a calmer moment think of them as parts of a life-plan and thus view them under the aspect of the good whose elementary components they are" (reference letters added). I agree with Allan about (c), but only with reservations (see the next paragraph below) about (b). In (a) he makes an unnecessary concession. If the virtuous person is justified in his choices, then his life-plan will show him why his good requires him to regard the fineness of his action as a sufficient reason for choosing it; hence the political theorist will also consider and commend the action as fine.

28. A probable emendation in 1129b31 is tes teleias aret6s chresis esti . See Stewart ad loc.

29. Thrasymachus is also struck by the tendency of injustice to pleonexia, 344a1 (cf. 349b1-350c11), which Aristotle assigns to special injustice. But it does not follow that Aristotle thinks the Rep. is only abut special injustice. 1130a3-5 may be evidence that Aristotle disagrees with Vlastos's view that the Rep. is about special justice; see G. Vlastos, "The Theory of Social Justice in the Polis in Plato's Republic, in Interpretations of Plato, ed. H. North (Leiden, 1977, Mnemosyne supp. vol. 50), pp. 3-11.

30. Williams, p. 38, recognizes that Aristotle takes virtuous action and character to be under the agent's control. He suggests (without supporting argument) that Aristotle would not have understood the suggestion that praise and blame are the only appropriate reactions to moral character and actions. Williams' rejection of Aristotle's claim about character rests on a misinterpretation of the role and nature of habituation. See further R. Sorabji, "Aristotle on the Role of Intellect in Virtue," in Essays on Aristotle's Ethics, ed. A.O. Rorty (Berkeley, 1980), pp. 214-18, and Irwin, "Reason and Responsibility in Aristotle," in Essays, pp. 139-42.

31. By "ethical egoism" I mean the view that treats self-interest as prescribing the content of morality. See, e.g., J. Kalin, "In defence of Egoism," in Morality and National Self-interest, ed. D.P. Gauthier (Englewood Cliffs, 1970), pp. 64-87, ak p. 64: "Ethical egoism is the view that 'rt is morally right -- that is morally permissible, indeed, morally obligatory -- for a person to act in his own self-interest, even when his self-interest conflicts or is irreconcilable with the self-interest of another." See also Williams, Ethics, p.12. 32. I read an earlier version of this paper at the University of Chicago, and some of the material is derived from papers read on other occasions. For helpful comments I am grateful to Christine Korsgaard, Richard Kraut, Carl Cranor, David Brink, William Frankena, Mary Margaret Mackenzie, Sarah Conly, Nicholas White, Christopher Taylor, and John Cooper.


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