Colloquium 3 Questioning Aristotle’s Radical Account of Σωφροσύνη

In: Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
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  • 1 Pennsylvania State University
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This paper investigates Aristotle’s canonical analysis of σωφροσύνη in Nicomachean Ethics 3.10–12 against the background of earlier and subsequent uses, and analyses of the virtue term. It argues that Aristotle’s is an outlier, brilliant but factitious, created to fit a theoretical scheme rather than reflect Greek understanding. Aristotle obscures the creativity of his account, presenting it as an ordinary language conceptual clarification that it is not. Many contemporary readers accept Aristotle’s narrow theory—that σωφροσύνη is moderation with respect to those pleasures of touch related to nutrition and reproduction—as true, which may indicate that they are insufficiently familiar with fifth- and fourth-century literary, intellectual, and philosophical uses of the term. An important problem with this acceptance is that it prevents readers from recognizing the equal plausibility of non-Aristotelian accounts of σωφροσύνη, for example those found in Plato’s Charmides and other dialogues.

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