er292734 Class notes for week 5 Aristotle's Nicomachean ethics The function argument (book1 chapter 7 1097b22-1098a20) Essentially Aristotle is asking us what is the function of humanity? He argues that as everything else has a function, knife’s cut, doctors heal, navigators navigate, so must a human have a function. “ his goodness [the flautist] and proficiency is considered to lie in the performance of that function; and the same will be true of man, assuming that man has a function” 1 We can see, Aristotle asserts, that human organs such as the eye etc have a function, so then must we not have an overriding characteristic, a function that all humanity shares? This function is rationality, or reason. He is not saying here that we are built just to rationalise, for we need something to rationalise about. Namely experiences and emotions, or simply the circumstances which we are thinking about. So to achieve eudiamonia we must live in accordance to virtue, but not blindly follow where others lead, we must rationalize our decisions, it is our defining characteristic. Not that we can reason , but that we do reason. To reiterate, in order to achieve eudiamonia we must to rationalize our life and the decisions we make in this life, with virtue. It was objected here that Aristotle is painting an unfair picture of humanity, he is missing some hugely important aspects of humanity, such as compassion and empathy. It is these that act as humanity’s function, not just our ability to reason. This could however be said of animals surely, that they also feel emotions, so it is not exclusively human. However empathy and compassion are not your run of the mill emotions, rather they are concerned with the recognition and acknowledgement of others emotions. And this does seem to be a particularly human trait. In response to this it could be argued however that Aristotle would not deny that we feel these things, rather they would be part of his point, it is precisely these emotions that drive rationality, that give it something to work with. Reason is in charge, so to speak, of the correct direction of our emotional side, and this is exclusively human, and in turn it is this that leads to eudiamonia, to good emotions. To further illustrate the point we could imagine a person so concerned with others opinion of himself, and how they will perceive his actions, that he can find no possible outlet for his frustrations, (i.e. drinking, smoking, sex etc) for he is to concerned with others opinions, and what they will think of his personal vices, that he denies his nature, refuses to acknowledge his other needs. Or the opposite a person so disillusioned with his peers that he completely disregards there opinions, following only his primal drive for pleasure. Aristotle would approve of neither, rather he would promote the mean. That is he would argue that we should not completely disregard our peers, or obsess about there opinions, rather we should consider our own needs and weight them against the desire to please others, and choose the appropriate path based on this balance. And to do this we need Reason! Therefore reason if the function of man, as it allows us to escape the endless sating of our desires. Eudiamonia analogy : going east is like eudiamonia in that you can never get to east, you merely travel east, while you may stray from the path occasionally, if you remain travelling east for the majority of your life, if your life is predominantly eudiamon (ic) then you have the good life. (apologies to the person who came up with this analogy, but I do not know your name, but did think it was worth mentioning) Chapter 2 Character is not like a skill, it is not learnt or taught, rather it is something that establishes itself within you through the continual reaffirmation of your habit. Or it is through acting well that you develop a propensity for acting well. The more you try the easier it will become. It is not like a knack, you could be said to be born with a knack for carpentry or mathematics, which can be improved with training. But you cannot be born with, or instructed upon how to act well. You must choose the mean in all circumstances, and it is the identifying of this mean that habit can improve, the more you look for it the easier it is to find. It could be objected here that this seems like a production, the more you do the mean the easier it is to find, just like the more you learn your times tables the better you are at them. It is a means end process, the end being the production of good habit. So if this holds true then could we not ask for a rule book in order to better identity what the mean is in any given situation. After all you can be taught to make better tables, why not better decisions? 1 Aristotle nicomachean ethics, 1097b22, penguin edition. 1976. er292734 Class notes for week 5 Aristotle's Nicomachean ethics The praxis poiesis distinction, is such that it does not allow for the production of eudiamonia as it is an end in itself. To give a rule book explaining how to act in any given set of circumstances (apart from being impractical) is to deny the nature of praxis. It would be to try and objectify the right thing, the mean, when it cannot be done as it is a deeply personal decision based upon your own past and present character. The mean for myself would not be the same as the mean for you, even if we were in identical circumstances. To ask for anything other than a superstructure for ethics is to enter into the realm of poiesis, it is to try and produce good. Ethics cannot be taught, only experienced. Habit is concerned mainly with correctly identifying when to feel pleasure and when to feel pain. These are not good or bad in themselves, they are feelings that is all. But if you start to feel pleasure (or pain) from acting in excess or deficiency, then you are establishing bad habit, eudiamonia is concerned with the correct placement of pleasure and pain. If you act in accordance with the mean then you get pleasure from it, and as we said before the more you do it the easier it becomes. but you are not producing character, you are developing it. Production implies that there is an end, development is continual you are constantly reaffirming you character through the use of character to identify the mean.