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PHL lecture, nov. 3.doc

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

NE 10.6-9: The Good Life • The topic of Book 10 is the happy life o In a way this is a surprise:  We have already been told in Book 1 that the happiness is the activity of the soul in accordance with the rational principle  But now Aristotle declares that happiness is contemplation-the translation is misleading  Think of it as “engaging in speculative theory-creation”  And so the best life is the one devoted to contemplating, and in particular it is not (or not obviously) the life of moral virtue, which seems to take second place  There are really two issues here: ⇒ (a) Aristotle’s apparent shift to an ‘intellectualist’ account of the good ⇒ (b) The relative status of the contemplative life and the political life • A brief nod at NE 10.6 before proceeding to (a) and (b) • Here Aristotle argues that although ‘pleasurable amusements’ satisfy his formal criteria for the good, since they are chosen for their own sake and are complete in themselves, nevertheless they do not make up the good life, since “it would be absurd if our end were amusement, and we laboured and suffered all our lives for the sake of amusing ourselves” (1176b24-25) • But if we think of such ‘amusements’ as the stuff of leisure time, it is arguably the modern view that we do work in order to have leisure • Did Aristotle not see this point because he was a wealthy aristocrat? • Or do his arguments show that the modern view is wrong? • These are some rather interesting questions to explore… • Well, time to look at (a) o Aristotle argues in Book 10 that the activity of the soul that is contemplation (i.e. philosophical inquiry) is  i) Most pleasant  ii) Most self-sufficient  iii) The most continuous  iv) The most divine, literally, in that it is the single activity appropriate for the gods to engage in o The sorts of reasons Aristotle puts forward we have seen him deploy earlier:  The nature of the soul and its functions  His formal definition of happiness as grounded in a functional and teleological conception of the good  His distinction between the moral and the intellectual virtues  As regarding to this last point, note that the claim that they happy life is the contemplative life follows from his definition of happiness as activity of the soul that is in conformity with the best of its virtues (NE 1.7) and from the view that the soul’s best virtue is the exercise of philosophical inquiry, that is, contemplation • Now to say that contemplation is the best activity does not mean that there is no place for virtues of the rest of the soul o Presumably in order to exercise the highest psychological abilities we can, we have to exercise the subordinate abilities as well o If so, there can be no genuine happy life for us without moral as well as intellectual virtue  Does this mean that all philosophers are good people? o Aristotle would then be an intellectualist in qualified sense at best, which fits pretty well with his disagreement with Socrates (for example) o What disagreement? o Recall that Socrates said that moral virtue consists in knowledge-if we know what the right thing s, we will thereby be motivated to act in accordance with it o Likewise, Socrates thought that death 9for instance) was morally irrelevant in considering how to act. o Aristotle, by contrast thins that death is morally relevant, because we can’t help (and we ought) to fear it; o That’s a knowledge isn’t enough to guarantee our correct behaviour
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