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PHL lecture, oct. 25.doc

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

Nicomachean Ethics 1 • Aristotle (384-322.321 BCE): Life and Times o Very rich o Not a citizen of Athens o 20 went to study at the Academy with Plato  stayed for 20 years o When he didn’t become the next Head of the Academy, he opened up his own institution  The Lyceum  Just outside of Athens o One of his students is Alexander the Great  Conquers the known world o People become suspicious of Aristotle  Think that he is in the pocket of the Macedonian rulers  Therefore, Aristotle leaves Athens so that “philosophy doesn’t sin again” • Esoteric works and Exoteric works • Aristotle and Plato both wrote dialogues for their exoteric works o For Plato all we have left are his dialogues (exoteric) o For Aristotle, we’ve lost the popular works only have are his lecture notes (esoteric) The project of the Nicomachean Ethics (1.1) • The theoretical foundations of the common moral consciousness, a piece of ‘descriptive’ ethics, designed to give an account of the good for human beings, namely happiness [flourishing] The Highest Good • Aristotle’s argument that there must be a highest good (1.2): o We do not choose everything for the sake of something else  Proof: otherwise there would be an infinite regress, which is clearly false o If we do not choose everything for the sake of something else, then there is some end that we pursue for its own sake o Hence there is some end that we pursue for its own sake [from (1) and (2)] o If there is some end that we desire for its own sake, then this is the most ‘complete’ end,  I.e. everything else is pursued for the sake of it o If there is a most complete end, then this will be the highest good, since we pursue it for its own sake o Therefore: there is a highest good [from 83), (4), (5)] • We do not yet have reason to think that this highest good is unique though o First needs to distinguish ends that are pursued always and only for their own sake from those that are pursued both for their own sake and the sake of something else o Each is complete, but the first type is more complete (1.7):  The highest good must be a complete end  Either (a) there is only one complete end, or (b) there are several complete ends  If (a), then this is the highest good, and it is unique  If (b), then they can be ordered in a scale from the least to the most complete  Therefore: there is only one highest good (happiness) • The hard premise to justify is (4) o What if the ends were simply incomparable? o Aristotle avoids this difficulty by
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