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Lecture 9. Aristotle (384-322 BCE). Aristotelian justice. Justice, for Aristotle (as for everyone else) is about who gets what. If you are distributing certain goods, who should receive what?. Teleological thinking. “ Telos ”: the end, purpose or goal of an object or activity .

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lecture 9

Lecture 9

Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

aristotelian justice
Aristotelian justice

Justice, for Aristotle (as for everyone else) is about who gets what.

If you are distributing certain goods, who should receive what?

teleological thinking
Teleological thinking

“Telos”: the end, purpose or goal of an object or activity.

To reason “teleologically” is to enquire into the purpose of something.


Question: “Suppose we’re distributing flutes. Who should get the best ones?”

Answer: “The best flute players”

(Sandel, 2009, p. 187).


flutes continued
Flutes (continued)

Question 1: What is the telos of a flute?

Answer 1: To be played.

Question 2: What is the telos of a good flute?

Answer 2: To be played well.

Question 3: What is the telos of the best flute?

Answer 3: To be played best of all.

flutes continued1
Flutes (continued)

Question 4: Who plays the flute best of all?

Answer 4: The best flute players.

Conclusion: The best flutes should go to the best flautists. The best flautists have the relevant virtue (excellent flute-playing) which should be honoured in flute-playing. They deserve the best flutes.

a second example
A second example

Question: Suppose we’re distributing places on a cheerleading team. Who should get a place?

(Sandel, 2009, pp. 184-6).

To answer this question, we must enquire into the telos of cheerleading and the virtues required by someone who deserves a place on the team.

a third example student grades
A third example: student grades

Question: If we are distributing student grades, who should get the best grades?

Answer: The best students.

grades cont
Grades (cont.)

Question 1: Why do we award grades to students?

Answer 1: to reward academic assignments.

Question 2: What is the telos of assignments?

Answer 2: To allow students to demonstrate their academic abilities.

grades cont1
Grades (cont.)

Question 3: Who should get the best grades?

Answer 3: Those students manifesting the highest academic achievement in assignments.

To receive the best grades one should possess particular virtues, e.g. dedication, intellectual ability.

People who possess these virtues to the highest degree should be honoured by the receipt of the highest grades; they deserve the highest grades.

the university
The university

Question: What is telos of the university?

Answer: ...

What if the university pursues goals which are not part of its telos, e.g. diversity amongst students/faculty, improving healthcare in poor communities, or financial profit?

rights and the good
Rights and the good

To whom should political rights be allocated?

According to Rawls and other rights theorists, all members of society should be allocated certain rights. We cannot say who is entitled to what before this ‘basic structure’ of society has been laid down.


aristotle and politics
Aristotle and politics

Question: What is the telos of a political association?

Answer: Fostering goodness or virtues in the citizens (pursuing the ‘good life’).

The purpose of politics is to make people good.

aristotle and politics1
Aristotle and politics

Question: How do we become good?

Answer: By living under good laws which habituate us to perform good actions.

Who has the right to hold political office?

aristotle and utilitarianism
Aristotle and utilitarianism

Utilitarianism advocates that we design political institutions to maximise social happiness or pleasure.

For Aristotle, the good life is also a life of pleasure, but we must learn how to take pleasure in the right sorts of activities.