PH354 Aristotle Week 8. Individual and Polis
Introduction • The Nicomachean Ethics centres on the life of the individual, and the way in which the individual is able to become happy through the development of intellectual and moral virtues. • Aristotle was targeting his discussion of intellectual and moral virtues at those who were members of a particular kind of collective. The intellectual, political, and economic centre of life in Ancient Greek was the polis; the city-state. • Aristotle implies that the argument of NE is incomplete in an important respect. • He thinks that a full account of what it is to be happy requires an account of how the individual relates to the state.
Lecture Plan • Part One: Lear (1988), chapter 5. Lear’s view about the relation of Aristotle’s discussion of political life to his project. • Part Two: Some responses to Lear’s discussion. • Part Three: The polis and the life of theoria
Lear on Reflective Endorsement • Lear suggests that the highest form of virtue is the ‘reflective endorsement’ of a set of ways of thinking and behaving (character, virtues, etc.) that have been acquired unreflectively. • A ‘reflective endorsement’ of one’s own character and virtues is a judgement about oneself and one’s way of life: that this is a good way to live. • Ideally, this judgement will amount to knowledge about one’s character and capacities (that they’re good!) (Or what Lear (1988) calls ‘legitimation’)
Lear on the Requirements for Legitimation • For one to be able to reflectively endorse one’s way of life in a way that could legitimate it, one’s judgement must be free. • For one’s judgement to be free, one’s character cannot have been formed by coercion. • One’s judgement must be sufficiently independent of the desires and patterns of behaviour that constitute that way of life. • One’s judgement must be accurate and sensitive to the truth.
Legitimation and the Response to Scepticism • Lear suggests that Aristotle offers the idea of such a legitimating endorsement of one’s ethical way of life instead of a more familiar kind of ‘response to moral scepticism.’ • The moral sceptic: argues that he does not have a reason to live according to (conventionally accepted) virtue.
Aristotle on Moral Scepticism • ‘Plato thought that one had not fully secured the ethical life unless one could formulate an argument for it which would be compelling even to a person who stood outside it. Socrates thus engages in dialogues with ethical sceptics like Thrasymachus, Glaucon and Callicles, in which he tries to show them that being ethical is in their best interests. Indulging in a co-operative virtue such as justice is, according to Callicles, an unmitigated hindrance to human flourishing. Socrates’ attempt to show him that he is mistaken is among the most unconvincing arguments in the Platonic corpus.’ (1988: 193)
Aristotle and Moral Scepticism • There is a kind of response to moral scepticism that we cannot give, but do not need to, given the availability of the kind of legitimation described. • “Aristotle does not think it important to convince the man who stands outside the ethical that he has made a mistake. He is concerned to show people who already live inside the ethical that it is a good idea to be there.” (1988: 193)
Aristotle on Moral Scepticism • “The appropriate strategy is, therefore, to prove a posteriori that the ethical life is a life of human flourishing. One does this, as Aristotle did, by showing that the ethical life as it is actually lived is a flourishing life. An a posteriori proof that the ethical life is a flourishing life has certain distinctive features. It does not establish more than an actuality—that this life which we can observe and live is a flourishing one—so it does not eliminate the possibility of there being other less co-operative forms of flourishing. The proof will thus not necessarily be undermining to those who genuinely believe that they should live their lives in some non-ethical way.” (1988: 194-5)
Parochialism and the Status Quo • Does Aristotle succeed in offering such a legitimation of the way of life he characterizes? • Specifically, does Aristotle adopt a standpoint that involves sufficient reflective distance from the desires and patterns of behaviour distinctive of the way of life to be validated to allow for ‘freedom’ in endorsement? • In chapter 5, Lear takes the notion of ‘natural slavery’ as a ‘test case’ for this notion.
Aristotle on Natural Slavery • The existence of a practice of slavery was widespread and unquestioned. • Aristotle thought that there was a demand for a justification of the practice • He maintains that the mere fact that one is in a legal position of enslavement is insufficient to make it correct for one to be enslaved • He thinks that the fact that one has been taken in a spoil of war doesn’t make enslavement correct
Aristotle on Natural Slavery • Slavery is only justified if the enslaved is a ‘natural slave’. • Natural slaves are humans not capable of rational decision, planning, deliberation and reasoning. They just have the use of their bodies. • Natural slaves benefit from being ruled by a master, who provides the reason that is missing from them. • The master of the household benefits from the manual work the slave performs.
Aristotle on Natural Slavery • Therefore wherever there is the same wide discrepancy between human beings as there is between soul and body or between man and beast, then those whose condition is such that their function is the use of their bodies and nothing better can be expected of them, those, I say, are slaves by nature. It is better for them, just as in the cases mentioned, to be ruled thus. For the ‘slave by nature’ is he that can and therefore does belong to another, and he that participates in reason so far as to recognize it but not so as to possess it (whereas the other animals obey not reason but emotions).
Aristotle on Natural Slavery • The use made of slaves hardly differs at all from tame animals: they both help with their bodies to supply our essential needs. It is then part of nature’s intention to make the bodies of free men differ from those of slaves, the latter strong enough to be used for necessary tasks, the former erect and useless for that kind of work, but well suited for the life of a citizen of state, a life which is in turn divided between the requirements of war and peace.” (1254a29- 1254b30)
Aristotle on Natural Slavery • “Some take a firm stand (as they conceive it) on ‘justice’ in the sense of ‘law’, and claim that enslavement in war is just, simply as being legal; but they simultaneously deny it, since it is quite possible that undertaking the war may have been unjust in the first place. Also one cannot use the term ‘slave’ properly of one who is undeserving of being a slave; otherwise we should find among slaves and descendants of slaves even men of noblest birth, should any of them be captured and sold.
Aristotle on Natural Slavery • For this reason they will not apply the term slave to such people but use it only for non-Greeks. But in so doing they are really seeking to define the slave by nature, which was our starting point; for one has to admit that there are some who are slaves everywhere, others who are slaves nowhere.” (1255a22-32)
Aristotle on the Naturalness and Goodness of States • The state and the good of the individual • The naturalness of states • The best forms of the state • Lear: Aristotle’s opposition to democracy is further evidence of the degree to which he was prepared to take a critical and open-minded stance • Lear thinks that problems arise for Aristotle’s account on his own terms.
The State and the Good of the Individual • “Man is by nature a political animal” (1252a1) • The state comes into existence to fulfil basic requirements for life but stays in existence in order to enable man to achieve eudaimonia. • It is natural for man to form associations and partnerships of a range of different kinds which enable his eudaimonia to be achieved. • The relation between individual and state is so intimate that a human being isn’t really a human being independent of the state
The State and the Good of the Individual • The polis is also prior in nature to the household and to each of us individually, since a whole is necessarily prior to its parts. For if the whole body has perished, there will no longer be a foot or a hand, except homonymously, as one might speak of a stone hand, for a dead hand will be like that; but everything is defined by its function and its capacity; so that in such conditions they should not be said to be the same things, but homonymously so.
The State and the Good of the Individual • Hence that the polis is natural and prior in nature is clear. For if an indidividual is not self-sufficient, he will be like all other parts in relation to the whole. Anyone who cannot form a community with others, or who does not need to do so because he is self-sufficient, is no part of a polis. He will, accordingly, be either a beast or a God. (1253a20-29)
The Naturalness of States • Household • Village • State (polis) • Each of these transitions involves a number of individuals or (in 2 and 3) groups with requirements that are fulfilled by relations of mutual dependence.
The Naturalness of States • The final association, formed of several villages, is the state. For all practical purposes the process is now complete; self-sufficiency has been reached, and while the state came about as a means of securing life itself, its continues in being to secure the good life. Therefore every state exists by nature, as the earlier associations too were natural. This association is the end of the others, and nature itself is an end; for whatever is the end-product of the coming into existence of any object, that we call its nature—of a man, for instance, or a horse or a household. Moreover the aim and the end is perfection; and self-sufficiency is both end and perfection.” (1252b27-35)
The Best Forms of State • Given that that the development of the state has as a goal the happiness of its citizens, the best states will be those (or that which) best allow their citizens to achieve happiness. • The best forms of state involve rule for common benefit: • “Whenever the one, the few, or the many rule for the common benefit, these constitutions must be correct. But if they aim at the private benefit, whether of the one or the few or the multitude, they are deviations (for either the participants should not be called citizens, or they should share in the benefit).”
The Best Forms of State • “Tyranny is rule by one person for the benefit of the monarch, oligarchy is for the benefit of the rich, and democracy is for he benefit of the poor. But none is for their common profit.” (1279b4-8)
The Best Forms of State • Meritocracy: The people who ought to rule are those of the most outstanding virtue. • Scarcity: There are not many people of outstanding virtue • “While it is possible for one or a few to be outstandingly virtuous, it is difficult for a larger number to be accomplished in every virtue.” (1279b39-40)
Lear on Aristotle’s Pessimism • (i) Good human beings (those enjoying eudaimonia and living in accordance with excellence) are rare. This is what underpins Aristotle’s view that good states are rare. • (ii) The account of the development of the polis, and of the requirement for constitutions to be backed by law, indicates that human beings don’t want to develop in accordance with their nature.
Lear on Aristotle’s Pessimism • “It is difficult to get from youth up a right training for virtue if one has not been brought up under right laws; for to live temperately and hardily is not pleasant to most people, especially when they are young. For this reason their nature and occupations should be fixed by law; for they will not be painful when they have become customary…
Lear on Aristotle’s Pessimism • “…But it is surely not enough that when they are young they should get the right nurture and attention; since they must, even when they are grown up, practice and be habituated to them, we shall need laws for this as well, and generally speaking to cover the whole of life; for most people obey necessity rather than argument, and punishments rather than the sense of what is noble.” (Ethics 1179b311-1180a5)
Lear on Aristotle’s Pessimism • But both of these results, says Lear, clash with Aristotle’s view of the excellences as natural, and of eudaimonia as being the life which is the natural end or aim of human beings. • (1) Nature only throws up imperfections only occasionally. • (2) The fact that human beings don’t want to develop according to their nature, and have to be subject to censure and legislation, suggests a tension with the idea that eudaimonia and its constituent civic virtues are in fact part of the nature of human beings.
Aristotle on Moral Scepticism • “Aristotle does not think it important to convince the man who stands outside the ethical that he has made a mistake.” (1988: 193) • What does this mean? Which of the following two claims are we invited to think that Aristotle would have accepted (consistent with his attitude to moral skepticism)? • (S1) Callicleswould not accept that he has a reason to live in accordance with excellence • (S2) Callicleswould not have a reason to live in accordance with excellence.
Aristotle on Moral Scepticism • Aristotle surely thinks that (S2) is false • And this does appear to follow, for Aristotle, from an a priori account of the nature and functioning of human beings. • Aristotle’s claims about human beings and their aims are not taken to depend ultimately on observation or experience for their justification. They are about the nature or essence of human beings (the intelligible facts).
On Lear on Natural Slavery • The legitimation of a form of life and way of acting requires that the judgement is true. These claims are false (as a characterization of a large proportion of the population). So there’s a more basic failing of interest. • Lear’s insistence that Aristotle is prepared to exercise open-minded critical reflection sounds hollow, given the claims he does make about who natural slaves are (and about the other elements of the household). (Non-Greek, non-noble, etc.) Hard to resist the thought that the theory is falling in line with various ingrained prejudices(that were perhaps common in classical Greece).
On Lear on Natural Slavery • Do Aristotle’s claims about natural slavery even cohere with his own best thoughts about excellence in activity? (Kindness, encouragement of them to exercise rationality for themselves).
Lear on Aristotle’s Pessimism • The legitimation of a way of life requires that the relevant judgements are true. But it is false that democracy involves the poor ruling for themselves. It is false that the only people fit to rule are the nobility. Even if not everyone is a perfect human being, nearly all people are virtuous enough to be citizens (to take part in deciding matters relating to government). • Lear’s insistence that Aristotle was prepared to be open-minded and exercise critical reflection about the running of the state sounds hollow. His thoughts about how much virtue is required for citizenship, and how these virtues are distributed in society appear to reflect elitist prejudice. (Perhaps there are further errors that reflect facts about Solon’s embattled democracy).
Lear on Aristotle’s Pessmism • Lear’s text suggests that even on Aristotle’s own terms, we should expect there to be more virtuous people then he thinks there are. But it does not follow from the fact that the aim of S is an F-type life, that S will live such a life (or that it is easy for it to live that life, or it will spontaneously live that life if left to its own devices.)
Do we need to excuse Aristotle? • The fact that there are aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy that involve substantial departures from the truth in ways that reflect his own prejudices does not entail that his views about eudaimonia and the virtuous life (and indeed the relation between human beings and the state) are all false. • Nor does it imply that it is impossible to arrive at a satisfactory legitimation of them by careful reading of his work, and careful examination of how we live.
Polis and Theoria • If theoria is a life in which the truth is available to you, then why is the state necessary for one’s achieving a happy life? • Isn’t one’s living a life that involves a kind of grasp of the truth a fact about you that is independent of facts about your relation to the state?
Polis and theoria • But obviously man is a political animal in a sense in which a bee is not, or any other gregarious animal. Nature, as we say, does nothing without some purpose; and she has endowed man alone with the power or speech. Speech is something different from voice, which is possessed by other animals also and used by them to express pain or pleasure; for their nature does indeed enable them not only to feel pleasure or pain but to communicate these feelings to each other.
Polis and theoria • Speech, on the other hand serves to indicate what is useful and what is harmful, and so also what is just and unjust. For the real difference between man and other animals is that humans alone have perception of good and evil, just and unjust, etc. It is the sharing of a common view in these matters that makes a household and a state. (1253b7-17)
Polis, theoria and public language • The fullest realization of one’s life in so far as one is a being that lives a life of contemplation of the truth is sharing views about the truth, and interacting with others through intelligent speech. • But sharing views about the truth, and interacting with others in speechcannot be understood independently of the idea of a community of language-users; ultimately an organized state. • Therefore the life of contemplation of the truth does require the existence of a state for it to be complete.