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Nicomachean Ethics - Book 4 [Extended Option]

This is the second meeting of the group following the extended reading schedule option for Nicomachean Ethics.  This group is intended as an alternative for those who wish to follow a more continuous, and therefore longer, line-by-line reading of the text than the group meeting at the Bourgeois Pig.


Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotle's robust examination of the art of living well.  His approach, which sees this art as distinct from any theoretical science, is both novel in comparison to Plato (who did not treat ethics separately this way or have a treatise on it) and is influential for the concept of "practical reason" which shapes modern philosophy many centuries after it.  Edited by his son, Nicomachus, the work is Aristotle's most detailed and accessible effort to explain the unification of our moral thinking with the emotions and appetites.

Last week, we discussed how courage and temperance overcome the irrational parts of our nature, which may overwhelm our deliberateness with the powerful fear of experiencing pain or the yearning for excessive pleasure (itself a kind of pain).  In becoming courageous and temperate, we strive to align our actions with more noble ends than these.  

This week, we read Book 4, which covers the remaining virtues (liberality, magnanimity, patience, amiability, sincerity, and wit). We will start the group by revisiting the important themes of rationality, pain, and yearning which concluded last week's reading.  We will then continue the line-by-line reading from the beginning of Book 4.  During this, we might try to address why Aristotle selects these as the virtues he thinks count.  What attitudes about human nature and the demands of human life might explain his particular ideas about moral development? 

Feel free to bring any or no translation of the text, as we should be reading it aloud clearly enough for everyone to follow.  Familiarity with the content is of course encouraged but not required.

UPDATE

A note on translations: Most of us are using the Revised Oxford translation by Ross which is in the public domain. This is good and I want us to continue using it.  It is widely regarded as the standard English translation.  In my opinion, it's the strongest conceptually and the least clumsy to read aloud.  However, it is heavily crafted by Ross' own fluency with the subject matter and can stray in precision from the original text.  For those of us who are, or will be, more concerned about translation issues at home (especially when arguments become longer in the later books) I am uploading a couple of more translations to cross-reference. 

The Bartlett and Collins translation tries to be as literal as sound English allows when translating.  It notes Greek words that need special attention.

The Crisp translation is the most modern and is intended to be readable for a nonspecialist audience, while also trying to stay closer to the Greek.  It's free of some of the more dated English usage in Ross and handles the later syllogistic arguments more clearly.

Both books include introductions and footnotes that some may find valuable to read as supplements.

I've also upload the Ross translation in a format that includes Bekker (original Greek text) notation to make cross-referencing easier.

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  • Imran M.

    The irrational part of the soul seems further divided into parts, each of which involves a striving. The most basic striving deals with the natural revulsion to pain and attraction to pleasure. This is what's dealt with in Book 3. A more cultivated, social striving is for external goods, and Aristotle seems to think the principal ones are wealth, honor, and friends. That seems to be the transition to Book 4. If this is right, Book 5 would deal with a still more developed striving: that dealing with what we want not just for ourselves, but for others insofar as we see them as equals. Hence justice rather than mere lawfulness. It'd be interesting to see how much insight on the soul we could draw from this book while picking up all the straightforward practical counsel there as we move through it.

    1 · April 20, 2014

    • Brian

      Hmm. Agreed. Choice separates us from the animals. Maybe what's held in common with brutes is that which moderation/courage is a perfection OF, namely the desiring part of the soul. Money/ pride relates to the perfection of that which uniquely human, external goods or social virtues

      April 21, 2014

    • Imran M.

      The desiring for social goods does seem to be uniquely human, but still a striving/desiring ("orexis") of a sort. The dianoetic/intellectual virtues seem more properly a part of the rational part of the soul and get described as "epistemonikon"­ and "logistikon" instead of orexis.

      1 · April 21, 2014

  • Brian

    Relevant to another chapter, but putting it here: I'm fascinated to compare the Republic vs. Aristotle's Ethics. For Aristotle, moral virtue = habituation + choice. Choice follows deliberation about that which we strive for. Choice *contrasts* with opinion which involves the kinds of things we don't deliberate about (e.g., the eternality of the universe is not our concern and we dont deliberate about it) . Moreover, opinion seeks to be knowledge.

    April 21, 2014

    • Brian

      Compare the Republic: For Plato, virtue is knowledge. He contrasts this with lower 'virtue' which is habituation + opinion (see, 612).

      April 21, 2014

  • Imran M.

    I updated the meetup description with books for those who feel limited by what's available online.

    April 20, 2014

  • Imran M.

    I don't like that perspective. But I also don't think the particular virtues are organized lower to higher, though I think the sections are. It seems like Aristotle wants to associate ethics with the happiness of the soul, so the virtues have to be mapped to the nature of how the soul is divided and bring it into harmony. Most generally, the human soul seems divided into a rational (logon) part and an irrational (alogon) part. The logon part deals with choice and Aristotle wants to say that the application of some measure of choice is what distinguishes any good human action from amoral animal actions, like when he describes how an animal could mimic a courageous person's actions by being excited or angry, but could not actually be courageous. But intellectual virtues dealing primarily with the rational part are distinct from the virtues of character which apply to the irrational part. And he's dealing with the irrational part of the soul first.

    1 · April 20, 2014

  • Imran M.

    Brian - Yeah, it's an awkward shift. One perspective is that Aristotle starts with a general treatment of ethics in Books 1 - 2, which seems to say that being virtuous is choosing actions for their own sake. Hence, there would only be that one virtue, to behave in that way. But then he tries to combine that with conventional Athenian attitudes about goodness by saying that being virtuous is choosing actions because they are noble, and the specific virtues he addresses are just the ones conventionally associated with noble people in the society. Instead of going from lower to higher, Book 3 deals with conventional wisdom on how a noble person should be in private, to himself, while Book 4 deals with how the person should be socially.

    1 · April 20, 2014

  • Brian

    How might we understand the move from Courage/Temperance to virtues concerned with money? with honors? I think its a good question, especially if we read the list of virtues as going from lowest to highest. One reading might be that virtues concerned with money/honor, even if seemingly low(money), nonetheless bear on our realizing humanity whereas courage/temperance are common to brutes.

    April 20, 2014

    • Brian

      Or maybe they are 'higher' because more difficult given natural inclinations.

      April 20, 2014

  • Brian

    I'm glad you included in the description trying to address why Aristotle selected these particular virtues. I know this is something Mike cares about lately

    April 19, 2014

  • Three S.

    Out of town this week

    April 16, 2014

6 went

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