Posted: April 6th, 2015
Aristotelianism is appealing, but it has been criticized on several fronts:
1) The utilitarians criticize the Aristotelian in thinking that happiness is objective. Is the utilitarian right to think that happiness is more ‘subjective’ or is the Aristotelian right to see it as something real?
2) The Kantian (and others) see a lack of precision in Aristotelianism. Is the Kantian right to be worried here?
Aristotle: 384-322 BC
Born in Greek Macedonia.
Studied in Athens with Plato.
Set up his own school called the Lyceum.
Tutored Alexander the Great.
1 So let’s go back in time and speak of Aristotle’s theory. Aristotle was a philosopher from Greece—what we now
call ‘ancient’ Greece. He was born in 384 BC and died in 322 BC. We’ll talk a bit more about Aristotle’s theory in
particular in a bit. But we should talk more generally about pre-modern philosophy. By ‘pre-modern’, I mean
those philosophies that made sense of reality prior to the Enlightenment. When shifting to ancient philosophical
theories, whether in the vein of Plato or Aristotle or some other ancient fellow, we are most probably going to be
adopting a view of ethics that assumes not only that ethics is an objective enterprise, and that right and wrong are
objective and knowable, but that what MAKES an action good or bad, right or wrong, is how an action lines up
with what is a fact about the nature of the universe.
• Predominance of REALISM
• Assumed nature in deeper and more meaningful ways
• Assumed a spiritual reality ordering and making sense
of material reality
• Saw nature itself as ‘infused’ with meaning, order, and
• Cosmic order
2 In other words, we’re going to be assuming some sort of realism, most probably. And most certainly, Aristotle was
a realist about the nature of goodness. He thought that goodness was a real features of reality, informing
everything in the world. For these pre-modern realists, their views of the world are all about how the natural order
mirrors or matches up with the cosmic order. I use the word ‘cosmic’ as a way to stay a bit neutral on the
particular sort of supra-natural or preternatural order or entities in question. Certainly, for example, the Forms of
Plato, along with the creator-demiurge of Plato, as found in the Timeaus and in much neo-Platonic thought, or the
One of Plotinus, or the Tao in eastern thought—well, these things are all different than the Christian God. So to
speak of pre-modern philosophy is not necessarily to speak of ‘theism’ in the usual sense. But they are all alluding
to cosmic order over and above mere empirical and random two and froing, and they insist instead that instead
our world is intelligible and made sense of by this transcendent cosmic order.
Goodness is DISCOVERED
It is not subjectively construed
We consider our human nature to
determine what is for our real good.
3 For someone like Aristotle as we’ll see soon, goodness is something real, in that there is indeed a cosmic order.
Real goodness—this is a part of the furniture of the world, outside of our own heads. We DISCOVER goodness.
We do not invent it, neither do we—as Kant argued, as we saw—merely construct it via some sort of pre-assigned
logical and rational and therefore ‘objective’ rule-making. No, we find it. By examining nature and human nature.
The nature of the good is part of the universe, and part of our very natures.
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