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Friday, April 30, 2004

Aristotle on Happiness
In Book 1 of the ethics, Aristotle claims that eudaimonia (happiness) is activity in accordance with virtue. The thought here is that happiness just is active participation in the moral (or practical) virtues. In book 10 of the ethics, however, Aristotle seems to give a second, incompatible account of eudaimonia. On the account given in book 10, Aristotle argues that eudaimonia consists in contemplation. So the happy life turns out to be the contemplative life. Because Aristotle offers two different accounts of eudaimonia, it seems as thought these two accounts need to be explained, and here is how one might explain the two seemingly inconsistent accounts.

1. Aristotle really means for eudaimonia to consist in virtuous activity and not contemplation. This view seems plausible if only because on textual grounds, most of the ethics (books 1-9, or at least 1-7) is committed to happiness consisting in virtuous activity. But if this is the case, then sense needs to be made of book 10 in which Aristotle seems to abandon this view and instead adopt a different view of happiness--one in which happiness consists in contemplation.

2. Aristotle really means for eudaimonia to consist in contemplation. And in book 10 Aristotle does admit that contemplation is the best of the virtues, over the practical (moral) virtues. Furthermore, he also states that contemplative life is self-sufficient, a requirement on Aristotle's view, for happiness. This seems like a problematic view if only because there would have to be an account of eudaimonia given that makes sense of a lot of textual evidence that claims happiness consists in virtuous activity. Another problem for this view might be that if Aristotle really does think that happiness consists in contemplation then (presuming certain intellectual capacities are required for the contemplative life--especially if contemplation consists (at least partly in) contemplating the higher, necessary truths of the universe) happiness is closed off from many people. But by way of response to this kind of objection, Aristotle would seem fine with this because he already argues that virtue is closed off to many people and is perfectly fine with this implication of his view. And it would seem to make good sense if happiness is closed off to many people, especially if achieving happiness has something to do with achieving human excellence, and those persons who do achieve happiness in their lives are (human) exemplars, and so should be few and far in between.

3. The two accounts of happiness are consistent.
a. Somehow the accounts mutually support eachother--maybe moral virtue is a necessary condition for contemplative virtue. But this does not seem right because it seems like the contemplative and the moral life can stand alone.
b. Maybe a biconditional relation between the two? Moral virtue iff contemplative virtue (formula for happiness). Obvious problems with this interpretation due to a lack of textual evidence.

4. Two accounts of eudaimonia are being offered--depending on what kind of person you are. Here, the idea is that happiness is tailored to certain classes of individuals:
a. Happiness account applies to those morally good persons who might fall shy of having the kinds of intellectual capacities required for a happy life.
b. Contemplation account applies to those intellectually capable persons who might not have natural tendencies towards the practical virtues. For this account of happiness, smart hermits seems to fit the bill because Aristotle acknowledges in book 10 that you do not need others around to practice the contemplative life (the-philosopher-in-the-ivory-tower kind of life) like you need for practicing the moral virtues.
c. If this interpretation is offered, then there is a considerable issue that has to be accounted for, namely why Aristotle would offer two different accounts of human happiness. After all, if happiness is an indicator of someone who is an exemplary human being, an exemplar, then why have two different accounts of human happiness? On a view that describes what it is to be an excellent human, we would only expect one account, not two accounts whereby one account applies to some persons and the other account applies to others, with still some persons left out completely of ever achieving happiness (eudaimonia).
d. This interpretation seems plausible in light of one passage: "This life therefore is also the happiest" (1178a7). Here, Aristotle is referring to the contemplative life. But this is not to say that the contemplative life is the only means to happiness--you might achieve one level of happiness (and still meet the self-sufficiency condition for happiness) if you have the moral virtues. This kind of move is the move Gardiner makes with respect to the basic and non-basic virtues.







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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Onora O'neill on Kantian Duties of Beneficence
Onora O'neill, being the good Kantian that she is, argues that when it comes to how we ought to treat vulnerable persons, such as those who are in the midst of a famine, we ought to refrain from policies that manipulate, coerce, or deceive famine victims. Here, she is working off of the persons-as-ends-in-themselves formula of the categorical imperative (CI). On this formulation of the CI, it seems clear what kinds of actions we ought to refrain from. But when it comes to duties of beneficence, those duties that are (on my understanding) imperfect duties, it is not at all clear that Kant is directive. On Kant's view, imperfect duties are ones that one ought to promote, but at the same time seem supererogatory. But in O'neill's article, on her understanding of Kantian duties of beneficence being those duties the fulfillment of which will contribute to furthering others' ends, she gives concrete duties of beneficence that she takes follows from Kant's view. (In this article, she focuses on our duties of beneficence to famine victims.) Here is my confusion, or perhaps just a question that I have for O'neill. How can she enumerate such duties, or rather, give content to such duties if they are, at best, supererogatory? Maybe the better question to ask is: why should we be motivated to perform such duties if they are not morally required?
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