JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Ethics and Political Philosophy.

§ 37.

1. In his Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes between the two parts of the Soul -- the rational part and the irrational -- of which, however, the latter participates in the former. The rational part is the Reason (dianoia) the irrational the Appetitive Faculty (orexis). He further distinguishes the Speculative from Practical Reason; the former is concerned with truth in itself and for its own sake; the object and end of the latter is the guidance of human actions. He also distinguishes between boulêsis and proairesis. The boulêsis is directed towards the (essential) end. In this respect man is not free; the end, which is one with the good, is necessarily desired by man, for the reason that man cannot strive for anything but the good. The proairesis, on the other hand, is concerned with the means to the end. With regard to the means of attaining the end man is free; between the several means he can exercise a choice. In the proairesis, or Election, the two faculties, the dianoia and orexis always co-operate with one another; the former exercises consideration and deliberation, the latter the act of choice. There are thus two causes, under the influence of which an act may cease to be free -- Ignorance and Violence.

2. The goods which are the object of desire Aristotle divides into three classes -- the morally good, the useful, and the agreeable (kalon, sumpheron kai hedu), according as a good is desirable for its own sake, or merely for sake of another good, or lastly for sake of pleasure. He further distinguishes between goods of the soul, goods of the body, and external goods, according as they benefit the soul, or the body, or enhance our external condition. Lastly, he distinguishes between the highest good and subordinate goods, understanding by the highest good that which is desired for its own sake, and for sake of which all other things are desired, and by subordinate goods all those which are desired as means to the attainment of the highest.

3. These preliminary notions being defined, Aristotle sets himself to determine wherein the highest good consists. He observes, at the outset, that he does not, like Plato, understand by this term that good which is absolutely the highest, but only the good, which relatively to man, is the highest; that good, to wit, which it is possible for man to reach by his efforts in this life. Now it is evident that the highest good, in this sense of the word, is happiness (eudaimonia), for experience teaches us that in all that we do, and leave undone, we are ever striving to attain this object. But in a discussion of this question, the important point is to define happiness, to determine what is involved in this notion -- What is the nature of happiness?

4. The teaching of Aristotle on this question is directed to show that the happiness of man does not consist in mere passive enjoyment -- for this the brute possesses -- but rather in action (energeia), and in action of that kind which is peculiar to man, as contrasted with other living beings -- intellectual action. It is not, however, intellectual action of any kind whatever which constitutes happiness, but only virtuous action, that action which springs from virtue, and is in accordance with its laws (Eth. Nic. X. c. 6), for this alone is appropriate to the nature of man. It follows that the highest happiness corresponds to the highest virtue. Though happiness does not consist in pleasure, but in virtuous action, we are not to conclude that pleasure is altogether excluded from happiness. Virtuous action gives rise to the highest form of pleasure, and to the keenest enjoyment. We must, therefore, include pleasure in our concept of happiness, in so far as it is a result of virtuous action, and is thus, in a certain sense, the ultimate complement of our notion of happiness.

5. This analysis of the notion of happiness indicates only the essential elements of the concept; happiness, to be complete, requires further:

(a) That it be enjoyed not merely for a short time, but through a life-time, which shall reach at least time average length; "one swallow does not make a summer," neither does the bliss of one day make happiness.

(b) That man shall he provided with the goods of the body, and with external goods; for it can hardly be said of a man whom fortune has entirely deserted, and who is the victim of bodily pain, that he is truly happy.

(c) Lastly, that man shall have friends; for intercourse with friends effectually encourages and promotes virtuous action, and thus leads to a happy life.

6. Since happiness consists in virtuous action, it is evident that virtue is a necessary means to attainment. We are thus led to seek a definition of the notion of virtue. Virtue, says Aristotle, may be defined as a habit (habitus, hexis), by which man exercises the proper functions of his nature with ease, with promptness, and with steadfastness. It follows that virtue cannot be learned, but must be acquired by practice. Virtue is not one; there are as many kinds of virtue as there are different ends to which the rational activity of man can be directed.

7. In classifying the virtues, Aristotle bases his classification on the distinction already indicated between the rational part of the soul and that part which is irrational, though participating in reason. He distinguishes two kinds of virtue -- the ethical and the dianoetical; the former belong to the appetitive faculty (orexis). the part of the soul which is itself irrational, though participating in reason; the latter belongs to the rational part of the soul.

8. The ethical virtues are, in part, concerned with the pathê, Passions, or sensuous affections, in so far as these are governed and guided by reason; in part they have to do immediately with external action, in so far as it is controlled by reason. It is characteristic of all ethical virtues that they maintain a just mean between two opposing vices, one of which denotes excess (huperbolê), the other defect (elleipsis). This just mean is that which each man fixes for himself by rational deliberation (medium rationis). It is oniy in the case of Justice that the medium rationis (the mean of reason) is the medium rei (the objective mean.)

9. According to Aristotle, the ethical virtues can be reduced to the following cardinal virtues: Fortitude (andreia) maintains the mean between fear and rashness (mesotês peri thobous kai tharrê); Temperance (sôphrosunê) guards the mean between pleasures and pains (mesotês peri kai lupas), but refers to pleasure rather than to pain, and chiefly to those pleasures which are lowest in kind, and which are common to men and to brutes; Liberality (eleutheriotês) and Magnificence (megaloprepeia) preserve the mean in giving and receiving (mesotês peri dosin kai lêpsin), avoiding the extremes of prodigality and niggardliness. Liberality is concerned with small values, magnificence with great. Highmindedness and Ambition (megalopsuchia kai philotimia) observe the proper mean in matters respecting honour and dishonour (mesotês peri timên kai atimian); Mildness preserves the proper mean in the seeking of revenge (mesotês peri orgên); Truthfulness, Readiness in social intercourse, and Friendliness (alêtheia, eutrapeleia, philia) preserve the mean in the use of words and actions in society (mesotêtes peri logôn kai praxeôn koinônian). The first of these three virtues regards veracity (alêthes) in words and actions, the two others are concerned with the agreeable (hêdu) -- the one eutrapeleia having its place in social pastimes (en tais paidiais), the other philia, in all other social relations (en tais kata ton allon bion homiliais). A further virtue is Shame.

10. But the most important and the most excellent of the ethical virtues is Justice (dikaiosunê). In the widest sense Justice is the practice of all the ethical virtues towards our fellow-men, in which sense it is equivalent to the observance of law. In a narrower sense, as a special virtue, it is concerned with equality (ison) in the matter of gain or disadvantage. In this sense it is of two kinds: either it deals with the distribution (en tais dianomais) of honours or possessions among the members of a community (justitia distributiva), or it deals with the transactions of men inter se (en tois sunallagmasin). This equalising process is partly voluntary, partly involuntary; to the first kind belongs justice in contracts (justitia commutativa); to the second belongs justice in inflicting punishment (justitia vindicativa.){1} Equity (epieikeia) is connected with Justice. Rights are of two kinds, natural and positive (dikaion phusikou kai nomikou). Equity applies to positive rights established by legal enactments, and is an emanation from or complement of legal justice to meet the needs of individual cases. The provisions of the law must be general and applicable to the normal condition of things; individual cases do not always accord with this common standard; in such cases equity makes good the defects of the law, it prescribes a course of action conformable to the intention of the law-giver, such a course as he would require were he present himself.

11. The Dianoetic Virtues are of two kinds, those which belong to the Practical Reason, and those which belong to the Speculative Reason. In the first class are included Art (technê) and Practical Wisdom (phronêsis), of which the former regulates the action directed to produce some extrinsic result (poiein); the latter fixes the right method in attaining the goodness intrinsic to actions in themselves (prattein). To the second class belong Understanding (nous), Science (epistêmê), and Wisdom (sophia). Of these Understanding has to do with the knowledge of first principles, Science with the demonstration of truth, and Wisdom with speculative inquiry into the ultimate causes of all being.

12. In order of importance these virtues are related to one another as the faculties of the Soul to which they respectively belong. Lowest in the scale are the ethical virtues. Above these are the virtues of the Practical Reason, and highest in order the virtues of the Speculative Reason. Among the virtues of the Speculative Reason, Wisdom holds the first place. We have seen that happiness consists in virtuous action, and that in the highest virtue is found the highest happiness. This being so, it is clear that it is not in the active life, in which the ethical virtues are exercised, that the highest happiness is attained, but in the contemplative life, in which the dianoetic virtues, Understanding, Science, and Wisdom, are practised.

13. From this it follows that it is in pure speculation, theôria, that the highest degree of happiness is reached. Thought of this kind springs from the highest virtue; it is furthermore concerned with the highest object of our knowledge, and thus results in the highest kind of pleasure. The happiness which this theôria brings with it does not suppose any busy activity, it can be enjoyed in rest and retirement. Moreover it does not require to be supplemented by external goods so largely as the happiness of the active life. By the theôria man approaches the divinity; for since the happiness of the gods consists in theôria (a, i.e., the knowledge of themselves, man's happiness attained by theôria is of the divine order. In this condition of happiness man lives, in a certain sense, a divine life. Everything that goes to make up the notion of supreme happiness is found in this theôria. All men, however, cannot attain to it; the bulk of mankind must content themselves with the happiness of the active life.

14. In the attainment of that happiness which is the end of life, the individual man is forced to depend on his fellow-men. Man is, of his nature, destined for society. The social bond begins in the family, and is perfected in the State. It is only in the State that man' s moral duty can be adequately fulfilled. This brings us to Aristotle's political philosophy.

15. Aristotle teaches that the State is above the individual in the same sense in which the whole is above the part, or the end above the means. But for this very reason it is only in the State that the individual attains his true worth, his true importance. The individual thing, in so far as it is a member of the whole, has its work and its importance only in the whole and by the whole; and the principle holds as applied to the individual in his relation to the State. The State is its own end; the individual exists for the State, The whole worth, and whole destiny of the individual is attained if he is a good citizen, a worthy member of the body politic. (State Absolutism.)

16. The duties of the individual towards the State, and of the State towards the individual, can now be easily determined:

(a) It is the duty of the individual to make himself a capable and useful citizen. The means by which he may attain this end are indicated by Ethics. Ethical Science is, therefore, a department of Political Philosophy. The happiness which it proposes to man as the object of his efforts can be attained only in civil society. It is only the good eitizen who can be a happy man. Hence the notion of virtue in general, and of civic virtue, are one and the same.

(b) It is the duty of the State, on the other hand, to lead the citizen to that happiness which Ethical Science sets before him as the object of his efforts. It has to take thought for the well-being of all. There is, however, only one way of discharging this duty, and that is by educating all who belong to the State, so as to make them good and virtuous citizens; for in virtuous action primarily consists the happiness of men. As, however, material goods and the external goods of fortune are requisite to the perfection of this happiness, the State must, further, provide for the external well-being of its citizens. The question how the State must be constituted, and after what manner it must direct its action in order to secure the ends here specified, it is the province of the Science of Politics to determine.

17. In dealing with the first part of the question -- how the State should be constituted in order to secure its end -- we must distinguish its social from its political constitution.

(a) In the social constitution, Aristotle does not, like Plato, propose the abolition of the family or of private property: Both must be upheld and protected in the State. According to Aristotle the family is, of its nature, antecedent to the State; the State, must, therefore, maintain it intact. Liberty of marriage should, however, be restricted by law. More than this: children of defective bodily formation should not be reared, a maximum number of births should be fixed by law, any excess beyond this number should be destroyed in embryo. Private property, which, of its nature, is likewise antecedent to the State, must also be inviolate; the State, should, however, reserve a certain amount of public property for public uses.

(b) It is specially worthy of remark, in connection with the social philosophy of Aristotle, that he is distinctly an advocate of slavery. According to him the individual who is formed for obedience, not for intelligence, is by nature destined to be a slave. The slave is merely an animated instrument; a sort of detached portion of the body of his master, and has no rights whatever as against his master. He should, of course, be treated with humanity, but the master who fails so to treat him does him no injustice.

(c) With regard to the political constitution of the State, Aristotle distinguishes three usual forms of government: Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Timocracy (politeia). Tyranny, Oligarchy, and Democracy (in the sense of ochiocracy, or as it is sometimes styled, mobocracy), are the respective corruptions of these forms. Of these corruptions, tyranny is the worst, as being the corruption of the form which is the best -- the monarchical. The characteristic difference between the good and the bad form of government is found in the end which the governing authority pursues; the good govermnent seeks the common weal, the evil seeks private interests. The constitution which embraces elements of Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, is the most enduring, but in particular cases the form of government must conform to particular needs.

18. In reference to the second question -- what must be the action of the State, in order to attain its end? -- the general good, as far as it depends on the action of the State, must be secured by the law and by the administration of the law. The law, as the expression of reason, must be supreme in the State; the ruler is merely a living law. A special object of the legislator's attention must be the education of the young. The final purpose of all education is, of course, virtue. Things which subserve external ends can, however, be subject of instruction, but only in so far as they do not render the learner vulgar (i.e., a pursuer of external gain for its own sake.) Grammar, Gymnastics, Music, and Arithmetic are the subjects of an elementary general education.

19. The political philosophy of Aristotle is an advance on that of Plato, inasmuch as it does not push the theory of State Absolutism to the length of Socialism. On the other hand, the ethical teaching of Aristotle is inferior to that of Plato, for it does not fix any higher end to which the moral action of man is to be directed, but confines man's destiny wholly within earthly life, and the sphere of earthly aims. There is no prospect put before him of a higher retribution after death.

20. If, in conclusion, we glance at Aristotle's teaching on the subject of Art, we find that he holds it to consist in the imitation (mimêsis) of nature. This imitation "is not, however, a mere copying of individual objects in nature, with their manifold defects, it looks rather to their essential being, and the perfection to which nature tended in their formation, so that while preserving likeness, it is the function of Art to idealise; it imitates, but it improves in the imitation," The purpose of Art is threefold -- delight and recreation; the calming, purifying, and ennobling of the affections (katharsis tôn pathêmatôn), and ultimately ethical culture. Tragedy, a special form of Art, is the artistic dramatic representation of some incident which excites pity and fear.

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{1} "Distributive Justice (to en tais dianomais dikaton) rests upon a geometrical proportion. As the several persons in question are to one another in moral worth (axia), so must be that which is allotted to each. Commutative Justice (to en tois sunallag masi dikaion, or to diorthôtikon, ginetai en tois sunallagmasi kai tois ekousiois, kai tois akousiois) is also an equalising principle (ison), but rests on an arithmetical rather than on a geometrical proportion; for the moral worth of the several persons is not, in this case, taken into consideration, but only the gain secured, or the loss suffered. Commutative justice removes the difference between the original possession and the diminished (or increased) possession which results from loss (or gain), by causing a gain (or loss) equal to the diminution (or the increase). The original condition thus re-established is a mean between the less and the greater, according to arithmetical proportion."