24 February 2005

A Material Difference, Then?

Someone might be wondering: But what about the disparity in how Aristotle and Plato classify key goods such as pleasure and happiness? Doesn't this suggest that their classifications are different?

Let's recap. What is at issue is whether Aristotle's classification of goods into three classes in NE 1.7 was understood by him as based upon, derived from, or in some way a development of Plato's apparently similar classification in Rep. 2. (Why is this important? I'll explain in a later post. For the moment, let's assume that it is.)

The common view is yes; Lear gives plausible arguments that no.

Lear's arguments are of two sorts. Let's call them formal and material. Her formal argument is that, from what Plato says about the classification (sc. has his characters say about it), we can see that the basis or nature of Plato's classification is different from Aristotle's. We looked at this argument in yesterday's post and saw that it was inconclusive.

The material argument is precisely the observation that Plato and Aristotle differ in how they place important goods in the three classes--which suggests that they viewed their classifications differently (rather than differed on how to make use of a classification understood in the same way). So the task today is to consider this material argument.

For the sake of efficiency, not to beg any questions, let's assume for the moment that we are dealing with a single classification, which might roughly be explained as follows:

Class I: goods valuable in their own right (which should be loved for that reason)
Class II: goods valuable in their own right and for what they lead to (which should be loved for both of those reasons)
Class III: goods valuable only for what they lead to (which should be loved only for that reason)

What are the relevant disparities between Plato and Aristotle?

  • Plato places what he regards as a low level good (pleasure) in Class I, but Aristotle puts only the highest good in that class (happiness).
  • Plato does not place happiness in any class.
  • Plato seems to regard Class II goods as the highest: at any rate, Socrates refers to this class as the 'finest' (kalliston) of the three.
Note:
1. Aristotle and Plato would apparently agree on what things to place in Class III.
2. Aristotle would presumably agree with Plato that thinking (to phronein), seeing (to horan), and being healthy (to ugiainein) belong in the second class (generally so, but perhaps some kinds of thinking he would not wish to place there). He would presumably also wish to place the virtue of justice there.

Thus, everything hinges on what things to include in Class I, and on the ranking of the classes.

Consider these disparities as 'data', and there are two explanations:

Hypothesis 1 (Lear): Plato and Aristotle differ in how they regard the basis or nature of these classes.
Hypothesis 2 : Aristotle agrees with Plato on the basis or nature of these classes, but he disagrees about which goods should be placed in them.

Which hypothesis explains the data better?

Hypothesis 2 really needs to be given this specific form: The character of Aristotle's argument in NE is precisely what one might expect, if he were taking the classification from Plato, but disputing how goods are to be classified within Class I, and how the classes are to be ranked.

In support of Hypothesis 2, thus recast:

Plato puts happiness nowhere: Aristotle argues at length in 1.7 that happiness, rather, goes in Class I.

Plato regards Class II goods as the 'finest': but Aristotle's almost heavy-handed argument in 1.7.1097a30-34 is that Class I goods, if described with the right qualifications, should be ranked higher.

Plato puts both 'joy' (to chairein) and 'all non-harmful pleasures' (hosai ablabeis) in Class I: Aristotle argues in 10.6 that the latter in fact belong in Class II (they prepare us for more work) and in 10.1-5 that the former belong in Class I (even when that class is correctly ranked as the best).

In sum: Isn't it as good an explanation of the disparities between Plato and Aristotle, then, that Aristotle very much had Plato's division in mind; that he regarded himself as appropriating it; but that he needed to make important adjustments (which he argues for deliberately)?

Of course, someone might now object, "Look, it's a distinction without a difference: that Aristotle ranks the classes differently, and classifies important goods so differently, shows that he views the classification in a very different way. Whether we call this a 'formal' or 'material' difference of viewpoint is irrelevant."

Perhaps... but maybe already the important point has been conceded. (More later.)

7 comments:

Gabriel R. Lear said...

Hi Michael,

This is my very first post on a website (I know I am so behind the times), so I hope it works. It is certainly long! One thing I haven’t been able to make work is the Greek font, so I’ve just transliterated.

You’ve said a lot and I can’t reply to it all, but here are a few responses:

(1) I claim that Glaucon’s three-fold division is a division of goods in terms of the way they supply us with happiness. Another way of putting this would be to say that he distinguishes three ways goods are beneficial. (i) Goods may be constituents of human flourishing or in some other way immediately (i.e. non-instrumentally) productive of it; (ii) goods may be immediately productive of well-being and also promote it instrumentally; and (iii) goods may be in themselves onerous, a sort of blight on well-being, but produce results whose benefit outweighs their intrinsic undesirability. (Notice that the beneficial results in question could fall in either class (i) or class (ii).)

Before addressing your specific criticism, let me say something about how I see this 3-fold division fitting into the project of the _Republic_ as a whole.

In (roughly) the second half of their discussion in Book I, Thrasymachus and Socrates debate the value of justice and injustice. More particularly, the issue is the profitability of justice and injustice. Thrasymachus claims that injustice is profitable (lusiteloun) and beneficial (sumpheron) (344c8; 348b9-10); Glaucon professes to believe that the just life is more profitable than the unjust life (lusitelesteron, 347e7); and Socrates argues that injustice is less profitable than justice (oudepote lusitelesteron, 354a8-9) and that it is justice that has the beneficial qualities Thrasymachus attributes to injustice (351a). Glaucon claims to be unsatisfied with Socrates’ argument. Why? We might think the problem is that, while Socrates and Thrasymachus had been debating the profitability of justice/injustice, Glaucon wanted to know whether one or the other was valuable in itself. But that doesn’t seem quite right. (a) In Book I Glaucon himself seemed to think the issue was one of the profitability of justice; (b) Glaucon presents his argument as a continuation of Thrasymachus’, as if Thrasymachus’ own position as stated in Book I had not been adequately refuted.

The answer, it seems to me, is this: Even if we assume that Socrates’ arguments are good as far as they go, they are still unsatisfying from the point of view of Thrasymachus’ encomium of injustice. For while Socrates argues that justice is profitable in the sense of being effective at getting ulterior goods, Thrasymachus had claimed that injustice is profitable in a different sense. When he praises injustice for being strong, free, and masterly (344c5), he’s trying--somewhat incompetently—to describe the sense in which injustice is its own reward, the sense in which the successful unjust life is a good one to lead just for itself (as well, presumably, as being good for the ulterior goods it brings). As Glaucon interprets it, Thrasymachus’ point is that complete injustice is the condition of being manly, vital, independent (359b2). We don’t need to look to the ulterior results to see that this on its own is something good to have. Thus, in order to refute Thrasymachus successfully, Socrates needs to show “what power (dunamis) [justice] has itself by itself on its own in the soul” rather than show-casing its rewards in the sense of ulterior results (358b4-7).

If I am right about the project of the _Republic_, then it makes sense to think of Glaucon’s three-fold classification of goods in the way I suggest. His point would be to show that goods can be beneficial, i.e. can contribute to well-being, in different ways in order to make clear to Socrates the sense in which he must show that justice is beneficial and more beneficial than injustice. And if this is right, then unlike in Aristotle’s three-fold division of goods, happiness or blessedness or well-being or flourishing ought not to appear in the classification. For it is by reference to it that, one way or another, all the kinds of goods Glaucon mentions are beneficial.

Now let me turn more specifically to your criticism of my interpretation:

(2) I support the claim that Glaucon distinguishes 3 ways that goods supply us with happiness by citing Socrates’ remark at 358a1-3:

“[I place justice] in the finest class, with what a person who intends to be blessed must love both because of itself and because of what comes from it.”

But, you say, Socrates doesn’t say anything here about how these goods themselves promote happiness; rather, he says something about how loving these goods appropriately is necessary for happiness. Namely, since (Socrates thinks) justice is valuable both for itself and for what it leads to, happiness requires that one love it for both those reasons. So – and I take it this is your point – just because Socrates says that loving goods appropriately is necessarily connected to happiness gives us no reason to think that, in his view, love is appropriate to the extent that it tracks the way those goods themselves are connected to happiness.

But notice that Socrates uses the future tense: justice is one of the goods which a person who intends to be blessed in the future (tôi mellonti makapiôi esesthai) must love for itself and for what comes from it. Why, if a person is going to be happy in the future, is it important that he love these goods now for both reasons? One very plausible answer is: because these goods will make him happy in both ways. The person who is going to be happy loves and pursues some goods both because of their beneficial (from the point of view of happiness) rewards and because in themselves they (partially) supply happiness.

So although I take your point that at 358a1-3 Socrates does not literally say that justice, as a good of the second sort, supplies us with happiness in two ways, it does seem to me that there is reason to interpret his claim as meaning precisely this. These are the goods a person who’s going to be happy must love and pursue for two reasons because these are the goods that will contribute to his happiness in two ways.

Now for a couple of points that go beyond the Republic:

(3) I argue in my book that Aristotle’s classification distinguishes different levels of a teleological hierarchy marked by different degrees of being teleion (final/complete or perfect as an end). This, I argue, is not the same as Glaucon’s classification of goods. But Pakaluk argues that, in fact, it is the same classification, only Aristotle disagrees with Plato about which class of goods is the best and how to categorize certain goods. Now in NE I.7 Aristotle argues (a) that the good—the best good— is absolutely or most teleion, worth choosing for itself alone while other things are worth choosing for it, and (b) that happiness is this good. What’s important for our purposes now is that, in other dialogues, Socrates _agrees_ with both these points.

Let’s start with the second (b). In the _Symposium_, Socrates, speaking as Diotima, traces a chain of practical justification: we want good things in order that they may be our own; we want them to be our own in order that we may have happiness. But there is no further result for which we want happiness: in happiness “the answer seems to have an end (telos)” (205a3). Saying that happiness is the end of a line of explanation is not quite the same as saying that it is the end of a line of goods to be pursued. Nevertheless, it seems pretty clear that the Socrates of the _Symposium_ agrees with Aristotle that happiness belongs in the category of goods chosen for themselves alone while other things are chosen for their sake.

But does Socrates think this category of goods is the best? Well, in the _Philebus_, Socrates and Protarchus agree that the highest good must be the most teleon (20d1-3). Now I do think Aristotle and Socrates/Plato differ in how they conceive of this requirement, so we cannot answer with an unqualified “yes”. But they certainly agree on this much: if a good is teleon it is worth choosing for itself and is not worth choosing for the sake of something beyond it, for it is already sufficient of itself to ensure that life lacks nothing (20e5-21a2). (However, unlike in the NE, this may not be what it _means_ for a good to be teleon in the Philebus.) Thus, since Socrates thinks that the good must be absolutely teleon, he agrees with Aristotle that the best good is worth choosing for itself alone.

Does this mean that the Socrates of the Philebus contradicts the Socrates of the Republic, who says that the finest goods are ones that, while being good in themselves, also lead to other good things? That is certainly a possibility. But there is another possibility too: the classification of the Republic is not the same in kind as the one employed in the Symposium and Philebus and most fully worked out by Aristotle in NE I.7. Thus goods that turn out to be the best in one classicatory scheme may not be the best in the other.

Sam Rickless said...

I just thought I'd comment briefly on Lear's account of the reasons why Glaucon would be dissatisfied with the defense of justice in Republic I. Here's what Lear says:

"Glaucon claims to be unsatisfied with Socrates’ argument. Why? We might think the problem is that, while Socrates and Thrasymachus had been debating the profitability of justice/injustice, Glaucon wanted to know whether one or the other was valuable in itself. But that doesn’t seem quite right. (a) In Book I Glaucon himself seemed to think the issue was one of the profitability of justice; (b) Glaucon presents his argument as a continuation of Thrasymachus’, as if Thrasymachus’ own position as stated in Book I had not been adequately refuted."

It seems pretty clear to me that (at the beginning of Republic II) Glaucon wants to see justice praised, not only for what it leads to, but also for itself. With respect to whether justice is something to be loved for what it brings, Glaucon thinks that the arguments of Book I are unsatisfying. There are two reasons for this. The first is that none of these arguments starts from an account of what justice IS, an account of its NATURE. (Socrates will remedy this by providing an account of justice's nature in Book IV.) The second is that these arguments rely on false intellectualist assumptions (such as the assumption that justice is a kind of knowledge). (That intellectualism is false will become clear in Book IV.) What Plato provides in the rest of the Republic is a defense of justice as something to be loved for its own sake (Book IV) and something to be loved for the pleasure it brings (Book IX), where the argument for each of these claims is based on an account of justice's nature.

As I see it, this account of Glaucon's dissatisfaction with the arguments of Book I and the way Socrates remedies the problem in the rest of the Republic dovetails rather nicely with Michael's account of the threefold division of goods at the beginning of Book II.

Gabriel R. Lear said...

Sorry, I should have been clearer. Glaucon wants Socrates to “praise [justice] itself by itself” (358d1-2) and to show that we “love” and “welcome” it “for its own sake” (357c1-3). The question is, what does that mean? What is it to be contrasted to? There are various possibilities here; I’ll mention two:

(a) He wants Socrates to show that justice is unconditionally good (as opposed to conditionally good) or, more specifically, good independent of its contribution to happiness (as opposed to good by being productive of good/happiness).

(b) He wants Socrates to show that justice makes people happy, or contributes to their happiness, just by itself (as opposed to contributing to happiness only by virtue of the distinct rewards that come from it). That is to say, he wants Socrates to show that justice contributes to happiness immediately (rather than only mediately). This is the interpretation I favor.

I explained above why I think this interpretation fits with Book I. Briefly: everyone in Book I wants to know which of justice and injustice is more profitable, but whereas Thrasymachus claims that tyrannical injustice, by itself, makes a person happy as well as being beneficial for its rewards, Socrates shows only that justice is beneficial for its rewards. Of course, this is not the language they use; Glaucon is the one who makes this distinction. (I take it this is fully compatible with the suggestion that Glaucon wants Socrates to explain the nature of justice and to show that it is, by its nature, good. It doesn't make reference to any questionable intellectualist assumptions Socrates and Thrasymachus may be making, but then again I don't see any evidence that _Glaucon_ thinks this is a problematic assumption.)

But there is further evidence that this is what the 3-fold division of goods amounts to:

(1) Adeimantus seems to interpret Glaucon’s 3-fold division along the lines I suggest:

“Since you agree that justice is one of the greatest goods, the ones that are worth possessing for the sake of what comes from them, but much more for their own sake—for example seeing, hearing, thinking, and being healthy, and as many other goods as are productive/fruitful (gonima) by their own nature, not merely by their reputation—praise this very aspect of justice, how it benefits the one who has it, while injustice harms him, but leave wages and reputations for others to praise. […] So don’t show us only in logos that justice is better than injustice, but show also what each, itself by itself, does to the one who has them…in the one case [that it does something] good, in the other [that it does something] bad.” (367c5-e5)

Adeimantus is explicitly referring to 358a1-3. He distinguishes among kinds of goodness in terms of how something is productive of something good. And he is clear that being good in itself means being productive by its own nature of something good.

There is evidence, from both Glaucon and Adeimantus, that this good thing is happiness:

(2) Glaucon, in his defense of injustice, strips the just man of his reputation and rewards -–i.e., of the good things that come from justice. Notice his rationale:

“…in order that, both being brought to the extreme, the one of justice, the other of injustice, we may judge which of them is happier” (361d2-3).

It looks very much as if Glaucon proposes to show that justice is not good in itself by stripping it of the things that come from it and showing that, on its own, it does not make a person happy. (Much less, happier than the unjust person. The comparative language is curious, but I don’t think it bears on the issue in question.) Since Glaucon’s speech is supposed to be a model of what he wants to hear from Socrates in defense of justice, it seems reasonable to infer that he will establish that justice is a good of the second sort when he shows that it makes a person happy independently of the things that come from it. Cf. 362c6-8.

(3) According to Adeimantus, practically everybody agrees that justice is fine and that decent poor people are better than those who are unjustly rich. Nevertheless, they claim the unjust are happy (364a1-b2). This is supposed to be unsatisfactory. It looks as if Adeimantus wants Socrates to show, not simply that justice has intrinsic value—everybody admits that—but that it is good in a particular way: it, in itself, makes the person who has it happy. Socrates must explain “what [justice] does by its own power (dunamis) when it is present in the soul of someone who has it” (366e5-6).

Michael Pakaluk said...

I'd like to respond to some of Gabriel Lear's points, and ask some questions too. I'll do these in separate comments, for ease of reading.

I begin by quoting the same remarks that Sam Rickless had drawn attention to. Lear wrote:

"We might think the problem is that, while Socrates and Thrasymachus had been debating the profitability of justice/injustice, Glaucon wanted to know whether one or the other was valuable in itself. But that doesn’t seem quite right. (a) In Book I Glaucon himself seemed to think the issue was one of the profitability of justice; (b) Glaucon presents his argument as a continuation of Thrasymachus’, as if Thrasymachus’ own position as stated in Book I had not been adequately refuted."

Point (a) does not seem relevant. Socrates concedes at the end of book I that the argument had changed its course (in response to Thrasymachus' claims). We can allow then that Glaucon too changes his concerns from book I to book II.

As regards (b): Thrasymachus argued in book I that justice was the sort of thing that could reasonably be sought only for its profitability, and yet justice wasn't even profitable. Glaucon in book II can be seen as continuing this by pointing out that Socrates had addressed only the second part of this claim. Thrasymachus 'gave up before he had to' because he might have insisted strongly on the first part of it (as Glaucon does).

Michael Pakaluk said...

I think Lear's point that Thrasymachus praises injustice as if it were a virtue is very interesting and helpful.

But it seems mistaken to say:

"Thus, in order to refute Thrasymachus successfully, Socrates needs to show “what power (dunamis) [justice] has itself by itself on its own in the soul” rather than show-casing its rewards in the sense of ulterior results (358b4-7)."

In fact the three closing arguments of book I don't 'show-case the rewards of justice in the sense of ulterior results'.

-Justice itself implies strength, because it involves harmony and unity of elements.
-Justice itself amounts to a kind of knowledge.
-Justice itself enables the soul to rule and therefore live well. (Do we really think the Function Argument shows that virtue is instrumentally productive of happiness?)

But Glaucon might reasonably complain that the language of 'profitability', used by all the interlocutors (following Thrasymachus) to describe these results, left it ambiguous as to whether justice itself led to these things.

Michael Pakaluk said...

Lear asks:

"Why, if a person is going to be happy in the future, is it important that he love these goods now for both reasons?"

I think the future can in this idiom express a hypothetical necessity, or a condition (cp. the interestingly parallel expression at NE 9.9.1170b18-19). It's as in English: "You won't be at peace unless you confirm that" means confirmation is a condition of being at peace.

Michael Pakaluk said...

Lear writes in her second comment:

"I explained above why I think this interpretation fits with Book I. Briefly: everyone in Book I wants to know which of justice and injustice is more profitable, but whereas Thrasymachus claims that tyrannical injustice, by itself, makes a person happy as well as being beneficial for its rewards, Socrates shows only that justice is beneficial for its rewards."

But Thrasymachus claims that injustice makes people smarter and stronger, as well as happier. He's not concerned solely with its relationship to happiness. But, if so, neither should we understand the classification in book II in that way.