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.
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.)