05 April 2005

The A, B (C?) of Pleasure

As mentioned, this Saturday’s NYC Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy is going to consider Nicomachean Ethics VII.11-14.

NE VII.11-14 is the first of two discussions of pleasure in NE, the other being X.1-5. Sometimes following G.E.L. Owen the first is called the ‘A’ discussion (or simply ‘A’) and the second is called the ‘B’ discussion (or simply ‘B’), and I’ll follow this usage.

In advance of the colloquium, a question I throw open to the pooled wisdom of Dissoi Blogoi readers: What are all the plausible ways in which, it has been proposed, we may understand A in relation to B?

Here’s my catalogue. Tell me if you know of other reasonable views.

1. (redaction critical) A belonged originally to the Eudemian
; B alone belongs with NE; so the attempt to
harmonize the discussions is misguided.

2. (Aquinas) A deals with corporeal pleasures; B deals
with non-corporeal pleasures.

3. (Owen) A answers the question, “What (properly) are a
person’s pleasures?”; B answers the different question, “What is it to
take pleasure in something?”

4. A is concerned to show that pleasure is not bad; B is concerned to show in what way pleasure is good.

5. A aims to refute 'neutralism', that pleasures are neither inherently good nor bad but incidentally bad, since they impede good activities; B aims to refute hedonism, that pleasure and goodness are the same.

( 4. is the view I favor. )

The chief difficulty which 2.-5. need to handle is to explain why the definitions of pleasure given by A and B are, apparently, incompatible. A seems to define pleasure as the unimpeded activity of an organism in its natural state; B seems to define it as a distinct goal which is supervenient upon such an activity.

Can anyone propose other views? (I haven't canvassed the scholarly literature and am not sure about what people might commonly think.)


Anonymous said...

This could as well be a comment on "Proofs", but let me post it ( more inconspicuously ) here. I would very much like to know how someone writing an introduction to the NE these days deals with the growing textual ( stylometric & historic ) argument being developed by Kenny and others that the NE is probably a posthumous compiliation of Aristotelian material, including a good deal of early ( BKs I and X ) work, that fits not so well with the intervening books. The two essays on pleasure are only one obvious piece of evidence that we have at best a rather carelessly assembled Aristotelian anthology, and not a work of Aristotle before us.

How do you present this situation to a general audience? Do you just assume or presume that the NE can be approached as a unified philosophical work? Or, if Kenny's "deconstruction" of the text is to be faced and discounted , what sort of arguments need to be deployed against it ? I genuinely don't know how I could stand before an undergraduate class these days and present the NE as a coherent text.

Anonymous said...

I've studied Kenny's arguments thoroughly and published rejoinders to some of them in reviews. I've also done studies of my own (more sophisticated stylometric studies, a complete review of cross-references in NE), which count against Kenny's conclusions. So I regard myself as justified in presuming the unity of NE, although admittedly (i) others who have not done such work would not be justified, and (ii) because most of my work is not published, others might reasonably take my presumption to be unjustified.  

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

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