08 April 2005

Contradiction in Pleasure

I mentioned the appearance of contradiction between the NE A’ account of pleasure (7.11-15) and the ‘B’ account (10.1-5): in A, Aristotle seems to say that pleasures are energeiai; in B, he seems to say that they complete or perfect energeiai, but are not to be identified with them. Here’s a nice passage from Gwil Owen which brings this out as sharply as possible. After canvassing a variety of passages in B in which Aristotle maintains that “pleasure comes to complete or perfect the activity”, Owen remarks:

Plainly Aristotle is refusing to identify the pleasure with the enjoyed activity. A little later he says so flatly. Unlike desires, pleasures are so bound up with the activities they complete that there is disagreement on whether the pleasure is simply identical with the activity. But it doesn’t look as though the pleasure is just thinking or perceiving; for that would be absurd (1175b32-5). There is the difference between A and B. How to explain it?
I'm not entirely sure that Owen is ultimately right about this, as I’ll perhaps explain later.

(Btw, I was struck by Annas’ remark, in a footnote, that “Owen’s work, difficult and densely argumentative, has not survived as well as has that of easier and more accessible authors. Owen always had less concern for his publications than for his practice of teaching ancient texts in a rigorously philosophical way, and he would have been happy to think of his real legacy as being his students” (28n5). --Well, sure, but what if his students can’t get anyone to read anything as interesting as Owen’s essays: then what becomes of his legacy? And, in any case, can what Annas says be true? Perhaps Owen is not widely anthologized, but that’s hardly the same as not ‘surviving’. It wasn’t more than a few dozen people who ever cared about Owen, even from the start. Don’t the best grad students still regard Owen as absolutely essential??--Makes you wonder if the radical critics of Leiter-type reflections on trends and influences in the discipline aren’t fundamentally correct.)