22 April 2005

The Crux of Happy Lives

The following passage, on p. 85, seems the crux of Lear's book:

Let us remind ourselves of where we now are. I have tried to show that, in addition to taking an instrumental means to an end and constituting an end, Aristotle recognizes in his scientific treatises a third way of acting for the sake of an end. Indeed it is central to his account of the first heaven's relationship to the Prime Mover. In the Metaphysics, Aristotle calls this acting for an end as an object of love. Less poetically, we can call it approximating, imitating, or emulating an end. The telos is not just similar to its subordinate goods, it sets the standard of success for them. An excellent example of the subordinate good is as much like the telos as it is possible for a thing of that kind to be. Essentially perishable creatures, for example, cannot be immortal, but they can approach immortality to some extent by procreating.

Now, if morally virtuous activity approximates contemplation, this would help solve the problem we faced...in our interpretation of the Nicomachean Ethics. We wondered how middle-level ends, choiceworthy for their own sakes, could also be worth choosing for the sake of eudaimonia. And in particular we wondered how, if eudaimonia is contemplation, morally virtuous action might be worth choosing for its sake. When one thing approximates another it inherits the kind of value possessed by the paradigm. That is to say, the approximation of a good choiceworthy for the sake of another will itself be choiceworthy for the sake of another. Alternatively, the approximation of a good choiceworthy for its own sake will itself be choiceworthy for its own sake. So if morally virtuous activity is choiceworthy for the sake of contemplation as an approximation or imitation of that activity, it will not be merely instrumentally valuable. Rather, to the extent it succeeds in realizing the form of contemplation in action, it will itself be worth choosing for its own sake.


Anonymous said...

I've always thought that Aristotle repeats the same structure at different levels, what Lear calls approximation. So mind repeats the structure of touch, for instance, in the same way that philosophy repeats the structure of courage. One interesting example in NE is that of eating and tasting. Aristotle seems to say that excessive flavor is analogous to excessive eating. That would mean that the virtuous man is both abstemious and prefers the most bland foods. But the analogy obviously doesn't seem to work.