05 April 2005

Honest to (Aristotelian) Goodness

I posed the question of whether Aquinas would think that we need to mention God in a full account of the goodness of a human being or a knife, and I wondered how, if this were not the case, that God’s goodness would be goodness in the primary or central case, as Aquinas seems to think.

A commentator said that: yes, Aquinas would hold that we need to mention God’s goodness in the account of a human being’s goodness (which presumably would also take care of the knife, because a knife’s goodness needs to be explained in reference to what is good for a human being).

I am aware that this goes against accepted wisdom on Aristotle, but … are we really sure that Aristotle would not want to hold the same? Three arguments that he would think that a full account of ‘good’ as applied to a human being has to mention God:

  1. NE presumably gives such a full account, and it mentions God. (I’m not being frivolous here. The issue is whether the significance of the term eudaimonia is defined objectively and ‘for the universe’, so to speak, by God’s eudaimonia—which seems to be the view of NE X.8. Indeed, Gavin Lawrence read a paper at last October’s Spindel conference arguing for something like this view.)
  2. When one keeps in mind Met. Lambda, it’s not so clear that such a view is not suggested by NE I.6.1096b26-29: “But then how is the word ‘good’ used? It’s certainly not like a case of the same word being used for different things by chance. Then [are various things all called ‘good’] because they derive from one thing or tend to one thing? Or rather is it by analogy? That is: sight:body::mind:soul::X:Y.” Except for the appeal to analogy at the end, the passage looks like it might be saying that various things called ‘good’ are so called because of their relationship to a single, central case.
  3. In two or perhaps three texts of NE (I may post these later), Aristotle shows sympathy with the (Platonic) view that what each thing really aims at, as its good, is God—that everything is trying to imitate or in some way attain God. (I haven’t yet studied G. Lear’s book—I wonder if this sort of view ultimately gets underwritten there. It’s broadly in line with her thesis.)

(Philosophical responses only! Merely religious professions will be ruthlessly deleted.)