10 June 2005

Destrée's Digression on Eudaimonia

I noted that Destrée's review devotes much time to criticizing Cooper's rejection of an inclusivist account of eudaimonia in Aristotle. (By the way, he describes Cooper as adopting the view that "the reason a moral action is worth choosing is not that it is a means to contemplation (according to some intellectualistic interpretations), but that it is a way of approximating contemplation or understanding oneself, 'practical truth' being interpreted as an approximation or imitation of the attainment of the truth which itself determines the 'theoretical life'"!)

I also said that his Destrée's arguments couldn't stand on their own, outside the context of a review. Here are a couple of examples. Destrée argues:

[T]here are two details Aristotle gives in that chapter I, 7, which is the focus of JC's analysis, which, I think, are very difficult to interpret in the framework of such a reduction. The first runs as follows: "We do always choose happiness because of itself and never because of something else, while as for honour, and pleasure, and intelligence (noûs), and every excellence, we do choose them because of themselves . . . , but we also chose them for the sake of happiness" (1097b1-4). Whatever the exact status may be of those subordinate goods, the evidence of the text doesn't suggest that the activity of the noûs, which cannot but be contemplation, is what Aristotle means by happiness.

But nous can easily be something other than contemplation: as for instance a good in the category of substance (just as the virtues, also mentioned in that passage, are goods in the category of quality), see 1096a25.

Destrée next argues:

The second detail is that the good which constitutes happiness must be self-sufficient, i.e. absolutely or unqualifiedly choiceworthy, "not for oneself alone, for the person living a life of isolation, but also for one's parents, children, wife, and generally those one loves, and one's fellow citizens, since man is by nature a civic being" (1097b8-11). If Aristotle had meant to say that the highest good constituting happiness is contemplation as the final end chosen for itself, this is, to say the least, a very strange remark, since contemplation doesn't constitute the good that fulfills the political nature, as such, of human beings; and a little further, in chapter 10, Aristotle clearly says, by way of summarizing all his research thus far, that political science, whose "end is the best", is "dedicated above all to making citizens of a certain quality, that is good and doers of fine things" (1099b30-32). Of course, contemplation may be (and eventually can, as I think) be part (and perhaps the best part) of such "fine things". But if Aristotle had wanted to present a very intellectualistic or 'dominant' version of happiness, would he not have been better off not insisting so much on our political nature and the moral actions it requires?


This puts much weight on Aristotle's use of polites at 1097b11. (I apologize for this and will correct it later. I'm writing now from someone else's computer, without SPIonic.) Yet it's far from clear that every time Aristotle uses that word in NE he's bringing in our 'political nature' (is that its import at 1165a31?), and Cooper could easily handle the remark from chapter 10.


Anonymous said...

Forgive me if I ignore some of the strata here—Pakaluk on Destree on Cooper revising Cooper on Aristotle criticizing Plato—and ask the readers of this forum a question about the NE that has long puzzled me.
We are all familiar with Aristotle’s exposition of the criterion of autarcheia at NE I.vii.7 ( “we take a self-sufficient thing to mean a thing which merely standing by itself alone renders life desirable and lacking in nothing” ). And we are familiar with the argument at NE X.vii.4 that theoria is self-sufficient because it requires fewer external goods or conditions than the justice or the other moral excellences.
My question—well, I guess it’s two questions:
(1) Does NE X.vii , even if we grant its claims, strike anyone as even beginning to carry the thesis that theoria is (self)sufficient for a desirable life lacking nothing? The obvious objection is that theoria is the perhaps the least autarchic activity, dependent on phronesis and many of the practical excellences ( and goods ) to give it a viable real-world existence in which theoria is an affordable leisure activity. A life of theoria is radically un-self-sufficient and non-viable for human beings ( as NE X vii-viii go on to concede ). Perhaps Aristotle came to appreciate this criticism, and so
(2) EE plumps for a happy life of arete teleia, which EE VIII.3 identifies with kalokagathia, many virtues( including theoria) practiced for their sake because they are kala. Now autarcheia has disappeared as a formal criterion of eudaemonia in EE, but isn’t a life aimed at kalokagathia self-sufficient in just the way that theoria by itself cannot be?