13 June 2005

The Real Issue

Since this comment 'cuts through all the nonsense', it seems good to give it greater prominence. Who'd like to take a shot at answering it?

(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?


Anonymous said...

Excuse me if I think out loud without running to the texts, but here's a question that I've had, which seems relevant to yours. What does Aristotle think self-sufficiency is? Your point is a good one, insofar as Aristotle would almost certainly be wrong if he thought: a) that whatever is self-sufficient makes a life choiceworthy and complete; b) whatever is self-sufficient needs nothing else at all in order to make life choiceworthy and complete; c) theoria is self-sufficient. And the reason is, as I see it, exactly as MP puts it: theoria depends on lots of other things. But is Aristotle ever interested in claiming that what is self-sufficient needs nothing else in order to exist? Or does he only say that it is what suffices to make life happy without anything needing to be added in addition? If something does not need anything else to be added to it in order to make life choiceworthy, does it follow necessarily that it can not depend upon anything else for its own existence?

Sorry if that's a silly question.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anon, for the thoughtful comment.
You are right of course that something capable by itself of making life choiceworthy (haireton) can still be dependent upon the necessities of life. NE X.vii in fact concedes theoria is so dependent in the midst of arguing that contemplating is what makes our life eudaimon & haireton.

The problem with what Aristotle says about the self-sufficiency of eudaemonia and of theoria, first in NE I.vii and then in NE X. vii-viii, is a bit complicated to set out in a few words, but let me give it a shot. My primary concern is that the senses in which NE X. vii-viii claims that theoria is autarkic don’t seem to match or address the sense of autarkeia that NE I. vii says is essential to eudaemonia.

NE X. vii.4 argues that theoria is autarkic because it is something we can do without other people. On a desert island, if you like, whereas practicing the moral excellences obviously requires the presence of suitable people. NE X. viii.4 adds that theoria is also least dependent upon Ta Ekta, external goods like wealth. So, theoria is the (most) autarkic of activities because it depends least upon other people and the standard external goods. That’s the account of NE X, but now turn back to the discussion of the self-sufficiency of eudaemonia at NE I. vii.6-8.

NE I. vii doesn’t argue at all that flourishing is something we must be able to do without other people or without externals, or that it must depend as little as possible on them. It says that the activity of the soul we identify with eudaemonia must one which “monoumenon haireton poiei ton bion kai medenos evdea.” Just to focus on the last clause—“lacking in nothing”—where has NE X even addressed the self-sufficiency of theoria in this sense?
The obvious challenge is that NE X may have shown that theoria is the best activity that we are capable of, but it has done nothing to show that theoria is sufficient by itself to yield a choiceworthy life that lack nothing (important).
Why, for example, isn’t a mixed life of theoria + moral excellence a better & happier life, even though theoria is by far the single best constituent of that life? We must practice at least some of the moral excellences and secure a share of external goods if we are to have any chance at a life that indulges in theoria. The theoretic life by itself seems severely deficient in several important goods, not least of which, the means to survive. So what makes a life eudaemon is not practicing one activity which cannot support or sustain itself, but practicing a full range of practical excellences + theoria .
You are all, I’m sure, familiar with this line of argument. My point here is merely that Aristotle in NE X seems oblivious to it. He says theoria is autarkic, but he ignores the crucial sense of autarcheia ascribed to eudaemonia in NE I. Very puzzling.