23 July 2005

Did I Miss Something?

We discussed at some length in this blog the theory of G.R. Lear that ethical reasoning, for Aristotle in Nic. Eth., is an 'approximation' to philosophical contemplation, and yet, unless I missed something, we never succeeded in clarifying that relationship.

Here's an attempt by Henry Dyson in his review, in BMCR, of John Cooper's second volume of collected papers, in which, recall, Cooper declares himself persuaded by the 'approximation' view:

The first thing to note is that moral action is not subordinated to contemplation as a means to an end. Rather, Cooper notes that moral virtue and contemplation are both excellences of the reasoning part of the soul. The proper selection of independent goods is undertaken with an eye to the perfection of this expression of our rationality. Contemplation, however, is the highest and most perfect expression of our rationality and moral virtue merely aims at the same good as contemplation via lower instantiation. Thus Cooper concludes: "One would, as a result, be fairly described as pursuing even in one's moral actions the ultimate end of excellent theoretical thinking" (305)
Okay, I understand that it is not supposed to be a means to an end (and I acknowledge relations of ordering that are not instrumental orderings). Also, I understand what it would be to want practical rationality to be a 'lower' version of philosophical contemplation. But I still don't understand how it is supposed to be that--and, if that isn't explained, isn't this wishful thinking rather than an interpretation?

In reply to the old difficulty that, if practical rationality is a 'lower' version of philosophical contemplation, then presumably one must always prefer and choose philosophical contemplation over practical expressions of rationality, when these are exclusive, Dyson represents Cooper as holding:
... excellent contemplation is sufficient in and of itself to insure the choice-worthiness of a life. Carrying on such an activity over a greater period does not make the life thereby more choiceworthy than it would have been otherwise. On the contrary, to disregard one's moral duty for the sake of a greater extension of contemplation "would entail the loss of the value not only of the omitted moral action, but of all the 'moral' actions one had done while harboring the misunderstanding of morality that allowing such 'exceptions' would imply." (308). Thus, what is required is first to satisfy all the demands of morality including those that might take one away from contemplative activity, and then to give oneself over to such contemplation as the circumstances permit. In this way the appreciation of moral virtue as a fundamental human value is not undermined by the recognition that contemplation is the highest human good and the final end of human life.
So once someone actualizes the virtue of sophia even once, then nothing more is to be gained by further actualizations? That idea hardly jibes with Aristotle's e)f o(/son e)nde/xetai a)qanati/zein kai\ pa/nta poiei=n pro\j to\ zh=n kata\ to\ kra/tiston tw=n e)n au(tw|= | (1177b33-4).

And what Dyson takes to be, or represents as, a consequence ('Thus, ...') looks to me like a distinct, unsupported idea.

Shouldn't we expect more from a critical review?


Anonymous said...

Can practical reasoning aim to imitate theoretical reasoning in some non-trivial ways? Michael is right: we need to show how this can happen. Without re-opening the previous deabate, think about whether an elaborate plan of action, discovered by euboulia, can be appreciated like a proof of some math result discovered by theoria. Can I in fact undertaking practical planning in part for its own sake, aiming to realize certain formal desiderata like economy and elegance & completeness ( defined of course over a set of actions available to me ) ? Remember that any important math proof has its own strategy or plan of demonstration, even if it is left implicit in the final version of the proof. Why is constructing or comtemplating an elegant math proof theoria, but deliberating & constructing a beautiful plan of action not also at least "theoretic" in some imitative sense?