01 September 2006

Silence Means Dissent?

I'll post two more comments on G. Lear's construction of a theory of moral beauty for Aristotle's Ethics.

The first is this: Her essay (in the recent Blackwell anthology edited by Kraut) leaves me wondering whether what is most interesting about Aristotle's mention of the kalon is not how he inherits a conception of moral beauty from Plato, or shares the same outlook, but rather how he in comparison downplays the significance of such a view.

Thus Lear throughout her essay is constantly imputing views about moral beauty to Aristotle--derived, I think, from her study of Plato--but then needing to retract or seriously qualify her assertions, in the absence of any real textual support for them. The following series of remarks (my emphases) is perfectly representative.

It is quite likely that Aristotle thinks it is part even of the fully mature virtuous character to enjoy the fine in what Plato would have called a thumoeidic or spirited way. That is to say, it seems to me likely that Aristotle follows Plato in attributing to human beings natural competitive desires to be and to be recognized as "the best"... And it seems to me likely that he follows Plato in thinking that these spirited desires can be gratified by the beauty of virtuous actions. For, like Plato, Aristotle describes moral education as being effected by the child's spirited concern with praise and blame and as directed toward teaching children to take pleasure in the beautiful.
But note that Lear gives no evidence for this last claim, and in fact a few sentences later she admits:
But although I believe Aristotle agrees with Plato about the relationship between spirit and the beauty of virtue, he does not in his own moral theory give it anything like the prominence it receives in the Republic. For the overwhelming majority of his discussion of virtue, Aristotle is content to distinguish reason from non-rational desires without mking further divisions within the latter.
She goes on to say (my emphases again):
Thus it does not seem plausible that his repeated descriptions of the virtuous person as acting for the sake of the fine are intended primarily as comments about how the virtuous person gratifies his sense of pride. Nor does it seem plausible that the value of the fineness of virtue is found primarily in what it gives to the spirit.
This may look like an outright contradiction: the interpretation she is proposing is likely, but it is not plausible. But actually it is not, because what Lear is claiming is that, although it is likely that Aristotle held these views, it is implausible that what he says about the kalon is 'intended primarily' to be expressing these views.

Go figure. My question is: Given how little Aristotle says about these matters, should we hold (a) it is likely he thought something similar to Plato, but did not express it; or (b) given that one might have thought that he was likely to hold a view similar to Plato's, his failure to emphasize it shows, rather, that he is very much rejecting that view?