27 October 2006

Charles Young on Aristotelian "Grace"-- Part II

I asked yesterday (see the post below) about a certain passage from NE V translated by Charles Young, which leaves out some words in an ellipsis. Once again we can ask: Why were those words left out? Not because of length, since only four words are at issue, th|~ metado&sei de\ summe/nousin, "they hold together through exchange".

The reason they were left out, I surmise, is that the words appear irrelevant, given how Young wants to interpret the passage. Yet this is a problem, since those words repeat Aristotle's thesis for the passage!

As the fuller context reveals, the passage is about a third sort of justice--not distributive or corrective, but proportionate reciprocity (to_ a)ntipeponqoj kat' a)nalogi/an)--and Aristotle is asserting that this sort of justice is that which "holds a city together". In passing Aristotle observes that, crucial to the carrying out of this sort of justice, is a sense of indebtedness or gratitude, xa/rij (not properly rendered here as 'grace'). Aristotle's etiology about temples to the Graces at marketplaces is simply meant to confirm the importance of this. But Young wants the passage to say something other than what it does, and so he has to omit by ellipsis the crucial sentence where Aristotle reminds us what the passage is about!

(Note, too, that the ellipsis, since it removes the crucial term, metado/sij, encourages Young's misreading of tou=to, "this", as pointing forward. It points backward, to a)ntapo&dosij and, before that, metado/sij.)

I copy below Young's complete commentary on the passage as expressing, he thinks, a doctrine of "Aristotelian grace". The writing is so precious and contrived that, in my view, it should have been XX-ed out without hesitation by the editor.

Aristotelian grace thus takes the good that we do for one another and returns, magnifies, and ramifies it. As a response to goodness, Aristotelian grace should be distinguished both from the grace of God and from grace under pressure (what Hemingway called "guts"), each of which responds to evil. The grace of God is God's response, if we are fortunate, to the evil that we do to one another. Grace under pressure is our response, if we are fortunate, to the evil that God--the world and other people, if you prefer--does to us.
Perhaps you are wondering with me at this point why Charles Young is sharing his theological opinions with us, and what this has to do with Aristotle's philosophy. Next he goes on to talk about the "operation of grace", surely a misleading phrase:
Aristotle makes two points about the operation of grace in the passage quoted above. First, grace enjoins us to return kindnesses that we have received: If you invite me to dinner, it is gracious for me to reciprocate. It is worth noting that the kindness done in return need not, and sometimes cannot, be done to the person who performed the original kindness. So it is, for example, with what owe to those responsible for our training in philosophy. "For such gifts the only proper return is the endeavor to make worthy use of what one has learned," as Myles Burnyeat (1982: 40n40) says in connection with Bernard Williams. Indeed, a kindness done in return need not be done to the specific individuals who benefited from the original kindness: "Lafayette, we are here."
Young now seems to have veered off into giving a moral exhortation or sermon here. It's all very inspiring, but this is "Charles Young's theory of grace". In Aristotle's passage, the indebtedness that is important in market exchanges surely must aim at reciprocation with the person who initiated the exchange.
Aristotle's second point is that grace enjoins one who has received a kindness "to go first ... next time out." If you have invited me to dinner, you have done me the kindness of the invitation. You have also done me the kindness of extending an invitation that is not a response to a previous invitation. It is gracious for me to return both kindnesses. Thus it is gracious for me to reciprocate the kindness of your original invitation by inviting you to dinner. It is also gracious for me to reciprocate the kindness of your extending an invitation that is not a response to a previous invitation by extending as similar invitation to you.
Young seems right about gratitude as shown in friendships, but Aristotle's point was in the context of a discussion of reciprocal justice. Isn't Young confusing justice with friendship?
There would seem to be an appealing regress here: a gracious regress, if I may. You invite me to dinner (Y). According to Aristotle's first point, it is gracious for me to reciprocate (M). That is a cycle, YM. According to his second point, it is gracious for me to initiate a next cycle, MY. But now we have a larger cycle, YMMY, which you initiated. So it is gracious for me to initiate a second larger cycle, MYYM. And so on, and on. It is thus a theorem of Aristotelian grace that if you do me a kindness, I will be forever in your debt.
But there is no unending cycle if we can reciprocate (as Young said above) with someone other than the person who did us the first favor. Also, why should we think that, according to Aristotle, we are supposed to have gratitude for participating in "cycles", rather than for the specific benefit of a particular gift? Once again, that phenomenon, if it exists, would seem to fall under a virtue other than justice.

But Young anticipates this last objection and concludes his discussion by replying as follows:
Aristotle may think that in "going first ... next time out" I square things with my benefactor. If so, our gracious regress is vicious against this thought. Kant goes straight to the heart of the matter: "For even if I repay my benefactor tenfold, I am still not even with him, because he has done me a kindness that he did not owe. He was the first in the field ... and I can never be beforehand with him" (Kant 1930: 222).
What does it mean, that "our gracious regress is vicious against this thought"? How does that serve as a reply to a reasonable objection? And Young seems to conclude that a certain view cannot be Aristotle's because Kant holds a different view!

As I said, an editor should delete such a passage peremptorily from a draft version and add, "It's your abuse of Aristotle's text that allows such flights of fancy."