03 October 2006

Lost in Redaction

Some things apparently get lost in redaction.

In an earlier post, I suggested that Meyer's interpretation of Aristotle on the voluntary was contradicted by the line which she omits and which immediately follows the passage that she translates in her essay (1223a9-18). Recall that that line was: "It is clear, then, that virtue and vice, too, would be in the class of voluntary things" (dh=lon toi/nun o(/ti kai\ h( a)reth\ kai\ h( kaki/a tw=n e(kousi/wn a)\n ei)/hsan). Meyer in contrast was maintaining that it is no part of Aristotle's intention to argue that we voluntarily acquire the virtues, or that our doing so is a precondition of our being responsible for actions that flow from the virtues.

I consulted her book, and there (p. 43) Meyer notes the seeming contradiction. Here is how she deals with it:

Nowhere in the Eudemian discussion of voluntariness, however, does Aristotle show any concern to establish the voluntariness of states of character. The remarks about "controlling origins" (kuriai archai) that introduce the discussion of voluntariness in EE ii.6 clearly concern an agent's causal responsibility for particular actions. Except perhaps the concluding line of that chapter (1223a19-20) Aristotle makes no reference in any of the EE's discussion of voluntariness and related notions (EE ii 6-11) to the question of whether character is voluntary.
Perhaps, like me, you are unimpressed by a generalization that takes the form "nowhere ... except...".

In a footnote to the passage quoted above, Meyer then adds:
EE 1228a7-11 may appear to be a counterexample. But this passage, like MM i 12, appears to use 'virtue' (arete) and 'vice' (kakia) for actions.
That is to say, if 'virtue' (a)reth/) and 'vice' (kaki/a) are not used in EE 1228a7-11 for actions, then the passage is another (rather glaring) counterexample to Meyer's thesis.

Well, what does that passage say? I'll leave it to you to confirm, if you wish, what is clearly true, namely, that those words are used to mean states of character, not actions, in the passages and texts that precede 1228a7-11, and in those that immediately follow. But is there perhaps good reason for taking the meaning of these words to change, so that they become used in a non-standard sense, in the passage itself? The context of the passage, fyi, is that it has just been argued that an agent has the correct end for his actions only if he has the relevant virtue; the virtue supplies him with the right end:

ei0 dh& tij, e0f' au(tw|~ o2n pra&ttein me\n ta_ kala_ a)praktei=n de\ ta_ ai0sxra&, tou)nanti/on poiei=, dh~lon o3ti ou) spoudai=o&j e0stin ou{toj o( a1nqrwpoj. w3st' a)na&gkh th&n te kaki/an e9kou&sion ei]nai kai\ th_n a)reth&n: ou)demi/a ga_r a)na&gkh ta_ moxqhra_ pra&ttein. dia_ tau~ta kai\ yekto_n h( kaki/a kai\ h( a)reth_ e0paineto&n: ta_ ga_r a)kou&sia ai0sxra_ kai\ kaka_ ou) ye/getai ou)de\ ta_ a)gaqa_ e0painei=tai, a)lla_ ta_ e9kou&sia. e1ti pa&ntaj e0painou~men kai\ ye/gomen ei0j th_n proai/resin ble/pontej ma~llon h2 ei0j ta_ e1rga: kai/toi ai9retw&teron h( e0ne/rgeia th~j a)reth~j, o3ti pra&ttousi me\n fau~la kai\ a)nagkazo&menoi,proairei=tai d' ou)dei/j. e1ti dia_ to_ mh_ r(a|&dion ei]nai i0dei=n th_n proai/resin o(poi/a tij, dia_ tau~ta e0k tw~n e1rgwn a)nagkazo&meqa kri/nein poi=o&j tij. ai9retw&teron me\n ou}n h( e0ne/rgeia, e0painetw&teron d' h( proai/resij.

Suppose then that someone, when it is up to him to do admirable actions and refrain from disgraceful ones, does the opposite: it is clear that he is not a good human being. The consequence is that it is necessary that vice be voluntary, and also virtue--since there is no necessitation in doing bad things. That is why vice is blameworthy as well as virtue praiseworthy. We are not blamed for involuntary things that are disgraceful or bad, or praised for involuntary things that are good; rather, only those that are voluntary.
A further consequence: we praise and blame others in looking to their purpose ('choice'), more than to their actions, even though the actualization is to be preferred over the virtue, because people do bad things even out of compulsion, but no one purposefully does them out of compulsion. Also, because it's not easy to observe what sort of purpose someone has--that's why we are constrained to judge from someone's actions what sort of person he is. Thus, although the actualization is more to be preferred, the purpose is more of an object of praise.
I've highlighted the words that, according to Meyer, "appear" to refer to actions. But these clearly do not refer to actions:
  • When the passage wishes to refer to actions, it uses the usual idioms, e.g. ta_ kala_, ta_ ai0sxra/, ta\ e)/rga.
  • The passage speaks of the actualization of virtue: what is actualized, then, is clearly the state, not an action.
  • The passage considers the sequence, virtue-purpose-action, which is to say, again, that it treats of the virtue as distinct from an action.
  • The connectives 'then' (dh&) and 'consequently' (w3ste) clearly are meant to tie this argument into the text that precedes this. Thus what this text means by 'virtue' needs to be consistent with what preceded, and in the preceding passage it fairly certainly means a state of character.
What do I conclude from all this? The two texts in EE that apparently are most relevant to testing the truth of Meyer's thesis ... directly contradict it.