03 November 2006

Aristotelian Ethics without the Function Argument

One of the curious consequences of Broadie's emphasis from the start on "flourishing", is that the Function Argument, and any application of critera for eudaimonia (most goal-like, self-sufficient, most preferable), drop out of her exposition of the basic argument of NE.

She depicts Aristotle as arguing, simply: "The point of human life is flourishing. But flourishing is virtuous activity." She agrees that this looks unsatisfactory:

A non-question-begging anthropological picture [sc. of flourishing] fails to generate a unique narrowly substantial account of the human good. In particular, it fails to justify the account for which Aristotle himself eventually settles: one that (a) equates flourishing with, predominantly, the activity of virtue, "virtue" being understood as meaning courage, moderation and the rest, and above all justice; and (b) interprets these qualities in the ordinary moralistic sense (343-4).
In particular, there are ostensibly other varieties of flourishing:
But there are those who "by any ethological standard of the bright eye and the gleaming coat [are] dangerously flourishing" (Williams, 1985: 46): people who are ruthless and dishonest, but intelligent, well-organized, achievers of their goals, enjoying life. What about them? As contemporary ethicists, we wonder how Aristotle imagines he can get away with his equation [sc. of flourshing with virtuous activity-MP]. If, by a supposedly logical transition from "living [or functioning] well" (eu) to "living [or functioning] in accordance with virtue" (kat' areten), then the equation rests on an equivocation between the philosopher's formulaic sense of the virtue of an X--that whereby an X is or functions as a good one--and what the ordinary person understands by "virtue" as applied to human beings. A hedonist would or should argue that living or functioning well is living or functioning pleasantly, with "the (formulaic) virtue in accordance with which" understood as the capacity (or set of capacities) for pleasure. Some hold that living well is living splendidly, which they identify perhaps with wielding power and the "triumph of the will"; or with the glamor of elegance and "cool"; the virtues, for them, correspond (344).
Broadie seems to conclude that Aristotle's "equation" does indeed beg the question. He accepts it because he accepts it:
...Aristotle pushes ahead with the equation "flourishing is virtuous [in the ordinary sense] activity" because he is a person with a certain set of values (which he can defend up to a point, though there is no reason to believe conclusively), and he is addressing a likeminded audience or readership (345).
Yet rather than regarding this attitude or approach (sometimes called "internalism") as philosophically suspect, Broadie ascribes it to "lost innocence":
Contemporary theorists may be disappointed, or they may be put on their mettle, by the epistemological simplicity, or crudity, with which Aristotle sets up the basic proposition of the NE. In this respect, Aristotle is not, I think, a philosophical model that we in any straightforward way can follow. In this respect, he is a reminder of lost innocence, but not a leader back to it. There is, however, no shortage in the NE of philosophical refinement and dexterity once we are within the framework of Aristotle's basic proposition (347).


papabear said...

How disappointing. I expected more from her.

What does Broadie think then of living in accord with reason? And what does she say in response to Aristotle holding that ethics can/should be taught only to a certain kind of audience? Presumably, Aristotle would also say that only certain kind of people can "theorize" about ethics; does she, like many others, judge Aristotle from a overly-rationalist perspective?