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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/13525/a-problem-with-aristotles-ethical-essentialism/

A Problem with Aristotle’s Ethical Essentialism

August 10, 2010 by

In Aristotle’s view, a great many people who operate productively and creatively in the natural world, focused on doing well in the practical professions, are consigned to an inferior status. FULL ARTICLE by Tibor Machan

{ 10 comments }

fundamentalist August 10, 2010 at 8:31 am

Tibor’s depiction of Christian philosophy is accurate up to the Reformation. In Catholicism the monastery was the height of spirituality. In Protestantism, the good worker epitomizes spirituality. That’s one reason capitalism appealed to Protestants.

Fallon August 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm

I am wondering if it is exactly fair to equate “intellect”, Machan’s word, with “reason”, Aristotle’s, so neatly.

Bruce Koerber August 10, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Unity Of Ethics For All Professions And Occupations.

So it appears that our task is to bridge the intellect to the virtues and finally to the universal human reality.

It is part of the distinction of humans to have an intellect which can ignite and capture the spark of the entrepreneurial spirit – also described as ‘seeking after truth.’ Since all things in this contingent world are relative, so too is the degree of this quality (converting a latent entrepreneurial spirit into an active one) over time. Maturity is one word used to signify an optimal time.

Whether in deep contemplation or whether serving in a capacity of producing goods and services the human intellect will eventually come to the same realization – what constitutes value to humans is that which attracts humans. And further, what attracts humans are the virtues, the names and attributes of God, since humans are created in God’s Image – attracted like a moth to the light. That is the origin of all value.

Since the objective ends of contemplation (lofty) and production (hands-on) are the same, neither can claim superiority. Relative superiority is only related to the degree of success in the mining of the virtues from the contingent world. A teacher may bring these virtues to the surface in a student. The virtues are valued. A business firm may produce a good or service that brings a virtue – beauty, for instance – to the surface. That virtue is valued.

There is no difference in station between the various ways that human beings bring virtues into play. The only distinction is how well it is done.

Allen Weingarten August 10, 2010 at 7:45 pm

“With human beings, too, they are good ones of their kind if their essential or central potentialities are fully realized in their particular circumstances.”

I can follow this if someone is a saint or a chess player. But what does this mean if someone is a tyrant or a sadist?

Allen Weingarten August 11, 2010 at 4:26 am

Yet we can say that generic man is best when his potential is realized, without claiming that all men are equal in their contribution. The free market rewards those entrepreneurs who best serve the consumer with greater profits. This does not show that some men are morally superior to others, but that they contribute more to capital formation. Similarly, sound philosophers contribute more to society, than cooks who prepare the best hamburgers, although I would prefer eating the cook’s burger to reading the philosophers’ dull writings.

fakename August 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

About the tyrant, I’m pretty sure aristotle would count the tyrant as a man who fell short of fulfilling his potential.

Allen Weingarten August 11, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Fakename, would this apply to every immoral category, such as a murderer, slave owner, thief, liar, or alcoholic? In particular, would it apply to someone who uses a fake name?

Scott Stephens August 11, 2010 at 5:53 am

“he can favor at least a certain type of slavery and entertains certain misguided notions about the proper place of women. And there is also his conception of wealth-seeking as of merely instrumental value, not capable of being a virtuous pursuit.”

Remember historical context. Observing barbarian captives and the typical norms women were inculcated in would generally not make anyone impressed with their potential, though no fault of their own.

Aristotle’s focus on first principles, rather than the means to an end would of course mean those who focus and wealth as the end obviously readily sacrifice personal virtue, honor, civility and even rationality to that end.

“I think that some corrective adjustment in Aristotle’s conception of human nature would also help us to see business as every bit as honorable a profession ”

“what we have through much of Western civilization — granted that there are lots of other influences as well — is this notion that those who occupy themselves with intellectual things (writers, philosophers, theoretical scientists) are all dealing with more important things and thus are due a more honorable status and are more respectable than those of us who drive street cars or trucks, conduct trains, and run business firms in the actual visible world.”

Yes, if man’s differentiating faculty is rationality, those that exercise this faculty, especially in pioneering innovations, rather than those that exercise mere animal mimicry, habit, obedience to authority, or conformity do deserve greater honor for their exercise and excellence in the essential faculty.

“we know him to be a naturalist, deriving his standards or excellence based on an understanding of what human beings must be in order to be human, when it comes to developing the substance of his ethics, it looks like he picks not human nature, but only the distinctive aspects of human nature.”

‘Aristotle … drops the animal aspect … demeans its significance….Aristotle that becomes somehow ethically secondary, almost irrelevant, because happiness seems to depend primarily, and sometimes the suggestion is exclusively, on the exercise of this distinctive element of our nature, namely, our intellect.
There is something amiss here, namely, that instead of taking the entire being and then developing a standard of excellence based on the nature of this being, you get only a part of it. And that tends to leave a lot of people out of the moral enterprise, naturally.’

Of course. His animal and vegetative aspects of human nature cause those without, or with defective rationality to act against themselves, self-destructively. So the aspect of rationality is both defining, vital and to be developed above the others.

When he discusses selfishness in the Nichomachean Ethics, he points out that since most men are consumed with the pursuit of food, money and sex, the virtuous pursue the best things (virtue) and therefore should be lovers of their own virtuous nature, whereas barbarians (sociopaths criminals) aught to be lovers of others so they don’t cause themselves and others problems.

“…it does look like we get this idea from Aristotle that of all the human beings, those who are capable of contemplation are the only ones who can really be ethically successful…it is a type of hierarchically or elitism. Those of us who have careers in education are automatically deemed to be honorable, respectable….In much of vulgar or refined literature those who produce prosperity are demeaned while those delving in ideas revered.”

I would attribute this Christian tradition and being inculcated in a school system, and media, that self-servingly idolizes academic authorities they believe the ignorant hoi-polio are/should be dependent on.

“in Aristotle the trader can only be instrumentally contributory to a good life. The retail trader is human but can never relish and be proud of being a retail trader. He just cannot aspire to having a morally upstanding position or profession.”

Aristotle, IIRC, thought the highest art was politics since it was concerned with instilling public virtue. Today I would say those members of the clergy, coaching and psychologist fulfill that role.

“This is something that is beefed up by the Christian metaphysical input…the spiritual is far more important than the natural life….one should live by preparing for everlasting salvation,…anything that one is devoted to in the natural world is obstructive, negligible, or at best merely a means to that spiritual existence.
By this view a great many people who operate productively and creatively in the natural world, making a living in that world successfully and joyfully via their focus on doing well in the practical professions, are consigned to an inferior status.”

I don’t believe the New Testament teaches this. Paul was a tent-maker. Slaves are admonished to work as for God (not merely their masters) so their reward will be great from God. I can think of nowhere work is demeaned. the Proverbs in the old testament are full of admonishions to be thrifty and diligent, and the slothful are wicked. Paul said, “let those that don’t work (waiting for Christ’s return) not eat”. Again, as with Aristotle, its the ends being pursued, the ethos has been summed up “eat (or make money) to live; don’t live to eat (make money)”

“The themes most widely promulgated in our general culture …People, on a TV sitcom,”

What do you expect from progressives, socialists, Marxists and invidious, shallow media-types seeking to instill dependence on an academic elite and make their serfs feel stupid, incompetent and dependent!

“There are these elements in our culture that seem to discriminate in favor of those who devote themselves mainly to an intellectual profession. This is my basic concern here. I think that the reason for that is, first of all, the dualism in Plato’s Socrates, then the Christian division of the world into the higher and the lower or the spiritual vs. the material, and finally, even in Aristotle — who might have come in as a very, very powerful rescuer and liberated us from this view.
Aristotle concedes too much to those who discriminate in favor of the purely intellectual, and he tends to denigrate the practical life.”

I disagree, and think your misguided. Yes Aristotle noticed the same phenomena – people not behaving ethically, morally, or spiritual. Above all Rationally, and worshiping money as a virtue in itself rather than a means to an end.

So its only appropriate to admonish all to be rational, or to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God”, rather than to base one’s life and self-esteem on being wealth, “successful”. Then if riches are earned or not, one can be proud in spite of what the barbarians and fools think, the result being and independent, internal happiness (joy) that none can take away.

Reuven August 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm
james November 16, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Being a student of Plato, Arisotle had a lot of great theories about how the universe worked around us. Many writers after him were influenced a lot by his teachings.

I particularly like his works on ethics.

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