Loving the Fine: Virtue and Happiness in Aristotle's Ethics

Article excerpt

Loving the Fine: Virtue and Happiness in Aristotle's Ethics Anna Lannström University of Notre Dame Press, Indiana, 2006

The title of this book immediately attracted the present reviewer, who has more respect for Aristotle than for most contemporary philosophers - and who is deeply interested in human society and evolutionary ethics. Sadly, the author is clearly not in the least interested in evolutionary ethics, and totally ignores the anthropological background to human behavior. Nevertheless, Loving the Fine is an attractive tide, and any discussion of Aristotle is always worth attention.

Lännström says she uses the phrase "loving the fine," which appears in translations of Aristotle, in the sense of "acting for the sake of the fine," and that in this context the word "fine" represents both beauty and moral behavior. She then proceeds to explain how Aristotle argued that virtue brings with it a sense of personal happiness, and also that virtuous or "beautiful" behavior is learned from practical experience, representing "the highest end" for mankind. In short, Aristotle conceives of moral behavior as beautiful behavior, as summed up in our phrase: the good, the true, and the beautiful.

But Lännström then devotes much time to quoting later philosophers such as Kant and Hume, and to questioning whether Aristotle had it all wrong. She concludes that he did, since she argues that one cannot "train" people to be virtuous in a Pavlovian way, and that many people who are not virtuous are happy.

Lännström would do well to take into account evolutionary ethics. She could then see a strong foundation for what Aristotle was saying. …