Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Moral Good and Normative Nature in the Aristotelian Ethics

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Moral Good and Normative Nature in the Aristotelian Ethics

Article excerpt

Nature as the rudder for the ship of ethical conduct seems clear enough in the Aristotelian Ethics. The most pronounced study offering the contrary is a work by J. Donald Monan, Moral Knowledge and Its Methodology in Aristotle. (1) Point by point commentary responding to such a developed thesis is absent in the time since that work. Sweeping, passing assertions (though they may be correct exegetically) in the literature that contradict Monan's claim do not give the lexical cross-examination due Monan's developed work. Carrie-Ann Biondi Khan's essay's title "Aristotle's Moral Expert: The Phronimos" may lead one astray, in fact, from the conviction Aristotle held from the Protrepticus to the Politics regarding Nature's role in ethical matters. (2) Karen Wilkes's essay "The Good Man and the Good for Man," though it speaks of Aristotle's "good man" does so with the aim of clarifying what at first appears to be a possible conflicts in his notion of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (3) Sarah Broadie's "Nature, Craft, and Phronesis" (4) is not to our point in that she deftly explains how the analogy between Nature and craft works in Aristotle's teleology, freeing him from charges of psychologism. Her objective is not ours, which is establishing Nature as Aristotelian norm for moral right. In the informative collection of essays The Crossroads of Norm and Nature: Essays on Aristotle's Ethics and Metaphysics (5) one finds no exegesis, the book's title notwithstanding, on this tenet of Nature's importance in Aristotle; nor in Richard Bodeus's comments "The Natural Foundations of Right and Aristotelian Philosophy." (6) Joseph Owens's "The Grounds of Ethical Universality in Aristotle" (7) and "Nature and Ethical Norm in Aristotle," (8) though clearly acknowledging Nature's preeminence in ethical rule-making, do not work through the Aristotelian texts as this essay will. In his essay "The [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the Aristotelian Ethics," (9) he repeats the Monan role of the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Aristotle, but with the careful qualification: "insofar as he is the standard and measure of truth in moral activity."

The textual effort that we will ply here, missing in superb book length studies of the Ethics since Monan's work, will give substance to that qualification by Owens. One cannot simply say, it seems to me, that the role of Nature in the Ethics is too clear to dispute, and thus no studied response to Monan was really necessary. This way of thinking obviously was not present in Monan's scholarship. This essay seeks to redress what so far has not been forthcoming.

I

Moral Knowledge denies a role to Nature in the evaluation of human conduct in Aristotle's later ethical theory. While Nature, Monan writes, grounds correct moral awareness in the Protrepticus, (10) in the later Ethics, Nature loses this importance in ethical judgments for Aristotle. In the later Ethics according to Monan, there is no appeal to any "pre-existing metaphysically elaborated absolute." (11) Ethical value in the Nicomachean Ethics can be realized only in human conduct, in actual concrete [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (12) It is in the lived situation where one's awareness of right and wrong now emerges. In the Nicomachean Ethics only through one's actions does one come to know right and wrong.

With the Nicomachean Ethics, then, Aristotle discards, according to Monan, any appeal to right or wrong that the findings of everyday human experience do not authorize. This experience becomes, in the later Ethics, the exclusive criterion for ethical reasoning and the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] the exclusive criterion for ethical right. (13) The morally good man, through his repeated good actions, has acquired the eye to see immediately, without reflection or deliberation, how the good is to be realized in a particular instance. His actions and experience, embodying this intuition of the morally good, will provide for us then the guide to objectively good actions. …

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