Aristotle and Moral Realism

By Robert Heinaman | Go to book overview

taken to mean why the Greeks took the just to be the equal (as Aristotle, the philosopher, reflects it in his illumination of the reputable opinions), then we may come up with whatever answer appears congenial to us. A first step might lie in bringing in Richard Hare's notion of universalizability. But more would need to be said. The important point, however, as I have emphasized all through, is that we should not expect to find an Aristotelian attempt to justify the principles of justice in terms of a philosophical anthropology. There is no more justification to be found in Aristotle than in the reputable opinions that he canvasses and systematizes.

So, much as I would like to, I cannot find any sufficiently clear basis in Aristotle for Aubenque's notion of human rights to basic and inalienable goods. What we find in Aristotle, as I see it, is a different construal of justice from one we might wish to accept. It obviously has important and interesting affinities with what we would say. But it also has important differences and they are no less interesting. One difference has been highlighted by Aubenque in a thought-provoking way, namely that we, as I think, in contrast with both Aristotle and Matthew, tend to describe as just a political system that goes against the principle of proportional distribution so clearly developed by Aristotle. I find it interesting to speculate about how that change may have come about.


Concluding remarks

I have presented Aristotle as a robust moral realist; that is, as one who without compunction canvasses endoxic and pragmatic arguments for statements purporting to state the truth in the given area. It is noteworthy, however, that Aristotle is quite circumspect when it comes to stating those truths. He rarely leaves completely out of his final theory a point of view that appears sufficiently endoxic to have been given an initial hearing and he is often satisfied with fairly general accounts of the various notions he introduces, even the most basic ones. It is this feature that makes it possible to develop many central ideas in Aristotle's ethics beyond the way they were understood by Aristotle himself, but in a direction that does make it possible to claim that these ideas are valid for human beings as such, in all times and places. Most often that direction will be a Kantian one. Sometimes one need go no further than to Stoicism -- but then the

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