Aristotle and Moral Realism

By Robert Heinaman | Go to book overview

Aristotelian ethics and the "enlargement of thought"

SABINA LOVIBOND

In considering the topic of Aristotle and moral realism, I have found myself drawn to the question of how, if at all, current "realist" views in ethics can find support in the ethics of Aristotle. In order to make any progress with this question, we obviously need a working definition of "realism", and for present purposes I shall assume -- however contentiously -- that there is no compelling reason to mistrust the close conceptual link that exists pre-philosophically between "reality" and "truth." In other words, I shall leave undisturbed the apparently naïve notion that, when we succeed in saying something true, we thereby succeed, regardless of subject matter, in recording an aspect of reality. In contrast to those who regard the former kind of success as merely a preliminary qualification for realism in a "discourse" or class of statements,1. I shall be content to understand as "realism" a position that maintains simply that statements of the relevant class are truth-evaluable and that some of them are actually true.2

Next, we need to review the defining features of an "Aristotelian" ethics. If I were to lay claim, on my own account, to a position of this kind, what elucidation could I be expected to offer? In the first place, I would have to advance something corresponding to Aristotle's view that human nature -- the answer to the question "What is it to be a human being?" -- determines the human energeia; that is, that it fixes what we can count as fully successful human functioning. In mentioning "success" here I would have to think of myself as having

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1.
See e.g. C. Wright, Truth and objectivity ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), esp. pp. 199-201.

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