M 14/T 15 - Aristotle (LH); WATCH:Aristotle on Flourishing: How to Live a Good Life? LISTEN:Aristotle & flourishing;How Do I Live a Good Life? (HIp); Terence Irwin on Aristotle's Ethics (PB). Podcast
1. Complete the statement, identify the source, and explain the meaning of "One swallow..."
2. What was Aristotle's word for happiness, success, or flourishing?
3. Did Aristotle think we could learn to live a good life? Did he think it virtuous for individuals to focus exclusively on the pursuit of their own self-interest?*
- What do you think Aristotle's body language in School of Athens means? Which side of the painting, his or Plato's, would you be on?
- Why didn't Aristotle think children could be fully happy, fully "eudaimon"? Who are the happiest young and old people you know? Are their forms of happiness different?
- What's been the happiest moment of your life, so far? Or the least happy? At the time, would you have said that your life was happy?
- What's your idea of "the good life"? Do you consider other people's well-being to be any concern of yours? Is it a neglect of human potential to live merely for material values?
- What is "the right kind of character"? What does it mean to you to "become a better person"? Is that something you actively strive for? Do you think everyone can, and should?
- Do you recall a time in childhood when you asked, a parent, a Sunday School teacher, or some other adult the question "Who or what made God?" Did you receive a satisfactory response (from your present point of view)? Was the response an appeal to authority - the authority of the Bible or some other sacred text, the interpreters of your faith, or of your parents?
An old post-
Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - Aristotle & God
We have Aristotle on two tracks (the Little History and Philosophy Bites) today in CoPhi. God's* on 3d (pinch-hitting for Lucius Outlaw and last year's America the Philosophical* discussion of the historical role of African-Americans in philosophy, if you're interested).
(*The God, or a god? An important distinction, as Bill Murray noted in Groundhog Day: scroll down...)
Aristotle‘s in the Pythons' philosopher's song too, though he's even more sober than his Ionian predecessors. He rejected his teacher Plato’s metaphysics, returned to the cave of the phenomenal world to take a closer look, avoided universalizing abstractions and CAPS (preferring forms in things to transcendent and remote FORMS "above"), and inspired the name of our annual Spring speaker series in the philosophy department at MTSU, the Lyceum.
(We actually now also have a *Fall Lyceum at MTSU, inaugurated last year by Carlin Romano.)
The best quick & graphic way of illustrating the difference between Plato and his student Aristotle, I’ve found, is by pondering Raphael’s famous painting School of Athens [annotated]. Pay close attention to the hands. "On the other side [of Plato] stands Aristotle, the man of science and common sense, who points earthward in contrast with Plato's gesture toward the heavens. In Aristotle's arms Raphael put Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics..."
A new history of western philosophy takes that painting to heart. The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, by Arthur Herman, traces its implications for centuries of philosophers who lined up to squeeze into the School behind either Plato or Aristotle.
They began as student and master. They ended as rivals. Plato is supposed to have said, “Aristotle kicked me,as foals do their mothers when they are born.”All the evidence, however, suggests the crucial break between them came after Plato's death. Aristotle entered Plato's Academy in Athens at age seventeen, probably in 367 BCE. When he left, he was in his forties...Why they broke is a fascinating story reflected in centuries of divergent influence. If I were going to have to line up in that painting I'd have to pick Aristotle's side.
"How Aristotle Invented Science"-a slight overstatement, but not compared to Plato the armchair philosopher.
Aristotle was more eloquently poetic than scientific, though, when he said one swallow doesn't make a summer, and a few moments of pleasure don't add up to a happy life. Nor does a "happy childhood." We must be in it for the long haul, and must see our good as coordinate with that of others including those who'll succeed us after we're gone. It's all about eudaimonia ("you die" is a helpful mnemonic, aggressive and hostile though it sounds, and though it really means you live.)
It's probably for his ethics that Aristotle is most widely renowned, but Bertrand Russell for one was unimpressed. "There is in Aristotle an almost complete absence of what may be called benevolence or philanthropy. The sufferings of mankind, in so far as he is aware of them, do not move him emotionally." (Hold that thought, when we talk about the problem of evil.)
(Yesterday was the anniversary of Russell's death, btw. Strange occasion to mark, I suppose, but any excuse to check out Maria Popova's brainpickings is worthwhile.)
Aristotle was a naturalist, noticing our continuity with the rest of nature. Like trees and plants we flourish when well-nurtured. Unlike them, we must take charge of our own nurture in order to reach our potential and achieve The Good Life in tandem with our peers.
It's so ironic that the middle ages made Aristotle "The Philosopher," i.e. the unquestioned Authority. That was indeed "against the spirit of philosophy."
Terence Irwin's podcast interview is compelling listening, for those unaccustomed to a Yorkshire accent (or whatever it is). He makes the same point I just did about coordinating the personal and the public good, and "identifying one's own interest with other people's interest" etc.
He also helpfully corrects overly-simple reductions of Aristotle's ethics to a dogged middle-of-the-roadism. Avoiding extremes doesn't mean choosing the blandest, milk-toastiest possibility. No, his Golden Mean means doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason etc., and that could very well turn out to be something exciting. Or scary. (Like going after ISIS? What would Aristotle say?)
Don't confuse the ethical Golden Mean with the geometrical Golden Ratio. "The golden ratio, also known as the divine proportion, golden mean, or golden section, is a number often encountered when taking the ratios of distances..."
Aristotle's version of God, on the other hand, may just be too bland for your taste. It's not a he or she, or really even an it as we typically understand things.
To Aristotle, God is the first of all substances, the necessary first source of movement who is himself unmoved. God is a being with everlasting life, and perfect blessedness, engaged in never-ending contemplation. IEPThis is a remote and impersonal God, who won't intervene in our affairs and could really care less about them.
The God implied in the Hebrew Bible book of Ecclesiastes seems fairly indifferent to human suffering & flourishing too, and unpromising with respect to the old dream of Sunday School heaven and immortality. Jennifer Hecht glosses it smartly in Doubt:
Koheleth brushed aside the dream of an afterlife with a simple appeal to reason--Who knows this?--and the conclusion that humans have nothing above the beasts in this regard...But it doesn't follow that simple happiness is unavailable in this life. The recipe's pretty simple too.
Love your spouse. Get some work to do, do it with all your might; enjoy the simple pleasures of food, drink, and love. Everything else is vanity. But, it's a form of vanity we can live with. The search for true love, solid friendship, good work, and daily delight might just be enough. Enjoy your life. A person could do worse. The search for happiness on this orb is anything but a "dismal" undertaking, as someone sadly suggested. You could ask Aristotle. It's the end and aim of life.
Not everyone agrees with Aristotle about that, of course. For some, the end and aim is to serve and glorify God (and maybe reap the reward of that elusive afterlife after all). Their god knows and cares about human striving, and presumably abhors gratuitous suffering.
But there's the rub that's rubbed raw in our Philosophy: The Basics reading today: the perennial problem of evil or suffering, or the worry that our world is too full of woe to lay at the figurative feet of an omni-being. And even if we think we can disarm some of the problem by deploying the timeworn Free Will Defense, we leave "natural" evil (killer storms, quakes, disease) unaccounted for.
We also read today of David Hume's posthumous objections to weakly-analogical Paley-ish Design Arguments. Human artifacts are one thing, the products of complex time-borne natural phenomena seem to be something very different.
But natural selection, the "blind" and unpremeditated evolutionary process whereby organisms thrive when they develop adaptations suitable to the conditions of their environment, can be considered a form of Design without a Designer. We should ask and try to answer: Is there an important difference between intelligent design and natural complexity?
Must there have been a universal First Cause? But what caused the cause? That question is neck-and-neck with the problem of evil, in turning out many a young non-theist. J.S. Mill and Bertrand Russell, for instance.
[T]the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question 'Who made me?' cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian
I think I've heard just about every imaginable response to this question, through the years in my classrooms, but I'll ask it again:
If you believe in God, how do you attempt to reconcile or understand the full extent of human suffering? (Think of particular instances such as the "agony of a young child dying of an incurable disease," or an innocent gunshot or terror victim, or someone killed in a storm and their survivors.) Do you see it as part of a divine plan we just have to trust, or a deep mystery we shouldn't think too much about? Or do you believe in a God who is less than omnipotent and is just doing the best He/She/It can to bring about a harmonious and just Creation?
If you don't believe in God, is that in whole or in part because of the Problem of Evil? Or something else?
Or maybe you're like Charlie Brown's antagonist Lucy, who once responded to his Socratic query about the meaning of it all that "I just don't think about things I don't think about." Didn't seem to make her any happier, not thinking. Did it?
|Walk Magazine (@WalkMagazine)|
Aristotle would like this:
In a hut in southern Germany and an apartment in New York City, about ninety years ago, two philosophers tried to sort out a family of ancient problems concerning experience, knowledge, and our place in the world. Working independently, they developed a similar idea and used it as a launching pad for more.The way to make progress on those problems, they thought, is to treat our practical engagement with the environment as primary. “In our dealings we come across equipment for writing, sewing, working, transportation, measurement.” We encounter ordinary objects “as things of doing, suffering, contact, possession and use.” When we engage with such things, they are “not thereby objects for knowing the ‘world’ theoretically; they are simply what gets used, what gets produced, and so on.” “They are things had before they are things cognized.” The move to understand things theoretically only comes about when there is some interruption or “deficiency” in our ordinary dealings. A common error in philosophy, however, has been a kind of “intellectualism,” treating all our contact with the world in terms of concepts and representations, assuming that “knowledge is the only mode of experience that grasps things.” The irony is that such intellectualism makes knowledge itself impossible to understand. If we forget that knowledge is derivative from more basic kinds of engagement with the world, we end up “making knowledge, conceived as ubiquitous, itself inexplicable.”These are central themes also in Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor’s new book, Retrieving Realism. As Dreyfus and Taylor see it, philosophical work in the modern period (in the philosopher’s sense of “modern,” which starts around 1600) has been plagued by a mediational view of how we relate to the world. “Only through” intermediaries can we have contact with things outside us. A few hundred years ago the mediators were supposed to be image-like sensations or ideas. Now they are often sentences, or internal representations of the kind envisaged in artificial intelligence and cognitive science. The mediational approach, for Dreyfus and Taylor, is one that people adopt without entirely realizing it. Working within it, however, leads to many errors and misguided debates. It leads to a dualistic sorting of the world’s contents into mental and physical, and with this comes an acute problem of how the two sides could be related. But from the early twentieth century, a better view has slowly developed, according to Dreyfus and Taylor, especially through the work of Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. They show us how to have a theory of contact with the world without mediators, through a “reembedding of thought and knowledge in the bodily and social-cultural contexts in which it takes place.”Compact and engaging, Retrieving Realism is more approachable than its weighty subject matter might predict. The book begins from an assertion of the “embedding” of thought and knowledge in its bodily and practical contexts, and then argues against a range of views that try to insist that our contact with the world must somehow run through representations, language, or concepts. Instead, our basic contact with the world involves a kind of “absorbed coping.” The authors are not entirely hostile to the idea of representation of the world in our minds and in language, but those phenomena are secondary. Recognizing this, for Dreyfus and Taylor, enables us to recover from the morass of mediationism the idea that we live in, and can know about, a world that exists independently of us. That is the realism that is being “retrieved.”The point that not everything we do makes use of theories and concepts might seem obvious—clearly we also eat and drink and walk on things. But Dreyfus and Taylor think that philosophy constantly invents new ways to falsely intellectualize our relationship to things that we do. Philosophy itself does not subside once we see these issues clearly; philosophy has tasks beyond merely diagnosing errors. We have to work out how to negotiate differences between cultures and between different methods of knowing the world. This work will go better when those differences are understood against a common background of dealing with the world that we all, as humans, engage in.• • •The early twentieth century was indeed a time when the philosophical landscape shifted, but Dreyfus and Taylor give a one-sided account of the events of this period. The two figures at work in my opening vignette were Heidegger, in the hut, and John Dewey, in New York. Heidegger’s Being and Time was published in 1927. A few years earlier, Dewey published Experience and Nature, revising it in 1929. This was not Dewey’s first book, as in Heidegger’s case, but the fourteenth of (too) many, containing ideas that had developed from Dewey’s first years as an “idealist” philosopher, through the classic debates over pragmatism in the first years of the new century, to this mature position... (continues)