Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics on virtue competition

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 32 (1):1-21 (2023)
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For many, striving to attain first place in an athletic competition is explicable. Less explicable is striving to attain first place in a virtue (aretē) competition. Yet this latter dynamic appears in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. There is 4.3’s magnanimity, the crown of the virtues, which seemingly manifests itself in outdoing one’s peers in virtue. Such one-upmanship also seems operant with 9.8’s praiseworthy self-lover, who seeks to get as much of the fine (to kalon) as possible for herself. Contrary to many interpreters, this paper argues that praiseworthy self-love and magnanimity involve one-upmanship. The relevant exemplars are not simply striving to be the best that they can be in respect to virtue (in virtuous activity), but to be better than others. The paper argues that Aristotle’s axiology, which sets activity (energeia) above state (hexis) and potentiality (dunamis), engenders one-upmanship. For only the level of activity substantially differentiates individuals, settling for inferiority is obviously objectionable, and equal achievement for Aristotle is not static but involves matching and surpassing the achievements of others. The paper concludes that modern discomfort with these dynamics is due to an axiology Nietzsche attributes to Christianity, one that bases human value fundamentally on non-differentiating potentiality.



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Bradford Jean-Hyuk Kim
University of Southampton

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Aristotle on the Human Good.Richard Kraut - 1989 - Princeton University Press.
Nietzsche : Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist.Walter A. Kaufmann - 1950 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 144:467-469.

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