This study of Plato's ethics focuses on the concept of virtue. Based on detailed readings of the most prominent Platonic dialogues on virtue, it argues that there is a central yet previously unnoticed conceptual distinction in Plato between the idea of virtue as the supreme aim of one's actions and the determination of which action-tokens or -types are virtuous. Appreciating the 'aiming/determining distinction' provides detailed and mutually consistent readings of the most well-known Platonic dialogues on virtue as well as original (...) interpretations of central Platonic questions. Unlike most examinations of Plato's ethics, this study does not take as its centrepiece the 'eudaimonist framework', which focuses on the relationship between virtue and happiness. Instead, it argues that the dialogues themselves begin with the idea of the supremacy of virtue, examine how that claim can be defended, and address how to determine what constitutes the virtuous action. (shrink)
It is argued that a proper appreciation of the passages in the Nicomachean Ethics where Aristotle requires the student of ethics to be well brought up implies that the Ethics is not attempting to justify the objective correctness of its substantive conception of happiness to someone who does not already appreciate its distinctive value. Reflection on the import of the good-upbringing restriction can lead us to see that Aristotle's conception of ethical objectivity is not only radically different from modern moral (...) philosophy's appeal "to any rational agent", but philosophically important for contemporary ethical thought. (shrink)
Socratic irony is potentially fertile ground for exegetical abuse. It can seem to offer an interpreter the chance to dismiss any claim which conflicts with his account of Socratic Philosophy merely by crying ‘irony’. If abused in this way, Socratic irony can quickly become a convenient receptacle for everything inimical to an interpretation. Much recent scholarship rightly reacts against this and devotes itself to explaining how Socrates actually means everything he says, at least everything of philosophical importance. But the fact (...) that a commentator needs to argue that Socrates is really serious when he disavows knowledge or claims to be the saviour of Athens is by itself sufficient to establish that there is an abundance of what I will call ‘play’ in the Socratic dialogues. The term ‘play’ refers to occasions when Socrates at least appears not to be speaking straightforwardly. ‘Play’ covers cases of real or apparent humour, mockery, teasing, irony, and sarcasm, without differentiation or further elaboration. When left undefined, as often, the phrase ‘Socratic irony’ seems to be used to refer to what I am calling ‘play’. (shrink)
Socratic irony is potentially fertile ground for exegetical abuse. It can seem to offer an interpreter the chance to dismiss any claim which conflicts with his account of Socratic Philosophy merely by crying ‘irony’. If abused in this way, Socratic irony can quickly become a convenient receptacle for everything inimical to an interpretation. Much recent scholarship rightly reacts against this and devotes itself to explaining how Socrates actually means everything he says, at least everything of philosophical importance. But the fact (...) that a commentator needs toarguethat Socrates is really serious when he disavows knowledge or claims to be the saviour of Athens is by itself sufficient to establish that there is an abundance of what I will call ‘play’ in the Socratic dialogues. The term ‘play’ refers to occasions when Socrates at leastappearsnot to be speaking straightforwardly. ‘Play’ covers cases of real or apparent humour, mockery, teasing, irony, and sarcasm, without differentiation or further elaboration. When left undefined, as often, the phrase ‘Socratic irony’ seems to be used to refer to what I am calling ‘play’. (shrink)
Moral Motivation presents a history of the concept of moral motivation. The book consists of ten chapters by eminent scholars in the history of philosophy, covering Plato, Aristotle, later Peripatetic philosophy, medieval philosophy, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Kant, Fichte and Hegel, and the consequentialist tradition. In addition, four interdisciplinary "Reflections" discuss how the topic of moral motivation arises in epic poetry, Cicero, early opera, and Theodore Dreiser. Most contemporary philosophical discussions of moral motivation focus on whether and how moral beliefs by (...) themselves motivate an agent to act. In much of the history of the concept, especially before Hume, the focus is rather on how to motivate people to act morally as well as on what sort of motivation a person must act from in order to be a genuinely ethical person or even to have done a genuinely ethical action. The book shows the complexity of the historical treatment of moral motivation and, moreover, how intertwined moral motivation is with central aspects of ethical theory. (shrink)
I argue that many standard interpretations of Aristotle suffer from what Cora Diamond calls "the metaphysical spirit". The metaphysical spirit lays down requirements for a given subject in advance of actual investigation; it already knows how ethics, say, or epistemology, must be conducted and what problems must be addressed. Standard readings of Aristotle focus on certain assumptions based not so much on Aristotle's texts as on "metaphysical" assumptions about the nature of the philosophical problems involved. I claim that this is (...) a mistaken approach to Aristotle's philosophy. ;The metaphysical spirit assumes a certain view of the relationship between mind and world that places responding to the skeptic center stage. When Aristotle himself seems unconcerned about the skeptic, commentators construct a response on Aristotle's behalf. I argue that Aristotle is not concerned with the skeptic, and that a proper understanding of his views on perception in the De Anima shows that he adopts a common sense realism that makes such a response unnecessary. Further, focusing on those passages in which Aristotle requires the student of ethics to be already well brought up, I argue that Aristotle is not responding to the moral skeptic in the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle's works also raise a general problem about his method, which involves surveying the endoxa : what entitles Aristotle to believe that reflection on endoxa will yield objective truth? I claim that once we see how the common sense realism of the De Anima can be philosophically defensible, Aristotle's method can seem a perfectly reasonable approach to acquiring truth. ;I argue that reflection on Wittgenstein, and contemporary philosophers inspired by him, suggests considering these problems with "the realistic spirit". Rather than attempting to answer the skeptic directly, the realistic spirit tries to understand the metaphysical assumptions which make those concerns appear pressing and permits an intellectually respectable indifference towards the skeptic. Thus, Aristotle's lack of interest towards the skeptic and traditional problems of philosophy is not only intellectually responsible but can even be philosophically enlightening. (shrink)
This is an important book for the specialist in Aristotelian natural science and philosophy of mind. While its overall aims are more sweeping—to show how the account of perception is an application of the explanatory method of the Physics and to argue that Aristotle’s resulting method of explaining mental activity has substantive advantages over contemporary accounts in philosophy of mind —much of its most successful argument is a sustained and detailed attack on a position made famous by Myles Burnyeat. On (...) Burnyeat’s “spiritualist” reading of Aristotle, the sense organs perceive without undergoing any material alteration; the capacity for perception is a basic capacity of the matter that constitutes sense organs, and admits of no further material explanation. The “literalist,” by contrast, maintains that when a sense organ perceives something it is physically altered, so that it takes on a property of the sensible that affects it. Everson’s primary achievement is to supply a thorough and generally convincing defense of a literalist reading by explaining in detail the material workings of both the individual senses and the perceptual system as a whole, including the activities of phantasia. (shrink)
I begin by describing certain central features of a prominent Anglophone approach to Platonic virtue over the last few decades. I then present an alternative way of thinking about virtue in Plato that shifts central concern away from moral psychology and questions about virtue's relationship to happiness. The approach I defend focuses on virtue, both as a supreme aim of a person's actions and as something whose nature needs to be determined.
The middle chapter, “Reading Epictetus,” consists of two discourses translated in full, with a demonstration of how Epictetus employs the stylistic techniques described earlier. The body of the book divides into two sets of chapters, 1–4 and 6–9. The first set treats Epictetus’s life, his intellectual and cultural context, and the transmission, structure, style, and overall content of his work. Epictetus, like Socrates, wrote nothing. His student Arrian composed a lengthy treatise entitled Discourses—the focus of Long’s study rather than the (...) much shorter Manual, which consists of mere “potted excerpts” —that purports to relate faithfully conversations Epictetus had with his students. Long maintains that Epictetus employs three pedagogical styles, reflecting the influence of three figures: protreptic, discourse aimed at conversion to virtue or philosophy ; elenctic, discourse that examines, questions, and/or refutes ; and doctrinal. Epictetus is skillful at interweaving all three “in such a way that everything he says is an elenctic and protreptic formulation of Stoic doctrine”. Long shows that examining the Discourses in light of these styles is more accurate and fruitful than conceiving of them as “diatribes.” Chapter 3, devoted to an examination of Epictetus’s relationship to Socrates, argues in part that Epictetus’s use of the Socratic elenchus is quite unique. The Discourses are largely “dialogic” and Long concludes that both Epictetus and Socrates are “optimistic rationalists”. Human beings are natural lovers of truth and consistency, and have the resources to abandon their false and inconsistent beliefs when they are shown to them. Long concludes that Epictetus’s work represents “the most creative appropriation of Socrates subsequent to the works of Plato and Xenophon”. (shrink)
Peter Abelard (1079–1142 ce) was the most wide‐ranging philosopher of the twelfth century. He quickly established himself as a leading teacher of logic in and near Paris shortly after 1100. After his affair with Heloise, and his subsequent castration, Abelard became a monk, but he returned to teaching in the Paris schools until 1140, when his work was condemned by a Church Council at Sens. His logical writings were based around discussion of the “Old Logic”: Porphyry's Isagoge, aristotle'S Categories and (...) On Interpretation and boethius'S textbook on topical inference. They comprise a freestanding Dialectica (“Logic”; probably c.1116), a set of commentaries (known as the Logica [Ingredientibus], c. 1119) and a later (c. 1125) commentary on the Isagoge (Logica Nostrorum Petititoni Sociorum or Glossulae). In a work Abelard called his Theologia, issued in three main versions (between 1120 and c.1134), he attempted a logical analysis of trinitarian relations and explored the philosophical problems surrounding God's claims to omnipotence and omniscience. The Collationes (“Debates,” also known as “Dialogue between a Christian, a Philosopher and a Jew”; probably c.1130) present a rational investigation into the nature of the highest good, in which the Christian and the Philosopher (who seems to be modeled on a philosopher of pagan antiquity) are remarkably in agreement. The unfinished Scito teipsum (“Know thyself,” also known as the “Ethics”; c.1138) analyses moral action. (shrink)
This paper argues for a novel reading of the nature of theoretical nous and its objects, focusing on Aristotle's account in De Anima III.4. It is argued that theoretical nous is not best conceived in this context as a faculty, but as understanding. Moreover the nature of that understanding varies depending on its object's relationship to matter.