What is good, how do we know, and how important is it? In this book, one of our most respected analytical philosophers reorients these questions around the notion of what causes human beings to flourish. Observing that we can sensibly address what is good for plants and animals no less than what is good for people, Kraut applies a general principle to the entire living world: what is good for complex organisms consists in the exercise of their natural powers.
In search of good -- A Socratic question -- Flourishing and well-being -- Mind and value -- Utilitarianism -- Rawls and the priority of the right -- Right, wrong, should -- The elimination of moral rightness -- Rules and good -- Categorical imperatives -- Conflicting interests -- Whose good? The egoist's answer -- Whose good? The utilitarian's answer - Self-denial, self-love, universal concern -- Pain, self-love, and altruism -- Agent-neutrality and agent-relativity -- Good, conation, and pleasure -- "Good" and "good (...) for" -- "Good for" and advantage -- "Good that" and "Bad that" -- Pleasure and advantage -- Good for S that P -- The "for" of "good for" -- Plants, animals, humans -- Ross on human nature -- The perspectival reading of "good for" -- The conative approach to well-being -- Abstracting from the content of desires and plans -- The faulty mechanisms of desire formation -- Infants and adults -- The conation of an ideal self -- The appeal of the conative theory -- Conation hybridized -- Strict hedonism -- Hedonism diluted -- Prolegomenon to flourishing -- Development and flourishing: the general theory -- Development and flourishing: the human case -- More examples of what is good -- Appealing to nature -- Sensory un-flourishing -- Affective flourishing and un-flourishing -- Hobbes on tranquility and restlessness -- Flourishing and un-flourishing as a social being -- Cognitive flourishing and un-flourishing -- Sexual flourishing and un-flourishing -- Too much and too little -- Comparing lives and stages of life -- Adding goods: Rawls's principle of inclusiveness -- Art, science, and culture -- Self-sacrifice -- The vanity of fame -- The vanity of wealth -- Making others worse-off -- Virtues and flourishing -- The good of autonomy -- What is good and why -- The sovereignty of good -- The importance of what is good for us -- Good's insufficiency -- Promises -- Retribution -- Cosmic justice -- Social justice -- Pure antipaternalism -- Moral space and giving aid -- Slavery -- Torture -- Moral rightness revisited -- Lying -- Honoring the dead -- Meaningless goals and symbolic value -- Good-independent realms of value -- Good thieves and good human beings -- Final thoughts. (shrink)
Are there things we should value because they are, quite simply, good? Richard Kraut argues that there are not. Goodness, he holds, is not a reason-giving property - in fact, there may be no such thing. It is an illusory and insidious category of practical thought.
Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, which equates the ultimate end of human life with happiness, is thought by many readers to argue that this highest goal consists in the largest possible aggregate of intrinsic goods. Richard Kraut proposes instead that Aristotle identifies happiness with only one type of good: excellent activity of the rational soul. In defense of this reading, Kraut discusses Aristotle's attempt to organize all human goods into a single structure, so that each subordinate end is desirable for the sake (...) of some higher goal. This book also emphasizes the philosopher's hierarchy of natural kinds, in which every type of creature achieves its good by imitating divine life. As Kraut argues, Aristotle's belief that thinking is the sole activity of the gods leads him to an intellectualist conception of the ethical virtues. Aristotle values these traits because, by subordinating emotion to reason, they enhance our ability to lead a life devoted to philosophy or politics. (shrink)
Anyone familiar with Richard Kraut's work in ancient philosophy will be excited to see him putting aside the dusty tomes of the ancients and delving into ethics first-hand. He does not disappoint. His book is a lucid and wide-ranging discussion that provides at least the core of an ethical theory and an appealing set of answers to a range of ethical questions.Kraut aims to provide an alternative to utilitarianism that preserves the good-centred nature of that theory. He claims that all (...) justification ‘proceeds by way of good and bad’ and that the only way for something to be good or bad is for it to be good or bad for some living thing. He is adamant that this does not commit him to utilitarianism, nor to downplaying considerations such as promise-keeping or special relationships. On Kraut's view, such factors can make it the case that I have more reason to perform one action than another but it is a condition of my having any reason to perform an action that it does some good or impedes some harm. Kraut once seems to dissent from this, claiming that: ‘the strength of a practical reason varies according to …. (shrink)
Aristotle conceives of ethical theory as a field distinct from the theoretical sciences. Its methodology must match its subject matter—good action—and must respect the fact that in this field many generalizations hold only for the most part. We study ethics in order to improve our lives, and therefore its principal concern is the nature of human well-being. Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be central to a well-lived life. Like Plato, he regards the ethical virtues (justice, (...) courage, temperance and so on) as complex rational, emotional and social skills. But he rejects Plato's idea that a training in the sciences and metaphysics is a necessary prerequisite for a full understanding of our good. What we need, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such goods as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and wealth fit together as a whole. In order to apply that general understanding to particular cases, we must acquire, through proper upbringing and habits, the ability to see, on each occasion, which course of action is best supported by reasons. Therefore practical wisdom, as he conceives it, cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules. We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion. (shrink)
Richard Kraut presents a new theory of human well-being. Kraut's principal idea, Aristotelian in spirit, is that 'external goods' have at most an indirect bearing on the quality of our lives. A good internal life - one with quality emotional, intellectual, social, and perceptual experiences - is what well-being consists in.
When we compare contemporary moral philosophy with the well-known moral systems of earlier centuries, we should be struck by the fact that a certain assumption about human well being that is now widely taken for granted was universally rejected in the past. The contemporary moral climate predisposes us to be pluralistic about the human good, whereas earlier systems of ethics embraced a conception of well being that we would now call narrow and restrictive. One way to convey the sort of (...) contrast I have in mind is to note that according to Plato and Aristotle, there is one kind of life, that of the philosopher, that represents the summit of human flourishing, and all other lives are worth leading to the extent that they approximate this ideal. Certain other ethical theories of the past were in a way more narrow than this, for whereas Plato and Aristotle maintained that many things are in themselves worthwhile, others argued that there is only one intrinsic good—pleasure according to the Epicureans, virtue according to the Stoics. By contrast, it is now widely assumed that all such approaches are too exclusive, that not only are there many types of intrinsic goods but there is no one specific kind of life—whether it is that of a philosopher or a poet or anyone else—that is the single human ideal. Even hedonism, a conception of the good that had a powerful influence in the modern period, has few contemporary proponents. A consensus has arisen in our time that there is no single ultimate good that provides the measure by which the worth of all other goods must be assessed. (shrink)
I argue that the many similarities between what aristotle says about "eudaimonia" and what we say about happiness justify the traditional translation of "eudaimonia" as "happiness." it is not widely realized that "eudaimonia" involves a psychological state much like the one we call "happiness." nor is it generally recognized that both "eudaimonia" and "happiness" involve a standard for evaluating lives. For aristotle, The standard is objective and inflexible; for us, It is subjective and flexible. Thus, When we call someone happy (...) and aristotle says he is not "eudaimon", We are not using two different concepts, But rather two different ways of evaluating lives. (shrink)
This book offers a systematic overview of Aristotle's conception of well-being, virtue and justice in the Nicomachean Ethics, and then explores the major themes of Politics: civic-mindedness, slavery, family, property, the common good, class conflict, the limited wisdom of the multitude, and the radically egalitarian institutions of the ideal society.
Plato stands as the fount of our philosophical tradition, being the first Western thinker to produce a body of writing that touches upon a wide range of topics still discussed by philosophers today. In a sense he invented philosophy as a distinct subject, for although many of these topics were discussed by his intellectual predecessors and contemporaries, he was the first to bring them together by giving them a unitary treatment. This volume contains fourteen essays discussing Plato's views about knowledge, (...) reality, mathematics, politics, ethics, love, poetry, and religion. There are also analyses of the intellectual and social background of his thought, the development of his philosophy throughout his career, the range of alternative approaches to his work, and the stylometry of his writing. (shrink)
This fresh outlook on Socrates' political philosophy in Plato's early dialogues argues that it is both more subtle and less authoritarian than has been supposed. Focusing on the Crito, Richard Kraut shows that Plato explains Socrates' refusal to escape from jail and his acceptance of the death penalty as arising not from a philosophy that requires blind obedience to every legal command but from a highly balanced compromise between the state and the citizen. In addition, Professor Kraut contends that our (...) contemporary notions of civil disobedience and generalization arguments are not present in this dialogue. (shrink)
_The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics_ illuminates Aristotle’s ethics for both academics and students new to the work, with sixteen newly commissioned essays by distinguished international scholars. The structure of the book mirrors the organization of the Nichomachean Ethics itself. Discusses the human good, the general nature of virtue, the distinctive characteristics of particular virtues, voluntariness, self-control, and pleasure.
The ethics of Aristotle , and virtue ethics in general, have enjoyed a resurgence of interest over the past few decades. Aristotelian themes, with such issues as the importance of friendship and emotions in a good life, the role of moral perception in wise choice, the nature of happiness and its constitution, moral education and habituation, are finding an important place in contemporary moral debates. Taken together, the essays in this volume provide a close analysis of central arguments in Aristotle's (...) Nicomachean Ethics and show the enduring interest of the questions Aristotle raises. (shrink)
Bringing between two covers the most influential and accessible articles on Plato's Republic, this collection illuminates what is widely held to be the most important work of Western philosophy and political theory. It will be valuable not only to philosophers, but to political theorists, historians, classicists, literary scholars, and interested general readers.
Before going any further, something should be said about the word "natural" that appears in my title. Miller distinguishes two ways in which rights can be called natural, and holds that Aristotle recognizes natural rights in one sense but not the other. First, "natural" can be contrasted with "conventional," "legal," and "customary." This is the familiar distinction the Greeks made between physis and nomos. Aristotle makes use of the distinction when he contrasts natural and legal justice. According to Miller, Aristotle (...) has a theory of natural rights in the sense that he has a theory of natural justice that serves as the basis for his recognition of rights. It is naturally and not merely legally just that certain people be treated in certain ways; they have a valid claim, based on natural justice, to such treatment, and this claim is valid whether or not it is recognized by a legal system. On the other hand, the term "natural right" can also be used in a second way, to designate a right that is possessed in a state of nature, that is, at a time prior to the existence of political communities. Miller holds that Aristotle does not recognize natural rights of this sort, but as he points out, this would not prevent Aristotle from recognizing natural rights in the first sense. The natural rights Miller finds in Aristotle are not possessed by all people at all times; rather, his thesis is that when the polis does come into existence, Aristotelian natural justice requires that political systems be structured in ways that recognize the rights of certain human beings. More specifically, when the polis arises, certain people have a natural right to hold various political offices and to own property. (shrink)
The passage I will discuss in this paper, one of the best known in the Aristotelian corpus, occurs in Book I chapter 7 of the Nicomachean Ethics, and concerns the ergon, i.e. the function, of human beings. Aristotle argues that we have a function, that our happiness consists in fulfilling it, and that this function must be idion, i.e. it must be peculiar to us. On this basis, he asserts that our function cannot consist in being alive, nourishment, growth, or (...) perception, for these activities are common to other species. Aristotle then arrives at his familiar conclusion that our function consists in the excellent use of reason. (shrink)
This book is a concise, lucid and helpful discussion of some themes that Anthony Kenny has been exploring for many years. He published an excellent essay, one still worth reading, about Aristotle on eudaimonia in the 1965–66 Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. Then in 1978, he created a sensation with The Aristotelian Ethics, in which he challenged the widespread assumption of the philosophical and scholarly world that the Nicomachean Ethics is a much improved revision of the Eudemian Ethics, and that (...) the latter need be read only by specialists. That book was principally devoted to historical and stylometric matters, Although in two chapters he discussed the treatment of wisdom and happiness in the books shared by the NE and the EE. Aristotle’s Theory of the Will pursued further philosophical comparisons between the two treatises, focusing on Aristotle’s views about voluntariness, choice and practical reasoning. (shrink)
A large number of prominent philosophers have in recent years advocated the thesis that the modern nation-state should adopt a stance of neutrality toward questions about the nature of the human good. The government, according to this way of thinking, has two proper goals, neither of which require it to make assumptions about what the constituents of a flourishing life are. First, the state must protect people against the invasion of their rights and uphold those principles of justice without which (...) there can be no stable and lasting social order. This goal is accomplished through a guarantee of basic civil liberties and the enforcement of a criminal code that prohibits murder, theft, fraud, and other widely recognized harms. Second, the state should promote the general welfare of the citizens by providing them with or helping them acquire the resources they need in order to lead lives of their own choosing. There are certain all-purpose means that people need in order to accomplish their goals—money, health, opportunities for employment—and it is legitimate for the state to pursue policies that enable citizens to acquire these goods. It may build roads, raise an army, regulate the economy, insure standards of safety, and supervise any other projects that give people the basic wherewithal they need to pursue their own ends. (shrink)
Plato's Euthyrphro, Apology, andCrito portray Socrates' words and deeds during his trial for disbelieving in the Gods of Athens and corrupting the Athenian youth, and constitute a defense of the man Socrates and of his way of life, the philosophic life. The twelve essays in the volume, written by leading classical philosophers, investigate various aspects of these works of Plato, including the significance of Plato's characters, Socrates's revolutionary religious ideas, and the relationship between historical events and Plato's texts.