Monday, September 26, 2022Plenary
Aristotle on the Human Good
In this class we begin our unit on Aristotle, one of the most wide-ranging thinkers of all time and by some measures the most influential philosopher in the Western tradition. After noting the historical background against which Aristotle developed his views, we will explore how his disagreement with Plato on issues of metaphysics influences his conception of happiness (eudaimonia) as the final end for human beings. Key to this notion of our final end is the idea that human beings have a specific “function” or “work” (ergon). We will examine how Aristotle derives his theory of the good life and the idea that virtue (aretē) is essential to living a good life from his understanding of this human function.
- Be able to situate Aristotle in his time and place
- Understand how Aristotle’s views in metaphysics influence his views in ethics
- Understand Aristotle’s derivation of the human good (i.e., happiness, eudaimonia) from his views on the human function
- Form a preliminary sense of the role that virtue or excellence (aretē) plays in Aristotle’s approach to the good life
- Develop further practice in finding the key claims and arguments in ancient texts
- Read and annotate chapters 1–7 of Book I of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in Perusall (you can skim chapters 3, 4, and 6 if you wish)
- Try reconstructing Aristotle’s argument about the human function in NE I.7 in your own terms. What is the main conclusion? What premises lead to this conclusion? You do not need to turn this in prior to class.
- “Aristotle” – entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Christopher Shields)
- “Athens in Pieces: In Aristotle’s Garden” – short and accessible NYT piece on Aristotle’s life and the Lyceum (Simon Critchley)
- “Aristotle’s Function Argument” – a comprehensive presentation and discussion of Aristotle’s function argument in NE I.7 (Christine Korsgaard)
- Slides for today’s class