Machine Gods: Prelude to the Wodanian Ethics – Sample #1

Expression of sentiment is the craft of all artists. And yet there are words so lavish, so powerful, so cruel, that we struggle to find justification for them amidst our high culture. There are even paintings, so absurd and defiant, which we cannot grasp the necessity of. This ignorance of sentiment, even shame, limits the potential of art. Music has become the latest casualty of this ‘recycled’ quality inherent in our abundant civilisation. It has regressed so far that composition has once again become noise, it fatigues and nauseates. There is nothing new or rejuvenating in its bars or harmonies. We are merely reanimating rotting corpses with a newly induced rhythm. Music, once the narrative of nations and ceremonies, merely adds context to a visual cacophony of soulless sexuality. It seems Mankind has lost the purpose of art. Music once counted inspiration, contemplation and regret amongst its principles. Now it is much more common, uniform, and, most damning of all… boring. How many Handels are present in this Age? How many ‘Hallelujahs’ lie at the pinnacle of exuberance? When did expression become dishonest? Through debasing its art Humanity has lost its relevance.

On Dissidence

Ah, dissidence. Are we at last to tolerate a little liberty? If only for the sake of theatre. A little stage in a little mind made dizzy by the need to validate this curiosity? How did it once taste? How did it sound? Has a judge even the memory to recall? And what man made this freedom his standard? How did it acquire conformity? But I remember the tales! Ah, tales indeed! Spun by who, exactly? A modern interpretation with a little room for manoeuvre. That even liberty could be inherited? And when the last free man died who exactly protected this heirloom? Someone buried it? In literature? No! It was buried in the dust! So that you may come again!

Review and Critique of Book 5 of the Eudemian Ethics

Intellectual Virtue

Aristotle’s Book 5 from the Eudemian Ethics focuses on the matter of intellectual virtue. As we have seen in Books 2 and 3, Aristotle has defined virtue as the relative mean in between excess and deficiency. The mean he prescribes as following the process of correct reasoning. In Book 5 Aristotle explores the meaning of correct reasoning. In his own words, “Recall that we said earlier that one must choose the mean and not the excess or the defect, and that the mean is what is prescribed by correct reasoning. It is this we should now make precise.”

To begin with his enquiry Aristotle wishes to divide the various parts of the intellect. Firstly, he separates the virtues of the soul, “We made a distinction among the virtues of the soul and said that some were virtues of character and others of the intellect.” Aristotle now wishes to address the part of reason, but before doing so he gives a preliminary observation about the soul, “It was said earlier that there are two parts of the soul, one that involves reason and one that involves the other non-rational. Let us assume that there are two parts that involve reason, one that enables us to contemplate the kind of things whose originating principles are incapable of variation, and another by which we contemplate the things that are variable. Let us call one of these the scientific faculty, and the other calculative faculty. We must, then, work out what is the best state of these two faculties, for that will be the virtue of each, and the virtue of a thing is relative to its proper task.”

So from the virtues of the soul Aristotle has given us character and intellect. Now from the intellectual virtue he wishes to address scientific faculty and calculative faculty – one being the study of things unalterable and the other being the study of things to be deliberated on.

Truth and Right Desire

Aristotle now investigates the devices which control people’s conduct and how they rationalise their experiences and, by extension, their existence, “There are three things in the soul that control conduct and truth: sensation, intellect, and desire.” Aristotle dismisses sensation as having any relation to virtuous conduct owing to the fact that brutes exercise sensation but do not seek to limit their behaviour by exercising virtuous restraint. One might add that the brute only exercises restraint when either his desire has been filled or he has expended himself – only to return later with desire and energy renewed. Instead Aristotle turns to the relationship between desire and intellect, “What affirmation and negation are in thinking, pursuit and avoidance are in desire: so that since a moral virtue is a state that finds expression in choice, and choice is deliberative desire, it follows that if the choice is to be good, both the reasoning must be true and the desire must be right, and the latter must pursue just what the former asserts.” And furthermore, “Hence, there is no choice without intelligence and thought or without a moral state of character: for good conduct and its opposite cannot exist without both thought and character.”

Aristotle is once again referring to deliberative choice for the basis of all ethical action – if we recall from Book 2, “It is clear that purposive choice is deliberative appetition of things within one’s power.” What becomes clearer is Aristotle’s reluctance to enforce a universal ethical code. If we remember from Book 1, “Everybody able to live according to his own purposive choice should set before him some object for noble living to aim at – either honour or else glory or wealth or culture – on which he will keep his eyes fixed in all his conduct.” Now add to that what he has just said in Book 5, “Hence, there is no choice without intelligence and thought or without a moral state of character.” The question we must now ask ourselves is whether Aristotle believes this moral state of character is inherent within one’s person or whether it is a trait which can be learnt and subsequently practised. From following the text I take the former opinion that moral character is inherent within the individual and cannot be installed by education. Please reconsider a repetition of the above passage with the sentiment highlighted in bold, There are three things in the soul that control conduct and truth: sensation, intellect, and desire. What affirmation and negation are in thinking, pursuit and avoidance are in desire: so that since a moral virtue is a state that finds expression in choice, and choice is deliberative desire, it follows that if the choice is to be good, both the reasoning must be true and the desire must be right, and the latter must pursue just what the former asserts.” So if the desire forms moral conduct and it exists within the soul how can it be installed? And if desire is what pursues reason then what incentive exists to exercise reason if the soul has no desire to do so?

Let us now continue with Aristotle’s inquiry into intelligence.

Aristotle adds two further points to intelligence. Firstly, “Hence choice is intelligence qualified by desire, or desire qualified by thought, and to be the originator of this is what it means to be human.” Secondly, “The task of both intellectual parts, then, is truth. It follows that the virtues of the two parts will be states that make them achieve the maximum of truth.” From the first quote it seems that Aristotle has a fairly concise view of what constitutes a human being, thus separating him from the thoughtless beast. I am uncertain whether the distinction is purely between homo sapien and other species or whether Aristotle views humans incapable of ‘desire qualified by thought’ to be beasts. Given Aristotle’s stance in his work, ‘The Politics’, I suspect it is the latter. Please consider from Politics Book 1, 1254b16-31, “Therefore whenever there is the same wide discrepancy between human beings as there is between soul and body or between man and beast, then those whose condition is such that their function is the use of their bodies and nothing better can be expected of them, those, I say, are slaves by nature. It is better for them, just as in the case mentioned, to be ruled thus. For the ‘slave by nature’ is he that can and therefore does not belong to another, and that he participates in reason so far as to recognise it but not so as to possess it. The use made of slaves hardly differs at all from that of tame animals: they both help with their bodies to supply our essential needs. It is, then, nature’s purpose to make the bodies of free men to differ from those of slaves, the latter strong enough to be used for necessary tasks, the former erect and useless for that kind of work, but well suited for the life of a citizen of the state, a life which in turn is divided between the requirements of war and peace.”

Common Sense in Ethics

But returning to the subject of intelligence, Aristotle is keen to suggest that those who possess intelligence exercise good judgement. “The gift that is called ‘sense’, in the way in which we speak of people being sensible and having common sense, is a matter of sound discrimination in the sphere of the equitable. An indication of this is that we say that an equitable judge is an especially sensitive person, and equity is a sensitive judgement in particular cases. Sensitivity is a discriminative sense that delivers correct verdicts about what is equitable, a correct verdict being one that delivers truth. All these dispositions, reasonably enough, converge on the same point: for when we speak of sense and judgement and wisdom and intelligence, we attribute the possession of sense and intelligence to the same people and regard them as having wisdom and judgement.” And yet, for me, this is not an exhaustive account of intelligence. I think this is a rather limited view both of sensitivity and intelligence. With these traits one could feasibly lead others astray, such as with confidence tricks or exploiting other people’s misery for use as a political platform, whereas without such traits the very opportunity would not be recognised – let alone realised. Aristotle seems to realise that intelligence alone does not grant moral conduct. He therefore enquires into the nature of cleverness, “There is a faculty that is called cleverness: it is the power to hit upon and perform the steps that lead to the goal we have set ourselves. If the goal is a noble one, then cleverness is laudable; if not, it is mere smartness: hence we call both wise and smart people clever. Wisdom is not the same as this faculty, but it does not exist without it. It is a kind of eye of the soul: as is evident and has already been said, it does not achieve its proper condition in the absence of virtue.” From this passage it suggests to me that Aristotle is creating a hierarchy of characteristics; at the apex lies intelligence with two contrasting sub-components – wisdom and smartness.

Book 5 EE pic

To further qualify please consider the following extract; “But the acquisition of intelligence makes a difference in conduct, and the characteristic will turn into the true virtue it previously only resembled. So that just as in the belief-forming part of the soul there are two types, cleverness and wisdom, so in the moral part there are two types, natural virtue and true virtue, and the latter cannot occur in the absence of wisdom.” The acquisition, or inheritance, of intelligence does not make one immediately noble; indeed it may never do so. It is only intelligence combined with moral character which grants birth to wisdom.

And finally, “That is why some people say that the virtues just are forms of wisdom, and why Socrates was partly right and partly wrong in his inquiries: he was wrong to think that all the virtues were nothing but forms of wisdom, but he was right to say that there are no virtues in the absence of wisdom. Evidence for this is the fact that even now everyone when defining virtue, after naming the state of character and its sphere, goes on to say ‘in accordance with correct reasoning’, and reasoning is correct if it is in accordance with wisdom… It is evident, then, from what has been said that it is not possible to be truly good without wisdom, nor wise without moral virtue.” I feel that this is the most important passage in regards to intellectual virtue. Aristotle is explaining that wisdom is a necessity of moral behaviour because it allows one to deliberate about what they ought to do in accordance with correct reasoning. And he is also saying that one needs to have moral virtue to exercise this wisdom or he will fall foul to smartness – which, I suspect, Aristotle would attribute such vices as deceit and manipulation which do not occur in his previous table of virtues expressed in Book 2.

Concepts Present in Book 5 Not Immediately Related to the Current Discourse

I found a number of quotes in this passage to be worthy of referencing which fall under two headings;

  • Was Aristotle the First Recorded Environmentalist?
  • The Nature of Knowledge

Please consider the following;

Was Aristotle the First Recorded Environmentalist?

“We say this because it would be odd to think that political science or wisdom is the most excellent form of knowledge, given that man is not the best of the inhabitants of the universe. What is healthy and good for human beings is not the same as what is healthy and good for fishes.”

“It is evident that philosophical understanding is not the same as political science; for if you call concern with what is beneficial to yourself philosophy, then there will be many different philosophies. There will not be a single one concerned with the good of all animals, but a different one for each.”

“Wisdom is concerned with conduct; so we need to have both forms of knowledge, universal and particular – the latter, perhaps, more than the former. And here, too, there will be a kind that has a supervisory role.”

The Nature of Knowledge

I find Aristotle’s insight into the nature of knowledge to be amongst the most illuminating passages in this chapter. Again, it is the conundrum that every serious philosopher must address – is there an absolute truth to be attained; or, put differently, what is the nature of our certainties? Can there exist an absolute truth?

“We all suppose that what we know is not capable of being otherwise; for when things are capable of being otherwise, we cannot tell whether they are the case or not once they pass from view. Whatever is known, therefore, is necessary. Therefore it is eternal, for things that are unqualifiedly necessary are all eternal, and what is eternal neither comes to be nor passes away.”

“A person knows something when he has a certain kind of belief and when he is aware of the principles that support it; for if they are not better known to him than the conclusion, then it is only coincidentally that he has knowledge.”

I think the last quote sums up the closest we can possibly get to realising absolute truth given the limits of our perception; that is – we assume correlation proves causation only when it conforms to an underlying principle providing it cannot be refuted with our current tools and systems.

Critique of Book 5

Let us start with the conclusion of this Book; one must exercise intelligence morally, that is – in accordance with correct reasoning, for it to be considered a virtue. This we call wisdom as it conforms with the relative mean in virtue when applied to a noble end. No choice would be right without both wisdom and virtue for virtue makes wisdom perform the acts which lead to a just end. Yet, what have we made of nobility in our Age of Pity? What worth will nobility retain in the successive Ages of both Mediocrity and Nihilism? If the will of the people is to remain docile and ignorant then why would this aversion to truth embrace honesty and thus nobility? Does our current desire for a more pleasurable existence actually cast scorn upon all noble ventures? For exploration, even of stars and systems, would be deemed a waste of resources that could otherwise improve the lives of those trapped in poverty? Or at the very least be extended towards modern medicine to extend our existences? For the sake of what? The simple act of consuming?

I find this to be the strongest case for Aristotle’s Ethics; it deplores mediocrity. And so is Man’s misery, or the relief thereof, now the goal which Humanity has set itself? What about everything else which must bow before this Homo Superior? All habitats and ecosystems, indeed all understanding and knowledge, which must be lost, shed or obliterated simply to sustain the Ego of Man? How does Humanity reconcile that injustice?

It will be observed that this is not actually a critique of Book 5. That is because I cannot find fault with what has been put forward. Intelligence, in and of itself, is not what causes ill or suffering, or increased wellbeing, it is the manner in which it is exercised which performs such acts. This is governed by the moral systems (may we say individual traits?) within each person. And thus only the wise can exercise moral virtue for they both deliberate upon intentions and will the outcome, otherwise it is just an accident where the result was acquired in the pursuit of something else. What I would add though is this, if wisdom is dependent upon moral character how can it be freely-willed by an agent who does not possess this characteristic? I suspect that in limiting morality to the wise Aristotle must abandon the notion that free-will exists. Whether he did or did not is not my place to say.

Why do I study philosophy?

First let us ask ourselves what is philosophy? Philosophy is the critical categorisation of all appearance in relation to perception. What do we mean by appearance? It is the representation of the external world relayed through our sense organs. Through the study and categorisation of these phenomena as they appear to our senses we seek to explain the behaviour of objects with immutable laws. These immutable laws are deemed science – the practice of verifying theories through observable and repeatable experimentation. Philosophy is the mechanism through which science expresses itself – what do I mean by that? It is the law to which science itself must conform if it wishes to maintain its validity. Yet, surely if science itself is concerned solely with the proof of theories through observable and repeatable experimentation what else must it answer to?

Theories are proffered by people, people are agents of will and imbue theories with emotions. To quote the German scientist Max Planck, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Yes, science contains bias. But then so does philosophy, one may compare the difference between Plato’s Theory of Forms with Aristotle’s Empiricist Natural Sciences. So what purpose does philosophy serve? Science is critical of phenomena – philosophy is critical of science. Without this criticality it is possible, as history proves, for people to accept incorrect theories as science and, by extension, truth. E.g. the plum-pudding model of the atom or, perhaps more profoundly, the Ptolemaic System. More dangerously, a sect may be led astray by the ‘irrefutability of science’ into committing acts they would not normally commit. We would say at this point that science itself aims to disprove what is false rather than to prove what is true. Further to this, it is philosophy itself which places these theories into a coherent narrative as they relate to the perceiver. If the perceiver does not contain this criticality they too may enter into ridicule and madness. It is this danger which philosophy seeks to guard against for it must even doubt that science itself can explain everything; or whether science is limited by the sensory organs available to the perceiver and the experiences of his interaction with the external world.

So why do I study philosophy? To remain critical. What is the purpose of remaining critical? To live life by the will and not submit to an external authority which seeks to justify itself through mistaken categorisations of external appearance. For liberty’s sake, we must dissent!

Review and Critique of Book 4 of the Eudemian Ethics

Aristotle’s Book 4 on the Eudemian Ethics focuses on the matter of Justice. Aristotle explains that Justice is a desire to do what is just. In this sense it eclipses the previous virtues because rather than exercise a virtue solely in relation to himself, as is the case with the Relative Mean in Virtue, a man who seeks Justice does so in relation to his neighbour. Such that, in this sense of the term, Justice can be said to be “someone else’s good”.

Aristotle then reviews the types of Justice available;

  • Distributive – Justice dispensed in geometric proportion to a determined ratio, usually in relation to stature such as honour or wealth
  • Rectificatory – Justice dispensed in arithmetical proportion as a mean between loss and gain
  • Reciprocity – tit-for-tat exchange of either ills or pleasantries to either break or bind communities
  • Natural – that there is a natural law universal to all
  • Legal – that there is a conventional law agreed between parties

Finally Aristotle clarifies the difference between a just man and a man who commits just acts as well as examining the problem of voluntary being treated unjustly.

To task, then!

The Just as the Lawful

Aristotle begins his enquiry into Justice with the following statement about what it actually is, “We see that everyone means by justice a state of character such as to make people disposed to do what is just, and to make them act justly and to want to do what is just; and similarly by injustice a state that makes them act unjustly and want to do what is unjust.” Yet this alone is not a sufficient definition of what is either just or unjust, for it only describes which act conforms to which state. Aristotle continues, “Let us start, then, by asking in how many senses a man may be called unjust. Both a lawbreaker and a covetous cheat are regarded as unjust, so clearly both a law-abiding person and a fair-minded person will be just. Hence what is just is what is lawful and fair, and what is unjust is what is unlawful and unfair.” This fairness must be in relation to some principle or some person for there to be any transgression or retention of the rule. Again Aristotle provides further clarification, “This justice, then, is complete virtue, considered not in the abstract but in relation to one’s neighbour. This is why justice is often regarded as the greatest of virtues… and it is complete virtue par excellence because it is the actual exercise of complete virtue. And it is complete because a person who possesses it can exercise his virtue not just by himself but also in relation to his neighbour, unlike the many people who can exercise virtue in their own affairs but not in their relations with their neighbour.” Also, please consider, “This, too, is the reason why justice, alone of the virtues, is thought to be someone else’s good; for the just man acts in a way advantageous to someone else, whether a ruler or a comrade.” And to surmise, “Virtue is the disposition considered in the abstract, and justice is the disposition considered in relation to one’s neighbour.” It is easy to see why Aristotle rates justice so highly as it complements his theory that virtue must be practicable and justice is the pinnacle of practical virtue. And through its practicality it is beneficial to other people as opposed to meditating on the Forms of Good as offered by Plato. So we may say that justice is not only a Relative Mean in Virtue between loss and gain but it is also the act of benefiting a neighbour through application.

Distributive and Rectificatory Justice

Aristotle views Justice as a settlement of lots and begins by describing two separate techniques, these are Distributive and Rectificatory. In Distributive Justice the outstanding lot is distributed according to merit or what Aristotle gives as “according to desert”. Please consider, “Quarrels and complaints arise precisely when equals get unequal shares, or equal shares are awarded to people that are unequal. This is clear from the very expression ‘according to desert’.” He continues, “Justice, then, is a kind of proportion. Proportion is not a property only of the arithmetical numbers in the abstract, but also of number in general; it is an equality between rations, and involves at least four terms.” The four terms relate to the two parties and the two sets of goods between them. Aristotle consolidates his point with, “This, then, is what the just is, namely, what is proportional; the unjust is what violates the proportional. One share becomes too great and the other too small, as happens in practice; the man who acts unjustly has too much of what is good, and the man who suffers injustice has too little.” Aristotle describes a system of division by ratios but he does not say how these ratios are devised or who should enforce them. Aristotle even alludes to the point with his entry, “Even though not everyone means the same thing by desert. Democrats identify it with being born free, oligarchs with being wealthy or alternatively of noble stock; aristocrats identify it with virtue.” As a consensus is not given, nor is it stated how one should be reached, I must reject Aristotle’s Distributive Justice as a means to administer either Law or Justice. Therefore, it has no value in this discourse.

The other form of Justice is Rectificatory Justice. Aristotle states that Rectificatory Justice occurs in both voluntary and non-voluntary interactions but before we reach that stage we shall understand what Aristotle means by the term “Rectificatory”; “Since this kind of injustice is an inequality, the judge tries to equalise it. When one person has been struck and another struck the blow, or one person has been killed and another did the killing, doing and suffering have been unequally distributed, and the punishment is an attempt to restore equality by depriving the wrongdoer of his gain.” And to further cement the point, “Rectificatory justice, then, is the mean between loss and gain… What a judge does is to restore equality.” With regards to the voluntary and non-voluntary aspect Aristotle has this to say, “These terms, ‘loss’ and ‘gain’, come from voluntary exchange.” Followed by, “What is just, then, is a mean between one kind of gain and one kind of loss, namely those that are non-voluntary.” I do not see what relevance this has into the discourse on Rectificatory Justice but apparently it has significance to Aristotle. The choice of the word ‘namely’ even suggests that voluntary acts do occur as a mean which renders the whole statement nonsensical. What is clear from his enquiry into ethics is that Rectificatory Justice is a mean between loss and gain in relation to an injustice and administered by a judge in which equality is restored.

Justice in Exchange, Reciprocity

Aristotle now describes a third case of Justice, separate from both Distributive and Rectificatory. He alludes to the fact that the Pythagoreans maintained that the abstract of justice was ‘reciprocation to another’ but Aristotle rejects this, and declares that reciprocation is incompatible with either Distributive and Rectificatory Justice, on the basis that certain instances require no equalisation. The example he gives is thus, “If a public official strikes someone, he ought not to be struck in return, whereas if someone strikes a public official, he should not only be struck but also suffer punishment in addition.” Yet I find this hard to equate with any merit of Justice as a public official, in the context of ancient Greece, should only be striking a person who has been convicted of wrongdoing. If he freely strikes a man who has not been found guilty of a crime then the public official himself is liable to be struck and face further disciplinary action. I can only assume that in Aristotle’s aristocratic ideal a public official would not strike without reason but that is not what the text says. I find the next point helpful in understanding Aristotle’s views on reciprocity. Aristotle’s enquiry into reciprocity actually expresses itself to be a self-regulating arrangement; for example, please consider, “Proportional reciprocation is what holds a city together. There are two alternatives. Men may seek to return evil for evil, and if they cannot do so it feels like slavery. Or they may seek to return good for good, and if they cannot do so there is no such thing as commerce, and commerce is what binds them together.” Also, “When someone does you a favour, you should do one in return, and next time you should take the initiative by doing a favour yourself.” This self-regulation reads like an egalitarian society providing cohesion through honest commerce.

Also, please consider Aristotle’s account of money in this section, “If things are to be exchanged, they must somehow be capable of comparison. This is why money was invented, and it has become a kind of mean. For it is a measure of all things, including excess and defect: it tells us how many shoes are equal to a house or a ration of food.” And again, “Money, then, acting as a measure, makes goods commensurate and equalises them. Without exchange men would never have come together, and without equality there would never have been exchange, and without commensurability there would never have been equality… There must therefore be a unit, laid down by convention, and it is this that makes everything commensurable, since all things are measured by money.” What would Aristotle make of our current fiat currency that continuously devalues all previous settlements on human labour paid for in this increasing worthless currency? Regardless of a dead man’s perspective on current affairs his point on proportional return is reciprocal and binds the various parties together, “If there is first of all proportionate equality, and reciprocation takes place, then what is required will be achieved. If not, the bargain is not equal and the parties are not bound together, for the product of one may well be more valuable than the product of another, so that equalisation is called for.” Thus are people able to administer just transactions through transparency, and through transparency comes trust.

This is how Aristotle sums up his views on Justice, “So we have said what it is for something to be unjust and what it is for something to be just. Once these matters have been determined, it is clear that just action is a mean between acting unjustly and being unjustly treated; for one is having too much and the other too little. Justice is a kind of mean, but not in the same way as the other virtues; it is so because it hits the mean, while injustice reaches the extremes. Justice is the state that makes a just person do just deeds out of choice, and make just distributions, whether between himself and another, or between third parties. That is to say, he will not allot to himself what is desirable and less to his neighbour, nor will he do the reverse in the case of what is harmful.” In Aristotle’s eyes simply doing just acts is not enough, one must be a just person through deliberative choice and not by accident and demonstrate this by consistently distributing in accordance with the equalisation of what the victim has lost in comparison with what the aggressor has gained.

Natural and Legal Justice

Here Aristotle attempts to distinguish between Natural and Legal Justice. The distinction appears to be that Natural Justice occurs everywhere which grants it universality and that Legal, or Conventional, Justice is something which is agreed upon. The only example given for natural law is that fire burns in both Greece and Persia, as there is nothing implicit relating to justice in this statement I shall abandon the enquiry into Natural Justice. Instead, Aristotle has this to say about Conventional Justice, “Things whose justice is established by convention and utility are like units of measurements… Likewise, arrangements that are just not by nature but by human devising differ from place to place, since even political constitutions differ, even though there is only one that is everywhere by nature the best (aristocracy in Aristotle’s opinion, Politics IV.7-8).” Given that I deem the examples given insufficient to exonerate the inclusion of Natural Justice I shall state that Legal Justice is the only form available to us. Legal Justice codifies the rules of participation and equalisation as administered by a Judge. This Judge acts in accordance with Justice as a mean such that he is not only just with his distributions but validates his position as a Judge by undertaking just deeds.

It is important to Aristotle that administrators not only possess the necessary character to exercise impartial judgements but that they are also governed by law. Please consider his notes on tyrants, “That is why we do not allow a human being to be a ruler, but enthrone reason instead, because a human being acts in his own interests and turns into a tyrant. A ruler, on the other hand, is a guardian of justice and therefore equality also.  A ruler, if he is just, is seen to have no more than his share, for he does not allot to himself any greater share of what is good in the abstract, unless such a share is proportional to his merits. It is for others, then, that he labours, and that is why – as we said before – people say that justice is ‘someone else’s good’. For this reason a ruler must be recompensed, and his reward is honour and prestige, but those who are not satisfied with that turn into tyrants.” This statement leads to some contradictions, which may be a owing to the translation, as Aristotle declares that a ruler should not be a human being but then states the ruler as the guardian of justice. Instead, I believe that Aristotle wishes to include two checks on power; the first is to appoint the person least likely to abuse the position of Judge, the second is to govern his conduct by law – hence the term ‘enthrone reason instead’.

Justice and Choice

In this next passage Aristotle mentions the importance of choice in relation to justice and the various degrees of wrongdoing. Please remember that Aristotle is trying to distinguish between a person who is just and those who only display just actions. The distinction is made in reference to the difference between what is voluntary and what is choice. If we remember choice requires deliberation to which an end is set whereas voluntary is an act that is not deliberated upon. When a man acts voluntarily his action is just but when he acts deliberately the man himself is just. Allow us to begin with, “If what is just and what is unjust is as we have said, then a man acts unjustly if he does the appropriate acts voluntarily. When his action is not voluntary, it is neither unjust nor just save coincidentally, in the sense of doing some things that simply happen to be just or unjust.” Again he defines his stance on what is voluntary, “By voluntary I mean, as was said earlier, something within his power that a man does knowingly, making no mistake about the person his action affects, or how it is to take effect, or what will be its upshot. He must know, for instance, whom he is striking, with what and with what effect.” With a final note on choice, “Of our voluntary acts we do some with, and some without, choice; there is choice when we have deliberated beforehand, and otherwise there is no choice.” And yet I would argue that it is impossible to derive motive simply from the action (which is why courts prove people to be ‘guilty beyond all reasonable doubt’ and not ‘guilty in the absolute’). I think Aristotle believes that natural law is reason, yet this reason is reliant on education and formal examination to prove an understanding of it. Such institutions are not natural although it may be said that the laws they seek to describe, i.e. relating to the physical world, are. This does not answer our second problem which is how to measure a person’s acts by their intent. For Aristotle to be certain that an individual was leading a life in accordance with a self-declared aim that individual would have to submit a formal contract between himself and those who administered his conduct detailing his exact intentions, yet nowhere have I seen this mentioned thus far in Aristotle’s Ethics.

Let us now examine the various degrees of wrongdoing. Just as Aristotle debated over just actions versus just character he does so in relation to injustice. Please consider, “A misadventure is when injury takes place contrary to reasonable expectation; if the injury could have been foreseen, but takes place without malicious content, it is a mistake. When a man acts with awareness, but without deliberation, his act is an injustice. The actions I mean are those that are due to anger or other passions that are necessary or natural to human beings. When people do such harmful and wrongful acts, they do act unjustly and their deeds are unjust, yet this does not mean that they are themselves unjust or wicked, since the injury does not originate in depravity. But when a man inflicts an injury out of choice, then he is an unjust and depraved man.” Aristotle is willing to forgive an error but he is not willing to forgive a deliberative act designed to harm another. Again, I have no problem with Aristotle’s sentiment but it all comes down to a matter of proof. No one convicted of an unjust act is going to admit that it was part of a deliberative attempt to cause injury unless they wish to gain notoriety for the act. Therefore, it is impossible to establish whether or not each and every unjust act was committed in accordance with some plot and retain 100% accuracy.

In summary, Aristotle offers this closing statement into just and unjust acts, “But if a man harms another by choice, he acts unjustly; and it is unjust acts of this kind, where there is a violation of proportion or equality, that make the man that commits them an unjust man. Similarly, to be a just man you must act justly by choice; if you act merely voluntarily, then it is only your action that is just.”

Can a man be voluntarily treated unjustly?

This I hold to be Aristotle’s most interesting discussion in the chapter for in it I believe lies a contradiction. In this section Aristotle is seeking to defend the victim from the accusation that they voluntarily wished to be mistreated by saying that it is the originator of the action who is unjust. He begins by asking the question, “Can one be willingly treated unjustly, or is all suffering of injustice involuntary in the way that all doing of injustice is voluntary?” In this discourse Aristotle covers self-harm and suicide to defend his position, but rather curiously he does not mention slavery in the same sense. He has this to say about self-harm, “Suppose, further, that the incontinent person voluntarily harms himself: in that case he will be voluntarily the victim of unjust treatment, and thus it will be possible for a man to treat himself unjustly. But is it possible to treat oneself unjustly?” Aristotle answers his own question thusly, “For it is not the person to whom what is unjust happens who is the wrongdoer, but the person whose role is the voluntary performance of what is unjust, i.e. the originator of the action.” I agree with Aristotle’s premise and conclusion; self-harm is not the cause so the act is not voluntary – it is a response, an effect, to some other grievance. In this sense it is not willed but nor is it in line with incontinence – instead the origin is external to the individual. Rather interestingly Aristotle elaborates on his own definition of how injustice is inflicted. Please consider, “Perhaps our definition is inadequate: should we after ‘harming with knowledge of the victim, the means and the manner’ add ‘against the wish of the victim’?” Here Aristotle adds the concept of consent to suggest that the victim did not authorise the injustice in the first place. Yet this directly conflicts with his views on slavery, “What is just for a slave-owner or a father is not the same as justice between citizens, even though it resembles it; because there can be no injustice towards things that are one’s own.” That last statement, “there can be no injustice towards things that are one’s own,” invalidates any concept of consent Aristotle may claim to hold. Thus it appears to me that Aristotle considers consent an afterthought as long as it does not conflict with his concept of ownership.

Lastly, Aristotle speaks on the matter of suicide as injustice because although a man has not necessarily wronged himself he commits an injustice against the state, “A person who in a rage voluntarily cuts his own throat is acting against the bidding of reason and doing something that the law does not permit, and so he is acting unjustly. But unjustly to whom? To the state, surely, rather than himself.” The state? Why does the state lay claim to the happiness of man? Is this not a little perverse and pervasive? And what if a man lives in solitude? Who to then? But Aristotle isn’t the only moral philosopher to do this. Immanuel Kant too has the same views on suicide from the perspective that if suicide were a universal maxim all life would be destroyed (as we shall see later). What is it about our moral philosophers that prevents them from empowering consent? Is it that all these moral philosophers did not wish to take responsibility for such a grand liberation of ethics and instead passed such mandate over to the gods or a universal agreement? Did they even have courage for morality? As it existed in themselves? As a means of consent?

Equity, a corrective of legal justice

Lastly, in Book 4, Aristotle reviews the instance when a law is insufficient, “That is the essence of equity: it is a corrective of law when law is defective through universality. That is why not everything is regulated by law, because for some things it is not possible to lay down a law and instead there is need of a decree.” In response to this deficiency in law Aristotle notes that it is necessary to grant a means to act in accordance with the facts of the case and this requires an equitable man to distribute fairly, “That is the way in which decrees adapt themselves to the fats of the case. It is now evident, then, what equity is: it is itself just and is superior to one kind of justice. It is obvious also what kind of person the equitable man is: a person who chooses and performs equitable acts.”

Critique of Book 4

I find myself in agreement with Aristotle’s definition that justice is a superior virtue to all the other relative means thus far presented for the reason that it benefits others. And we must not confuse justice with charity for justice is a restoration of what has been lost whereas charity is a gift one has yet to possess. It returns esteem rather than grants it.

With regards to the three types of justice; Distributive, Rectificatory and Reciprocity I have the following to say: the only one that consistently requires a legislator is Rectificatory for that has a condition in need of equalisation in the courts. Regarding the other two; Distributive is an agreement of distribution based upon status and agreed between parties and Reciprocity is an equalisation through mutual benefit. Only when Reciprocity results in a disagreement or fraud is a legislator required, and then it becomes Rectificatory.

My views on natural justice not acquiring any merit into ethical law have already been mentioned and that conventional law, as agreed between peers, is the only thing to stand as law for no other can hold precedent over another by referring to a ‘natural law’ he himself cannot define and impose that on an unwilling individual – this amounts to tyranny.

On the matter of Justice and choice it has already noted that I don’t exercise free-will; I act in accordance with taste based upon my genetics (intelligence, disposition, health, happiness) and my external environment (language, culture, geography, parental guidance) all of which come before me which cannot be freely chosen before my birth. Yet, this does not mean I do not support the notion of deliberative action, I just assert that it takes places with reference to taste rather than free-will.

As stated above, my only major criticism of Book 4 is the contradiction concerning consent. I cannot fathom why this isn’t forefront in any dialogue concerning ethics. How can I be treated justly if my consent is not taken into consideration? It is the only means by which I can legitimately state my aversion and declare under which conditions I want to be engaged. Is it because it conflicts with Aristotle’s premise that Aristocracy is the best form of government, or Kant’s assertion that duty-bound ethics overrides any esteem I have? It is ridiculous to think such ethical systems exist that refute the importance of consent and instead mandate justice as some kind of ownership of the individual which he himself has not authorised.

Review and Critique of Book 3 of the Eudemian Ethics

Please note that I have switched to the Oxford World Classic version of Aristotle’s Eudemian Ethics for ease of reference and my preference for a paper copy. This version is translated by Anthony Kenny.

Aristotle continues his enquiry into ethics by referring to the Moral Virtues. As we saw in Book 2, Aristotle developed his concept of the relative mean in virtue by contrasting excess with deficiency to define the middle and best state – the relative mean. Book 3 provides a definitive argument of these virtues. We shall let Aristotle himself lead us into our review, “In general terms it has been stated that the virtues are the middle states, and that these virtues themselves and their opposing vices are states that find expression in choice. We have listed them; let us now take them in turn and discuss them one by one. First, let us speak about courage.”

Aristotle then proceeds to define the following virtues in detail;

• Courage
• Temperance and Intemperance
• Gentleness and Cruelty
• Liberality
• Pride
• Other Good and Bad Qualities of Character

So let us continue.

Courage

Aristotle gives an account of what courage is and then goes on to list the five different types. The aim of this particular enquiry is to determine which particular type of courage is taken for the sake of some end, for if we remember from Book 1, “Everybody able to live according to his own purposive choice should set before him some object for noble living to aim at – either honour or else glory or wealth or culture – on which he will keep his eyes fixed in all his conduct.”

Firstly, Aristotle explains why he has chosen courage as the relative mean. He gives cowardice as the deficiency of courage and foolhardiness as the excess of courage, “It is evident, therefore, that people who are thus characterised will similarly be contrasted with each other, that is to say the coward (who is so called from being more afraid than is right, and less daring than is right) and the foolhardy (who is so called as the kind of person who is less afraid than is right, and more daring than is right). So that since courage is the best state of character in relation to feelings of fear and daring, and people should neither be like the foolhardy nor like cowards it is evident that the middle condition between foolhardiness and cowardice is courage, for that is what is the best state.” This ‘more afraid than is right’, and its contrary, ‘more daring than is right’ references some condition that has yet to be defined. That is, ‘than is right’. What is right? To Aristotle it is reason and the aim to which one acts. For example, “There remains this problem. To a courageous man is there nothing that is frightening? Is he incapable of fear? Surely there is nothing to prevent him from feeling fear in the manner we have described. For courage is a way of following reason, and reason tells us to choose what is noble. For this reason a person who endures what is frightening, but not for that reason, is either mad or foolhardy; only the person who does so for the sake of what is noble counts as courageous. The coward fears what he ought not to fear, the foolhardy dares where he ought not to dare; the courageous man does both as he ought to, and thus he is a mean, for he is daring and fearful exactly as reason commands. But reason does not command the endurance of painful and life-threatening things unless it is noble to do so. The foolhardy man, then, dares even when reason tells him not to; the coward does not dare even when reason tells him to. It is the courageous man who dares only when reason tells him to.” It is apparent to Aristotle that virtue, reason and nobility are all intertwined. Reason relates to some noble goal, whether that be honour, glory, wealth or culture. The relative mean in virtue is a rational choice which helps accomplish that aim. Thus any action which jeopardises that goal, be it cowardice or foolhardiness, is a vice.

Aristotle now goes on to list five types of courage which are;

• Civic Courage
• Military Courage
• Ignorance
• Expression of Hope – Drunkenness
• Irrational Passion

The exact wording reads, “There are five kinds of courage, so called because they resemble courage in being endurance of the same dangers; but the endurance is for different reasons in the different cases. One is civic courage, which is based upon a sense of shame; another is military courage, based upon experience and on knowledge – not knowledge of the dangers (as Socrates said), but rather of ways of coping with them. The third rests on inexperience or ignorance; it makes madmen ready to face anything, and makes children handle snakes. Another kind is an expression of hope, which makes people face dangers if they have had a number of lucky escapes, or if they are drunk – for wine is a great purveyor of hope. Another kind arises from irrational passion: love or rage, for instance.” I have no criticism of this list. Yet Aristotle himself is not satisfied that any of these forms of courage count as the relative mean in virtue because they do not pertain to some noble end. Rather Aristotle rejects all of the above as forms of true courage as they hold some obligation other than deliberative choice for the sake of some end. Consider the following passage, “But true courage is something different from this, and from all the others, even though it resembles them, as does the courage of wild beasts which rush in rage to meet the blow. A man should stand his ground not because he fears disgrace, or is enraged, nor because he does not think he will die, or because he has effective protection, for in that case he will not think there is anything to be afraid of. But since every virtue implies choice (in the manner earlier explained: it makes a man choose everything for the sake of some end, and the end is what is noble), it is clear that courage being a particular virtue will make a man endure what is frightening for the sake of some end. Instead of making him do it in error, it will make him judge rightly, and instead of doing it for the sake of pleasure, he will do it because it is noble.” Thus, our definition of courage reads, ‘the relative mean in virtue between an excess; foolhardiness, and deficiency; cowardice, in relation toward some noble end’. I believe this statement satisfies all other enquiries into the various best states in virtue so that a generic version would read, ‘Good is the relative mean in virtue between both excess and deficiency in relation toward some noble end’. Let us continue to see if we are correct.

Temperance and Intemperance

Aristotle now reviews temperance and intemperance. From his table in Book 2, Aristotle lists temperance as the relative mean in virtue with excess called intemperance and the deficiency called insensitivity. Aristotle’s argument here relates to the indulgence of the senses and the pleasure derived from sensation. Consider, “Temperance and intemperance have to do with the two senses that alone have objects that are felt by, and give pleasure and pain to, animals other than ourselves, namely, taste and touch. With regard to the pleasures of the other senses – harmony and beauty, for instance – they seem to be pretty much totally insensitive.” To elaborate further an excess of pleasure derived from taste would lead to gluttony, whilst deriving no pleasure from consensual sex would be deemed insensitive. In conclusion, Aristotle states, “So if temperance is the best state in respect of the intemperate man’s sphere of activity, the mean state with regard to the aforesaid pleasures of the senses will be temperance, a mean between intemperance and insensitivity.” It appears to me that Aristotle is advocating restraint in relation to excessive pleasure-seeking activities which lead to detrimental effects upon the physical and mental state of being rather than deriding the case of insensitivity, but regardless it is a relative mean in virtue.

Gentleness and Cruelty

Next on Aristotle’s list is the relative mean of gentleness which les in between an excess, called cruelty, and a deficiency, called servility. Form Aristotle himself, “In our chart we made a contrast between irascibility, cruelty and savagery (all such being forms of the same disposition) and the characteristics of the servile and the milksop. Such are the kind of names we call those who are not moved to rage when they ought to be, but accept insults cheerfully and are humble in the face of contempt.” I would just like to draw the reader’s attention to that last sentence which conflicts with another major moral code – Christianity. Quoting the New Testament, Matthew 5:38-40, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” It is clear that Aristotle would not make a very good Christian. Aristotle arrives at gentleness as the relative mean in virtue through the following statement, “And since there is here, as we said in other cases, excess and defect (for the cruel man is the one who feels anger too quickly, too violently, too long, at the wrong time, and with the wrong people, and with too many people, while the servile man is just the contrary), it is clear that there is also some character at the midpoint of this scale. Since, then, both these states of character are wrong, it is clear that the midway between them is correct: such that a man gets angry neither too soon nor too late, and he does not get angry with the wrong people or fail to get angry with the people who deserve it. So since the best state of character in respect to these emotions is gentleness, gentleness would be a mean, and a gentle person would be in the middle between a cruel person and a servile person.”

Liberality

Aristotle’s definition of the term ‘liberality’ is as follows, “Liberality is the mean in regard to the getting and spending of wealth.” Aristotle’s inquiry into the nature of liberality concerns the feelings of the one who acquires and utilises wealth. Consider, “We speak in two different senses of wealth and its acquisition, for there are two ways of using a piece of property, such as a shoe or a cloak: one is its proper use, and the other is its coincidental use.” He continues, “Now, a miser is someone who dotes on money, and for him money becomes a matter of possession rather than coincidental use. An illiberal man may be prodigal with respect to the coincidental mode of making money, since what he wants to maximise is the natural pursuit of wealth. The prodigal man goes short of necessities, but the liberal man gives away his surplus.” What really concerns Aristotle is the reckless spending of money and its converse which is the fixation on acquiring never-ending amounts with a view to fraud as a means of acquisition. I find this relative mean to be vague because Aristotle has elsewhere stated that the pursuit of wealth is considered to be one of the noble aims hence his caveat; “If his illiberality amounts to injustice then he is a fraud and a cheat.” Rather than being an outright vice it is conditioned with regard to a further act. Regardless, the principle behind this particular relative mean is to ensure a man is neither reckless in his spending; prodigal, or ruthless in his acquisition; illiberal, and that he attains the middle and best state which is to spend only his surplus; liberality.

Pride

I find Aristotle’s views on pride to be particularly interesting because whilst it establishes a relative mean between vanity and diffidence it also highlights some of the foundations underlying his entire philosophy on ethics. Aristotle even gives prominence to this view by listing the necessities of pride before conducting his review into the relative mean. Consider, “We speak of the proud man, in accordance with the derivation of the corresponding Greek adjective, as having a certain greatness of soul and faculty, and so he seems like the friendly man and the magnificent man. Pride does indeed seem to accompany all of the virtues.” Furthermore, “Each particular virtue distinguishes correctly between the greater and the lesser in its own area, following the prescription that a wise man and his virtue would give. Thus, all the virtues go with this virtue, or it goes with them all.” And finally, “… so that there is no virtue without greatness. Each virtue, then, as we have said, makes someone a proud person in respect of those matters that fall within its sphere.” Clearly it is essential to Aristotle’s virtue-bound ethics that the individual is a proud person otherwise he lacks both the will and the ability to determine what greatness is and how to distinguish between greater and lesser acts in relation to the relative mean. Without these clear distinctions he has no knowledge of how to pursue and exercise greatness.

Now let us examine pride as the relative mean in virtue. As mentioned, Aristotle holds pride to be the relative mean between diffidence and vanity. Consider, “Of the contraries as shown in our diagram, claiming great things when one does not deserve them is vanity (for it is precisely the people who think they are worthy of great things when they are not whom we call vain), while deserving great things while not claiming them is diffidence (for if a man in possession of deserving qualities does not think himself worthy of anything great, he is diffident). Hence it follows that pride is the mean between vanity and diffidence.” I have no refutation to offer regarding these points.

Other good and bad qualities of character

Aristotle continues to list other virtues such as magnificence and righteous indignation as relative means and gives reasons for their classifications. It is not necessary for us to investigate these further as the pattern is consistent with that listed above. Described in this final section is the generic rule, “The mean is more opposed to the extremes than the extremes are to each other, because it does not occur in combination with either of them, whereas the extremes often occur together.” An example given to clarify the point reads, “Sometimes the very same people are foolhardy cowards, or are prodigal in some things and illiberal in others, and in general their badness gets out of bounds.”

Critique on Book 3

Aristotle’s enquiry into the relative mean in virtue is both exhaustive and transparent. It is clear that he aims to establish that goodness lies in choosing a noble end utilising the relative mean in virtue to attain that end. My interest lies in the contrast between Aristotle’s virtues and the vices laid out in other ethical codes, in this particular case it is Christianity. It is clear that Aristotle holds pride to be virtuous whereas in the Old Testament, Proverbs 11:12, it states, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” And in the New Testament, Luke 14:11, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” The whole purpose of this study is to contrast the different ethical codes and discover which shall transcend any obligation to the current age. In regards to this I side with Aristotle’s view that pride is a virtue for it is an honest acknowledgement of one’s talents whereas humility seeks further acclaim through debasing one’s merit so that it avoids intimidating any prospective audience.