Aristotle on Happiness, Virtue, and Wisdom by Bryan Reece (review)

Review of Metaphysics 77 (3):552-555 (2024)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Aristotle on Happiness, Virtue, and Wisdom by Bryan ReeceJakub JirsaREECE, Bryan. Aristotle on Happiness, Virtue, and Wisdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022. 240 pp. Cloth, $99.99In contemporary discussions about Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, dissatisfaction is growing with the exclusivist and inclusivist interpretations. Bryan Reece's book stands out for two reasons: He conducts extensive analysis, pinpointing conflicting principles in previous interpretations of happiness, and he persuasively bridges the gap between exclusive and inclusive readings of Aristotle's text.Reece rebrands the two families of interpretation as "monism" and "pluralism." According to monists, happiness is contemplative activity, which does not include ethically virtuous activities as parts. According to [End Page 552] pluralists, happiness is virtuous activity, a composite that includes not only contemplative activity but also ethically virtuous activities as parts. It is another virtue of this book that Reece is generous and charitable; he looks for convincing arguments for each theory and viewpoint in question.In the second chapter Reece turns to what he calls the "divergence thesis," namely, the claim that Aristotle believes "that it is possible to possess theoretical wisdom and reliably manifest it in contemplation without possessing practical wisdom." Reece's argument against this thesis is that since the manifestation of theoretical wisdom in contemplation is a voluntary, reliably performed, fine activity, it must imply the activity of the practical intellect. This in turn implies the manifestation of practical virtue. For a reliably performed contemplation one needs tamed passions and properly managed leisure (see Politics 7.15.133a24–34). Moreover, the voluntary nature of theoretical knowledge (see De anima 2.5.417b18–25) implies the role of practical wisdom as well.Chapter 4 discusses whether there are two kinds of happiness, one corresponding to contemplation, the other to the ethically virtuous activities (the "duality thesis"). The claim that there are two kinds of happiness is usually based on lines Nicomachean Ethics 1178a6–10. Here Reece suggests a novel reading: "Life in accordance with intellect is proper to a human being, since intellect is a human being most of all. So, this life also is happiest. (Life) in accordance with the other kind of virtue is (proper to a human being) in a secondary way, for activities in accordance with this (kind of virtue) are properly human." The comparison in these lines is then between life in accordance with intellect and life in accordance with the virtues of character. The first life is proper to us, because we are above all our intellect. The life in accordance with moral virtue reflects our complex nature, and it is proper to us due to this complexity of our human nature.How could Aristotle claim that it is human to live in accordance with the intellect? According to Aristotle, the gods contemplate, and so contemplation cannot be proper to human beings. Reece calls this statement "the divinity thesis" and deals with it in chapter 5. Reece's argument for the difference in type between divine and human contemplation is based on the fact that human contemplation is manifestation of theoretical wisdom. Theoretical wisdom includes intellect (nous) and knowledge (epistēmē). Reece then goes through possible contemplating divine beings and shows why their formal cause of contemplation cannot be theoretical wisdom. Formal differences between activities mark type distinctions. Therefore, divine and human contemplation are of different types.Chapters 2 through 4 paved the way for Reece's own conclusion: "[H]appiness belongs to all and only those to whom contemplation and ethically virtuous activities belong, and contemplation is proper to happiness in a primary way, whereas ethically virtuous activities are proper to that same kind of happiness in a secondary way." According to [End Page 553] Reece, Aristotle claims that something can be said to be proper to x as its essence or as its idia (from idios, proper or own). To be proper in the sense of an essence is to be proper in a primary way; idia are then proper in a secondary way. Therefore, Reece says, contemplation is proper to happiness in a primary way, whereas virtuous activities are proper to happiness in a secondary way.I have concerns about Reece's argument...



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Jakub Jirsa
Charles University, Prague

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Aristotle on Happiness, Virtue, and Wisdom.Bryan Reece - 2023 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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