Loving the Fine: Goodness and Happiness in Aristotle's "Ethics"

Dissertation, Boston University (2002)

Anna C. Lannstrom
Stonehill College
This dissertation evaluates the contemporary viability of Aristotelian ethics. It argues that neo-Aristotelians are right in thinking that some version of Aristotle's ethics is viable today. However, standard interpretations are wrong in several respects: Aristotle's ethics does not and cannot ground ethics in eudaimonia as Nussbaum suggests it does. Nor does it treat virtue as a means to eudaimonia as Kant thought. Furthermore, Aristotle denies that ethics can be grounded at all. Instead, he suggests that arguments persuade only those who have been properly habituated. ;The dissertation defends the relevance of Aristotle's ethics by arguing against some of the central challenges raised against it. First, Aristotle's argument in the Ethics need not presuppose an outdated metaphysical biology. Rather, he starts by analyzing the teleological structure of human action. Second, although Aristotle does not remove the tension between the contemplative and the ethical life, he argues convincingly that they can and must coexist in every complete human life. Third, even though Aristotle allows for more paternalism than do most contemporary thinkers, he still makes autonomy a necessary part of eudaimonia. Fourth, once we understand that Aristotle is not grounding ethics in eudaimonia, we see that many of Kant's criticisms of eudaimonistic ethics do not apply to him. Nevertheless, important disagreements remain, and the dissertation suggests that one important difference concerns the nature of inclinations and thus is psychological rather than ethical. Finally, the dissertation examines Nussbaum's attempt to create an Aristotelian ethics. It objects to her interpretation of Aristotle, and it also questions her project of grounding ethics in eudaimonia. ;The dissertation concludes that according to Aristotle, ethics cannot be grounded in anything other than the idea of what is intrinsically valuable, an idea which we acquire through habituation. It also suggests that Aristotle's ethics can withstand the objections that have been discussed. Indeed, it argues that Aristotle's ethics, which derives the virtues from an analysis of rational action and which gives inclinations a crucial role in moral action, is both viable and attractive.
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