Altruism in Aristotle's Ethics

Dissertation, Columbia University (1993)

Is Aristotle's ethics altruistic? The text often seems at odds with itself on this question, and there is no critical consensus. This thesis begins with a thorough study of Aristotle's conception of the fine ,$ which he describes as both the end $ of virtue and that which motivates us to extend virtuous treatment to others. I dispute the altruistic "common good" interpretation of Terence Irwin and offer a nonaltruistic account in terms of Aristotle's conception of the fitting and the praiseworthy; my interpretation, I argue, is better grounded in both the text and pre-Aristotelian tradition. Next, the Aristotelian virtues are analyzed individually for elements of altruism. Here, too, evidence of altruism is absent; the virtues are grounded not in the good of others but in Aristotle's doctrine of the fine. Aristotle's ethics, I conclude, is not altruistic, but neither is Aristotle an egoist; both altruism and egoism conceive ethics along what I call the "self-other axis," whereas Aristotle conceives it, rather, along the axis of good and bad
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