Happiness as a Natural and Ethical Goal in Aristotle Open Access

Henchey, Craig (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/0g354f58r?locale=en


It has become common to separate Aristotle's ethical views from his natural science, both in scholarship and in efforts to adapt his ethical theories for contemporary use. Against those interpretations, I argue that Aristotle uses a consistent theory of natural goals that applies to both his biological analysis in terms of organisms' goods and his ethical treatment of the human good. Recognizing this continuity between his natural science and ethics helps to understand both halves better. It highlights the way organisms aim at a certain quality of life rather than mere survival, and it clarifies the principles Aristotle uses to identify the highest good for humans, while also showing that this good has both a descriptive and normative role. In the first three chapters, I argue that Aristotle does not view biological goals solely in terms of survival and reproduction, as modern evolutionary theories tend to do; rather, he thinks that organisms aim at the highest quality of life available to their kind. As evidence, I show that Aristotle defines the highest goal of animals in terms of using their sensitive capacities, which allows them to achieve a better life than plants can. In doing so, he applies a teleological hierarchy that makes all other functions in animals subordinate to the sensitive ones. In the last two chapters, I argue that Aristotle appeals to the same principles of teleological hierarchy that he uses to understand the ends of plants and animals to explain what human happiness is. Identifying these principles is useful for explaining why there is a tension in Aristotle's ethics between an account of happiness that is solely constituted by intellectual activity and an account that also includes exercising the character virtues as constituents of happiness, as I discuss in Chapter 4. Additionally, noticing that Aristotle's biological goals play both descriptive and normative roles clarifies the way in which happiness is the highest goal for all humans. As I show in Chapter 5, real happiness plays a role in both explaining and evaluating everyone's actual behavior, rather than merely identifying what the best behavior would be.

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

Chapter One: Ends, Necessity, and Chance. 12

1. The Materialist Challenge: the Rain and Teeth Example. 14

2. Chance and Intrinsic Causes. 25

3. Material Causation. 39

4. Teleological Intrinsic Causes. 58

Chapter Two: Animal Ends and Functions. 72

1. Ends and Functions of Whole Organisms. 74

2. Animals' Overall Goal. 80

3. The Hierarchy of Species. 88

4. Survival and Reproduction. 97

5. Conclusion. 104

Chapter Three: Animal Locomotion as a Sensitive Activity. 106

1. Locomotion and a Sensitive Life. 111

2. Sensation Guiding Animals Through Pleasure. 120

a. Instrumental Success of Pleasure. 122

b. Pleasure as an Evaluation. 130

3. The Sensitive Nature of Desire and Phantasia. 139

4. Conclusion. 152

Chapter Four: Relative and Unqualified Human Goods. 154

1. Species-Specific Goods and Functions. 156

2. The Divine Scale and Unqualified Goodness. 163

3. Ambiguity of "Good of". 171

4. Conclusion: Contemplation and The Highest Good. 179

Chapter Five: Happiness as Everyone's Goal - Explanation and Evaluation. 185

1. Psychological Eudaimonism. 188

2. Ethical Eudaimonism. 194

3. Goals Combine Description and Evaluation. 198

4. Happiness as a Goal. 204

a. The Objective and Subjective Objects of Wish. 207

b. The Natural Object of Wish: Object of a Desire or the Capacity?. 212

c. Vice and Incontinence as Failures to Reach the Goal. 215

5. Conclusion. 219

Conclusion. 223

Bibliography. 229

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