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Taking Life Seriously

Taking Life Seriously: A Study of the Argument of the Nicomachean Ethics

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  • Book Info
    Taking Life Seriously
    Book Description:

    Sparshott expounds Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as a single continuous argument, a chain of reasoned exposition on the problems of human life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8032-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xv-2)

    The purpose of this book is to display a continuity of thought in the text that has come down to us as Aristotle’sNicomachean Ethics.

    The project has been with me since my undergraduate days, when neither my tutor, the late W.F.R. Hardie, nor the scholarly world at large seemed interested in the continuity of the text as a developing argument, preferring to expound and criticize parts of the work and show their mutual consistency as bodies of doctrine. This surprised me, since I found the continuity of the argument the most striking and philosophically interesting feature of the work....

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    This book is about a treatise on ethics preserved among the works ascribed to Aristotle and called (for no certainly recoverable reason) theNicomachean Ethics(EN, or simply ‘theEthics’).

    Nobody has the least idea how the texts of Aristotle’s works were produced in the first place. Some, no doubt, were position papers that circulated among his colleagues; some are plainly notes for or records of lectures; but in no case do we know whether he wrote them down, dictated them to a secretary, made notes that a slave or a student edited and transcribed, or what. We do not...

  5. CHAPTER ONE What Is Best for People (I i–xii; 1094a1–1102a4)
    (pp. 11-69)

    On the Soulis about what the life of this or that kind of animalis. But, if we can ask that question in general terms, we can ask it specifically about humans, and hence about ourselves as individuals and groups. Since our lives are yet to be lived, if we can ask what our livesare, we can ask what theywill befor each of us. That is, any being capable of doing psychology is capable of doing ethics. We can ask how we are to decide about how to live our lives – a question that has...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Reason in Action (I xiii–VI; 1102a5–1145a11)
    (pp. 70-237)

    We now have an agenda. We have established the position of ‘the best kind of life’ as a life of serious or excellent (the ambiguity remains) activity of the living human being as such (hence ‘of the soul’), in accordance with reason (or as conceptually articulated) between the life of self-maintenance (important but not valued for itself, hence not included), on the one hand, and the life of entertainment (valued for itself but not important, hence included but not emphasized), on the other – the whole being lived in circumstances adequate to sustain it (its material cause). Our discussion has,...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Pathology of Practical Reason (VII; 1145a15–1154b34)
    (pp. 238-263)

    From one point of view, the conclusion of the treatment of virtue would have been the place for Aristotle to stop. There is a clean break: all we are given by way of introduction to what follows is ‘The next thing to say, making a fresh start, is …’ Always in ethics there is the danger of saying too much. Aristotle’s insistence on the correct use of reason being that which the person of good sense would make leaves much scope for flexibility. Granted that determinate situations call for definite solutions, there could be large areas of life in which...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Love, Consciousness, and Society (VIII–IX; 1155a1–1172a15)
    (pp. 264-306)

    The massive discussion of ‘friendship’ (philia) appears as an anomaly in the scheme of theEthics.¹ Nothing in what has gone before suggests any such continuation. The agenda announced in Book I was completed at the end of Book VI, and Book VII reached a conclusion. Friendship introduces a new, unheralded value – a value, by the way, usually and disastrously omitted from contemporary academic treatises on ethics. It is not prepared for by the analysis of animal action inOn the SoulIII 10, where the problems of ethics are shown to arise for any animal with an awareness...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Worth of Pleasure (X i–v; 1172a19–1176a29)
    (pp. 307-323)

    It is obvious that an account of pleasure is needed as complement to the account of virtue. The equation of the good life with one of virtuous activity is empty unless that life is also the most ‘pleasant,’ in the sense that no other can be more deeply rewarding. And so it should be. Virtue or excellence is defined, in relation to any undertaking or activityx, as doingxwell. And to doxwell is to do it as people who are serious aboutxdo it (or try to do it, or aspire to do it). But...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Good Life and the Best Life: Outline of a Discourse (X vi–viii; 1176a30–1179a32)
    (pp. 324-354)

    We are now prepared for the conclusion of the whole enquiry. The human good, the ‘end of human affairs’ (1176a31–2), was initially determined to be a lifetime in which the characteristic resources of humanity were most fully deployed, and this meant living the life in which activity followed all the aspects oflogosas fully as possible, opting always for the ‘highest’ and ‘most complete’ alternative. In the last three books we have satisfied the demand that a good life be a pleasant one by contrasting human activities with mere body movements and identifying them with their conscious aspects,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Postscript: The Transition to Politics (X ix; 1179a33–1181b23)
    (pp. 355-358)

    The last words of X viii, in which the wise person wins the favour of the gods, are plainly written as a peroration. The present chapter treats the issue as settled and effects a transition to a discourse on politics which (the last words tell us) is about to begin. TheEthicsends, as it were, with a colon: ‘Let us begin by saying: …’ Whatever one thinks of the transitional sentences in theEthicsgenerally, this at least cannot be the contribution of an editor, but represents an author’s insistence that urgent business awaits, the second half of our...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 359-362)

    If Plato nicknamed AristotleNous, ‘Mind,’ it is less likely to have been a compliment to his intelligence than a playful reference to the key concept in his epistemology (see § 2.3124, n. 183). Aristotle thought Plato’s theory of ideas was empty, introducing mere twitterings as the supposed objects of thought (Posterior AnalyticsI 22, 83a33). It is a plain fact about humans that they have the capacity (nous, ‘insight’) to discern the realities that make up the real world and its constituents, in their interrelatedness, on the basis of the evidence of the five senses that perceive everything that...

  13. Appendix: Aristotle’s World
    (pp. 363-368)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 369-436)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 437-442)
  16. References
    (pp. 443-448)
  17. Index
    (pp. 449-461)