2012 Conference: Plenary Abstracts

Contemporary Aristotelian Studies Group
2nd Annual Conference
University of Nottingham,
18th July, 2012

Tom Angier

(University of Kent, United Kingdom)

‘Public Policy and Happiness Research: An Aristotelian Critique’

Biography: Tom Angier is Research Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Thematically,  his interests lie in ethics and politics, and historically, he has special interests in Plato, Aristotle and 19th century Continental Philosophy. He has published two monographs – one on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, the other on Aristotle’s Ethics. His paper ‘Alasdair MacIntyre’s Analysis of Tradition’ is toon to be published by the European Journal of Philosophy”

Abstract: Much recent ‘happiness research’ presents happiness as the autonomous, discrete object of a new ‘science’, viz. ‘happiness studies.’ But since happiness is not a psychological state logically and ontologically independent of its objects, this picture is a false one. Aristotle avoids this mistake not only through his concept of internal or component means to an end; he also insists at NE VI.5 that human virtue is not a craft/skill (technê), giving well-known reasons for this. Foremost among these, in the current context, is Aristotle’s claim that ‘while making has an end other than itself, action cannot; for good action itself is its end’. Construed properly, I will argue this contains a deep insight which recent happiness research – and the governments which support it – need to take account of.

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Eugene Garver

(St. John’s University, USA)

‘Aristotle’s Deliberation and Ours’

Biography: Eugene Garver is Regents Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus), Saint John’s University, Minnesota, U.S.A. He is the author of three books about Aristotle, Aristotle’s Rhetoric: An Art of Character, Confronting Aristotle’s Ethics, and Aristotle’s Politics: Living Well and Living Together, as well as two other books and several articles. He is currently attempting to make a career change and try to understand Spinoza.

Abstract: Deliberation is a central idea in Aristotle’s three great works of practical philosophy, the Politics, Ethics and Rhetoric. In the Politics it is connected to the basic principle of politics, the definition of citizenship. In the Ethics deliberation is part of the definition of choice: choice is a deliberate desire, a desire that results from deliberation. Choice is in turn part of the definition, and the efficient cause, of virtue; and happiness, the principle of ethics, is defined as energeia kat’aretên, virtuous activity. The Rhetoric makes deliberative argument one of the three genres of rhetoric, alongside judicial and epideictic rhetoric, and Aristotle argues that it is the central one of those three.
Yet there are several reasons, political, ethical and rhetorical, why Aristotelian deliberation cannot serve as a model for contemporary problems. Deliberation is supposed to be about things are up to us, yet today determining what is up to us, as opposed to natural or fortuitous, is problematic. Next, expertise removes the need for practical wisdom, deliberation, and for ethical virtue. The authority of practical wisdom yields in the face of higher authority, that of science. Third, practical reason is now doubly universal: it has to be a rational power that, like modern morality, everyone is capable of, and its arguments must appeal to everyone. Gone is Aristotle’s idea that someone can be moved by ethical arguments only if he already possesses a love for the noble; otherwise, he will be led by passion and have to be compelled.

Finally, Aristotle tells us that we deliberate about means, not ends. This claim is troublesome because it presents the question: if we don’t deliberate about ends, does that mean that they are beyond discussion? I look at three places, two in the Rhetoric and one in the Politics, where Aristotle shows how we can talk about, not deliberate about, ends.