previous
no next

The Ethics




  ― 51 ―
view facsimile

16

note

Aristotle's Ethics. At the beginning of his introduction to Aristotle on Education (renderings of those parts of Ethics and Politics which he regards as most relevant to educational theory) Burnet says that in Aristotle's system the art of education is part of politics and goes on to say that it (politics?) is a practical and not a theoretical or speculative science. Now this very distinction between practical and theoretical sciences is one that would have to be rejected on the view of dialectic put forward in the account of higher education in Republic: i.e., it is a hypothesis of the sort that has to be “removed” or “destroyed”, according to that view, the alternative being that you would get facts of different kinds which could be brought into no relation to one another or any suggested relation between which would confront us with insoluble problems; and the same applies to the further distinction Aristotle draws between exact and inexact inquiries, between fields such as that of mathematics in which we can expect absolutely precise exposition and cogent demonstration and fields such as that of morals where we cannot expect these things, where we have to be content with something more rough and ready. The point would rather be that we can have more or less exact understanding in any field whatever, and the only way to maintain the distinction between two types of science would be to make a distinction between two types of object or of reality, to make it a question of study of what was exact in itself


  ― 52 ―
view facsimile

as against study of what was inexact in itself—somewhat similar to the distinction of “limited” and “unlimited” in Pythagorean theory—and that would certainly lead us to insoluble problems, not merely in regard to the relation of (between) the two but in regard to the very conception of what was objectively or in itself inexact.

Again Aristotle's approach to the study of ethics is marked by “removable hypotheses” (in the sense indicated in Socrates' account of dialectic) when he contends that we have to approach such study by a collection of opinions and, in that connection, that no study can question its own axioms or primitive assumptions, that these have simply to be taken for granted (assumed!) as far as that science is concerned. The “dialectic” position as against this is that there cannot be different kinds of truth, that “mathematical truth” is of exactly the same type as “physical truth”, that there is no separation but rather an intermingling of fields of study, and thus we cannot set up special governing principles for each study, we cannot set them (the principles) above criticism; we might have begun a particular study with a number of assumptions or postulates which we did not at the time call in question but what the theory of dialectic shows is that they must eventually be called in question, they must not continue to function as restrictions imposed from without upon our investigation(s) but must be treated as themselves part of the material to be examined: in other words, that it is not merely the more philosophical thing but it is the more scientific thing to question such assumptions and that under the stimulus of dialectic criticism the science itself will embrace this criticism, will remove these so-called principles (or “primitive conceptions”) from their protected or privileged position and may indeed in this process find them to be false. That (examination—removal from protected status) (falsity??) is along the general line of removing divisions in reality, and if this were not done then the application of supposedly mathematical principles to the field of mathematical study would be something entirely arbitrary; the question would be whether it could be done at all, but if we got beyond arbitrariness it would only be by finding what previously had been taken as axioms as actual features, concrete characters, of the material studied by the science, and in that way the separation of types of truth either within the science, between principles and facts, or among a number of sciences, between their distinctive principles, will disappear.

Now Aristotle's attack on the form of the good is itself an attack on such externality, on the treatment of concrete good things, or of human activities generally, as being governed by some abstract principle, some principle lying outside them—though in making this attack Aristotle forgets the procedural or methodological side of the doctrine


  ― 53 ―
view facsimile

of the form of the good; i.e., the side discussed above—the removal or rejection of divisions in reality. But while, as suggested, he himself falls into this type of error, as in his distinction between theoretical and practical science, or in the doctrine of principles which are not called in question in a given investigation, he is still attempting to unify the field in a concrete way: and the way he does it is open to certain special objections.

The opening paragraph of Ethics is: “Every art and every investigation, every occupation and pursuit, is believed to aim at some good; it was therefore a correct account to give of the good to call it what everything aims at” (the account, Burnet says, current in the Platonic school). The view then is that everything has some end or completion—what we take to be the end or completion of any given thing is what we call the “good” of that thing. But to say that each thing has a “good” in this way is not the slightest reason for saying that there is a good of all things, that there is some single entity which is the end or completion of everything. In fact we have the same fallacy in Mill's Utilitarianism, in his attempted passage from individual happiness to general happiness. His argument is that because each individual aims at his own happiness therefore the totality of individuals aim at the happiness of all; but in fact the data or premises here don't show that there is any such thing as “the happiness of all”, let alone that anyone in particular aims at it. So, similarly, in Aristotle's case: so that even if we confine ourselves to the particular sphere of human activities, the contention that each of these has an end doesn't show that there is any collective or comprehensive end (of human activities, of man) and does not entitle us to set up politics, or the theory of public affairs, as concerning itself with such a collective end, or as a field of investigation comprehending all (other) investigations of human affairs. We cannot even say that politics, as concerned with the widest organisation of human affairs (or activities), influences or impinges on every single human activity: but even if it did have an influence on any human activity whatever, that would be no reason for saying it embraced or comprehended that activity, that that activity was part of politics—as in the case, dealt with by Burnet, of educational activity in particular (i.e., education may be influenced by politics but isn't therefore part of politics).


  ― 54 ―
view facsimile

In endeavouring to substitute some concrete comprehensive entity for the form of the good, Aristotle is taking up an arbitrary and question-begging, indeed a confused position.

17

Taking the sort of view he does, taking a teleological view according to which what matters is what things are “for” (what they are striving for or aiming at), Aristotle not surprisingly loses sight of what things are, of their own characteristics, no matter in what direction they might be moving. That is illustrated in a minor way (even so, exemplifies the rather petty points Aristotle is apt to make) in the suggestion that we should “look to the end” when estimating any given life, that we should “call no man happy until he is dead” because if the man fell into misfortune, if in that way unhappiness was the outcome of his life, then we could not say he had had a happy life no matter how much good fortune he had had at earlier stage(s). This, it may be said, is to judge things not internally or as they are but externally, by an arbitrarily imposed standard, because if “happiness” has a definite meaning, if it is a positive description of certain mental states or certain types of mental activity, then the fact that it came to an end and was succeeded by some quite different state of affairs would not be the least reason for denying the description happiness to it, and we can see the uncritical character of Aristotle's procedure (the Aristotelian procedure) here when we recognise that the description of a whole life as happy would require the application of the description (happiness) to specific parts of that life right up to its completion: i.e., even in employing external or accidental criteria we still have in a concealed manner to use other (the positive) criteria. (Cf. “religious” view that “values” aren't truly real unless they are secured, against change or loss: made permanent.)

But while, as said, Aristotle is inclined to make rather petty points (which he could partially justify by the recognition he gives to “the opinions of the many” as well as to those of “the wise”), the kind of error in question is one which has thoroughly infected ethical theory from Greek times to our own, namely, this external way of treating things, this imposing of requirements and considerations of ends as contrasted with the direct recognition of what things are. The result is that we have vagueness and looseness about the theory, that what moralists have to say about goodness is of a very uninformative kind; and here, for example, when the argument starting from the notion of good as an aim or end


  ― 55 ―
view facsimile

reaches the decision that that end is happiness or well-being and when it goes on from that to say, on Burnet's rendering, that this is an activity of soul according to goodness (or as Peters puts it, “in accordance with excellence or virtue”), we certainly cannot say that we have learned very much, that we have got very far from our starting-point. It would rather seem that we have played with a number of “moral” notions without building up into any coherent theory and especially without showing that there is here a real subject of study or investigation.

Now certainly Aristotle goes on to say that if there are more kinds of goodness than one, then the good for man (or the human good) will be an activity of the soul in accordance with the best or most complete of these goods, and certainly again he does indicate (the point being developed in some detail in Book X) that he regards the speculative or theoretical life as the best possible human life and on this view it would be the “good for man”. But first of all we are not shown here why there should be those different kinds of good, why if we recognise speculation as a definitely good life we should have to assign goodness of a lower degree to other forms of life—and in fact the decision would not seem to be made in terms of qualities we could recognise in the theoretical life but on quite external grounds, on the ground of a mere postulate or demand that there must be some good open to anyone whatever; and it is this postulate, and not any discovery resting on qualitative grounds, that leads to the incorporation of the question of goodness in the science of politics, that leads to investing the legislator or again the educator (these two being identified here) with the function of producing good, and thus the good for man becomes as far as Aristotle's major discussion is concerned a good that can be legislated for, and he even has to say in Book X that the speculative is not just (is not a mere) human good but has something of the divine in it—which means that it cannot be brought into existence by legislation, that it belongs to the class of gifts, though legislation can do something to help it to continue once it has come into existence: but even then the part of the legislator is a minor one—the main thing on which continuation of thinking or speculation depends is the speculative power of the thinker himself.

Thus in all these discussions—of goodness of character, of good action falling in a mean between extremes, of the way in which it has to be voluntary and rational—Aristotle has to stand aside from qualitative questions and we are supposed to consider what would be a proper method of


  ― 56 ―
view facsimile

producing good when we cannot say in any positive way what it is that is being produced: so that all this might not be part of the subject-matter of ethics at all (it isn't as far as Aristotle has shown) because you would have to begin any demonstration of how good is produced by a positive recognition of what is good in itself, no matter how it came about—so that to give some sort of content to this “human good” (or good as the object of legislation) Aristotle has to treat it, in the manner of Socrates in Republic, simply as order or orderliness. The legislator is the man who makes or keeps society orderly and we cannot say from that alone that there is any qualitative goodness in the life of society. We have in fact to admit that there are many different types of order that a society could have, many different ways (in which a society could be organised) or could proceed in regular ways (according to laws): and it is still the case that the whole doctrine is vague and general if positive distinctions among such orders are not made and if the question is simply presented as how there can be a regular as against an irregular or unruly form of social life.

18

When Aristotle speaks of happiness existing in a complete life, he has in mind popular sayings like “look to the end” or “call no man happy until he is dead” (where “happy” means fortunate, well-fated, protected or secured), he has in mind the notion of the outcome or upshot of anything as that by which it is to be judged; and so, although he himself indicates certain difficulties of this view, his phrase “in a complete life” really involves an attempt to have things both ways, to have a judgment of a life both in terms of its upshot and in terms of its character. As he himself indicates, if “happiness” is to have a positive meaning then it must be certain kinds of activity that are so describable; and if these activities come to an end, let us say in a particular person's life some time before his death, that is not the least reason for saying that it didn't have that positive character so long as it lasted, for denying that the activities while they persisted constituted “happiness”. At the same time, this deferring to or endeavouring to find a place for popular views is in accordance with Aristotle's use of the notion of comprehensiveness or all-inclusiveness, exemplified in his contention that politics is the highest art (one which embraces all the others) merely because it is said to affect all the others. Another example of the same sort of thing


  ― 57 ―
view facsimile

is found in Aristotle's doctrine of the life of wisdom or of speculation as the fullest life it is possible to have, therefore as the only life that is happy in the full sense—a view which would seem to imply that the concern of ethics is with only part of the life of man, with something that does go on within societies but by no means occupies the whole of these societies, something that is surrounded by different and perhaps even hostile activities: and indeed no very great study of societies is needed to show that they always contain forces opposed to speculation or the theoretical life, as well as forces favourable to it. And here Aristotle treats it as if it were the crown of social life, as the highest form of social activity to which all other activities should be treated as contributing, and in this way he hopes to reconcile all forms of social life and make the legislator's task a single one—that of laying down conditions for happiness, no matter what different forms this happiness may take; and it is this belief in reconcilability of interests that enables him to give an account of the legislator's task (or the educator's task), of the way in which these persons will work upon minds so as to produce good effects: to do all this even before he gives any concrete account of what these effects will be, of what are positive goods. In this way we can criticise Aristotle as we criticise Socrates; i.e., just as the doctrine of the ideal State, the State in which goodness and ruling coincided, prevented the study of the real relationships, including conflict, between good activities and other social activities, so the assumption of a unity of interests (from which it would appear that an orderly system is bound to serve all interests) leads to the neglect of such conflicts, to a neglect of the real problems of politics in which the question is of a balance among competing interests, of a certain distribution of powers or rights among them.

Now a connected difficulty both in Republic and Ethics is the wavering between a positive and a relative view of goodness, indicated in the introduction of the notion of good as means at beginning of Republic, Book II, and again in the Ethics, and continuing throughout the history of ethics—reappearing notably in the ethics of G. E. Moore, where (since goodness is taken specifically as a quality) it seems absurd to call things which are means to good (which assist the appearance of things of that quality) “good as means”: there being no more sense in that phrase than in the phrase “red as means” for things out of which red could be produced. The point is that


  ― 58 ―
view facsimile

in both theories (Socratic and Aristotelian) we have the conception of good as that which is to be brought about, alongside the conception of it as a specific kind of thing, and that is why we find the attribute of goodness carrying over from things called good in the first instance to things that have various relations to them, but especially the relation of bringing them about. In other words, Aristotle is not merely concerned to present a theory but is concerned to present a code, a set of preferences or a policy, something which is to be advanced by his supposedly theoretical exposition; and this is connected with his concession to popular opinion—he wants to make out that the code in question is not just his policy but everybody's policy, that its assumptions are something that everybody would accept if he had time to think about it or if it were put clearly to him, and that is another reason why (as I said at beginning) so much of Ethics and of subsequent ethical works is lacking in content, namely, because greater precision would precipitate dispute or (bring out?) actual conflict. The other kind of ethics (positive ethics) is one which is specially concerned with bringing conflict into the open, one which exhibits the good life as constantly struggling (a life of constant struggle) with difficulties and constantly opposed by other types of life.

The doctrine of “goodness of character and goodness of intellect” exhibits in the first instance just this carry-over of the attribution of ethical character from one thing to another; the question is of human faculties or “dispositions” which are “good” in the sense of being efficient in bringing about certain types of result—results supposed to contribute to something absolutely good or good in itself. Now Aristotle wants to connect these two things (goodness of character and of intellect) while at the same time making a distinction between them; and the distinction that goes with this (the distinction between the rational and the irrational parts of our nature) is again one in which he takes up a rather uncertain position. It seems clear that he is using the terminology of parts of the soul only because it is the one established in the Platonic school, and that he does not want to treat those faculties as separate things even if they can be discussed separately. He wants to say not that there are separate things in us, one acting in a passionate way, another in a calculating way (as in Republic) but that there are distinct features of the action (activities) of the human mind, even if such features should always be found together. But if that were the position (as in the criticism applied to Socrates—that any mental tendency or form of activity


  ― 59 ―
view facsimile

is both passionate and calculating, has both qualities and relations), then it would be questionable whether we should distinguish character and intellect at all, and especially whether we should distinguish their virtues or excellences or, even more particularly, whether we should distinguish the types (or conditions) of training of the two, so as to speak (in regard to “training of character”) of habituation, as Aristotle does, very much in line with the first scheme of education in the Republic.

It would seem that if goodness of intellect and goodness of character are as closely related as Aristotle finally takes them to be, the training for both of them (assuming we could distinguish them at all) would be identical and there would not be a phase of habituation followed by a phase of independent judgment, but there would be an “involvement” or spontaneous participation in certain types of activity from the beginning, even if there were a question of determination by the educator of the order in which participation in such activities should be permitted or encouraged: i.e., even if there should still be question of curriculum and of (the order or sequence of) other school activities. It may be, then, that Aristotle is struggling to get away from some of the difficulties which specially affect the early education in Republic, but he does not really succeed in doing so; he works too much in terms of conceptions that have come to him from the works of Plato, he is too unwilling (?) to undertake direct theoretical criticism.

19

Aristotle's distinction between goodness of character and goodness of intellect is not well-founded. As far as the “goodness” in question is good performance of an action (it cannot be set against goodness as a quality and) it may be that the same mental organisation is the performer in what are taken to be contrasted cases (that the same thing would be what was trained in the training for either “goodness”): and indeed Aristotle seems to suggest that without goodness of intellect there will be no settled goodness of character—which again is very much Socrates' position in his distinction between knowledge and opinion. But Aristotle insists on the distinction when he contrasts the sort of training that proceeds (conduces?) to the acquisition of habits with that which proceeds to the acquisition of learning; and we may criticise (question) the distinction on the ground that even learning, the acquisition of knowledge, must take place by our being accustomed to (habituated to) proceeding in certain ways, while, on the other hand, our


  ― 60 ―
view facsimile

being (becoming) accustomed to proceeding in certain ways (our acquisition of habits or of “character”) may always involve the forwarding of knowledge, the acquiring of a certain recognition of the features of the situations in which we are placed.

These observations are in line with the previous criticism of the doctrine of “parts of the soul” in Republic. But while there might be reciprocal relations in a great many cases (i.e., between acquisition of ways of behaving and acquisition of knowledge) it could still be contended that we can acquire ways of behaving (that we do acquire ways of behaving) without thinking about them at all or about the problems that their acquisition confronts us with; and this would seem to apply to Aristotle's contention that what we are concerned with in this ethical inquiry is not knowing what goodness is but becoming good ourselves—or, more precisely, that that is the concern of education (namely, not that the pupils should know good but that they should be good). And this, it may be said, involves the criticism of Aristotle and Socrates on education in the sense of learning or getting to know things, that even if this getting to know is considered to be entering upon good activity and, on the view of both of them, the most important form of activity, we don't have to think about goodness at all, we don't have to be ethical theorists, in order to be theorists (even if being theorists is the best thing we could be); and Aristotle's procedure of considering how goodness is to be produced prior to considering what good is (or what is good) shows the defect of this outlook—i.e., his (its?) concern with “practice”, with the question of our becoming good, is such as actually to obscure the theoretical issues—and here as before the point is that only in the development of the operative interests (of the pupil), only, in particular, if he has an active theoretical interest of some sort (a certain curiosity, say), will he have (acquire) a developed or advanced theoretical interest; it is only by participation, by the sharing of interests between teacher and taught, that the rudimentary interest the child had in learning will ever become a full-fledged interest. It is certainly not by the external manipulation by the educator referred to by Aristotle, the annexing of pleasures and pains to various natural modes of action, that this development will ever take place. So that the natural or customary will have a considerable share in the process, but the teacher as well as the taught


  ― 61 ―
view facsimile

will be following his natural tendencies in these activities; i.e., he himself will be moved by habit or custom in his carrying out of an educational programme, and there is no question of the knowledge by a legislator or educator of the “right rules of action” in all situations, no question of understanding exactly why anything that should be done should be done or again of understanding what exactly should be done in any situation. This view is supported by the fact that Aristotle cannot say what this “right rule” will be; he simply puts up the notion of “the wise” who do know what the right rule is, but that (notion) is not enough to show that such knowledge exists or that there is any one who could give reasons or be aware of reasons in all situations and who would not have to act very considerably from habit. This brings out the fact that even the person in a position of special responsibility has to be a participant in the activities, that to suppose a person standing outside and directing the process or always making the right arrangement, putting each element in its proper place is to suppose a kind of wisdom that could not exist and is to suppose a policy (that of external direction) which as far as it could exist would bring about not order but disorder—would, at least, hinder more than assisting (assist in) the development of habits of learning in the pupils. In any actual social institution (in educational institutions, in particular) there will always be anti-educational tendencies, but even apart from that there will always be elements of routine, of doing what has become customary, and though such customs from time to time come under criticism, the mere criticising of educational methods or programmes does not show that a clear solution will be arrived at. Very often it will be a question of a tentative solution—at other times it will appear that we cannot get adequate material to settle the matter—but, however this may be in any particular case, there will always be a great many problems that are settled simply by reference to what is customary, and to try to avoid that, to think of every form of arrangement as subject to change, can only lead to chaos. (cf. “The New Education” and “educational reform” generally.)

If we take it, then, that the notion of external direction is a weakness of Aristotle's policy, we can also see it as a weakness of his theory of the constitution of mind. We find the mechanical character of his psychological view in what I should call its “separatism”—in the division Aristotle makes among


  ― 62 ―
view facsimile

types of mental process or tendency, division of feelings, capacities, conditions etc. And his suggestion is that what is good or bad in conduct is not having or not having certain feelings but taking up the right attitude to feelings; and the educator is supposed to take up the right attitude in the first place, (and then? or thus?) to direct and arrange the mental tendencies of the pupil so that he will eventually take up the right attitude.

Here Aristotle is again ignoring natural ways of acting: i.e., he does not show what feelings (mental process) would be doing while being directed and re-directed in these various ways; and of course he does not show how as a result of being directed in this way (having pleasures and pains annexed to various forms of action) the mind would ever come to understanding of reasons for one arrangement rather than another, or would have any ground for saying that such and such an arrangement was right (except in the sense that it was imposed) or even how it (the mind) could possibly submit to the imposing of such rules or customs unless it were proceeding on quite different rules, towards quite different satisfactions from those envisaged by the person trying to control the situation.

There is, I say, the assumption that “mental elements” can be moved about or redistributed by external forces much as the units of Pythagorean theory were supposed to be, but there is also the assumption of something over and above these mental elements, as when Aristotle talks about our attitudes towards anger (or any other mental condition), and if we accept that sort of distinction then it would appear that in our account of mental development in this form (i.e., in the form of rearrangement, of a new order(-ing) of mental elements) we had neglected the real moving forces within the mind itself and therefore we should be bound to miscalculate entirely any change that was to take place through processes of this kind. The vital point is that of separation or externality, whether we think of separate mental elements which could be variously adjusted to one another or of separate minds one of which could impose its wishes on another, could re-direct it—as against the notion of participation (non-separation, interpenetration), of joint activities involving different persons or different tendencies in the mind of one person: a type of consideration without reference to which we cannot account either for the development of character (or changes in what


  ― 63 ―
view facsimile

a person is, independently of what he knows) or for the development of learning, for the acquisition of habits of study and of criticism such as the mind cannot have in its early stages but such as could not develop at all unless there had been (were) nascent or elementary forms of it even in those early stages.

20

The doctrine of the mean. (This is clearly derived from Pythagorean sources. What Aristotle does is to apply the doctrine to the whole range of life, to every possible problem of conduct, every feature of any action. The very character of this procedure—application in meticulous detail—brings out weaknesses which are not apparent in the broader treatment given by Socrates and Pythagoreans.)

First we have a difficulty in Aristotle's conception of wisdom, connected with difficulty in his view of theory and practice and especially of the practical (development of?) character he is concerned with in this work (these lectures), i.e., if we are looking for a right rule, then apart from all questions of the application of such a rule we should certainly expect something exact, and it is no use saying the subject isn't one that permits of exactness because in that case we have no right to talk about a right rule or to distinguish those who are wise and those who are not wise; it would only be in strictly theoretical terms, in terms of an absolute distinction between the truth and the falsity of particular views, that we could use expressions of this kind.

Now it is true that in ordinary life, in problems of conduct (of planning, of following a policy), we very often have to rely on people of experience, people who have a sense of certain distinctions or connections without being able to give a precise formulation of them—people of “judgment”, as it is commonly put; for instance, we find that such people can tell pretty accurately what occupation a person follows, or what is his nationality, or his temperament (hot-tempered or dogmatic) (???—choleric or phlegmatic, perhaps), without being able to say precisely what are the marks by which they arrive at their findings. But still these would all be theoretical problems, there would be marks of distinction between one man and another (men of different trades, e.g.) on which the distinction was made, and in any theory of the subject (and in any exposition, incidentally, which would justify the attribution of wisdom to the persons in question: “persons of judgment”) we should expect these points of distinction to be


  ― 64 ―
view facsimile

brought out clearly, we should expect exact statement of the distinctions and connections, just as in any other field. This will be so in Ethics in so far as we are making it a subject of study and showing what is meant by “moral wisdom” or the possession of judgment in matters of conduct. And while, in what we take to be urgent matters, we may not stop to theorise but may rely on the opinion of “wise men”, the fact still is that “wise men” may make mistakes, may give false pronouncements on matters in which there is no body of formal theory to correct them; and secondly, a person's reputation as a wise man depends on the judgment of other persons who are nevertheless considered to be weaker in judgment than he is. Really, then, the assertion of practical urgency leaves the way open for abundance of errors; and it may well be that the prevalence of the notion of urgency not merely prevents the development of formal theory but actually hinders the objects that (the pleas of or the pleader for urgency) are supposed to be promoting (to be concerned with) and that to think, in particular, that the promotion of goodness, or the maintenance of goods in society, depends on a strenuous effort or endeavour towards goodness may actually be (a position) that would be very much less conducive to the preservation of goodness (goods) (or of culture) than acceptance of the view that goods are best preserved by the natural interaction of interests, or by the normal working of institutions, without any sort of campaign for goodness or any special plea of urgency.

In this connection we already noted that Aristotle assumed, without showing what goodness concretely is, that it will be advanced by the methods of instruction or habituation employed by persons whose aim is the advancement of good, whereas I should argue that good activities are not fostered by our thinking of good activities but by our being interested in the materials worked on (i.e., in art and science). However that may be, the notion of a rule that cannot be exactly formulated or of a mean that varies from person to person and from case to case (situation to situation) is clearly of little use to theory or to practice, and the position is (1) that if we find certain general truths of an ethical kind, then this means finding what (something that) actually goes on and there is no point in talking about putting (these truths) into practice, (2) that consideration of the too much and the too little has no great relevance to such truths; the notion of having too much or too little of any given feeling


  ― 65 ―
view facsimile

does not really illuminate states of mind, though, if it did, it would not follow that we could do anything about it, that we could say “Here is a deficiency of X; let us supply some X and everything will be all right” (or “Here is a surplus of Y—let us remove some Y”). These notions of adding and subtracting would seem to have no application (or very little) to human affairs, and even if there were such mechanical or quantitative solutions of problems of human life it would not follow that by knowing them a person acquired the ability to make good deficiencies or reduce surpluses.

If we consider the theory of the body, the medical theory, developed on the basis of Pythagoreanism, the attempt to account for bodily processes in terms of ratio, proportion or harmony, we can say that, although it is a much over-simplified view at best, it does at any rate give a view of bodily processes and medical procedures which has a degree of plausibility: i.e., if you say that the human body is made up of so many elementary substances in various possible proportions and that sickness is disproportion and curative treatment is bringing back the substances to a correct proportion or ratio (supplying deficiencies and removing surpluses), then this is something that could be practised, and although in those early times it was practised in considerable ignorance of the constitution of the human body, at least the type of treatment has been followed (adopted, practised) up to comparatively recent times: the fundamental objection is that it proceeds in an external way with its notion of adding and subtracting, and if there were to be any decisive change that could be called cure it would have to be expressed in terms of activities and conditions under which these activities went or the way in which they were interrelated with their environment (or, in general, in terms of the Heraclitean theory of exchanges); it would have to be so if it was to be treated positively, and from that point of view the question of amounts of this or that substance would be a minor question.

If we turn to the spiritual (mental or cultural) life, we find this sort of theory less plausible, we find the notion of mental elements (of their ratio, or proportion) not to be one we could assign much force to in any given problem of conduct, and we find it even harder to speak about surpluses and deficiencies and to envisage methods by which these could be reduced or filled out (respectively); in fact, the question of ratio or proportion, while we might think it was of some importance in mental life, would in most of our speculations on the subject have no place at all. We can certainly speak of a distribution of energies


  ― 66 ―
view facsimile

among different activities (cf. “libido”) and we can say that the giving of energies to certain interests can take away from the energies we have (are able) to devote to certain major interests (to what we regard as our best activities) but assuming that this is so (that we could say, e.g., that a person in the main was devoted to the speculative life but that he, on certain occasions, deviated from this, gave up some of his energies to interests which were not speculative but were opposed to speculation), it would still not be the case that by merely recognising what could be called a wrong distribution of his energies a person could correct it; on the contrary, correction could come, if at all, only from participation, only by (through?) the way in which different speculative or inquiring tendencies in him and in other people assisted one another, and especially by the way in which such assistance was organised in institutions—and, failing such assistance, simply to say to a man “You are deviating from the right path, you are dissipating (diverting) your energies” (and similarly if he said this to himself) would be of no avail.

A special point in regard to such diversions of energy is that a man may better (i.e., more effectively) devote himself to certain main interests by occasionally letting them drop, taking up other interests, by having a “moral holiday” (William James), than by concentrating all the time on what he recognises as the most important thing. There is no question of determining, either for everyone or for one man, just how much time and energy is to be given to hobbies or holidays; as said you couldn't get a precise answer in most cases or perhaps in any case at all—and the sort of answer you could or might get might do nothing at all to correct the deviation, assuming that there was one. Whatever could be said would still be in terms of quality, of what activities really are good; but such activities cannot be maintained or advanced by thinking all the time of how to maintain or advance them.

21

note

Aristotle's theory of will. It is sometimes contended that the doctrine of Aristotle is more advanced and more satisfactory than the doctrine of the dialogues (including Republic) because, unlike these, it takes account of the problem of will; it does not take up, as it is suggested Socrates does (cf. “no one does wrong willingly”), an intellectualist position. But in the first place we can say that the doctrine of Republic does so far recognise this problem that it sets up the faculty of spirit which, as suggested earlier, may be taken simply as the executive power (the practical force) of reason—which really means (or, in consistency, would have to mean) that reason itself acts in a practical manner—and this is the main line that Socrates follows, namely, that the very same activity is at once theoretical and practical and there is no question of separating these as faculties or types of activity. What we can say then (in second place?) is that Aristotle carries further than is done in Republic the division of the mind into faculties or separate powers, and that his position is weaker than Socrates' precisely because it multiplies such faculties and tries to give them all a characteristic function in human conduct. And the very fact that Aristotle wants to treat theory (or theorising) as a separate type of human activity shows that he is taking a less practical or conational view of human behaviour as such than is done in theories not recognising such a distinction. And as regards what is meant by “intellectualism” in general I should say that it is not a doctrine of a faculty, “the intellect”, which operates separately from practical activity (from our strivings or conations generally) but it is a doctrine of objective truth, of the objective character of anything we are concerning ourselves with and also of our own activities; it is the rejection of any notion of relative truth or practical truth, of the notion that anything exists “relatively to ourselves” or otherwise than as a matter of fact (rejection of “the subjective” or of “what exists subjectively”).


  ― 68 ―
view facsimile

No doubt theorists sometimes try to carry over the doctrine from the notion of an objective issue to that of a pure interest in objectivity—one in which the mental activity is left with no independent character (with no content other than that of its object) but this is not a logical consequence of the rejection of relativism and the assertion of objectivism.

Now Aristotle's errors on this matter are connected with his individualism, with his identifying of moral judgment with the allocation of praise or blame to particular persons; and that is connected again with his notion of direction, of the directive function of the legislator and educator, putting various individuals in their right place or allotting them to their right task—and it is in accordance with this social view that we get a special directive faculty like Aristotle's “will” (or “practical wisdom”??) or Butler's “conscience”, whereas the “reason” of Republic, while it is allotted a directive function, also has the positive and characteristic function of inquiry. The criticisms applied to the theory of “parts of the soul” in Republic apply even more strongly here—we should not think of any factors or parts of mind whose business it was to direct others; we should think rather of interaction among a number of qualitative types of activity, all having the same psychological and social (logical?) standing, and in this connection we should reject (Aristotle's) view that the materials of good and of bad conduct are the same—implying that the difference between good and bad is the difference between a right and a wrong ordering or arranging of mental elements, and thus implying something whose special function is this ordering or arranging.

While we can say that the Socratic theories do exhibit confusions, and particular confusions of an individualistic kind, we can still say that the main emphasis is on content, is on the concrete character or quality of different types of activity and not on external adjustment of activities or on “sanctions” that can be annexed to them: i.e. Socrates has more sense than Aristotle of “participation”, of joint or common activities, and of education itself as such an activity, and thus of the educational error of treating mental tendencies externally and, e.g., of allotting rewards and punishments to them; and in this connection we might say that it was the degeneration of Greek culture in this period (4th century) that encouraged the taking of a more individualistic view of things (with weakening of the recognition of “community” or joint activities), and the same may be said about medieval thought, with its doctrine of casuistry, its emphasis on individual problems


  ― 69 ―
view facsimile

of conduct (“how shall I behave?”) as against recognition of types of social movement or joint activity. (In general, individualism is indicative of a “comparatively” low cultural level.)

Will, for Aristotle, has two aspects (or factors)—the intellectual element of deliberation, and the appetitive element of wish; it takes both of these to constitute voluntary action. Aristotle distinguishes deliberation and wish as concerned respectively with means and ends, the notion being that we have certain settled ends and that it is in terms of (relatively to) these that we deliberate: i.e., that we determine or choose means to those predetermined ends, that we decide on the best way of getting to them. Now in spite of this distinction Aristotle comes to the conclusion, at the end of this part of the argument (Book III), that goodness and badness are “in our power”. He comes to this conclusion because deliberation is always voluntary action, but in fact his argument is sophistical: his conclusion would not be justified unless we deliberate about ends just as much as about means; otherwise (if we had ends which deliberating could not affect) the goodness and badness of our conduct would be very largely not in our power. And the upshot of criticism of Aristotle's theory here is that we cannot maintain the distinction between means and ends, cannot say that anything is in itself an end (or that anything is in itself a means)—the point being that human action deals variously with the things that confront it and that what would satisfy a mind at a given time might be found quite unsatisfactory at another time.

Now if Aristotle is going to maintain his doctrine of happiness as the ultimate end, then he should treat everything else as a means to that end and happiness would be the only thing we could not deliberate about (and the only object of wishing): but even that reservation would disappear if we concluded that the notion of happiness was not a concrete notion at all, that it was not some particular thing we could gain and, having gained it, be satisfied, but it was the general notion of being satisfied—this leaving it quite an open or unsettled question what it was that we were satisfied with—or, to put it otherwise, the notion of happiness which we are said to assume as an end (finding thereafter which of its conditions we can put into effect) is just the relative notion of “that whose nature it is to be final” (or completely to satisfy us): which would mean simply that it has no content at all.


  ― 70 ―
view facsimile

Now Aristotle again shows the lack (absence) of a practical or conational view of mind when he instances as things we cannot deliberate about eternal truths (e.g., the truths of mathematics) and facts of nature that we cannot alter; it should be understood here (1) that it is by trying to alter such facts, by practice in our deliberation (by practice or deliberation?), that we find they cannot be altered or at least that we are incapable of altering them, (2) that our concern with such things, even with what are called the “most abstract” (issues?) of mathematics, is a practical concern, it is the operation of some specific interest. Moreover, all these things (objects of interest) are matters of controversy, matters which can never be “settled for all time” but which have to be learned by each generation. In all these cases our beliefs are affected by our demands or wishes, which sometimes no doubt obscure the issues but sometimes stimulate us to get a fuller and more comprehensive knowledge of objects than we should otherwise have had. note

previous
no next