Aristotelian Ethics and its Context

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Ethics as Politics: On Aristotelian Ethics and its Context

ABSTRACT: This paper argues that the assertion of Nicomachean Ethics I.ii that the art that treats of ethics is politics is to be understood properly not in the sense of politics qua nomothetike but just as politike, i.e., direct, participatory politics as was enjoyed in the Athenian polis and as the formed background to Aristotle’s philosophizing on the nature of ethics. The ethical import of politics can be retrieved from Aristotle’s Ethics (in both versions) and Politics by dwelling on the connection of eudaimonia and humanity’s function as such. Aristotle does not construe this function as contemplation but rather as the practical application of reason-reason leading to action. This, however, is the subject of politics. This specific human function, the function that makes us homo sapiens, can not be displayed in rule-be-ruled institutions such as the oikos (household) since such institutions and their collateral behaviors are predetermined based on rank or role. But achieving the distinctively human telos requires that such rule-be-ruled relations and behaviors be transcended since those relations and behaviors exclude the free exercise of deliberative intelligence.

I begin with a proposition: that ethics (in the classical sense) (1) requires politics as the venue of its implementation; indeed, that ethics in a fundamental sense is politics. Ethics is politics inasmuch as the achievement of human happiness—"the activity of the soul in accordance with excellence, lasting a lifetime"—is public, both in that the achievement requires the presence of co-equals as the condition of its emergence, and in the sense that the excellence achieved (one's character) is public...

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... modern metaphor for the political and ethical consequences of lapsing into a state of nature: the history of the Bounty mutineers (1789 and following) and their settlement of Pitcairn Island and the ensuing rapid self-destruction of the adult male population until, within four years of the settlement’s founding, only four men and ten women remained alive, and within a further seven years, all remaining men had been murdered except for one who was left as sole adult male dominating a community of females and juveniles.

(23) The absence of a hierarchy of competitors refers to practices within a given sport category: competitors within a given Class A league are co-equals—but this does not imply the exclusion of other (higher or lower) sport categories (e.g., AA vs. A or AAA vs. AA) based on such factors as competitors' size, size of competitor pool, and so on.
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