Warum soll man tugendhaft sein?

In diesem Aufsatz werde ich erklären, was die menschlichen Tugenden für Aristoteles sind, wofür ich mich besonders auf sein ergon-Argument beziehen werde, und dann werde ich einige der wichtigsten Gründe, die Aristoteles in der Nikomachischen Ethik gibt, für warum man tugendhaft sein soll, darstellen.

Um die Frage, warum man laut Aristoteles tugendhaft sein soll, zu beantworten, müssen wir erst verstehen, was genau es für Aristoteles bedeutet, tugendhaft zu sein, und wie sein Begriff von Tugend sich von dem Begriff, den wir heutzutage als Tugend bezeichnen, unterscheidet. Das Wort der alten Griechen für die Tugend lautet aretḗ. Es gibt zwei Sinne, in den aretḗ in der NE benutzt wird: aretḗ, als das Wort, das die anderen Zeitgenossen von Aristoteles (andere Philosophen, Adlige, Politiker, die Menge) benutzten, und aretḗ als Fachbegriff von Aristoteles, den er im Laufe des Buches schrittweise definiert und von dem anderen Sinn abgrenzt.

Für die Zeitgenossen von Aristoteles bedeutete, aretḗ zu haben, eine Art von Vortrefflichkeit in Bezug auf die eigene Funktion zu besitzen. [1] Zum Beispiel konnte ein Krieger aretḗ besitzen, wenn er ein sehr geschickter Krieger war. Ähnlich konnte ein Mathematiker aretḗ besitzen, wenn er ein geschickter Mathematiker war. Weiterhin war aretḗ nicht eine exklusive Qualität des Menschen, sondern aretḗ konnte auf beliebige Arten von Objekten angewendet sein, mindestens wenn diese Objekte eine Art von einer Funktion hatten. Zum Beispiel konnte in einem altgriechischen Kontext ein Stuhl aretḗ besitzen, wenn der Stuhl seine Funktion als Stuhl hervorragend erfüllte (er war angenehm, stabil, beständig etc.). Also bezeichnet Tugend (aretḗ) für die Altgriechen normalerweise eine Art von Vortrefflichkeit und im Unterschied zu dem modernen Gebrauch des Wortes, der von Christentum beeinflusst wurde, nicht unbedingt eine moralische Qualität.

Aber die allgemeine Bedeutung des Wortes aretḗ bezieht sich nur auf einige individuelle Aspekte von einer Person (die Person ist geschickt in etwas, die Person verhält sich gut in einigen Situationen, etc.). Gibt es dann hingegen die Möglichkeit, allgemein tugendhaft zu sein, wenn jemand den Menschen als Ganzes betrachtet, sodass man dann ein ganzheitliches Urteil machen kann, wie z.B.: „Ja, jene Person ist tugendhaft“ oder „Nein, jene Person ist nicht tugendhaft“ ? Ein Weg, diese Frage zu antworten, wäre zu sagen, dass wenn eine Person genügend Tugenden besitzt, dann ist diese Person tugendhaft. Aber das nimmt an, dass eine Person nichts mehr als die Summe seiner Teile ist und dass jeder Teil seine eigene Tugend hat, wohingegen ein Mensch komplex genüg ist, um die Annahme zu verdienen, dass er viel mehr als nur eine Reihe von unabhängige individuelle Teile ist. Ein anderer Weg, die Frage „Was ist es für einen Menschen als Ganzes tugendhaft zu sein?“ zu antworten, ist ein Weg, der für komplexe Objekte mit emergenten Eigenschaften wie der Mensch besser geeignet ist, nämlich den Menschen als Ganzes zu behandeln und als ob er ein normales Objekt wäre, und zu fragen, was seine Funktion ist, um zu bestimmen, was seine spezifische idiosynkratische aretḗ ist. Um ein solches Urteil zu machen, man muss erst identifizieren, was die Funktion eines Menschen ist, sodass man dann beurteilen kann, ob ein Mensch diese Funktion gut erfüllt oder nicht. Das ist meiner Meinung nach, was Aristoteles in seinem ergon-Argument versucht zu tun, indem er in Buch I Kapitel 6 (NE 1097b 20 – 1098a 20) die Funktion (ergon) eines Menschen bestimmt, sodass er dann identifizieren kann, was das Gute für den Menschen als Ganzes ist und entsprechend was die menschliche Tugend (aretḗ) ist.

Das ergon-Argument läuft folgendermaßen: wenn Menschen eigentlich eine bestimmte Funktion haben, dann müssen wir ihre eigene spezifische (idios) Funktion suchen (I.6 1097b 20-30), die den Mensch von anderen Lebewesen trennt (I.6 1097b 30 – 1098a 1). Der Teil des Menschen, der sich mit Ernährung und Wachstum beschäftigt, hat der Mensch mit den Tieren gemeinsam, also sie ist nicht eine eigene spezifische Funktion des Menschen (I.6 1097b 30 – 1098a 5). Eine Funktion, die nur Menschen ausführen können, ist eine Tätigkeit des Teils der Seele, die Vernunft besitzt (logon echon) (I.6 1098a 1-5). Dieser Teil ist weiter in zwei Teile geteilt:  einen Teil, der die Vernunft per se ist (logos), und einen Teil, der der Vernunft sozusagen zugehört aber nicht immer gehorcht (das Strebevermögen, orektikon) (I.6 1098a 1-10; Anmerkung I.64 von U. Wolf). Deshalb, was auch immer die eigentümliche Funktion des Menschen ist, diese Funktion wird eine Tätigkeit des vernünftigen Teils der Seele einschließen (I.6 1098a 5-10).  Wenn wir dann annehmen, dass die Funktion des guten Menschen ist, diese Tätigkeit (unter anderen) gut und werthaft (kalos) auszuführen, und wenn eine Tätigkeit gut auszuführen heißt, diese Tätigkeit gemäß seiner aretḗ auszuführen, dann folgt für Aristoteles, dass das Gute für den Menschen eine Tätigkeit der Seele gemäß der eigentümlichen Tugend ist, und falls es mehr als eine Art von menschlicher aretḗ gibt, dann die Art, die die Beste und am meisten ein abschließendes Ziel (teleios) ist (I.6 1098a 5-20). [2]

Aus dem ergon-Argument können wir einige sehr interessante Bemerkungen über Aristoteles‘ Auffassung von aretḗ und eudaimonia machen.

Erstens ist Aristoteles daran interessiert, was das spezifische Gut (und damit eudaimonia) für die Menschen ist, und nicht darin was das Gute allgemein oder an sich selbst ist. Wie er in seiner Kritik von der platonischen Konzeption des Guten (NE I.4) argumentiert, ist das Gute nicht etwas Universelles, sondern gibt es mehrere verschiedenen Arten von Güten, die auf verschiedene Sachen anwendbar sind. Das Gute für die Menschen ist nicht dasselbe als das Gute für einen Fuchs oder für einen Stuhl. Man kann das ergon-Argument von Aristoteles kritisch interpretieren, indem Aristoteles scheint, Menschen nur mit dem Teil ihrer Seele, der Vernunft besitzt, zu identifizieren. So scheint die Konklusion zum Beispiel zu sein, wenn Aristoteles später in Buch I.13 schreibt: „Mit «menschliche Gutheit» bezeichnen wir nicht die Gutheit des Körpers, sondern die der Seele“ (1102a 15-20). Andererseits kann man das ergon-Argument auch wohlwollender interpretieren, indem Aristoteles scheint, die Eigenarten (idiosyncracies), die das Gute für die Menschen von anderer Arten von Güter oder von einem allgemeinen Gut differenzieren, zu suchen, sodass er dann die Besonderheiten eines solchen Gutes mehr genau bestimmen und analysieren kann.

Zweitens führt Aristoteles hier zwei wichtige Annahmen, die er später mehrmals implizit benutzen wird, ein. Die erste Annahme lautet, dass die Funktion (ergon) eines guten Menschen ist, gut und werthaft (kalos) zu handeln (I.6 1098a 10-15). Die zweite Annahme ist, dass jemand gut handelt, wenn er gemäß seiner eigentümlichen aretḗ handelt (I.6 1098a 15-20). Da Aristoteles später in zahlreichen Kontexten (z.B.: III.6 1113a 25-35, V.13 1143b 20-25, IX.4 1166a 10-15) sagt, dass um tugendhaft zu handeln, man soll als der gute (spoudaios) Mensch handeln, heißt das wegen der ersten Annahme, dass man gut und werthaft handeln soll, um tugendhaft zu handeln. Da gut zu handeln laut der zweiten Annahme heißt, gemäß der eigentümlichen Tugend zu handeln, bringt in dieser Hinsicht der Vergleich mit dem guten Menschen uns nichts Neues, aber dass man auch werthaft handeln muss, um tugendhaft zu handeln, ist etwas Neues und repräsentiert ein Hauptstück der ganzen ethischen Theorie von Aristoteles.

Drittens gibt es entsprechend den Teilen der menschlichen Seele, die Vernunft besitzen und in dem ergon-Argument erstmal präzisiert geworden sind, zwei Arten von menschlicher Tugend. Für die Vernunft (logos) gibt es die Tugenden des Denkens (dianoetike) und für das Strebevermögen (orektikon) gibt es die Tugenden des Charakters (ethike) (I.13 1103a 1-10). Diese sind die zwei Arten von menschlicher Tugend, die laut Aristoteles eine tugendhafte Person besitzen soll. Die Tugenden des Denkens sind nur zwei, Klugheit und Weisheit (VI.2 1139b 10-15, VI.12 1143 15-20), während die Tugenden des Charakters zahlreiche sind: Tapferkeit, Mäßigkeit, Freigebigkeit, Großzügigkeit, Stolz, Sanftmut, Wahrhaftigkeit, Gewandtheit, Freundlichkeit, Schamhaftigkeit, Gerechtigkeit, usw. (II.7 1107a 25 – 1108b 10).[3]

Nun, da wir erklärt haben, was Aristoteles unter menschlichen Tugenden versteht, sollen wir seine impliziten und expliziten Argumente dafür, warum jemand tugendhaft sein soll, betrachten.

Der wichtigste Grund, der Aristoteles gibt, wofür man tugendhaft sein soll, ist, dass, um eudaimonia zu erreichen und eudaimon zu sein, man tugendhaft sein muss. Genauer gesagt ist eudaimonia „eine bestimmte Tätigkeit der Seele im Sinn der Gutheit (aretḗ)“ (I.13, 1102a 5-10). Weiterhin ist eudaimonia laut Aristoteles das höchste Gut (I.2, 1095a 15-20), das man durch Handeln erreichen kann (prakton agathon), und „das Ziel allen menschlichen Tuns“ (X.6 1176 30-35). Zusätzlich ist eudaimonia auch „das Beste (ariston), Werthafteste (kaliston) und Erfreulichste (hḗdiston)“ Tätigkeit, oder mindestens ist die eine davon (I.10 1099a 20-30).  Deshalb, um das Endziel (eudaimonia) von unserem Leben zu erreichen, und damit auch das höchste durch Handel erreichbare Gut zu bekommen, ein Gut, das auch werthaft und erfreulich ist, müssen wir tugendhaft sein.

Man kann weitere Gründe im Buch I finden, weshalb man tugendhaft sein soll. Eine Tugend zu besitzen ist etwas Wünschenswertes auch für sich selbst als abschließendes Ziel (I.5, 1097b 1-5). Wenn man Tugendhaft ist, dann wird man von seinen Mitbürgern und anderen Menschen gelobt. Im Gegensatz dazu, wenn man Lasterhaft ist, wird man getadelt (I.12, 1101b). In Buch I (z.B. in dem ergon-Argument) kann man auch die ersten Indizien von der engen Verbindung zwischen das Werthafte und Tugend finden. Später wird es im Laufe der NE klar, dass wenn man tugendhaft ist, man viele werthafte Taten erringen wird: „Die Betätigungen der Tugend sind werthaft und werden um des Werthaften willen getan.“ (VI.2, 1120a 20-25).

Die Tugenden des Denkens sind auch günstig. Klugheit zu besitzen ist sehr vorteilhaft, denn das würde implizieren, dass man die Fähigkeit (oder mindestens einen wichtigen Teil der Fähigkeit) hat, gute, gerechte und werthafte Ziele zu erreichen (VI.13 1143b 20-25). Die andere Tugend des Denkens bringt auch große Vorteile: wenn man Weisheit besitzt, kann man an etwas Göttlichen teilhaben (VII.7 1177b 25-35).

Noch einen sehr wichtigen Grund, warum man tugendhaft sein soll, ist dass, nur wenn man tugendhaft ist, kann man laut Aristoteles in der vollkommenen Freundschaft teilnehmen. Eine solche Freundschaft ist beständiger als die anderen Arten von Freundschaft (VIII.5 1156b 30-35) und in einer vollkommenen Freundschaft bekommt man alles was er von der anderen Person in einer Freundschaft bekommen soll (VIII.5 1156b 30-35).  Zusätzlich wird in dieser Art von Freundschaft man für sich selbst geschätzt, und nicht nur weil er für etwas angenehm oder vorteilhaft benutzt werden kann (VIII.4 1156b 5-15).[4]

Zum Schluss ist es interessant zu bemerken, dass Aristoteles mehrere heterogene Gründe dafür gibt, warum man tugendhaft sein soll. Es ist nicht nur wegen des Glücks, dass man die menschlichen Tugenden besitzen soll, sondern diese Tugenden bringen auch zahlreiche Vorteile für ihren Besitzer. Deswegen gibt es mehrere Einstiegspunkte für die Leser in der Nikomachischen Ethik, und auch wenn man nicht von dem ergon-Argument überzeugt ist oder nicht in eudaimonia interessiert ist, kann man trotzdem darin andere interessante praxisrelevante Ratschläge beim sorgfältigen Lesen finden.


Fußnoten

[1] Die folgende Erklärung des Begriffs aretḗ ist laut meinem eigenen Verständnis des Begriffs, das unter anderen von U. Wolfs Erklärung von aretḗ (NE S. 348, Anmerkung I.44) und von der Erklärung des Begriffs in der Vorlesung von Herrn Prof. Dr. Brüllman beeinflusst geworden ist.

[2]  Aristoteles fügt dann hinzu, dass für diese Tätigkeit die Beste für die Menschen zu sein, muss sie auch über ein ganzes Leben ausgeführt werden, da ein Tag zu kurz ist, um zu bestimmen, ob jemand eudaimon ist. (NE I.6 1098a 15-20)

[3] Mit diesen Grundlagen gelegt, können wir auch die Definitionen, die Aristotles gibt, für die zwei Arten der menschlichen Tugend, betrachten. Er definiert die Tugenden des Charakters als “eine Disposition (hexis), die sich in Vorsätzen äußert (prohairetike), wobei sie in einer Mitte liegt, und zwar der Mitte in Bezug auf uns, die bestimmt wird durch die Überlegung (logos), das heißt so, wie der Kluge (phronimos) sie bestimmen würde.” (Buch II.6, 1107a). Später definiert er in Buch VI auch die Tugenden des Denkens: “Für beide Teile [der Vernunft] wird daher ihre Gutheit jeweils in derjenigen Disposition bestehen, vermöge deren sie am meisten die Wahrheit treffen.” (VI.2, 1139b). Genauer gesagt ist die Tugend für den Teil der Vernunft, der sich mit unveränderlichen Sachen sich beschäftigt, Weisheit und für den Teil der Vernunft, der sich mit veränderlichen Sachen sich beschäftigt, Klugheit (VI.2 1139a, 1139b).

[4] Die drei Eigenschaften der vollkommenen Freundschaft sind aus meinen abgegebenen Lektürenotizen für das Tutorium herausgenommen und hier weiterentwickelt und dargestellt.


Literaturverzeichnis

  • Nikomachische Ethik – geschrieben von Aristoteles, übersetzt und herausgegeben von Ursula Wolf, 5. Auflage (März 2015), veröffentlicht im Rowholt Taschenbuch Verlag.
Das Essay wurde ursprünglich für das HU SoSe 2017 Nikomachische Ethik Tutorium geschrieben. Diese Version schließt die Korrekturen der Tutorin, wofür ich sehr dankbar bin, ein.

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Lektürenotizen – Nikomachische Ethik – Freundschaft (VIII, IX)

Frage 1. Wie definiert Aristoteles die Freundschaft? Welche Kriterien müssen in einer Beziehung erfüllt sein, um von Freundschaft zu sprechen? Wie werden diese Kriterien begründet?

Aristoteles definiert Freundschaft als gegenseitiges Wohlwollen, das nicht verborgen bleibt und wegen eines der von ihm drei genannten Gründe (1156a 1-5) entstanden ist. Unter Wohlwollen wird es verstanden, dass jeder Freund dem anderen um seiner selbst willen Gutes wünscht (1155b 30-35). Die drei von ihm genannten Gründe für die Liebe (und dadurch die Freundschaft) sind: das Gute, das Angenehme, und das Nützliche (1155b 15-30).

Um das zu begründen, gibt es eine implizite Annahme bei Aristoteles, dass der Freund (philos) liebenswert (philḗton) ist. Dann, um zu sehen, in welche Situationen jemand uns ein Freund sein könnte, erkundigt Aristoteles, in welche Situationen ein Gegenstand uns als liebenswert erscheinen kann. Er identifiziert Gegenstände, die gut, angenehm oder nützlich sind, als liebenswert (1155b 15-30), und dadurch bestimmt auch die Arten von Menschen, die uns Freunde sein könnten.

Dass man seinem Freund um seiner selbst willen gut wünschen muss, scheint eine Bedingung zu sein, die aus einer impliziten Annahme hergeleitet wurde. Weiterhin, dass es eine notwendige Bedingung der Freundschaft ist, dass das Wohlwollen erwidert ist, scheint auch eine implizite Annahme zu sein. Man könnte auch die entsprechende Passage (1155b 25 – 1156a 5) lesen, sodass man die Annahmen versteht, als begründet, in wem die Leute als „Freundschaft“ und „Wohlwollend“ eigentlich in Praxis bezeichnen: „Diejenigen, die in dieser Weise Gutes wünschen, nennt man wohlwollend“, „denn das Wohlwollen, das gegenseitig ist, nennt man Freundschaft“, „wie könnte man sie Freundschaft nennen, wenn sie von ihrem gegenseitigen Verhältnis nichts wissen?“. Dann würden diese impliziten Annahmen eigentlich empirisch begründet sein.

 

Frage 2. Was ist die vollkommene Freundschaft und was macht sie vollkommen? Wer kann die vollkommene Freundschaft haben?

Aristoteles gibt eine Definition der vollkommenen Freundschaft an dem Anfang des Kapitels VIII.4: „Die vollkommene Freundschaft aber ist die Freundschaft zwischen Menschen, die gut und gleich an Tugend sind.“ (1156b 5-10). Die ist vollkommen (teleios) wegen mehrerer Gründe:

  • Die ist am meisten von allen Arten der Freundschaft beständig (1156b 30-35).

  • In dieser Art von Freundschaft „bekommt jeder in allen Hinsichten vom anderen dasselbe oder etwas Ähnliches, wie es eben unter Freunden geschehen soll“ (1156b 30-35).

  • Die Freunde wünschen einander um ihren selbst willen Gutes wegen ihrer eigenen Beschaffenheit und nicht wegen anderer Gründe (1156b 5-15).

Nur gute und tugendhafte Menschen können diese Freundschaft miteinander haben. (1156b 5-10).


Literaturverzeichnis

  • Nikomachische Ethik – geschrieben von Aristoteles, übersetzt und herausgegeben von Ursula Wolf, 5. Auflage (März 2015), veröffentlicht im Rowholt Taschenbuch Verlag

Die Lektürnotizen wurden ursprünglich für das HU SoSe 2017 Nikomachische Ethik Tutorium geschrieben. Die Fragen sind von der Tutorin gestellt.

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Lektürenotizen – Nikomachische Ethik – Lust (VII 13)

Frage 1. In der ersten Abhandlung zur Lust im VII. Buch im 13. Kapitel führt Aristoteles einige Differenzierungen ein, die es ihm ermöglichen, u.a. auf die Frage zu antworten, ob die Lust ein Gut sein kann und muss, oder vielleicht sogar das höchste Gut darstellt. Macht euch diese Differenzierungen (ggf. anhand von Beispielen) bewusst! Was bedeutet es, wenn etwas “gut überhaupt” und “gut für jemanden” ist? Was ist lustvoll schlechthin und was nur akzidentell? Was ist gemeint mit der Differenz zwischen Disposition und Tätigkeit?

Eine Lust, die gut für jemanden ist, ist eine Lust, die gut für eine Person in einer bestimmten Situation / seelischen Verfassung / etc. ist, aber nicht unbedingt gut für alle Personen in allen Situationen. Eine Lust, die gut überhaupt ist, ist eine Lust die immer für alle Personen und alle Situationen gut und wählenswert ist, auch wenn diese Lust vielleicht nicht wählenswert oder als etwas schlecht zu einer individuellen Person erscheint.

Lustvoll schlechthin ist die Lust, die eine Tätigkeit, die aus einer „unversehrt gebliebenen Disposition und Natur“ entspringt, begleitet (1152b 35). Akzidentell Lustvoll ist eine Lust, die nur vorübergehend als Lust tritt, wegen eines Bedarfs eines Menschen. Zum Beispiel, man hat manchmal Lust auf etwas bitter oder sehr salzig, weil etwas in sich fehlt, aber wenn man genug salzig und bitter gegessen hat, bekommt man keine Lust mehr von diesen Sachen. Weiterhin, wenn eine Disposition sehr versehrt ist oder seine Natur sehr mangelnd, kann man auch Lust von Dingen, die normalerweise gar Unlustvoll scheinen, bekommen. In Kontrast sind die Lüste, die schlechthin lustvoll sind, immer (für die wirklich gute Person und seelische Verfassung) lustvoll, wie z.B. laut Aristoteles das Betrachten. Betrachten ist nicht wegen eines Mangels oder etwas fehlend in unserer Natur lustvoll, sondern weil irgendwie das Betrachten an sich Lustvoll ist.

In dieser Passage verstehe ich Dispositionen als Zustände, die sich uns zu einer bestimmten Tätigkeit (Handlung, Aktion) neigen und sich ändern können. Dispositionen können laut Aristoteles unversehrt oder versehrt geblieben sein. Beispiele für versehrte Dispositionen wären nach meinem Verständnis des Textes: hungrig zu sein, durstig zu sein, salzgierig zu sein, etc. Dann, wenn man eine bestimmte Tätigkeit ausübt (wie z.B. Essen, Trinken, etwas salzig Essen), verändern sich diese versehrten Dispositionen in unversehrten Dispositionen (nicht hungrig zu sein, nicht durstig zu sein, nicht salzgierig zu sein).


Literaturverzeichnis

  • Nikomachische Ethik – geschrieben von Aristoteles, übersetzt und herausgegeben von Ursula Wolf, 5. Auflage (März 2015), veröffentlicht im Rowholt Taschenbuch Verlag

Die Lektürnotizen wurden ursprünglich für das HU SoSe 2017 Nikomachische Ethik Tutorium geschrieben. Die Fragen sind von der Tutorin gestellt.

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Lektürenotizen – Nikomachische Ethik – Tugend und Wissen (VI 13)

In diesem Kapitel werden die folgenden Problemen (unter anderen) behandelt:

  • Warum muss ein Mensch eigentlich klug sein? Wäre es nicht genug die Hinweise eines klugen Menschen zu folgen, sowie ein Kranke folgt die Hinweise eines Arztes?

    Aristoteles antwortet: nein, das wäre nicht genug. Klugheit und Weisheit sind die Tugenden für ihre entsprechenden Teile der menschlichen Seele – Klugheit ist die Tugend des Teils, der sich mit veränderlichen Sachen beschäftigt, und Weisheit ist die Tugend des Teils, der sich mit unveränderlichen Sachen beschäftigt. Da Klugheit und Weisheit Tugenden eines Teils der menschlichen Seele sind, sie sind auch Teil von eudaimonia für den Menschen, und deshalb sind sie wünschenswert auch um ihrer selbst willen.

 
  • Was sind die Grenzen der Klugheit?

    In diesem Kapitel macht Aristoteles ein paar sehr wichtigen Bemerkungen für sein ethisches System. Die Klugheit ist laut ihm für das Herausfinden und Ausführung des Weges zum Zielpunkt verantwortlich, während die charakterlichen Tugenden für die Auswahl des Zielpunktes zuständig sind. Das heißt, dass um nach den richtig werthaften, guten und gerechten Zielen zu streben, müssen wir die charakterlichen Tugenden besitzen. Aber um diese Ziele richtig zu treffen, brauchen wir die Tugenden des Denkens, nämlich Klugheit und Weisheit. Da Weisheit mit allgemeinen und notwendigen Sachen beschäftigt ist, während Klugheit mit spezifischen und handlungsbezogenen Sachen beschäftigt ist, scheint Klugheit für das richtige Handeln die wichtigere von den beiden zu sein.

 
  • In welchem Sinn hatte Sokrates mit seiner Tugendtheorie recht?

    Laut Aristoteles hatte Sokrates in einer Hinsicht recht und in einer anderer nicht. Nämlich hatte Sokrates recht, wenn er behauptet hat, dass man braucht Klugheit, um tugendhaft zu sein. Aber er hat sich geirrt, wenn er die Tugenden mit Wissen identifiziert hat, weil Wissen nicht genug ist, um eine Tugend zu besitzen. Man braucht so Aristoteles auch die richtige entsprechende Disposition und Vorsatz.


Literaturverzeichnis

  • Nikomachische Ethik – geschrieben von Aristoteles, übersetzt und herausgegeben von Ursula Wolf, 5. Auflage (März 2015), veröffentlicht im Rowholt Taschenbuch Verlag

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What is Thomas Nagel’s argument in his essay “What is it like to be a bat?” for the conclusion that consciousness poses a challenge to physicalism?

A possible interpretation of Thomas Nagel’s argument can be written in syllogistic form:

Premise 1: Physicalism is true if and only if mental states are states of the body and mental events are physical events. (p. 446)

Premise 2: Conscious mental states exist and are mental states. (p. 436)

——————

Conclusion 1’ (based on premises 1 and 2): Physicalism is true if and only if conscious mental states are states of the body.

Premise 3: A conscious mental state is subjective. (p. 436-437, p. 445)

Premise 4: A physical state is objective. (p. 449) Premise 4’: A state of the body is a physical state (implied assumption) Conclusion 4’’ (based on premise 4 and 4’): A state of the body is objective.

Premise 5: There is no known method for reducing a subjective mental state to an objective physical state. (p. 436-437)

—————-

Conclusion 6 (based on premise 3, conclusion 4’’, and premise 5): There is no known method for reducing a conscious mental state to a state of the body.

Premise 7: If there is no known way of reducing a conscious mental state to a state of the body, then we cannot conclude at the moment that physicalism is true. (based on conclusion 1’)

—————————–

Conclusion 8 (based on conclusion 6 and conclusion 7): We cannot conclude at the moment that physicalism is true.

Bibliography
  • What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, Thomas Nagel, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 83, No. 4. (Oct., 1974), pp. 435-450
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What is consciousness? (according to Thomas Nagel – “What is it like to be a bat?”

Thomas Nagel in his essay does not define consciousness per se, but rather gives numerous properties of consciousness. The most important property by far for his argument, is that if and only if an organism is conscious, by having conscious mental states, there exists also a subjective character of experience for that organism. (p. 436)

In addition to this core property, Nagel also claims that consciousness is a very common phenomenon specific to animal life on Earth (p. 436). His support for the commonality of the phenomenon is surprising, considering that he admits later in the same phrase that “it is very difficult to say in general what provides evidence of it”. Nevertheless, for the core of his argument presented in the next exercise it would be enough to accept that individual humans posses consciousness, and for understanding the intuition behind it it is useful to extend that assumption to other complex and related forms of life on Earth such as echolocating bats. Nagel also posits under strikingly strong terms that consciousness exists in other parts of the universe: “No doubt it occurs in countless forms unimaginable to us, on other planets in other solar systems throughout the universe”. His lack of doubt here can be interpreted as rhetoric, since we cannot be so sure of such a fact given that we don’t know exactly what provides evidence of consciousness in general nor can we imagine the “countless forms unimaginable to us”.

In regards to whether consciousness affects or does not affect the behavior of an organism, Nagel prefers not to take a specific position and to just acknowledge the existence of both possibilities (p. 436), most likely since it does not seem to affect his argument regarding the problems that consciousness raises for accepting physicalism.

Bibliography

  • What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, Thomas Nagel, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 83, No. 4. (Oct., 1974), pp. 435-450
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Analysis of freedom of choice

Q: Suppose you are presented with two (apparent) options, A and B; and suppose that you choose A. Did you do so freely? Could you have chosen B?

I. Introduction

In order to answer the question of whether one chose option A freely, I will develop an analysis of the concept of freedom of choice. This analysis will separate the different types of freedom of choice into higher and lower degrees of freedom of choice. In order for a person to possess for example freedom of choice of the 4th degree, he will need to posses all the other types of freedom up until that level. Developing such an analysis is useful, for two main reasons:

First, it will allow us to distinguish between the different types of freedom of choice, and by assigning them to a continuum, we will be able to reconcile the works on the reading list and place them in relationship to each other.

Second, it will help us in our future work in establishing responsibility for one’s action. It will be possible to choose a precise level of freedom of choice, that exists both in deterministic and in some non-deterministic worlds, so that if a person posses that level of freedom of choice, then we will hold that person responsible for his actions.

II. Freedom of choice 

1st level of freedom of choice – being able to choose

In order to have any kind of freedom of choice, I must first be an entity that is capable of making a choice. This means that in some states of the world, I would choose option A, and in some other state of the world (in which that which I am remains the same, e.g. my personal identity), I would choose option B. If regardless of the state of the outside world, I will always choose an option  A, then I am not really an entity that is making a choice, but rather an entity that just goes for A no matter what, and that has no freedom of choice whatsoever, since it is not even capable of choosing (it is a degenerate case of freedom of choice).

A harder case here is one in which I have previously decided that no matter what happens in the future, I will always choose A. In this case, I did make a choice in the past, but by doing so I gave up my ability to choose in the future. This is at tricky case. There are two obvious ways to approach this:

1. I gave up my choice, and after that I have no more freedom of choice.

  1. After my initial choice, every time I choose A, that choice is simply part of the bigger initial choice.

I am inclined to go with the second way of approaching this, and thus say that the level of freedom of choice under which I am operating is the one under which the original decision was taken.

If I sometimes choose A, and under some different circumstances, I choose B, then in that case I am indeed capable of making a choice, and I have this most basic level of freedom of choice, namely the ability to choose.


2nd level of freedom of choice – having at least 2 options

If I am an entity that is capable of making a choice (capable of sometimes choosing A under some circumstances, and of choosing B under different circumstances that preserve my personal identity), then I have a 1st level of freedom of choice, and I might be able to attain a second level of freedom of choice.

When I chose A, did I have any other choice except A? If A was the only choice, then clearly there wasn’t really a choice to be made. You need at least two options in order to make a choice. If there was no other option, then my choice didn’t have this second degree of freedom of choice (which again, is a degenerate case, since there is no choice to be made). If on the other case there was another option, let’s say B for example, then my action was made under a second level of freedom of choice.


3rd level of freedom of choice – lack of external constraints that force you to choose otherwise

The third level of freedom of choice concerns the case in which you want to choose B, but somebody else compels you to choose A. For example, you wanted to get cocoa ice-cream, but a psychotic mass-murderer threatens to kill you unless you chose vanilla. In that case, your choosing of vanilla is not a free choice. It was still of course your choice, but it was made under constraint and externally imposed on yourself. If on the other hand no external agent compelled you to choose vanilla, and you would have gone ahead and chose vanilla according to what you wanted to get initially, then you have this 3rd level of freedom of choice.

At this level of freedom of choice we can include Hume’s original definition of liberty (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, VIII, 73), that of being able to move if you so desire, or to stay in place if that is what you will, and also Ayer’s contrast of liberty with constraint.


4th level of freedom of choice – the decision of the will comes from personal identity

Why did you will to choose A (again, for the sake of example, cocoa ice-cream rather than vanilla)? If you choose A because of reasons such as a chemical addiction to cocoa, a mental disorder, weakness of will, then we intuitively say that that decision was less free that a decision taken on the simple reason that you like cocoa in general, as a part of your personality. To formalize this, if a decision is made based on a part of our internal mental processes that we consider not to be part of who we are (a split personality, an addiction, a bad habit), then that decision was less free than a decision that resulted from mental processes we consider to be part of who we are (for example, I consider myself to be a person that fundamentally likes cocoa ice cream, therefore I decide to have that cocoa ice cream).1

Of course, this clear-cut distinction will be hard to achieve in practice. For example, an addiction might make you rationalize your actions, and say that you are indeed a person who likes and craves for cocoa, so as to reduce the mental dissonance and to justify your actions to yourself and to others2. Still, I assume that will not be a permanent effect on your brain, and it will be most likely part of a back-and-forth struggle between the addiction and the person’s actual personality. To simplify, we consider a decision to have the complete 4th degree of freedom of choice if and only if it was taken as a unified decision of all the mental processes of a person associated with his or hers personal identity. If that is not the case, then he can have at best only a partial 4th degree of freedom of choice.


5th level of freedom of choice – you decided who you are or who you want to be

So your choice of A was made based on what you consider to be your personal identity. Still, what caused you to be that way? Did you choose to become the person you are, or was that caused by factors outside of your control?

In order to ensure maximum freedom of choice, ideally, here we would be able to construct a causal chain of the personal self-identity of one moment deciding on the self-identity of the next moment ending in the self-identity that chose A. Still, this would be unreasonable, since external circumstances such as unexpected events shape our identity at every point in our lives. It is not just what we decide to be that shapes us. Still, let us grant this extreme case, that since we were born, we decided who we will become at each moment, and it was entirely our self identity at one point in time that shaped our future self identity at the next moment, for each given moment. In that perfect case, we can say we have a 5th degree of freedom, namely that the choice of A came from our personal identity and that personal identity was our past selves’ choice.


6th level of freedom of choice – being able to choose who you originally were

What caused my first personal identity (i.e. who I was when I began existing? If I was somehow able to choose who I was when I began to exist (by creating a cyclical deterministic loop / by my decision somehow being the cause of my own existence, and so on), then I would be able to achieve one additional level of freedom.

This seems not to be the case with humans. For humans, the most reasonable assumption is that who we were originally (when we were born / conceived depending on when our personal identity chain starts) was shaped by the world, by our DNA, by our mother’s womb, by our parents, etc. In that case, it was external entities that caused (“decided”) your original personal identity, in which case you had no choice over your original personal identity, and you do not have this 6th level of freedom of choice.

Here we could fit Van Inwagen’s argument, which if true, shows that we are unable to have the 6th level of freedom of choice, since who we initially were is determined by the state of the universe before our birth + the laws of physics (but under our model this does not exclude the possibility to have the first 5 levels of freedom of choice). Hume’s view would also exclude being able to have this 6th level of freedom of choice, since nothing can be the cause of itself, so something else (external to ourselves) would have to have caused our original existence (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, VIII, 74).


Special cases that involve the change of personal identity

In cases where your personal identity is modified against your will by an external entity, such as if you are mind-controlled by a perfectly skilled hypnotist, then by completely changing your personal identity, they are in effect temporarily (or permanently) killing you and replacing you with another person. That new person may then execute actions in accordance to one of the 6 degrees of freedom of choice.

III. If I chose A, then could I have chosen B?

Did you have more than one option? If no, then you could not have chosen B.

Are you capable of choosing anything else than A (in different circumstances that preserve your personal identity)? If not, then you could not have chosen B.

If you have more than one option, and if you are capable of choosing something else than A, then:

– In different circumstances, yes, you could have chosen B.

– If all the circumstances were the same, and if the universe were deterministic, then no, you could not have chosen B. (see Van Inwagen’s argument)

– If all circumstances were the same, and the universe is not deterministic, then it would be possible for you to have chosen B. A few examples of such cases:

– My personal identity implies a level of randomness in all my choices and my brain physiology is such that it can truly make a random decision. I am a person who likes surprises, so for all of my choices, I have a 1 in 2 chance of choosing something a course of action at random.

–  I am a perfectly rational person. In that case, if I do my analysis and I ended up with a 50% probability of getting what I want by choosing A, and a 50% probability of getting what I want by choosing B, in which case there is no reason to choose A over B. In that case, if my brain could contain a true random number generator (such as a decaying radioactive substance) and if the universe was indeed non-deterministic, than in that case I could have chosen B, even if the same circumstances were true.

IV. Weaknesses and counterarguments against this model

– The list of levels of freedom of choice is not exhaustive. There may be other intermediary levels, there may be higher degrees of freedom, lower degrees of freedom, and there might also be branching steps of freedom (in which at one step, if you want to go to a higher level of freedom, than you have two options that are incompatible with each other, and you need to choose one over the other, or a combination of a partial degree of both)

– Some theories of personal identity might collapse this model and make it incoherent (such as for example personal identity being just a continuation of consciousness).

– Possible objection: At the 3rd level of freedom of choice (freedom from an external constraint), the choice you are making still comes from your personal identity (for example if you are threatened with a gun, you are basing your decision to obey on your personality that values survival over resistance to submission). In that case doesn’t the decision have the 4th level of freedom of choice?

Answer: In a simple model, no, because you don’t have the 3rd level of freedom of choice, so you cannot have the 4th level. In a more complex model, then yes it has the 4th level of freedom of choice. This is more intuitively obvious in cases such as this: a man compels you to commit a crime by threatening you with a gun, but you are Superman. If you obey him just because he has a gun and you are too drunk to realize that you could resist him, then you do so against who you are, in which case you go against your personal identity. In that case, you have neither the 3rd level of freedom nor the 4th level of freedom, which is worse than not having just the 3rd level (obeying him because you have to and because of who you are).

– Possible objection: Well in the end, if determinism is true, doesn’t that mean that we have no freedom of choice at all? That all our actions are determined by events before we were born and the laws of nature? (or some other adaptation of Van Inwagen’s argument).

Answer: Yes, it might be true that all our actions are predetermined, but that doesn’t mean that they were not executed under certain freedoms of choices. There was still a choice being made, even if its result could have been foreseen by somebody with enough information. And the degree to which that choice was free, even if it wasn’t completely free, is still of vital importance in ascertaining the responsibility of the agent.

Bibliography

  • Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, sect. viii
  • J. Ayer, ‘Freedom and Necessity’, in Ayer, Philosophical Essays Macmillan, 1954), Chapter 12, pp.271-284, originally published in Polemic 5 (1946). Reprinted, Gary Watson (ed.) Free Will (1st edition) (OUP 1982), Chapter 1, pp.15-23
  • Van Inwagen, P., ‘The Incompatibility of Free will and Determinism’, Philosophical Studies 27 (1975), pp. 185-99. Reprinted in Watson (ed.), Free Will, OUP (1982)
  • Theodore Sider, ‘Free Will and Determinism’, chapter 6 of Earl Conee and Theodore Sider, Riddles of Existence (Clarendon Press, 2005)

1 The idea that an action is free if it stems from the personal identity of the agent is taken from the soft determinism approach presented by Theodere Sider.

2 Idea suggested in private discussion by Maria Androushko.

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The relationship between equality and democracy in Aristotle’s Politics and in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Prompt: Analyze the relationship between equality and democracy in Aristotle’s Politics and in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. What types of equality are needed, according to each of the authors, to give rise to democracy, and what types of equality are intrinsically parts of it? Furthermore, considering both texts, is it possible for one to have his cake and it eat too? More exactly, when considering the problems of equality, is it possible for a society with a democratic social state (in Tocquevillean terms), while avoiding a despotic regime, to give rise to an Aristotelian polity? If so, can we see any elements of that happening in Tocqueville’s description of the U.S.?

We begin this investigation by looking into Aristotle’s Politics. Aristotle initially classifies political regimes in Book 3, Chapter VII by two criteria: whether the purpose of the rulers is the common good or not, and what the size of the ruling class is (one, few, many). Thus, there are six combinations of regimes, three correct (kingship, aristocracy, polity) and three deviated (tyranny, oligarchy, democracy). What many people commonly associate today with democracy (majority rule) is represented in two of these regimes: polity (many rule for the common good) and democracy (many rule for the good of a particular part of society).

This initial simplistic classification of regimes is revised continuously by Aristotle in the books that follow, adding ever more nuances and tensions in his classification of the regimes. For example, Aristotle asks (in III.9): if the majority is rich in a democracy, is it still a democracy or should we call this oligarchy, since the rich rule? Or if a poor minority rules the society, can it still be called an oligarchy? These problems arose because people in his time (and in our time) commonly associate oligarchy with the rule of the rich, and democracy with the rule of the common people or the poor. This was not a groundless association, since in almost every case of a deviated regime, when a minority ruled it tended to be rich, and when the majority ruled they tended to be made of the poorer classes (1279b 34-37). The solution Aristotle offers to this is that wherever the poor are part the ruling class, we call that regime a democracy (if of course it’s a deviated regime, interested in the good of only one part of the polis), and wherever the rich rule because of their wealth (which implies the need for a society to consider wealth meritous), we call that an oligarchy (1279b 34 – 1280a 6). This of course raises further questions and tensions, like for example: if we have five poor men, ruling over 100.000 rich men, what do we call that regime? A democracy? It seems far away from any conception that we initially had of it, and it shows that there is still work to be done with the classification of the regimes, since when five people rule a hundred thousand, a word that means “rule of the people” is no longer appropriate. A defense in this case for Aristotle’s classification would be of course that such a thing is highly improbable to happen, and Aristotle is basing his detailing of the regimes on empirical facts. Still, it would be worthwhile to have a complete framework that can properly (though not comprehensively) describe any type of regime and fit them into itself. Since for example, it would be possible that in a highly religious society, five poor people would end up ruling a hundred thousand, without any consultation with the public, and for such a situation democracy would not be the best of words to describe such a society.

Nevertheless, we must press on with our inquiry, and returned to the problem at hand. From our investigation so far into Aristotelian thought, we can assemble two revised definitions for the regimes we are interested on: a regime is a polity when it is ruled by many, and its purpose is the common good, and it is a democracy when its purpose is not the common good, and the poor partake in the governing of the state.

Before moving on and discussing equality for Aristotle, it is necessary to discuss his notion of justice in his Politics, which infuses and propagates through his whole ethical classification of regimes. For Aristotle, there seem to be two concepts of justice in Politics, one general (coming perhaps from his Nicomachean Ethics) which states that “justice is the common benefit”, and one more specific, a justice that is “something to someone”, and concerns itself with “some sort of equality” (quotations from 1282b 14-22). This specific kind of justice [1] is concerned with giving the same thing to people who are equal, and with giving different things with people who are unequal. In modern terms, we would call this concern distributive justice.

But people have different notions of justice, stemming from misunderstandings of equality or which equality matters for what purpose (1280a 7- 23), and this gives rise to the desire and foundation of different types of regimes (1301a 25-28). People in democratic regimes tend to falsely believe that since they are equal in one respect (freedom) they must be equal in all respects (1301a 28-30). Thus they consider each completely equal to all the others, including in merit, and so go for a numerical kind of justice. The majority is the one that has the right to decide for the state as a whole. People in oligarchic regimes mistakenly believe that since they are unequal in one respect (wealth) they must be unequal in all others (1301a 30-33). Thus they desire and found a regime in which participation in the political body and decision-making is proportional to one’s merit, which they consider to be wealth. But according to Aristotle, this is also wrong. Participation in the political body should be according to one’s merit, but the value which is chosen to represent merit is key. Aristotle argues that since a city-state (polis) is founded and defined by its purpose of enabling its citizens to live well, than shares in governing a city-state should be given in accordance to that which pertains to living well, which is virtue (1281a 1-7). Thus, a just regime is one which accords people with equal virtue equal shares in the governance of the city-state (as kingship, aristocracy, and polity do).

Justice is also very important for Aristotle since differences in how they understand it are what makes people desire to change the regime they are living in. Once people start having different conceptions of distributive justice, and of what approach to equality is correct and fair, then faction will arise and people will desire to change their regime to another one. An interesting connection that we can make here is with Plato’s Republic, which Aristotle also often references in his Politics. If Socrates wanted to start his interlocutors on the path of changing the constitution (regime, politeia) of their soul, what is the perfect question to ask, if not “What is Justice?” ? Whereas if one wants regime stability, than according to Aristotle, one should seek above all “equality in accordance with merit”, which is the current type of accepted justice in a society (merit can mean wealth for oligarchy, virtue for non-deviated regimes, or it can be completely the same for  every person in democracies), “and the possesion of private property” (1307a 25-27).

With these notions in mind, let’s turn our attention to democracy and equality, and asks ourselves two critical questions: “What types of equality or inequality are needed for democracy to arise?” and “Which types of equality or inequality must exist simultaneously with a democracy, or in other words what types of equality does the Aristotelian notion of democracy necessarily include or give rise to?”.

First, according to Aristole, if you want to change a regime, then you need some kind of inequality, since a perception of inequality causes strife and is the main cause of regime change (1302a 22-32). This perception depends on the people’s understanding of justice. Thus, if people, according to what they believe justice is, perceive a kind of inequality, then the wheels of change start moving. Next, if you want this change to give rise to a democracy, then you need the people that are unsatisfied with the current state of affairs to have an equality of opinion, in so far as they need to share a democratic understanding of justice. Last but not least, before you can get your democracy, you need the people who have this equality of opinion to have more power than the one’s that are against a democratic regime. [2]

Once you have a democracy, you need to maintain this equality of opinion about the notice of justice. This can be achieved through education, which is one of the possible reasons why Aristotle considers it of foremost importance to the survival of a regime (1310a 12-35). This education (or propaganda, depending on how you approach it) will also need to involve some equality of access to it, for a few or for most people depending on the situation, since you need to educate a critical mass of people that would have enough power to defend the current constitution in case of need. Furthermore, in order to maintain a democracy, you need to continuously ensure that the ones who have the same opinion about it being maintained continue to have more power than those who are against the constitution.

Now that we have analyzed the fundamental types of equalities that must go along with democracies, we can go on and look at polities.  In order for a polity to arise, you also need an initial inequality, perceived by some according to their different notion of justice. If you are starting from a deviated regime, then these people must have a notion of distributive justice based on virtue, so that they would want to change to a just and proper regime. Furthermore, as with democracies, these people who share this belief must have enough power to enact the regime change. If on the other hand you are starting from a just non-deviated regime, than you need more equality of virtue between its different citizens, and the regime should naturally transform itself into a polity (since its virtuous rulers will realize that that is the proper thing to do). As for the kinds of equality needed for a polity to survive, they are the same fundamental kinds as for a democracy: equality of opinion on the notice of justice, and equality of access to education for enough people in order to ensure the regime’s survival.

Whereas for Aristotle the notion of justice that people have gives rise to their preference and desire for a certain regime, Tocqueville attributes a desire and tendency for a political regime to something he calls the social state of a people. In his work, Democracy in America, Tocqueville mentions two types of social state: democratic (on which we will focus) and aristocratic. He never directly defines what a democratic social state is, but a careful reader can infer from its usage a definition good enough to work with and approach the subject at hand.

A democratic social state is one in which a society has at least a minimum level of equality of opportunity and equality of conditions (equality of outcome). In this social state, the equality of conditions gives rise to a desire for even more equality of conditions (p. 479). This is crucial for understanding his whole work.

This democratic social state appears in a society once there are enough ways in which people can gain power, regardless of their current conditions. People will naturally try to improve their condition, and once they have managed to shrink the inequality between them and their superiors, they will desire even more to reduce the remaining inequality. This will lead to a self-sustaining and self-increasing effect that although not invincible, if left unchecked or not confronted by significant opposite forces, will only serve to increase the equality of conditions of that society. This is the situation that Tocqueville presents to have been happening in his native France, and it is useful to look at it in order to better understand how such a process works. 700 years ago, there was only “one origin of power to be discovered” and that was landed property. Then other ways appeared with which one could gain power: by joining the clergy, by becoming a jurist, by going into commerce, by going into science and becoming a lettered person. In all of these a wide range of persons could participate, since they involved thinking and using your mind, as a prerequisite for obtaining the job. Knowledge became power, and knowledge is something that more and more people could have, regardless of their condition of birth. The more possibilities to gain power in society, regardless of the conditions you were born in, increased the equality of conditions of the society. This gave rise, over time, to a democratic social state.

According to Tocqueville, this democratic social state, since it is characterized first and foremost by a love of equality, can lead to two possible political outcomes: either society will organize itself in a democratic political body in which all citizens have rights, or towards a tyrannical despotic regime in which all are equal by being subjugated to a single ruler (pp. 52-53). Here we can see one of the reasons that his work is so crucial for him. Since he considers that his time is characterized by a democratic social state that has past a certain point, and acquired a virtually unstoppable tendency towards more equality, it is of the utmost importance to learn how to channel this force into creating a democratic political regime, instead of a despotic one.

Another danger of this tendency towards more and more equality of conditions is that over the long-term this seems to lead towards a situation in which goods are divided equally to everybody in society, regardless of merit and/or need. Tocqueville acknowledges this, considers it a problem and on p. 431 discusses possible solutions to it. One option would be that a central government would be in charge of distributing them according to merit. Tocqueville is against this, and he argues for restoring a kind of equality of opportunity into society (p. 431). A possible interpretation of his solution is that by educating people (by giving them “equal enlightenment”) and ensuring an equality of chances (giving “equal independence to all”) we would be able to redirect their ardent desire for more equality of conditions, towards a desire and an acceptance of equality of opportunity. He mentions that the inequality of outcome should be left up to the “natural inequality”, a position which today would need to be laid out very carefully and in detail before being accepted. For example, should physically handicapped people be helped to go to school, since mentally they have as much potential as anybody else, or should they be left on their own, trying to slowly and arduously walk to school? A possible solution to account for such cases is to allow only for specific natural inequality – when it comes to a physically handicapped person trying to succeed in a mental activity, he should be helped and made as equal as possible with others from a physical perspective (bionic legs, attendant, wheelchair, etc.), but given just the same attention as other people when it comes to the mental perspective. In any case, if society is to best use its resources, and to avoid stagnation, it seems that the democratic social state’s tendency towards perfect equality of conditions will have to be stopped somehow, or human nature modified so that there is no longer any kind of natural inequality (which might be far from desirable).

Tocqueville sets out to observe democracy in America, because he wants to see what the democratic social state can lead to. He considers that the equality of conditions propagates into every part of society, such as the public spirit, the laws, the maxims of those who govern, the particular habits of the governed, their political mores, and over the entire civil society (p. 3). In fact he says that the equality of conditions is “the generative fact from which each particular fact seemed to issue” (p. 3) and that he found it as the central point at which all his observations came to an end (p. 3). Thus, the social state of a people infuses itself deep into society, and its presence can be felt and deduced from most parts of it.

We know that this social state can lead either to ultimate despotism or to a democratic regime. But in the case of America, which is clearly not (yet) a despotic regime, is the democratic regime, in Aristotelian terms, going to be a polity or a deviated version of it? Can it even be a polity? Tocqueville’s description of America seems to tend more towards a polity than towards its corrupted counterpart. One of the founding documents of an American colony reads:

“And by virtue hereof, do enact, constitute and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” (p. 35)

With virtue as its foundation, government of the many, and general good as its purpose, this colonial political body fits perfectly into the criteria of a polity from Aristotle. Did this tendency towards a polity that America had at birth maintain over the next centuries? It seems so. The American government has both democratic (in Aristotelian terms) and oligarchic elements. Its representative government ensures that a minority rules, but that minority is ruled by the people. The rich have significant influence over the political system, since they are able to influence public opinion through mass media, but at the end of the day, they do need the consent of the majority in order to implement their will.

Still, can Aristotle’s notion of polity and Tocqueville’s notion of democracy truly coexist? Can a society that is characterized by significant equality of conditions, and a strong desire for more of it, be able to maintain a notion of distributive justice based on virtue? Or will its desire for more equality engulf its notion of justice over time, and twist it towards believing that everybody has equal merit, and thus everybody should have an equal share in the political body?

I believe that a democratic social state can lead to a political regime that is a polity, and that the key to achieving this is a properly implemented representative democracy. A representative democracy requires a citizen to choose between a set of persons, on the basis of which of them can rule and represent him better (and one could say that in an Ancient Greek sense, there can be a virtue (arête) of ruling representing somebody). Thus, he will constantly be reminded of the notion that some are better at ruling than others, and he will also be constantly required to develop and think about his notion of what makes a good ruler, or more exactly what virtue a ruler needs to have. Furthermore, the higher a politican’s function, the more he reminds the common people by his function and existence, that there is a difference between people in virtue in governing. Not all people are equal when it comes to government. A local councilor is better than the common man, a senator is better than a local councilor, and a president is better than a senator (or at least in theory, since the selection process is a lot more competitive). Not surprisingly is the President’s wife, even in a society like America where the driving force seems to be equality, still called the “First Lady” (implying of course that her husband is the “First Man”). Thus, in a representative democracy, the notion of political virtue will be constantly engendered into the citizen, and along with it the notion of distributive justice based on virtue (one should partake in the government of the country proportional to how much political virtue he has). It is not a given of course, that any representative democracy will manage to remain a polity, and not degenerate into an Aristotelian democracy, but the seed for its protection is there.

Bibliography

  • Politics, Aristotle, translated by C.D.C. Reeve, Hackett Publishing Company (1998)
  • Democracy in America,, Alexis de Tocqueville, translated by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, The University of Chicago Press (2000)

[1] I adopt the terms general and specific kind of justice from Miller, Fred, “Aristotle’s Political Theory”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/aristotle-politics/>.
[2] It is also important to keep in mind when discussing a faction between two groups based on opinion, that when one judges the power of one of these groups, it should also include in such an assessment the influence the group has over public opinion, and thus the capability to attract more people (neutral or from the other side) to its cause.
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Note 2: The striking similarities and compatibility of Diotima’s erotic theory with contemporary evolutionary psychology approach to understanding human behavior and desires

Though this is a tangential topic to this essay, and a subject that one can write an entire essay about, it is worth drawing attention to the similarities that Diotima’s theory has to the modern evolutionary approach to psychology. For Diotima, the core desire that gives rise to the phenomenon of eros is the desire for immortality. This is something that all animals and humans have, and for humans it seems to seep into every action they do: “but I believe that all do all things for the sake of immortal virtue and a famous reputation of that sort; and the better they are, so much the more is it thus; for they love the immortal” (Symposium, 208 D)

The basic premise of evolutionary psychology is that life evolved from basic units that had the tendency to survive as long as possible by engendering copies of themselves. For humans and animals, the basic units that seek immortality are genes. Thus, whatever behavior in a human would encourage the survival of some genes it carries (whether by helping itself, helping other people and animals who share those genes, or by reproducing and thus ensuring further survival of those genes, etc.) is the expected more probable behavior. For example, the genes make the human that carries them more often than not seek an environment in which he can engender further copies of them. Here also in evolutionary psychology we can make the same connection to beauty that Plato makes. We would expect that humans would consider environments suitable to survival and reproduction more beautiful and desirable, since there they can engender copies of their genes, and help them partake in immortality. That’s exactly what studies seem to show across human cultures (see for example paintings of fertile African savannahs that are considered beautiful across most human cultures, and not by coincidence it is a place very suitable for survival and reproduction of humans)1.

Another similarity is the concept of giving birth through body and giving birth through ideas. For most animals the evolutionary basic element is the bodily gene. But since humans have developed intellection, there is now a new kind of entity that can survive and reproduce in us. Those are ideas. An idea can come into being, and then continue to exist by moving from person to person. There is also a kind of evolutionary pressure on ideas. Some fade away after days, others survive for millennia. There is a whole theory about this, and I think Richard Dawkins is the first to write about them, coining the term meme.

This are just some surface thoughts, but my intuition is that the similarities run very deep, since both have the same core principle at work – immortality, and partaking in that through engendering.


[1] This topic is discussed in more detail (and with numerous references to studies) in Denis Dutton’s essay on Aesthetic Universals in The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, edited by Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes (2002). It can be found online at: http://www.denisdutton.com/universals.htm
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Note 1: The definitions of eros in Diotima’s speech

Diotima initially describes Eros as a daemon. He is described as an intermediary between the divine (immortal) and the mortal plane. He is the son of Penia (Poverty) and Poros (Resource). He is always poor, and in need of something. He is interested in capturing the beautiful and the good. Among his attributes that we can recognize later of importance are him being: courageous (since he could not proceed on the ladder of love without courage), philosophizing through all his life (again, we can see this happening when the lover is guided properly on how to love), between wisdom and lack of understanding (thus having a desire to philosophize). This Eros, the daemon, is a description, an image of the lover.

At 205 D, under my interpretation, Diotima changes from discussing the lover (Eros) to discussing the love that the lover has (eros) for the beautiful and the good. Here we are offered two definitions for eros.

One is a general definition that applies to most humans: “In brief, eros is the whole desire of good things and of being happy,” (205 D). People approach this in many different ways, like “money-making, love of gymnastics, or philosophy” (205 D). But we do not call them lovers, unless they apply themselves earnestly to a single one.  We can see this happening for example in the ninth book of The Republic, where depending on which part rules a person’s soul, if it has a clear dominion over him and makes him earnestly apply himself to the interests of that part of the soul, we call him a lover of wisdom, lover of honor, or lover of money.

The second definition is at 206 E: “eros is of the good’s being one’s own always”. This seems to be a lot more abstract than the love most people have in day to day life. People have an eros for another person, or they have an eros for an object or an activity in general – but for the good itself? In my first Symposium essay, I argued in detail that this definition is compatible with the first one, and it follows logically from it if one has a philosophically predisposed soul (with a calculating part minding its own business, and wise enough, to ask questions and follow through with their logic).

A person wants good things and to be happy. But what exactly are good things? What makes a thing good? What is this attribute of goodness that good things partake in? What is the good? If a person wants to have good things, then he must be in possession of knowledge of the good. But is this knowledge something that can be obtained once, and then discarded? No. It must stay with the person always, so that he may continuously and constantly distinguish what these good things are. Thus one wants to own the good, always.

Another distinct approach to understanding how one can arrive at this second, more particular, definition of eros, is that since eros actually is caused by the desire for immortality, and the best way to satisfy it is to give birth to true virtue, in addition of beauty itself, a person must also have knowledge of the good itself. For how can a person know truly “what sort the good man must be and what he must practice” (virtue, 209 C), without knowing what the good itself is?

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