A few random reflections on EN I.

“Nevertheless, even in these circumstances the quality of fineness shines through, when someone bears repeated and great misfortunes calmly, not because he is insensitive to them but because he is a person of nobility and greatness of soul.” - EN, I.10, 1100b30-33

This passage reflects the difference between Stoicism and Aristotelian virtue ethics in a revealing way. The magnanimous man bears great misfortunes calmly not through insensitivity but on account of his excellence. This excellence, as Aristotle has already been discussing in Book I, c.8, consists primarily in those goods of the soul, and these activities bring about happiness. Thus, the excellent or virtuous soul is not insensitive because he is completed by his surroundings. In a way this is necessary and in a way not. It is necessary that a man have surroundings (perhaps the discussion of happiness and death is apropos here). However, the core of happiness is not principled by the “surroundings” of soul. Again, soul is the form of a living body. While it may not matter insofar as determining the virtues is concerned whether hylomorphism or Platonic dualism is right (for the same “ruling” structure will still result---and it is interesting that Cartesian substance dualism results in a different ruling structure and a different account of happiness), is will matter insofar as beatitudo is concerned, for happiness follows what a thing is by nature. So a Platonist can regard the body as a prison, while the Aristotelian must affirm the context and completion of happiness, the complete life, for life here is principled by soul, the form of the naturally organized body.


  1. Vincentius said...
    In this context, we might also reflect on the way in which the virtuous man is said to be "self-sufficient." I'm sure thinkers like Descartes and Kant would interpret this differently than Aristotle with respect to the external goods you mentioned, and with respect to higher goods such as are found in a community of men.
    John B. said...
    I agree. For Descartes, the magnanimous man (the man who has 'generosite') is one who only does what he finds within his power, which is use his free will well, which free will has limited control over external affairs. (This poses a problem for his proposal to "master nature.")

    Is there a distinction to be had between self-sufficiency and completeness? If there a sufficient amount of self-sufficiency?

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