Monday, March 8, 2010

THE GOLDEN MEAN, AND THE GOOD LIFE



Aristotle was born in 384 BC in Stagira, a small town in North-East Greece, where he lived until joining Plato’s Academy. His father died when he was very young, and he was brought up by his rich and learned uncle Proxenus. Nothing is recorded about his early life, but one might guess that Aristotle received the excellent education of most high-born Greeks.
At the age of seventeen, Aristotle joined Plato's Academy in Athens. Plato's own work was in philosophy and Aristotle learned a lot about philosophy directly from Plato. Plato, although not a mathematician or scientist, also made sure his pupils learned geometry, astronomy, and physics. The Academy also taught rhetoric, at which Aristotle excelled.
There are few, poorly supported, facts that have come down to us about Aristotle’s character and appearance. These suggest that he was...
• ... a fashionable dresser;
• ... arrogant (according to his enemies!);
• ... a witty lecturer and conversationalist;
• ... of poor digestion and spindle-shanked;
• ... generous to friends and relatives.

Although hardly anything is known about Aristotle’s personal life, his intellectual life is well documented. His surviving works alone provide us with a good record of his philosophical, scientific, and cultural thinking.
The range and volume of Aristotle's work show that he was driven by the desire for knowledge. For him, this desire was fundamental to human nature. His central beliefs are summed up by two quotes from him:
• "All men by nature desire to know".
• "A fully human life is the activity of the mind”.

For Aristotle, philosophy is "the love of wisdom", the search for “knowledge of things human and divine”. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that the greatest happiness is to be found in a life of intellectual activity. Such activity produces the mental state in which men produce the truest form of their self realization, and the highest levels of flourishing. But Aristotle did not retreat to a life of studious contemplation. He was never a politician, but he was certainly a public figure.
During Aristotle's lifetime, Philip II of Macedonia, and his son, Alexander the Great, dominated Greece. This led to the loss of independence of city-states like Athens. Not surprisingly, many in the city-states resented anyone associated with Macedonia. Aristotle’s father, Nicomachus, had been a physician at the Macedonian court. In 343, Philip invited Aristotle to tutor Alexander, and Aristotle remained in this position for several years. Between his first period in Athens and his last, Aristotle’s scientific work proceeded apace.
Aristotle spent the thirteen years from 335 in Athens, and taught regularly at the Lyceum. This is when Aristotle pursued most of his political studies. Aristotle's researches were often conducted in a team, and always communicated to others. For Aristotle , teaching was the best proof and manifestation of knowledge. But the Lyceum was not a private college, it was a public place. The general public were as welcome as students, and there were no exams or fees.
Alexander the Great died in 323. In 322, Aristotle fearing he might suffer Socrates' fate, retired to his mother’s homeland—Chalcis on the island of Euboea. Although never a Macedonian agent, and indeed an opponent of emperors and imperialism, Aristotle was in great danger after the demise of his most powerful pupil. Aristotle's last months were spent lamenting his isolation. He died in 323 BC, in Chalcis, aged 62.
(321Books Aristotle Biography)

Aristotle's Ethics
From philosophy bookman's photostream
Nicomachean Ethics (sometimes spelled "Nichomachean"), or Ta Ethika, is a work by Aristotle on virtue and moral character which plays a prominent role in defining Aristotelian ethics. It consists of ten books based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum and were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle's son, Nicomachus.
Nicomachean Ethics focuses on the importance of habitually behaving virtuously and developing a virtuous character. Aristotle emphasized the importance of context to ethical behavior, and the ability of the virtuous person to recognize the best course of action. Aristotle argued that eudaimonia is the goal of life, and that a person's pursuit of eudaimonia, rightly conceived, will result in virtuous conduct.
(Excerpted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
For Aristotle, moral virtue is the only practical road to effective action. What the person of good character loves with right desire and thinks of as an end with right reason must first be perceived as beautiful. Hence, the virtuous person sees truly and judges rightly, since beautiful things appear as they truly are only to a person of good character. It is only in the middle ground between habits of acting and principles of action that the soul can allow right desire and right reason to make their appearance, as the direct and natural response of a free human being to the sight of the beautiful.
We all start out life governed by desires and impulses. Unlike the habits, which are passive but lasting conditions, desires and impulses are passive and momentary, but they are very strong. Listen to a child who can’t live without some object of appetite or greed, or who makes you think you are a murderer if you try to leave her alone in a dark room. How can such powerful influences be overcome? To expect a child to let go of the desire or fear that grips her may seem as hopeless as Aristotle’s example of training a stone to fall upward, were it not for the fact that we all know that we have somehow, for the most part, broken the power of these tyrannical feelings. We don’t expel them altogether, but we do get the upper hand; an adult who has temper tantrums like those of a two-year old has to live in an institution, and not in the adult world. But the impulses and desires don’t weaken; it is rather the case that we get stronger.
There is such a thing as bad character, and this is what Aristotle means by vice, as distinct from bad habits or weakness. It is possible for someone with full responsibility and the free use of intellect to choose always to yield to bodily pleasure or to greed.
( Excerpted from ‘Aristotle: Ethics’, by Joe Sachs, St. John’s College at IEP)
In Book VIII of his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle categorizes three different types of friendship: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of the good. Friendships of utility are those where people are on cordial terms primarily because each person benefits from the other in some way. Business partnerships, relationships among co-workers, and classmate connections are examples. Friendships of pleasure are those where individuals seek out each other’s company because of the joy it brings. Passionate love affairs, people associating with each other due to belonging to the same hobby organization, and fishing buddies fall into this category. Most important of all are friendships of the good. These are friendships based upon mutual respect, admiration for each other’s virtues, and a strong desire to aid and assist the other person because one recognizes their essential goodness.
The first two types of friendship are relatively fragile. When the purpose for which the relationship is formed somehow changes, then these friendships tend to end. For instance, if the business partnership is dissolved, or if you take another job, or graduate from school, it is more than likely that no ties will be maintained with the former friend of utility. Likewise, once the love affair cools, or you take up a new hobby or give up fishing, the friends of pleasure will go their own ways.
(Abbas Raza at 3quarksdaily.com)



No comments: