Sunday, August 1, 2010

Exploring Nicomachean Ethics Part 2

We had perhaps better consider the universal good and discuss
thoroughly what is meant by it, although such an inquiry is made an
uphill one by the fact that the Forms have been introduced by
friends of our own. Yet it would perhaps be thought to be better,
indeed to be our duty, for the sake of maintaining the truth even to
destroy what touches us closely, especially as we are philosophers
or lovers of wisdom; for, while both are dear, piety requires us to
honour truth above our friends.

The men who introduced this doctrine did not posit Ideas of
classes within which they recognized priority and posteriority
(which is the reason why they did not maintain the existence of an
Idea embracing all numbers); but the term 'good' is used both in the
category of substance and in that of quality and in that of
relation, and that which is per se, i.e. substance, is prior in nature
to the relative (for the latter is like an off shoot and accident of
being); so that there could not be a common Idea set over all these
goods. Further, since 'good' has as many senses as 'being' (for it
is predicated both in the category of substance, as of God and of
reason, and in quality, i.e. of the virtues, and in quantity, i.e.
of that which is moderate, and in relation, i.e. of the useful, and in
time, i.e. of the right opportunity, and in place, i.e. of the right
locality and the like), clearly it cannot be something universally
present in all cases and single; for then it could not have been
predicated in all the categories but in one only. Further, since of
the things answering to one Idea there is one science, there would
have been one science of all the goods; but as it is there are many
sciences even of the things that fall under one category, e.g. of
opportunity, for opportunity in war is studied by strategics and in
disease by medicine, and the moderate in food is studied by medicine
and in exercise by the science of gymnastics. And one might ask the
question, what in the world they mean by 'a thing itself', is (as is
the case) in 'man himself' and in a particular man the account of
man is one and the same. For in so far as they are man, they will in
no respect differ; and if this is so, neither will 'good itself' and
particular goods, in so far as they are good. But again it will not be
good any the more for being eternal, since that which lasts long is no
whiter than that which perishes in a day. The Pythagoreans seem to
give a more plausible account of the good, when they place the one
in the column of goods; and it is they that Speusippus seems to have

But let us discuss these matters elsewhere; an objection to what
we have said, however, may be discerned in the fact that the
Platonists have not been speaking about all goods, and that the
goods that are pursued and loved for themselves are called good by
reference to a single Form, while those which tend to produce or to
preserve these somehow or to prevent their contraries are called so by
reference to these, and in a secondary sense. Clearly, then, goods
must be spoken of in two ways, and some must be good in themselves,
the others by reason of these. Let us separate, then, things good in
themselves from things useful, and consider whether the former are
called good by reference to a single Idea. What sort of goods would
one call good in themselves? Is it those that are pursued even when
isolated from others, such as intelligence, sight, and certain
pleasures and honours? Certainly, if we pursue these also for the sake
of something else, yet one would place them among things good in
themselves. Or is nothing other than the Idea of good good in
itself? In that case the Form will be empty. But if the things we have
named are also things good in themselves, the account of the good will
have to appear as something identical in them all, as that of
whiteness is identical in snow and in white lead. But of honour,
wisdom, and pleasure, just in respect of their goodness, the
accounts are distinct and diverse. The good, therefore, is not some
common element answering to one Idea.

But what then do we mean by the good? It is surely not like the
things that only chance to have the same name. Are goods one, then, by
being derived from one good or by all contributing to one good, or are
they rather one by analogy? Certainly as sight is in the body, so is
reason in the soul, and so on in other cases. But perhaps these
subjects had better be dismissed for the present; for perfect
precision about them would be more appropriate to another branch of
philosophy. And similarly with regard to the Idea; even if there is
some one good which is universally predicable of goods or is capable
of separate and independent existence, clearly it could not be
achieved or attained by man; but we are now seeking something
attainable. Perhaps, however, some one might think it worth while to
recognize this with a view to the goods that are attainable and
achievable; for having this as a sort of pattern we shall know
better the goods that are good for us, and if we know them shall
attain them. This argument has some plausibility, but seems to clash
with the procedure of the sciences; for all of these, though they
aim at some good and seek to supply the deficiency of it, leave on one
side the knowledge of the good. Yet that all the exponents of the arts
should be ignorant of, and should not even seek, so great an aid is
not probable. It is hard, too, to see how a weaver or a carpenter will
be benefited in regard to his own craft by knowing this 'good itself',
or how the man who has viewed the Idea itself will be a better
doctor or general thereby. For a doctor seems not even to study health
in this way, but the health of man, or perhaps rather the health of
a particular man; it is individuals that he is healing. But enough
of these topics.

I found it very interesting that those who originally introduced the doctrine of the universal good (now it is known as the common good) did not consider the issue of class and/or different classes. Maybe, in today's times we shouldn't let class or politics determine the meaning of the common good and how it is to be achieved but rather we should look to God to determine the meaning of the common good and how it is going to be implemented so that it is achieved? 

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