Nicomachean Ethics

Someone will have to try very hard to convince me that the classical Greek philosophers were not strictly satirists. I believe I’ve commented on Plato in the past. I try to be well-rounded and not just cherry-pick material that supports my worldview—even though that competes for my available time and creates opportunity costs.

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This time, I decided to pick up Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. If there is anything I needed to read to drive another nail into the coffin of Virtue ethics, this does the trick.

Nails in a coffin

Reading Classical philosophical texts feels like reading the Bible or any other religious works. It feels like it is only meant for disciples. It’s just choir preaching. If one agrees with the foundational position, it all works. Otherwise, it all falls apart.

I am not going to deconstruct the text. That would quite literally take several posts. What I want to point out is that within the frame he attempts to establish, his position is entirely heuristic. In this case, if one believes in virtue and honour and how these may or may not connect to happiness, then this is right up your street in much the same way as a Christian knows that s/he will be forgiven because Jesus loves them.

In some ways, it feels that the philosophy underlying Western Civilisation is more insidious than Abrahamic religions. They act in a similar way, attempting to convey an underpinning that simply doesn’t exist. Both are aspirational, but they claim to be foundational.

Like Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics comes across (to me) as mental masturbation—some free-association thought experiment. I’m about 60 per cent through and tempted to quit, but on some level, I want to be able to defend that I have read it. Like the Bible, the I Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Qur’an, and other such canon, I want to have read the source material and not just references to it.

So, I’ll take one for the team and see whatever gems I can find.

First page of a 1566 edition of the Nicomachean Ethics in Greek and Latin

UPDATE: I’ve finished the book. It doesn’t get any better. He drifts off into politics as he sets up his sequel. My biggest criticism is that he casts his elitist worldview as reality based on assertions based solely on his opinions and appeals to tradition and authority. Read this if only to understand where certain people derive this moralistic, virtue-laden worldview. I was surprised by the foreshadowing of Descartes’ Cogito—though given how that further led to popularise Dualism, I’m not saying that’s a good thing.

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