Aristotelian demons

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

An unkind, but not wholly inaccurate caricature of Aristotle's ethics might portray it as focused upon people with (a) a good start on virtue, and (b) plenty of money, status, friends, power, etc., (c) seeking their own happiness through contemplation and the exercise of virtues, and (d) concerned largely with nice questions of sensual pleasure, wealth, honor, and social intercourse. By contrast, the issues confronting contemporary ethicists often involve (a) seriously flawed (b) victims of terrible misfortunes and gross injustices, (c) concerned with the acquisition of necessities rather than (d) the adjudication of niceties. Aristotle's ethics seem to be limited to a tiny group of privileged, goody-goodies with first-world problems. The relevance of Aristotle's ethics might be defended by expanding his focus in various ways. Defenders might argue that Aristotle's ethics actually applies to a broader range of situations and issues. In this chapter, I shall offer a different defense. I shall highlight the fact that Aristotle has quite a bit to say about a broader range of people and social relationships. The character traits and friendships discussed by Aristotle range from the very best to (almost) the very worst. Evil is said in many ways. By “evil” I shall mean the morally worst thing. What is the morally worst thing, according to Aristotle? Aristotle ranks character traits according to two principles, and ranks friendships according to two different principles. He might call the traits and friendships at the bottom of his four hierarchies “evil.” The people with these traits are Aristotle's demons; the friendships are his hell. However, there is something even worse: An extrapolation of Aristotle's principles yields a character trait which ranks below the worst sorts of traits that he does mention. People with this trait are Aristotelian demons; they make life hell for others. Ranking Character Traits … Profoundest Hell / Receive thy new possessor: one who brings / A mind not to be changed by place or time. Satan in Paradise Lost by Milton.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEvil in Aristotle
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages98-121
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781316676813
ISBN (Print)9781107161979
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

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