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WIP Talk: Sukaina Hirji
January 13, 2020 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Please join us as Sukaina Hirji (University of Pennsylvania) gives a presentation to the CPAMP Work-in-Progress seminar, titled “How Virtue is a Means to Contemplation”.
Abstract: In a number of passages in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle seems to suggest that ethical virtue is an instrumental means to contemplation. But, as many scholars have worried, this view seems to be both implausible on its face, and in tension with other commitments Aristotle has. The difficulty in understanding the relationship between ethical virtue and contemplation is part of a larger puzzle about the structure of value in Aristotle’s ethical theory. Does Aristotle countenance a plurality of independently valuable ends for human beings? Or, is the value of all other ends for human beings ultimately reducible to the value of the highest human good?
In this paper, I argue that the dominant attempts to explain the relationship between virtuous actions and contemplation in a non-instrumental fashion are unsuccessful. Instead, I argue, we should accept the face value reading: virtuous actions really are “for the sake of” contemplation because they instrumentally promote contemplation. Specifically, virtuous actions are for the sake of the noble or kalon insofar as they promote conditions of peace, security and freedom from necessity, and these are precisely the conditions under which contemplation is possible. This view is, I argue, consistent with the idea that performing virtuous actions is also an end, choice-worthy for its own sake.
On the interpretation I defend, we find in Aristotle a sophisticated theory of value that demonstrates the possibility of being a pluralist while still maintaining that every good is hierarchically organized around some one highest good. More surprisingly, Aristotle’s view contains an important reminder about the degree of privilege required to engage in philosophy, and a suggestion for the kind of moral responsibility we might have as philosophers to make philosophy accessible to a wider number.