Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Whether there is an art of the good

In case you didn't make it through yesterday's post, here's where we're at regarding the different anti-systematic factors of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics:
  1. The guiding question of the work has no ready-made place in a system of valid undertakings, justifiable in advance on the basis of their outcomes.

  2. To determine the object of the spiritual activity of posing this question as something political has at least to begin with no scientific basis.

  3. Now let me just add that

  4. Aristotle leaves in question what the spiritual activity itself is, which when it directs itself to politics seems to supply the governing hold on the highest good.

"But if this is so," he says of the possibility of improving our aim by knowledge of the highest good, "one ought to try to get a grasp, at least in outline, of what it is and to what kind of knowledge or capacity it belongs" (tr. Joe Sachs, emphasis mine). Is politics a knowledge or a capacity? As Sachs point out in a note to his translation, "Aristotle does not specify the noun implicit in the substantive adjective "the political" (he politike), so "politics" here, from its context, means either the knowledge, the art, or some other capacity that is devoted to the things of the city."

Whether this indeterminacy is a deficiency of the starting point, to be scientifically honed down to a single definite spiritual activity, or reflects an indeterminacy in the subject matter, remains to be seen.