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The Reception of Aristotle's Ethics
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Book description

Aristotle's ethics are the most important in the history of Western philosophy, but little has been said about the reception of his ethics by his many successors. The present volume offers thirteen newly commissioned essays covering figures and periods from the ancient world, starting with the impact of the ethics on Hellenistic philosophy, taking in medieval, Jewish and Islamic reception and extending as far as Kant and the twentieth century. Each essay focuses on a single philosopher, school of philosophers, or philosophical era. The accounts examine and compare Aristotle's views and those of his heirs and also offer a reception history of the ethics, dealing with matters such as the availability and circulation of Aristotle's texts during the periods in question. The resulting volume will be a valuable source of information and arguments for anyone working in the history of ethics.


'As this engaging volume makes clear, different periods in the history of the reception of Aristotle’s ethical theorizing have unsurprisingly drawn different morals from his teachings, as they were made available from the Nicomachean Ethics and other sources. As the authors of this fascinating volume attest, by comparing our own approaches and preoccupations to those of earlier encounters with Aristotle’s ethical writings, we stand to learn a great [deal] about our own philosophical practices and preferences - and, of course, about Aristotelian ethical theory itself.'

Christopher Shields - University of Oxford

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  • Chapter 8 - Using Seneca to read Aristotle
    pp 155-170
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    Two late Hellenistic authors display detailed knowledge of Aristotle's ethics. In Stobaeus' compendium of ancient philosophical schools, Eclogae II, one can find a summary of "The Ethics of Aristotle and the Other Peripatetics". Arius' presentation of Peripatetic ethics draws heavily on Stoic terminology. After the death of Theophrastus, his associate Neleus of Scepsis, incidentally, the son of Aristotle's "everyman" Coriscus, inherited all the books in Theophrastus' possession, thereby cutting off later Peripatetics from Aristotle's and Theophrastus' most important work. According to Kenny, the ten-book Nicomachean Ethics (N.E.) that we know was most likely created by the Aristotle commentator Aspasius in the second century AD through an inventive act of cut-and-paste. This chapter follows Irwin's lead and examines the relationship between Zeno's eudaimonism and the account of happiness defended by Aristotle in N.E. It revisits Long's arguments for supposing that Aristotle exerted a profound influence on early Stoic ethics.
  • Chapter 9 - Aristotle's Ethics in the Renaissance
    pp 171-193
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    This chapter shows how Roman philosophy make of Aristotle's ethical writings and teachings, and examines the role of Aristotle's ethics in the most active period of Classical Roman philosophical culture, the first centuries BC and AD. The three topics (emotions, development, happiness) considered in the chapter are interlocked and constitute subjects of active debate in the post-Hellenistic period. As regards emotions, there are two interconnected themes, the ideal characteristic and the psychological assumptions linked with the relevant ideal. Development toward virtue is taken to depend on a combination of a specific kind of inborn nature, social habituation and rational education. Aristotle's ideas were influential in promoting a specific type of framework for ethical theory, in which happiness (eudaimonia) was treated as the overall goal (telos) and virtue was a key (or the key) constituent of happiness.
  • Chapter 10 - The end of ends? Aristotelian themes in early modern ethics
    pp 194-221
  • View abstract


    In his Life of Plotinus, Plotinus' pupil Porphyry lists the authors whom Plotinus read in the philosophical group gathered around him in Rome between AD 245 and BC 269. This list includes various Platonist and Aristotelian commentators of the Roman imperial period (the Aristotelians Aspasius, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Adrastus are named). This chapter discusses the nature of happiness and the distinction and relation between higher and lower virtues. It begins, however, with a passage where Plotinus speaks of ethics as a part of philosophy. In the Nicomachean Ethics (N.E.), Aristotle qualifies the life of practical virtue as secondarily happy. To understand this better, one should clarify the relation between theoretical and practical virtue. Aristotle's ethics appear to develop fairly independently of his own metaphysics, moving in the sphere of common human experience, of common opinions and their critique.
  • Chapter 11 - Affective conflict and virtue
    pp 222-243
  • View abstract


    This chapter summarizes what is known of Augustine's access to the text of the Nicomachean Ethics (N.E.) and, in general, Aristotle's naturalistic account of human agency and happiness. It considers the impact of the Aristotelian conception of eudaimonia on Augustine's own treatment of human beatitude. The appropriation of this Aristotelian notion of eudaimonia is already evident in Augustine's early philosophical dialogues. Yet, in the same works one also finds a transformation and extension of Aristotle's philosophical conception of happiness. The chapter provides a paradigmatic account of the role Aristotle's ethics played in Augustine's thought. Among Latin Christians of the fourth century, Aristotle's reputation was largely that of a dialectician. Aristotle provided the necessary ontological connection in N.E., where he establishes the nature of the highest human good on the foundation of a functional analysis of human nature in terms of the capacity for rational activity.
  • Chapter 12 - Kant and Aristotle on ethics
    pp 244-261
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    In one of his works of literary criticism, the Syrian scholar Ṣalāh al-Dīn Khalīl Ibn Aybak al- Ṣafadī included a short passage which has attracted the attention of modern scholars studying the Greek legacy of Arabic intellectual culture. In the medieval sources and these modern historical investigations, the Arabic translation of the Nicomachean Ethics (N.E.) does not figure prominently. Unlike Galen's works on medicine or Aristotle's logic, the impact of the N.E. in the medieval Islamic world was also fairly small. Miskawayh was a key mediator in the Arabic and Islamic reception of Aristotelian ethics. This chapter analyzes whether the religious minded threaten those writing philosophical ethics, especially perhaps because philosophers like al-Fārābī presented ideas from Aristotle's N.E. in a political framework. An oppressive environment may have encouraged the study of political philosophy for apologetic purposes.
  • Chapter 13 - The fall and rise of Aristotelian ethics in Anglo-American moral philosophy
    pp 262-288
  • View abstract


    "Eight Chapters" is an introduction to Maimonides' commentary on the Mishnaic treatise Pirke Avot. His response is to begin "Eight Chapters" by citing a rabbinic dictum according to which a person who wants to become pious should follow the advice set forth in Pirke Avot. Maimonides introduces the concept of the pious person (Hasid), saying that this person deviates from the mean. One of the distinguishing features of generally recognized opinions is that a couple of exceptions still leave a rule intact. Maimonides did not consider practical wisdom to be worthy of the name wisdom. As far as Maimonides is concerned, only truth fulfills the soul's quest for perfection. For Maimonides intellectualism and asceticism go hand in hand. Though Maimonides enlists Aristotle's support in denigrating the sense of touch, one would be hard pressed to find asceticism in Aristotle's writings.
  • Bibliography
    pp 289-306
  • View abstract


    Aristotle's two accounts of the nature of happiness in Nicomachean Ethics I and X have caused much disagreement concerning the precise constitution of human goodness, or happiness. In comparing contemplation with practice, Aristotle notes how the former is loved for its own sake, but the latter produces virtues within political and military realms that aim at external ends. The Pseudo-Pecham claims happiness is prior to virtue, and virtue is ordered to happiness as its prize. Virtue can only be a disposition to the supreme good. Happiness, as described by Aristotle, must be that which is most perfect in a human being within the limits of a human life. It contains a combination of all virtues steadfastly practiced over a lengthy period of time. Albert's extensive discussion of the various positions concerning the nature of synderesis summarizes the philosophical-theological deliberations on the topic in the first half of the thirteenth century.


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