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Prichard's Heresy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2011

Sandy Berkovski*
Bilkent University


H. A. Prichard ascribed to Aristotle a form of closeted hedonism. Aristotle allegedly misunderstood his own task: while his avowed goal in Nicomachean Ethics is to give an account of the nature of happiness, his real goal must be to offer an account of the factors most efficiently generating happiness. The reason is that the nature of happiness is enjoyment, and this fact is supposed to have been recognised by Aristotle and his audience. While later writers judged Prichard's view obviously mistaken, I argue that the issue is more complex. In the process of reconstructing the logical skeleton of Prichard's argument I show that Aristotle may have had to endorse the identification of the subject's good with that subject's psychological satisfaction. But I also argue that, while making prior assumptions about the meaning of ‘eudaimonia’, Aristotle made no such assumptions about the nature of eudaimonia.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2011

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1 The article originally appeared in Philosophy 37 (1935), 2739Google Scholar. All quotations are from Prichard, H.A., Moral Writings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 From here on this style of reference indicates the pages in Prichard, op. cit.

3 While Prichard does not explicitly connect psychological hedonism to any one ethical doctrine, the drift of the argument is plain to see already at the beginning (102). The connection is made in the discussion of Plato and Butler in the article ‘Duty and Interest’, reprinted in Moral Writings.

4 See Austin, J.L., ‘Agathon and eudaimonia in the Ethics of Aristotle’, in Philosophical Papers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 See e.g. Hurka, T., ‘Underivative Duty: Prichard on Moral Obligation’, Social Philosophy and Policy 27 (2010), 111134CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Nussbaum, M., ‘Mill between Aristotle and Bentham’, Dædalus 133 (2004), 6068Google Scholar, and Taylor, C.C.W., ‘Review of Aristotle: A Collection of Critical Essays’, Philosophical Review 78 (1969), 402405CrossRefGoogle Scholar. ‘Prichard seems too insignificant a target for Austin's big guns’, says Taylor. I hope to show that, with proper equipment, the sizes should measure differently.

6 Op. cit., 11.

7 Op. cit., 5–6.

8 I put aside a Nietzsche-inspired interpretation which would name aesthetic value as the common reason for the good man's preferences in both cases.

9 See Kraut, R., ‘How to Justify Ehical Propositions: Aristotle's Method’, in The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Blackwell, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar for more details on the shared assumptions of Aristotle's audience.

10 See Broadie, S., Ethics with Aristotle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)Google Scholar.

11 See Friedman, M., ‘Explanation and Scientific Understanding’, Journal of Philosophy 71 (1974), 519CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 See Burge, T., Foundations of Mind (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007)Google Scholar for a related discussion and the distinction between lexical and translational meaning.

13 See Carnap, R., Logical Foundations of Probability (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950)Google Scholar.

14 See Unger, P.K., Identity, Consciousness, and Value (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)Google Scholar for this terminological use.

15 Some commentators place it at the forefront of Aristotle's rejection of hedonism. See Annas, J., ‘Aristotle on Pleasure and Goodness’, in Rorty, A. Oksenberg (ed.), Essays on Aristotle's Ethics (University of California Press, 1980)Google Scholar.

16 See Kraut, R., Aristotle on the Human Good (Princeton University Press, 1989)Google Scholar for an anti-hedonist interpretation of good-for-me.

17 I am grateful to Harry Lesser, Yasemin Topac, and the audience at the University of Tel Aviv for useful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.