The World Explored, the World Suffered Education Issue Nr. 30 May 2020 - Page 18

Jonathan Lear in his excellent work "Aristotle: the desire to understand" points out that we moderns living in our modern world do not have resort to the kind of Universal justifications that we used 300 years ago under the auspices of Religion. Lear also claims that we do not approach ethical issues as the Greeks did in the Ancient World by recourse to actively seeking the reasons for our actions and activities (through complex deliberation procedures). Lear claims further that there are fundamental disparities between the Aristotelian and Kantian ethical positions: both philosophers, he argues, would have found each other's positions fundamentally flawed. In relation to Lear's first point, there is agreement that we moderns are generally not attuned to any particular kind of justification. Indeed the position we find ourselves in may be more serious. Under the auspices of a science that is theoretically obsessed by observation and experiment, we are inclined to believe that there is no universal justification for ethical behaviour: there is only a kind of subjective commitment that commands only accidental agreement. This position would, of course, for the Greeks, be anathema. Witness the bitter exchanges between the ethical relativists of the time and Socrates. One consequence of such an idea, namely, ruling groups ruling in their own interests was an idea that was decisively dismissed as a form of justification by Socrates in book one of the Republic. In this work, Plato combats relativism with his theory of the forms in general and the form or idea of the Good in particular. Aristotle, also in anti-relativistic spirit, is clear that there can only be one universal end or "justification" to strive towards in one's active life and that is a flourishing life: a life that all who are exercising their rationality must share. The route to this life for Aristotle was via the intellectual and moral virtues that amounted to the rational agent both deliberating correctly and then doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. It is not clear that Kant would have disagreed with any of these Aristotelian points. Lear translates "eudaimonia" as happiness but it is not obvious that this is always the best translation of Aristotle's intent: a better translation might be "the flourishing life", in which case Kant would probably agree that this is an important end if and only if the moral agent is worthy of the flourishing life: had, that is, lived his life virtuously. Kant's ethics, like Aristotle's, is also intimately bound to a (political) life of freedom in a world without wars: a fact that Lear does not recognize. In other words, there is much that these two philosophers, parted by a period of 2000 years, would agree upon. This is due to the fact that Kant built much of his critical theory from the same anti-materialistic and anti-dogmatic rationalist commitments we find at the foundations of Aristotle's metaphysics. There are differences of course and these may be due to the fate of Aristotelian thinking at the hands of Christianity. Lear claims that Christianity brought with it the focus upon intention at the expense of action. One could, that is, have a good heart but not be in any position to exercise one's goodness because of the oppressive circumstances one was born into or finds oneself in. This is a correct