Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pleasure, perception, beauty

After a brief Cyrenaic interlude I'm back thinking about Nicomachean Ethics 10.4, the way in which pleasure is supposed to 'perfect' or 'complete' an activity and, in particular, the curious analogy Aristotle offers between this relationship and the bloom of youth on a young man in his prime.

At 1174b14–20 he refers to the complete or perfect activity of a sense which now is specified as the best exercise of a given sense as when, for example, the activity of sight is being engaged in both by a person with a well-functioning sense organ and also at a most beautiful object. It is tempting to think that the favoured example of sight and its clear relationship, when exercised perfectly, with seeing beautiful objects ought to be of help in understanding the analogy between pleasure and the ‘bloom of youth’. Perhaps we are meant to think again of the example of the beautiful young man and to recognise that in seeing such beauty we would be engaging in a perfect activity of seeing and hence take the best pleasure possible in that activity.

This won’t take us all the way to understanding the analogy, I think, and I might get round to explaining why in due course. But for now I have a different question.

Gonzalez 1991, 153 [1], notes a similar claim made in EE 3.2 1230b21–1231a26, where Aristotle argues that non-human animals do not see beautiful visible objects as beautiful but rather use their sight so as best to find food, shelter and so on. For this reason he says that they do not take pleasure in what they see per se since, presumably, their sense activity is not complete or perfect in the way that it can be for humans. If seeing is an activity that is most complete when directed at its best object, then such animals do not engage perfectly in seeing in the way that humans can.

I’m off next to look back at the Philebus on pure pleasures, but want to delve further into this human/animal distinction a little first. Does anyone know of any further discussion of this bit of EE?

[1] Gonzalez, F. 1991. ‘Aristotle on pleasure and perfection’ Phronesis 36: 141–59.

No comments: