Sunday, May 30, 2010

Big Ethics

In between the usual business of college life and dealing with the onset of undergraduate exams, I spent last week at the Mayweek seminar reading through the Magna Moralia.  It was quite pleasant, really, particularly since the participants seemed all keen to muck in and no one had anything very much invested in what we would eventually conclude (so there wasn't very much personally and professionally at stake).

I don't think I would have read it through like this left to my own devices and I probably won't rush to read it through like that again.  But there were some good parts.  I thought there were some interesting questions concerning the author's relationship to Platonism since he did seem to have been pulling his punches here and there particularly on metaphysical issues.  The general disfavour of an intellectual or contemplative life is interesting too -- and here I did begin to wonder if MM might be part of the general milieu of the Peripatos that also spawned the difference of opinion between Dicaearchus and Theophrastus on the good life.  And there were some interesting thoughts about the relationship of this text to the Hellenistic penchant for pseudepigrapha since the text does seem to want to appear as if composed by Aristotle himself.  (If there was any general agreement, I think we nearly all agreed that the text wasn't by Aristotle, partly because bits of it were so close to NE and EE that the most plausible explanation is that they were composed by someone working with these two  texts.)




3 comments:

Monte said...

I'm not sure I follow the argument for the MM not being by Aristotle. (Not that I have any reason to think it WAS by Aristotle, but I am just trying to grasp the reason for the consensus you mentioned.) If I follow, the argument is that the MM is so close to the EE and NE that one must assume that the author was working with both texts. But how does that show it wasn't Aristotle? Presumably Aristotle could have been working with both the EE and NE.

Monte

James Warren said...

True, Monte. I suppose at this point we might introduce the general idea that MM is worse than either EE or NE: it is less cohesive, less sophisticated, sometimes appears not to follow the argument it is using in the other two etc. Now, each particular claim of inferiority is disputable, I suppose, and a lot will depend on the details, but that was the overall impression we took from the week. Now, Aristotle may indeed have used his other two Ethics to produce a worse amalgam, I suppose, but it seems unlikely. Sometimes MM has been offered as a work of the early Aristotle; maybe we might claim that it is not part of the juvenilia but rather the senilia...

Catherine Osborne said...

My thought was that when he wrote the NE and EE he was working with the MM: or at least that its relation to them was like the Blue and Brown Books relating to the Philosophical Investigations: the preliminary studies start by trying out the ideas, often in the very same words. The resemblance is not surprising, but differences are not due to him not understanding his own writings...