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Discussing Books 1 and 2.
What is virtue, and how can I eat it? Do not enjoy this episode too much, or too little, but just the right amount. Apparently, if you haven't already have been brought up with the right habits, you may as well give up. Plus, is Michael Jackson the Aristotelian ideal?
Buy the book or read it online.
End song: A newly recorded cover of Billie Jean by Mark Lint and the TransAmerikanishers. (Hear it by itself here.)
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Interesting discussion, you guys were pretty funny at the end of this one. Funny how you mentioned someone might become an expert on someone we only have one sentence to examine from a shard of a clay pot.
And the idea for the show about debunking popular philosophy myths sounds like it could be a good one.
Guys, I have listed to many episodes but finally tracked back to this one.
I really like that y’all stressed Aristotle’s tendency to observation and collection. The Renaissance’s reaction to late Scholasticism tends to give us an Aristotle who had a stilted, unchangeable system. I like to think of Aristotle as the marine biologist — a collector and categorizer, who built a catalog of knowledge on a wide-range of topics. The virtues to him would’ve been common to most Greeks, having come from Homer and Pindar. Hence, it was easy to use this method to scan a wide range of topics, such as Seth does around :48 on city-states.
A few other comments from my perspective. I don’t think it is likely Augustine read the Nicomachean Ethics. The usual analogy is (Plato:Augustine::Aristotle:Aquinas).
Around :40 min, on Mark not relating the virtues to the golden mean: the mean is not “average” or a midpoint. I like to think of it more as the golden ratio. But there is not a formula that lets humans know at one point their courage will tip into foolhardiness. The virtues are to be practiced (This gets fleshed out well in MacIntyre). Hence, ethics is not formulaic or purely intellectual, but rather a practical wisdom.
This is why in my mind he stands almost in opposition to Kantian ethics. The practice of the virtues can only come by relations between humans. Your uncomfortableness with Aristotle’s conception of the virtues and human flourishing seems to be related to this placing of ethics entirely in a social context. For Aristotle, a modern ethical puzzle like the Trolley Problem would be nonsensical, because no amount of training in the virtues could prepare a person for such a one-off situation. He would find it silly.
The “how is someone going to be more virtuous by reading this?” question is likely off the mark, because — as y’all mentioned near the beginning of the episode — these were likely Aristotle’s class notes when teaching at the Lyceum. So his instruction was likely still to be dialectical like Plato’s and not textual.
Near the end, where the rarity of goodness is mentioned, I don’t think this is intended to be dispiriting — there obviously are good people, but rare is the person who exhibits human flourishing (a maximal goodness, if you will, i.e. the last point on the line before tilting into excess).
Wonderful, wonderful job on these podcasts. You make rush hour traffic bearable!
Mark Featherstone says
This is the 4th or 5th podcast I’ve listened to from this highly enjoyable series. Among the many questions that the discussion raised in my mind, one related to an apparent contradiction. In another podcast in this series, it was mentioned that, for the ancient Greeks, virtuousness was indistinguishable from physical beauty. In other words (and shockingly), if you are beautiful or handsome, then you are also virtuous. And yet this extraordinarily superficial correlation is not supported by what I understand Aristotle to have said. Aristotle seemed to have a clear idea of actions (and not simply physical appearance) as key to being virtuous. Nor does he seem to suggest that an outwardly attractive person will be more virtuous, or that practicing the virtues will enhance physical beauty. Was Aristotle at odds with the prevailing views of his times? I’d appreciate some clarification on this point if anyone is interested.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Yes, Plato and then Aristotle (and then the Stoics, etc.) are in critical dialogue with the inherited (Homeric) values of their times. See our episode on Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals for I think where we got this idea of the initial Homeric “strength and courage and beauty = virtue” being overtaken by a more subtle and in some cases totally inverted view.
Mark Featherstone says
Wow, thanks for the prompt reply! Yes, I had jumped ahead to the episode on Nietzsche in which I must have heard you talk about this.
Mark Featherstone says
I hadn’t appreciated that this conception of virtue was being challenged by Plato’s time, so thanks for the clarification.
Kai Kosog says
First off, great show! Your banter and content has been a saving grace for me while at work! Thank you!
This is the first podcast that I have paid for and it is worth every cent.
If it is not possible to intuit what the virtuous tendencies are from the innate tendencies without habituation or role models, how did it come to pass that these role models came upon their virtues? Or, if, in order to be a good person, one must have the proper virtues instilled into their upbringing since infancy how did it come to pass that anyone became wise/virtuous?
I guess it seems to me that these “virtues” must either arise/emerge spontaneously or be ubiquitous in our evolutionary path/branch/history…. The latter does not seem to be the case!
Is there any chance of getting a different media player tool? This one is very basic…. It’s hard to navigate through the episode. I would recommend a system like soundcloud where the audio is visualized and people can comment on discrete sections of the recording… Perhaps at least an extra button to jump back 15 seconds at a time, like on spotify.
Love the show!
Jennifer Tejada says
I listen using the podcast app on my iPhone. It’s purple and says “podcasts”. You subscribe to the podcast. It has that 15 second rewind thing. There is a citizen feed also.