Reading the Nicomachean Ethics as an Investigation

In: History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis
Author: Guy Schuh1
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  • 1 Department of Philosophy, Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, Boston CollegeChestnut Hill, MAUSA
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Aristotle tells us that the Nicomachean Ethics is an “inquiry” and an “investigation” (methodos and zētēsis). This paper focuses on an under-appreciated way that the work is investigative: its employment of an exploratory investigative strategy—that is, its frequent positing of, and later revision or even rejection of, merely preliminary positions. Though this may seem like a small point, this aspect of the work’s methodology has important consequences for how we should read it—specifically, we should be open to the possibility that some contradictions in the text are the result of his employment of this investigative strategy. In the paper, I describe this investigative strategy, discuss what motivates Aristotle to employ it in the work, and go through three contradictions that are plausibly identified as examples of its use—specifically, his claims that courageous people do and do not fear death, that friendship is and is not mutually recognized goodwill, and that virtuous people do and do not choose noble actions for their own sake.

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