The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

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We focus upon the difficulties involved in Wiggin's interpretation of deliberation, since these form the basis for his later analyses. Wiggins grounds his thesis that ends are subject to deliberation upon the view that the various virtues are constituents of happiness. As constituents of the ultimate end itself, they would not be ordered to any higher end. Consequently, the virtues would be incommensurable with one another, since conflicts between virtues would not be resolvable in terms of any common end. It is perfectly understandable that under this view the sole arbiter of such conflicts would be “situational appreciation,” as Wiggins emphasizes. Given that the proponents of this interpretation of eudaimonia are largely critical of the ancient and medieval tradition regarding the interpretation of Aristotelian philosophy, it is not surprising that we find a member of that tradition, Aquinas, presenting an alternative interpretation of the Aristotelian notion of eudaimonia in his commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics. This alternative not only renders so-called “incommensurable” conflicts much more rational, but also is much more in keeping with Aristotle’s comments concerning happiness in Book 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics, as well as Book 7 of the Politics. Since a complete explication of this alternative is beyond the scope of this essay, we present it in sketch form, in order to at least indicate its status as an attractive alternative. In Book 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that perfect happiness is activity in accordance with not just any virtue, but the highest virtue (1177a12-17). This virtue is contemplative wisdom, or contemplation of the highest objects (1177a18-21, 1141a20), since this is the activity of the highest or “divine” part of us (1177a16, 1178a23), the activity which is most self-sufficient (1177a33-1177b1), and not loved for anything else (1177b2-4). These were precisely the criteria given by Aristotle for happiness in Book 1 (1097a35-b1, 7-15). The other virtues, however, are happiness in a secondary way (1178a9) since they are activities of the parts in us which are not “divine”, not self-sufficient (1177a30-33), and are loved also for something else. Consequently, virtues other than contemplative wisdom would be desirable both in themselves and for something else, and therefore would not be perfect happiness (1097a33-35). Accordingly, conflicts between virtues would not result in the radical incommensurability described by Wiggins (having no common end at all). Such a highest end would by no means be a “universal rule” in the sense criticized by Wiggins in his reply to Allan, since particular circumstances could, as always, affect or prevent altogether the manner and means by which the end would be actualized. The “situational appreciation” of practical wisdom would therefore still play a vital role in the practical actualization of any virtue. Since the benefits of this interpretation include the elimination of radical incommensurability without appeal to universal Kantian “rules,” as well as the unification of Book 10 with Books 1, 3, 6, and 7 of the Nicomachean Ethics and Book 7 of the Politics, its status as a viable alternative is worthy of consideration.


Anthony Crifasi presented “Are ends subject to deliberation in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics? A reply to David Wiggins” to the Society at its meeting with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in Washington DC, December 1998.