Aristotelian Ethics and its Context Essay

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Ethics as Politics: On Aristotelian Ethics and its Context

ABSTRACT: This paper argues that the assertion of Nicomachean Ethics I.ii that the art that treats of ethics is politics is to be understood properly not in the sense of politics qua nomothetike but just as politike, i.e., direct, participatory politics as was enjoyed in the Athenian polis and as the formed background to Aristotle’s philosophizing on the nature of ethics. The ethical import of politics can be retrieved from Aristotle’s Ethics (in both versions) and Politics by dwelling on the connection of eudaimonia and humanity’s function as such. Aristotle does not construe this function as contemplation but rather as the practical application of reason-reason leading to
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In a word, I suggest that increasingly for us (as for republican antiquity) ethics expresses itself as politics, by which I emphatically do not mean "ethics is ideological politics," but ethics increasingly expresses itself for us as direct, participatory politics. (2)

In saying that ethics expresses itself as politics I mean that political activity itself, not the policies or institutions it seeks to implement, functions as ethical ground.

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics commences with the—for moderns—startling suggestion that the art that treats of ethics is politics. (3) While Aristotle does not immediately make plain the sense in which politics is "authoritative and architectonic" for ethics, he later (Book VI.viii.l/2; 1141b25) specifies it as nomothetike, i.e., the legislative (or better, constitutional) branch of politike. Aristotle concedes a source of confusion here: nomothetike is one branch of a body of knowledge (politike); but the other branch, for its part, goes by the same name: politike! (1141b25-26). Of politics in this other sense…