Department of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

Sukaina Hirji (Virginia Tech): "External Goods and Mixed Actions in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics"

Fri, September 29, 2017 | David L. Miller Conference Room, WAG 316

3:30 PM - 5:30 PM

Sukaina Hirji
Sukaina Hirji

Unlike the Stoics, Aristotle is committed to the idea that the exercise of virtue alone is not sufficient for eudaimonia. To be happy, we must also be equipped with a range of "external goods" that stretch well beyond what is necessary to sustain life: wealth, political power, good children, a good birth, and even physical beauty. This commitment has puzzled scholars. If, as Aristotle sometimes seems to suggest, happiness consists in virtuous activity alone, why isn't he drawn to the Stoic conclusion that even someone under conditions of extreme hardship or deprivation can be happy so long as she is able to exercise her virtuous character? If, on the other hand, Aristotle means to include these external goods as constituents of happiness, what sets the limit on how much is enough? 
 
In this paper, I develop an explanation for how external goods promote virtuous activity and therefore happiness such that a moderate supply is necessary even if eudaimonia consists in virtuous activity alone. On the view I defend, a certain range of external goods is needed to perform unqualifiedly noble actions, and it is only these actions that make possible the completeexercise of virtue constitutive of eudaimonia. Specifically, I argue that the complete exercise of virtue requires performing actions that aim to achieve ends that are unqualifiedly good, and that conditions of hardship or deprivation limit even the most virtuous agent's ability to perform such actions: without a sufficient supply of external goods, a virtuous agent is often in the position where the best action available to her is one that achieves an end that is only qualifiedly good. My account builds in important ways on views defended by John Cooper (1985) and Robert Heinaman (1993), preserving some of the key insights while resolving some of what I take to be the central challenges.

Sponsored by: Joint Program in Ancient Philosophy

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