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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Err, we have a problem

In racing to the deadline (14th of Feb. 2007), I've stumbled across a problem, namely Aristotle:

Comments on part three.

While it shows you've learned a lot about Greek history and a lot about Aristotle, there are three important ways it could be improved. First, it doesn't have the philosophical rigour or independent thinking that part two exhibits. There is too much history (even if you keep it, it should be trimmed) and quotations in lieu of your own philosophical analysis. Notice that not once is an argument laid out and critically evaluated. It seems like you take your main goal to be an expository one of showing that most people are wrong about their reading of Aristotle. But that doesn't clearly get supported in part three (I presume the supposed false reading is that Aristotle would think that the good life is possible under a state, not something that part three thoroughly addresses), the goal of which ought to be to present an attractive moral theory that would make sense to appraise the state in light of.

Second, it's still unclear to the reader whether you are simply recounting Aristotle, or using Aristotle as a springboard to construct a plausible perfectionist ethic. Perhaps you're just recounting in part three but will modify in part four. And maybe that's OK, though it makes more sense to me just to devote a chapter to articulating an attractive moral principle with which to evaluate the state. The point is that you need to be more explicit about the status of your use of Aristotle. All the extensive historical information suggests you're after a descriptive rendition of what he thought. But then the question arises as to why the reader should care about what he precisely thought, especially given, for one example, that slavery is patently unjust to the contemporary reader.

Finally, and most easily resolved, the status of the political life is vague. Saying things like the good life "requires," "demands," and "needs" political participation of a kind isn't subtle enough. Is the requirement a merely instrumental one (politics of a kind causes virtue), or is it a constitutive/contributory one as well (politics of a kind just is virtue of a sort)?

While I haven't read part four yet, I would spend a good chunk of the remaining time you have thinking about beefing up the critical discussion of A's ethics and clarifying your view with respect to it. It seems that what you find interesting about A is the suggestion that a certain communal relationship is constitutive of the good life, even if A himself tends to prize the life of the scholar. I would focus more on this facet of his thinking, saying that you're going to focus on it because you find it the most attractive, and then I'd say why you find it so.

I look forward to reading part four, where everything comes together, and will get to it tomorrow.

Thad (The Supervisor)



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