Aristotle Assignments

4/18 and 4/20. Readings: selections from the Politics in Ackrill's book. (Book I chapters 1-7; book III chapters 1-4 for Tuesday; book VII chapters 1-3 and 13-15; book VIII chapters 1-3 for Thursday). For Tuesday, also read the end of the NE (Book X chapter 9), and re-read the selection on the types on civic friendship (Book VIII chapters 9-11). Plus: "Does Aristotle's polis exist 'by nature'?

Papers (Tuesday Justin Lewis, Jessika Chatman, Zeidman, Thursday Wight, Stigall; Zhu either day.). Pretty wide open--set out and discuss something Aristotle says in the readings, or the paper's discussion of one of the topics below. But here are a few specific things we'll be looking at:



For 4/11 and 4/13. Reading Nicomachean Ethics Books 8 and 9, and Julia Annas' paper, "Self-Love in Aristotle." We'll be concentrating more on book 8 Tuesday (especially chapters 1-6, though read the whole book) and book 9 (esp. chapters 4-9, but do read the whole thing) and Annas on Thursday

Papers (Dunn and Marrone Tuesday, India Lewis and Mauney Thursday).

  1. Aristotle make the following claims: there are three types of friendship, the friendships of utility, pleasure, and virtue. The first two types are unstable. The friendship of virtue is the only stable type of friendship; it is complete, and it can only occur between virtuous people. Explain what these three types of friendship are, and his arguments for the claims above. If you disagree with any of them, say which ones, and why. (Reading, NE Bk 8 chapter 3)
  2. Aristotle claims that the virtuous person loves himself and is a friend to himself (or at least takes the same attitude toward himself as toward his friend), whereas the base person is not a friend to himself. Why does Aristotle think these things? Do you agree with him? Why or why not? (Reading NE Bk 9 chapter 4).
  3. Aristotle distinguishes between good and bad forms of self-love/selfishness. Explain and evaluate what Aristotle says. (reading NE Bk 9 chapter 8.)
  4. Anything else, e.g., Annas' claims about the sense in which a good friend loves himself. Do you agree with Annas on the motivations of the virtuous person when he acts so as to benefit his friend? Is Aristotle's theory self-interested in any objectionable way?
  5. Explain and evaluate another claim of Aristotle's in the reading.

4/6. Continue discussion of book X, and bring Aquinas into the mix too. Re-read Tuesday readings, and also look at:

Readings from Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, book III, "God the End of Creatures." Chapters 2, 3, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 34, 37, 38, 39, 40, 47, 48, 61.

(If you don't want to click on each of the links above to individual chapters, go to here for the table of contents of the Summa Contra Gentiles and scroll down to Book III. You may also want to do this if you'd like to see what some of the surrounding chapters are that we're skipping. Some of those might be useful to look at to answer some of your questions.)

Paper (Childress, Jolley): Either respond to one of the Tuesday topics (esp. looking at Nagel), or, for Aquinas...

Lay out and evaluate Aquinas' argument for one of the following:

One useful way of approaching the above questions is to see Aquinas as working within a basically Aristotelian metaphysical and ethical position but still wanting to maintain the centrality of an afterlife in attaining happiness.
For 4/4. Book X, chapters 6-8 and Nagel's article on Aristotle on eudaimonia.

Papers (Wright, Haskell; Kemp either below or for Thursday): Pretty wide open. Any of the following:


For 3/30. Aristotle's philosophy of science. Readings:

The selections from Posterior Analytics in the Ackrill reader (Posterior Analytics I 1-4, 10, 13 II 1-2, 8-10, 12, 19), and R.J. Hankinson, "Philosophy of Science" in the course packet; concentrate especially on the first few pages (through p. 113), but read the whole thing.

Papers (Collier, Justin Lewis)


For 3/28. Read Loudon's paper on Aristotle on Moral Authority. Paper (Dumond, India Lewis; Gillard today or Thursday): Again, fairly open, look at one of the topics from NE VI below we haven't yet discussed (e.g. why one can have the intellectual virtues and not have the moral virtues and vice-versa) or one of Loudon's claims, either evaluating whether it makes sense as an interpretation of Aristotle or whether the position he attributes to Aristotle is acceptable (as such, and not as an interpretation of Aristotle).
For 3/21 and 3/23. Reading. Nicomachean Ethics book VI. Metaphysics Book I chapter 1, and the selection by Annas on Phronesis. Paper (Tuesday: Chatman and Zeidman. Thursday India Lewis and Cardon. Zhu may write for either day).

Pretty wide open. Explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's claims (or Annas'). For instance:


For 3/9. Readings: Metaphysics Epsilon (VI), Physics II 4-6, short selection of mine on aitia and the coincidental that is posted to the webpage.

Paper topics (Dunn, Gillard)


For 3/7. Paper (Childress, Kemp, Mauney): Reading: selection from Cicero's De Fato (on uLearn), plus re-read Thursday's readings.

Paper topics. Any from last Thursday are OK, plus:

  1. Explain why Carneades thinks that the principle of bivalence has no fatalist consequences. Do you agree with him?
  2. Explain why Carneades thinks that not even Apollo can have knowledge of everything that will happen in the future. Do you agree with him?
  3. Explain why Chrysippus thinks that the 'Idle Argument' fails, and why not even causal determinism has fatalistic consequences. Do you agree?
For 3/2

Readings: Aristotle, On Interpretation chapter 9 and the excerpt from Sorabji's chapter on Tomorrow's Sea Battle. (Also, quickly skim through the previous chapters of On Interpretation to get a sense of the context. I've posted the full Sorabji chapter if you wish to read it to get context for the brief excerpt, but I am not requiring that.)

Papers (Wright, Stigall)

  1. Briefly explain the fatalist argument presented in de Int 9: why do unacceptable consequences follow from the universal applicability of the Principle of Bivalence, and what are these consequences? How does Aristotle rebut the fatalist? Do you agree that these unacceptable consequences follow from the Principle of Bivalence?
  2. Aristotle thinks that the conclusion of the fatalist argument (that everything happens of necessity) is absurd and obviously false. Why does he think this? Do you agree?
  3. Explain in what sense Sorabji thinks my actions can have an effect on the past, and why he thinks this. Do you agree with his position and arguments?


For 2/28. Read the paper by Brickhouse on responsibility. (I've also posted the paper by Roberts to which he's replying if you wish to look at it too.) Papers (Justin Lewis, Patrick Jolley, Stephen Marrone)
    Roberts (as reported by Brickhouse) gives a number of arguments for why we should not take Aristotle to be offering a theory of moral responsibility in NE III 1 or NE III 5. Summarize and evaluate one of those arguments.
  1. Explain what Roberts and Brickhouse each have to say about 'moral adolescents' in Aristotle, why they're important, and how they're problematic. Then analyze which (if either) you agree with and why.
  2. Brickhouse tries to advance an interpretation of Aristotle where it's true both that our ends are set by our early childhood habituation and yet it's 'up to us' what sort of character we develop. Explain and evaluate this proposal.
  3. Explain and evaluate something else in Brickhouse's paper, or in a portion of the readings from last week we haven't yet discussed.

For 2/23. Reading: Nicomachean Ethics Book III, chapter 5, plus the reading by Bostock on responsibility.

Paper (India Lewis, Haskell, Zeidman)

  1. In NE III 5 Aristotle says that "[since] we cannot refer actions back to other principles beyond those in ourselves, then it follows that whatever has its principle in us is itself up to us and voluntary," and he supports this conclusion by pointing to practices of punishment. However, as Aristotle notes, it might be objected that (i) one's actions are the inevitable outcome of one's character, and (ii) everybody aims at what appears good to him, and a person does not control what appears good to him; instead, his character controls what appears good to him. How does Aristotle respond to these objections? Does Aristotle's response appear adequate? Why or why not? (Additional possible question to think or write about: do you think his response is compatibilist, or libertarian, or neither?)
  2. Bostock makes a number of criticisms of Aristotle along the way while explaining the texts. Set out and evaluate the cogency of one of them.

For 2/21. Reading: Nicomachean Ethics Book III, chapters 1-4.

Paper (Chatman, Dumond)

  1. Explain & summarize, in your own words, the basic idea behind Aristotle's definition of what is voluntary in NE III 1. Why does Aristotle think that "pleasant things and fine things" do not force us to do what we do? (And what does this mean?) Does Aristotle's definition appear correct? (Some additional questions to think about, or write on: Can you think of any counterexamples to this definition? Does Aristotle's definition seem compatible, or incompatible, with causal determinism?)
  2. Explain and evaluate one of the 'excusing conditions' Aristotle discusses in NE III 1.
  3. Explain and analyze one of the claims Aristotle makes regarding wish, choice, and deliberation in NE III chapters 2-4.

For 2/16. Read De Anima (On the Soul), Book 1 chapter 1 and Book 2 chapters 1-4. Also read the first three pages of S. Marc Cohen's "Aristotle and Functionalism" (follow the link) and Bernard Williams' "Hylomorphism." Paper topics (Dunn, Cardon, Collier):
  1. In your words, explain why Aristotle criticizes Plato's doctrine that the soul is separable from the body. Do you agree with Aristotle's arguments for why the soul is not separable? Why or why not? (See, in particular, DA Book I, chapter 1; 403a2-b20, and book II, chapter 1, 412b5 ff.)
  2. In your own words, explain why Aristotle criticizes those, such as Democritus, who identify the soul as being a body, e.g., a group of atoms in the chest. At the same time, Aristotle wants to say that the soul is not a separable, incorporeal thing. Do you agree with his criticisms? Why, or why not? (See, in particular, DA Book II, chapter 1, 412a12-413a2 and 415b10 ff., and Parts of Animals 640b6-641b10.)
  3. Cohen briefly sketches out why it's fruitful to think that Aristotle theory of of psyche is like a modern functionalist account of the mind. Do you agree? Explain why or why not.
  4. Williams raises apparent problems and perplexities for Aristotle's account. Explain and evaluate one of them.

For 2/14. No new readings. Continue 2/9 topics. Papers same as below (Childress, Zhu, and Cardon (Cardon may write either Tuesday or Thursday).
For 2/9. Re-read the readings for 2/7, plus the selection on the Epicureans on biology.

Write on a 2/7 topic not yet covered in class, or one of the following (Wright, Stigal, Zeidman):

  1. Pick out something from the article 'what sort of cause is Aristotle's final cause?" and write on that (explain and evaluate whatever you wish).
  2. Does Aristotle's ethics (as expounded in NE I)--the 'function argument' in particular--depend upon Aristotle's metaphysics? Why or why not?
  3. Does the availability of an account using natural selection to explain the apparent functions of animals' organs undercut Aristotle's theory?

For 2/7.

Possible paper topics (pick one, although earlier would be better. Little, Marrone):
  1. What does Aristotle mean when he says that certain things (like human beings) exist 'by nature,' and why does he believe this? Explain briefly in your own words, and evaluate some part of what he says.
  2. Explain Aristotle's doctrine of the '4 causes' in your own words, and why he thinks that there 4 different types of explanation. Evaluate some part of what he says.
  3. Why does Aristotle think that teleological explanations of natural phenomena are indispensable? Explain and evaluate his arguments.
  4. Look at Parts of Animals 640b5 ff. in particular, in light of Aristotle's discussion of the four causes in the Physics. Why does Aristotle maintain that looking at the material cause alone is insufficient when trying to understand organisms, and why were the accounts of e.g., Democritus inadequate? Do you agree with Aristotle? Why or why not?


For 2/2.Continue discussion of NE III-IV on the virtues of character . Re-read NE IV.9 (on shame), plus the discussion of shame in the Rhetoric, and my paper on why Aristotle should consider shame a virtue.

Papers (Justin Lewis, Mauney).


for 1/31. Read NE book III, chapters 6-12, Book IV, and book X chapter 9, through 1180a28. Also read Myles Burnyeat, Aristotle on Learning to Be Good.

Papers (Chatman, Haskell, Kemp)

Pretty wide open. Either explain and evaluate one of Aristotle's arguments regarding the virtues of character (e.g., courage), or a stated related to a virtue of character (e.g., shame). Or, if you wish, write about what Aristotle's discussions of particular virtues reveals about the more general claims he makes regarding the virtues (in book II) or happiness (in book I).

Or, write on the role shame and habituation play in moral development, according to Burnyeat, either commenting on some aspect of what he says as an interpretation of Aristotle, or the independent plausibility of the position(s) he attributes to Aristotle.


For 1/26. Stick to the topics for 1/24 (please do a paper topic we haven't yet covered in class. (Dunn, Dumond.) Or write on any topic from 1/24 that we haven't yet covered in our class discussion.
For 1/24. Read Nicomachean Ethics, book II, and Urmson's article on iCollege on the mean.

Papers (Cardon, Collier, Childress):

  1. (see NE II.3 in particular). Aristotle says that, to be virtuous, it isn't enough to do the right thing; one must also take pleasure (or at least not feel pain) in doing the right thing. Why does he think this? Consider to the following two cases: Two people have borrowed a great deal of money from a friend, who now needs it back, but both are poor, and returning it would be a hardship. The first returns it easily, and is happy to have the opportunity to pay his friend back. The second really doesn't want to return it, and has to struggle with himself, but with a great effort of will he manages to overcome his reluctance and return the money, because he knows that is what he ought to do. Which person is better? Which person is more praiseworthy? What would Aristotle say, and do you agree with him? Why or why not?
  2. "The golden mean." Aristotle says that virtue is a mean between extremes. What does he mean by this, and why does he think it? In what sense is virtue a mean, and in what sense isn't it? Do you agree with Aristotle? (See NE II.5 and II.6. in particular, and NE II 7 to see the application of this doctrine to particular virtues.)
  3. Urmson defends Aristotle's doctrine of the mean against several objections, which he says are based on misunderstandings of the doctrine; correctly interpreted, he says, Aristotle's doctrine is (more or less) right. Explain one of the things that Urmson says, and then evaluate it, with regard either to (i) whether it is a correct interpretation of Aristotle, or (ii) whether it is, in itself, correct about the nature of the virtues.

For 1/19. Read the rest of book I of the Nicomachean Ethics, and Robert Solomon's paper on Aristotle on posthumous harm.

Papers (India Lewis, Jolley):

  1. Why does Aristotle believe that children (and animals) cannot be happy? Explain and evaluate his argument.
  2. Aristotle argues that external goods are necessary for happiness. Explain and evaluate his argument.
  3. Why does Aristotle think that post-mortem events can have an impact on one's happiness, contra Solon? Explain and evaluate what he says.
  4. Robert Solomon tries to explain how it can make sense for Aristotle to claim to post-mortem events can have an impact on a person's happiness. Explain and evaluate one of his claims--either for its independent plausibility as an account of post-mortem harm, or as an account of Aristotle's position.
  5. Aristotle distinguishes between virtue and happiness (and argues for the superiority of happiness) by saying that we praise people for their virtue, but congratulate them for being happy. Explain and evaluate this argument.

For 1/17. No new readings in the NE. But do read Jennifer Whiting's defense of Aristotle's function argument (in iCollege).

Paper topics (Becham, Byas, Gillard; pick one):

  1. Why isn't having virtue sufficient for happiness, according to Aristotle? (Look at chapter 5 in particular.) What *is* the relationship between virtue and happiness? (See chapter 7 in particular.) What do you think of Aristotle's arguments?
  2. Why does Aristotle think that happiness can't be the same as pleasure, or a life of pleasure? Do you agree with him? Why or why not? See chapters 5 and 7 in particular.
  3. Explain and comment on Aristotle's own conception of what eudaimonia is (based upon the notion of there being a human 'function'). (Alternatively: explain and evaluate the success of that argument.)
  4. Jennifer Whiting tries to explain and defend Aristotle's 'function argument' for establishing what human happiness is. Explain and evaluate one of her claims/arguments--either for its independent plausibility as a way of establishing what happiness is, or as an account of Aristotle's position.

For 1/12. Please read: Here are some reading response paper topics (the sort that would have been assigned if we were assigning them) that you might want to think about as you're doing the reading, as we'll be exploring these questions in our class.

  1. Why isn't having virtue sufficient for happiness, according to Aristotle? (Look at chapter 5 in particular.) What *is* the relationship between virtue and happiness? (See chapter 7 in particular.) What do you think of Aristotle's arguments?
  2. Why does Aristotle think that happiness can't be the same as pleasure, or a life of pleasure? Do you agree with him? Why or why not? See chapters 5 and 7 in particular.
  3. Explain and comment on Aristotle's own conception of what eudaimonia is (based upon the notion of there being a human 'function').
Please also post a question or comment to the class bulletin board on iCollege.
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