maanantai 19. marraskuuta 2012

The proper way of living

Physics that studies things that change in some manner, mathematics that studies invariable properties of these changing things and theology that studies invariable and perfect things are all according to Aristotle meant only to produce knowledge – after I learn how the universe is shaped, I can just enjoy my knowledge. Now, other type of learning changes not just the condition of our knowledge, but also makes us do something. Such practical studies are in Aristotle's opinion lower in status than the former, theoretical studies, because the practical studies are subservient to some external end – you don't study e.g. horseback riding just for the pleasure of study, but for the sake of learning to ride.

Now, all the practical studies form a sort of hierarchy – an art of riding horses might e.g. be subservient to the military science, because horses are ridden because of their usefulness in wars. Clearly, if there is some final end, which is desired for its own sake and towards which all human endeavors strive, there must also be the highest practical field of study, to which all other are subservient. Aristotle suggests that this highest practical study would obviously try to show how people should in general live. Of course, it would not go into details, but it would attempt to discern some general patterns peculiar to a decent living.

What then is the highest type of life for human beings? Aristotle first criticizes some views of contemporary thinkers. Many people would undoubtedly say that human beings life perfectly when they can satisfy all their lusts and desires. Aristotle rejects this possibility lightly: it is fit more for pigs than for human beings. Money is even worse contender for the proper satisfaction of life, because it is required only for the sake of obtaining something else, e.g. a decent living. Honour and reputation fair somewhat better, but these are too reliant on other persons, while a humanly perfect life should be as independent as possible of external influences. Finally, even having capacities is not enough for a fulfilling life – what if one never had to use them?

Another possibility Aristotle considers is the Platonistic idea that there is some perfectly good thing that somehow also makes other things good. Aristotle's dismissal is short. He merely points out that goodness has various meanings, but that such hypothetical source of goodness beyond what we can see and hear has really no relevancy to our life in concrete and diverse surroundings, but that the latter is what we as human beings want to obtain.

Aristotle's own theory starts from the idea that all animal species have some peculiar type of perfection that only they can fulfill. Thus, all plants nourish themselves and most of the animals use senses, and therefore these capacities cannot be the highest state of human being. Then again, the higher, more rational aspect of the human mind should on this account be an essential part of perfect human living. In general this perfection would consist of use and not just enjoyment of various human capacities: true purpose of humans lies in action.

Aristotle also suggests that the life of activity is not just what we should do, but also feels good, that is, if one is a person who lives well – pleasure is something that accompanies activity. True, some pleasures are corruptive, if they go to extremes, but still, pleasure in general wins its opposite or pain. Even bodily pleasures are good, when enjoyed in moderation, and a pleasure of a good life cannot be enjoyed too much. A good person is used to feeling pleasant sensations and emotions only for something perfect – otherwise, she would merely pretend to live a good life. Thus, she will also find her perfect activity a fulfilling and pleasurable experience.

Famous Greek thinkers had suggested that a person's life can never be perfect and a person can never be truly happy before her death – who knows what calamities would befall on a seemingly content person. And even when the person in question has lived her life perfectly her descendants might still do something horrible and stain the name of the family. Aristotle's answer is that a perfect life is almost completely unreliant on such matters of luck, because even in bad situations the person would use what is given to her in the best possible manner. Of course, the more livelihood a person has, the more opportunities for good action she has, but true virtue is shown by how a person uses what he has been given. Furthermore, the woes of the descendants cannot be criterion by which to decide the happiness of one's own life. On the other hand, mere lucky coincidences cannot on the long run serve the needs of a good life.

Activity is then the highest point of human experience. Aristotle continues by discussing various types of such a good life. The nutritive functions of our body are automatic, thus, not under our control and therefore not a concern of the search for highest human good. Then again, the functions peculiar to animals are in our control and are at least potentially in combat with the highest function of human being – reasoning. Thus, a good life consists partly in making one's sensuous impulses obey one's reason. Furthermore, a good use of reasoning forms the other part of good life.

Considering the first element of good life or the subservience of senses to reason, Aristotle notes that it is a matter of habituation to make one's impulses perfectly obey reason. One must e.g. venture into situations requiring courage in order to make oneself more courageous. Then again, merely doing courageous acts does not make one courageous, but one must understand that the action one is doing requires some courage.

In addition, one must voluntarily decide to act in a courageous manner to be truly courageous. That is, firstly, one must not be compelled to do the courageous thing by some external circumstances or by other persons – then again, one might be compelled to do it by one's desires and wants. Secondly, one must understand the nature of the courageous thing one is beginning to do – indeed, if a person regretted what he did after learning the true nature of his actions, he would clearly have acted against her true volition.

In fact, the courageous act must not be just voluntary, but one should have also chosen it. By choice Aristotle does not mean a mere wish that might or might not become real, but an action preceded by a process of deliberation. In such a deliberation person considers things that are under her own power and selects one possible course of action that she will take for a certain purpose. It is such deliberate choices that a person makes that are under moral scrutiny, not the actions that might be forced by external events, such as a threat of death.

Furthermore, one cannot recognize e.g. a courageous or otherwise virtuous person by her state of mind – such a state of mind, like anger or excitement, is itself neutral. On the other hand, a mere capacity for having certain state of mind is also not a good criterion, because such capacities are shared by all human beings. The true criterion is that the states of mind and actions of a person should be based on her stable character – a courageous person is disposed to act in a certain manner.

Just like with the general pattern of good life, we cannot exactly say when a student of virtue has found complete perfection in some area of life nor whether a particular action was completely what was required to do. What one can say, Aristotle continues, is to point out that one can fail in activity either by doing something too much or doing the same thing too few times. Thus, good habits can be seen as a sort of mean between two bad extremes. A person is then to be commended, if it is in her character to choose to do the proper action in a proper time.

Although a student of good life should try too veer away from both ”too much” and ”too little”, often it is natural for human beings to approach one direction. It is such natural aberrations that should especially be avoided, Aristotle says. For instance, it is far more natural to have too little courage than too much courage, thus, one should be more careful about being a coward than about being overly confident.

Aristotelian list of good things to do in bodily matters is clearly based on the standards and values of Greek society. Thus, Aristotle considers that one ought to control one's fear in grave dangers and especially during battle – although it is of course not good to attack enemies without any fear like barbarians. Furthermore, Aristotle commends persons who can control their desire for bodily pleasures like eating, drinking and having sex – still, he also admits that people can and should accept all natural forms of pleasure, because that is part of what being human means.

Courage in battle and resistance of pleasures are virtues of a warrior society, but Aristotle also considers more civilized activities. One should not hold on to every penny, but spend one's money on proper occasions and for noble purposes, although losing all for frivolities is foolish. One should strive for honour, but only by doing honorable things. One should not get angry on small things, but one should still not accept all insults without a say. One should not seek quarrels with other people, but one should still not be afraid of saying the truth, even if it hurts. One should not exaggerate one's merits nor should one understate them. One should know how to laugh and make others laugh, but still avoid cheap laughs. This rather long list of social virtues does not include modesty, because the habit of being ashamed suits only minors, while on Aristotle's opinion adults should have learned to refrain from shameful activities.

The second aspect necessary for good life is the use of one's intellect. The lowest form of this is when a person has the capacity to produce something, such as an artist who can make statues – this is the lowest form, because it requires meddling with things that have a tendency to change in various manners.

The highest form we met in the previous text: it is the Aristotelian wisdom, that is, a combination of an intuitive grasping of general unchanging principles governing everything and of a deductive system based on these principles. It is also, Aristotle says, highest form of good life, which also the Aristotelian divinity enjoys. Contemplation of eternal truths requires very little from a person, and therefore philosophers need not even the company of others when they use their wisdom. In comparison, less eminent virtues require a society in which they could be applied.

Between the capacity of production and wisdom lies the capacity peculiar for practical science, namely, the combination of an intuitive grasp of what is good and proper and of a capacity to apply this grasp in variable circumstances for determining suitable course of action. Aristotle notes that without this practical intelligence one cannot live a truly good life. One might still have an instinctual feeling of proper actions, which would be like a gift from God and thus not a mere coincidental piece of good luck – it is based on the nature and character of the person and not on accidental circumstances. Still, a mere instinct is not enough for life of rational human beings.

By defining what is a good way of life, Aristotle has also determined what sort of life is to be avoided. Now, there are two different manners of straying from the proper happiness of human beings. Firstly, one might be ignorant of true happiness, and for instance, think that excessive life of luxury will make one perfectly happy. Secondly, one might have a correct understanding of good life, but due to violent emotions or other conditions affecting one's mind fail to apply this knowledge – for example, a person addicted to alcohol might be in a state of mind where she can think of nothing else, but the immediate pleasure of drinking, although she would at other times well know the bad effects of over-drinking  Generally, it is especially the pleasures of the body that disturb such a weak character. Still, the weak character at least knows what she should really do and is thus more able to correct her way of life, while a truly bad character cannot even accept that she is doing something detrimental.

Corresponding to the two bad characters, there are two possible manners of living well. Firstly, one may be just so well habituated to the proper way of life that one will not even feel any temptation to go astray. Secondly, one might have all sorts of temptations, but one might still resist them, because one knows that these temptations will be bad – just like a person who desires to eat candies, but refrains from doing it, because it is bad for health.

The bad and the weak person are both governed by natural impulses, which have just become too excessive. Beyond these characters are persons who are governed by impulses for such unnatural actions as cannibalism – such persons cannot really be even condemned, Aristotle says, because they are completely without reason, although their actions are horrifying and inhuman. Aristotle also mentions that there is a corresponding level of goodness, where person's worth exceeds everything that is humanly possible.

Making people live a good life is for Aristotle an essentially social endeavour. Only a minority will follow the proper way of living because of ethical theories, while rest will need some help in breaking out of their bad habits. In large scale, such moral education should be provided by the community, although in practice this task is often left for the parents. Even they should have some knowledge of social relations, although Aristotle despairs of finding proper teachers for this topic: practical politicians have not theoretical capacities for explaining their practices, while sophists who present themselves as teachers of this topic have actually no idea of it.

Social life, on the other hand, is possible only because human beings sometimes want to do good things to one another. Sometimes they just feel sympathy for another person, but at other times they also actively try to improve the other's condition. Indeed, such mutually agreeable social relations Aristotle deems to be an essential part of a good life – others might help you through bad times, and you might gain honour by helping others. Thus, one has to see what things bind humans together in this manner.

One obvious answer is that people often have mutual interests and must thus act like business partners – this happens especially with more mature persons, who think carefully of what is useful to them. Such partnerships based on mutual profit often lead to arguments whether one has gained what one should have – and they very easily break down when their usefulness has ended.

Another reason for partnerships is that the persons involved find their intercourse somehow pleasant – perhaps they like the witty conversation or perhaps they have erotic feelings toward one another. Such partnerships occur most often among young people, who are more easily driven by their feelings. Such partnership or friendship is more lasting than one based on mere mutual profit, but can break down, if the interests and the feelings of the former friends change.

The most perfect form of partnership lies between two persons living a good life. Because they both can recognise how perfect a life the other lives, they must respect and like one another – thus, they will have a desire to interact with one another and to help the other if he happens to be in need. Such a friendship is based on the stable characters of the two persons and last therefore longest, although even they might break, if the moral character of one person should abruptly change for the worse or better. Yet, they are also the rarest sort of partnership, because the multitude of humanity does not understand what it means to live a good life.

The three types of partnerships are all based on the mutual similarity of the persons involved – they have mutual interests, share pleasures or are both good persons. Yet, also persons of unequal status do frequent one another's company. A person may be more useful to another than the other to him, he may give more pleasure to his friend or he may help the other to become a better person. In all such cases the person giving more should get in return more honour from his actions.

On the other hand, affection for oneself could be seen as a sort of limiting case of partnership. Such self-approval comes actually in two forms, Aristotle says. One might approve one's sensuous desires, and such self-approval should be despised. Then again, a person living a good life should surely also like oneself in the perfect sense of the partnership – after all, who would be more closer to one than oneself.

An important element of good social life is that all goods should be distributed according to the merits of the persons – the more a person gives to the community, the more she should also get from community. Here one could get more than one deserves and thus have an unfair advantage, or one could get less than one deserves and suffer injustice. The mean state is then where a person gets her just desserts. Just person is then one aiming always for that mean state.

The just distribution of goods is based on the worth of the persons involved, but justice in another sense is not related to this personal worth. That is, sometimes a person has in full awareness or accidentally got something that belongs to another person or in other way hurt that other person – for instance, she might have robbed and beaten someone. It is then a task of some mediator or judge to mitigate the wrong experienced by the other – and the judge should make her decision based on the act and not the character of the persons involved. A just judge is then one that can give correctly balanced retributions.

Both forms of justice presuppose some standard by which the goods and the bads can be measured. In general, we must be able to say e.g. how much one shoe is in comparison with one horse. Thus, societies have found it convenient to assign some items a task of serving as a measure of exchange – shoe pays for 5 coins, horse pays for 50 coins, thus, you could get a horse with ten shoes. It is then at least somewhat conventional what is just and what is not – in some cultures horses might be valued less and a just price of them would be less. Still, Aristotle thinks that there are some inherently just or unjust actions, although he does not clearly explain what they would be.

Furthermore, justice in general requires that the persons involved should be free of one another, Aristotle continues. Thus, if a person is property of another, the owner cannot fault the owned. Still, one can speak analogically also of just conduct towards slaves, children and wives, although it is not justice in the proper sense.

Justice occurs also only between two persons, although Plato had figuratively spoken of a balance between various characteristics of mind as justice. Aristotle's point is that justice/injustice requires at least two persons, one of whom tries to correct some harms she has suffered. If the two persons would actually be one and the same person, some of the gains of the person would actually be also her losses. This is actually an instance of a wider area of expertise: immoral actions cannot happen towards oneself. A suicide appears to be a counter example, but actually one must note that in suicide it is the community that has something to say about the death itself.

A special field of interpersonal relations is the household, which mostly consists of partnerships between unequals. The economy of Greek city states was based on slavery, and Aristotle was thus bound to accept that people had slaves, who had to obey their masters in all things. He justified the keeping of slaves by suggesting that some persons are naturally meant to be ruled, because they lack the proper resources of managing themselves and their own affairs. Natural masters, on the other hand, have a knack for seeing where the work of the slaves could be used best. Not surprisingly, Aristotle felt that non-Greeks on the whole had a more slavish nature than Greeks. Aristotle also admitted that often persons who had a natural right to be free were in fact enslaved – this happened especially in war, where all defeated were enslaved, although they would have the constitution of a ruler.

Just like masters were supposedly fit to rule natural slaves, Aristotle thought that adults have an essentially higher status than their children. Children have an untrained and raw constitution and therefore adults have the duty to raise them to be independent adults. Aristotle thought also that husband is naturally a better and more able person than his wife, from whom the husband should distinguish himself through his natural superiority. The closest to a true friendship of equals comes the relation of two brothers – and even here one brother is older and thus more respected.

Maintaining a household is not restricted to just governing the interpersonal relations in it, but one must also care for the material needs of the household by acquiring sufficient goods. Aristotle felt that the most natural way to acquire useful goods was to procure them with one's own efforts, e.g. through agriculture. If all needs could not be satisfied by oneself, one could also trade one's own products with those of others. These forms of acquiring goodness have natural limits determined by human needs, but there are also unnatural forms, whereby one e.g. uses money to gain more money – for instance, by giving loans with a interest. As the quest for more money can never be fulfilled, Aristotle commends ignoring it.

The existence of many different interpersonal relations causes the potential problem of preference: which relations should matter most when one cannot fully serve all of them, e.g. when the needs of one friend go against the needs of another? Aristotle notes that no hard and fast rules could be given for all cases, although some relations are more important than others, for instances, close relatives are usually to be respected more than other people.

The final step in the attachment of persons to one another is the creation of a community of several persons, where such a community could feel a similar concord as two friends or relatives. Aristotle felt that the drive towards forming communities is inherent in human nature. As community then is a natural whole, it will be in a sense more important than the individuals forming it – community is the end of the individuals and not the other way around. Even so, in a common type of community a completely perfect life cannot be lived, Aristotle continues: usually people have to take turns when to rule and when to be ruled in a community, while a perfect life would consist only of ruling.

An important question Aristotle considers is whom should we consider as members of any community. He rejected the idea that a community would consist of all people living in a certain area – then even slaves and foreign visitors should be considered part of the community. Indeed, a community is not just a collection of people, but a common undertaking of people for a good and noble life.

A true criterion of citizenship, according to Aristotle, is that a member or citizen of the community should take some part in the official proceedings of the community – thus, even children fail to be true citizens, before they grow up. A peculiar consequence of Aristotle's definition is that a community is automatically changed whenever the power relations between people change – still, Aristotle notes, the new community might have a duty to take care of some of the old community's debts.

Aristotle thought that a community should be large enough to be independent of other communities, but small enough to be governed in a reasonable manner. It should be close to sea to facilitate trade, although care should be taken that the foreigners wouldn't bring with them any bad influences. Climatewise Greece is an ideal place for communities, because it is warm enough to make intellectual life possible, but not so warm as to encourage luxurious life.

Now, the management of the community could be managed in several manners. A question of the best possible constitution for a community was a topic much discussed at the time, and Aristotle had lot to say on the various suggestions. Many people thought that e.g. the constitution of Sparta was the most optimal in existence. Aristotle did admit that there is much to commend in the Spartan manner of living, but still saw too many failings to be perfectly happy with it. The main problem was that Spartans had shaped their community for the sake of warfare, but had then ignored the actual management of the community's day-to-day affairs. The result was that the community didn't spare efforts for making its soldiers brave and skilled in martial arts, but did not take care that its rulers wouldn't take personal advantage of the spoils of war.

Plato's theorizing of an ideal community Aristotle found even more unsatisfactory. A particular piece of criticism concerned Plato's suggestion that the rulers of an ideal community should form a one big family, in which all wives and children would be shared. Aristotle notes that a community should not form as close a unity as a family – then it would not be a community, but a family. Furthermore, he was also convinced that Plato's scheme would not really make the bonds of the rulers as close as the bonds of family members – if affection was to be shared in a big group, it would be bound to be diluted, Aristotle thought.

Aristotle was thus not satisfied with mere theoretical categorizing of possible types of community, but he made careful research on what forms of government the different Greek cities had and how they had developed over time. Only on the basis of these investigations did he then construct a schematic classification of all possible governments.

Besides describing different communities, Aristotle also tried to discover how these communities collapsed and were replaced by other types and how such a collapse might be prevented. Plato had also theorised about the collapse of societies, but Aristotle felt Plato's ideas were lacking: Plato saw only a one line of progression from a constitution to another, while Aristotle admitted that there were several possible ways a community could change. Moreover, he was certain that communities sometimes changed only partially and might even keep the type of constitution, if the change in question was minor.

The primary principle Aristotle followed is that there is not a single recipe that all communities should follow, but that there are many possible options of governing a community: although one type of community would be best, it might not work for all communities. For instance, a rule of the best and the brightest can be justified by professionals knowing things better than laymen, but then again power of common people can also be justified by the argument that many eyes see things better than just one or few eyes. Furthermore, a rigid law is usually more stable than reliance on an unpredictable individual – still, if a person of a remarkable mental stature surpassing all laws were found, we would have to either banish him or relinquish all laws and make him the rightful king.

Thus, according to Aristotle's classification, the community could have a single leader caring for the well-being of his subjects – such a community would resemble the rule of a father towards his children. The paradigmatic case of such a monarchical community is a perfect absolute ruler knowing best what is good for everyone – an ideal community under an ideal governor with full authority. Still, there are monarchies, where the role of the king is more restricted and regulated through laws. In some cases king is just a fancy name for a master of ceremonies.

The main lack in the kingly rule is that it is too much based on the goodness of the ruler. If the ruler was somehow corrupted or if his follower had not the same qualities, the state of the community would quickly deteriorate  Aristotle therefore suggested that the rule of the king should be divided among many officials.

A single individual might err from a correct path, but several individuals could then correct the mistakes of one. Thus, one possibility for managing the community is that the governing should be left to a number of able men. These rulers would have a nature superior to their subjects, just like husbands are, according to Aristotle, wiser than their wives. If these able men were just like the divine ruler in the absolute monarchy, we would have another variation of the ideal community. Because of their worth, the rulers should be free of menial work. The number of the rulers would be kept limited through abortions and slaying of handicapped babies – a brutal practice common in Greek societies.

An important aspect of an ideal community was to be an education of future rulers – a task so important that it shouldn't be left to private citizens. The aim of the education shouldn't be warfare, but peaceful community life. Thus, the rulers should not just be trained in sports, but also in music – not so much to play, but to listen music. The education should begin by training the body and only then personality. In personality we should first educate the habits of the future rulers, and last the most important aspect of human life or intellect. After education is over, the citizens would at first spend a couple of years serving in military. In full maturity, they would become governors, and in old age, they would tend of religious cults.

In a somewhat less ideal type of constitution, the governors would be elected among the most able men of the rich and the noble. All constitutions based on a minority rule face the same problem – the group of truly able people is usually smaller than the group of people thinking they are able, which might thus lead to factions and civil disorder.

The final possibility is a constitution in which all citizens are at least in some measure able to control their lives – such a community would resemble the relation of brothers to one another. A majority of a community cannot be ideal rulers, hence, this sort of community could not be ideal. Still, it could be best that is possible in all circumstances and for all types of people. In this realistic option, no unfair advantage should be given either to the poor or to the rich. The poor would be encouraged to take part in politics by donating them money when they took part in public meetings, while the rich would be discouraged to shy away from politics by appointing fines if they avoided public meetings. Furthermore, Aristotle thinks that a strong middle class would be an essential element in keeping such a constitution in order – the middle class would have no desire to give too much power to either the poor or the rich. The problem is, of course, to guarantee that the balancing act works and doesn't tip to either extreme.

Indeed, these relatively good forms of government could also turn into caricatyric types, where the rulers would care only for themselves and not others. The search of a just share of votes might be replaced by the masses wanting to search gain for themselves. The poorer the masses are, the more extreme such a government would be. In milder forms of mass government, there are still laws that are followed, but in more extreme forms the whims of the rabble and demagogues exciting it rule everything. Such a rule of the rabble might quite easily descend into a complete tyranny, if the people gave their power to a single ruler. Instead, one should try to have more upper class people involved in the government, so that the rich would not be afraid that the poor will use the state to take away their money. Indeed, a good democracy should make all citizens more wealthy, so that no discontent factions would arise.

Then again, the aristocratic constitution based on the goodness of the governors could be changed into a community ruled by most powerful and wealthy – in a household such an event might occur, if e.g. a wife would be allowed to govern her man because of the money she owns. In some cases the upper classes might allow a movement upwards in the society, if the person involved would acquire the necessary financial means. In the worst case, one group of wealthy people would take complete control of the community and prevent anyone else having anything to do with government. The wealthy people might then turn into factions fighting one another. Then again, the rich might aggravate the poor to revolt their rule. If the rich wanted to make their rule stable, they should let even the less rich have some means of taking part in government. Furthermore, the governors should use their wealth to make the community as a whole a better place to live.

Finally, a king might become a tyrant, who rules everyone like master commands his slaves. Even such a tyrannical rule might be tempered by customs and laws, but in the most extreme case, one man would govern anything according to his own wishes and desires. Tyrannical communities are the least stable of governments – its weak points include the possibility of another person grapping hold of the tyrant's position and the possibility of the poor leading a revolution. The tyrant might improve his chances by using literally tyrannical methods and e.g confiscating the property of suspicious individuals. Another possibility would be to make tyranny into a more king-like constitution by showing good example to all citizens.

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