Lecture 18

Lecture 18

Nor can human being aim to hit the mean by adopting a rigid stance, thus participating in 'eternal' (a)ei/) standing presence in a mode of quasi-eternal rigidity. Rather, the standing presence to be aimed for and achieved by manly human being is that stance adopted and attained through practice, repetition, habituation, i.e. "from practising many times" (e)k tou= polla/kij pra/ttein 1105b4 cf. GA18:191). Because human being is essentially temporal and thus situated in the world in the temporality of its specific, continually changing situations, such an habituated stance cannot be rigid, but has to adapt appropriately to each given situation and grasp the concrete moment as a 'growing together' (concrescere) of all the various aspects to be considered in a given situation.

Thus, for instance, a man becomes manly in his stance by repeatedly being exposed to dangerous situations in his shared life with others, thus learning courage and how to appropriately regulate his anger to ward off danger from others. There is no general norm for how to behave in a manly, courageous way, and an appropriate manly stance has to gain definition concretely in each given situation. Finding the appropriate mean in a specific given situation is difficult and it is very easy to miss it. It is easy to get angry, but it is difficult to get angry at the right moment in a situation under the guidance of an insightful assessment of the entire situation in all its aspects. Manliness as one of the leading practised abilities characterizing human being as it comes to stand in the world is a "composed stance which sees" (e(/cij ble/pousa 1106b9) in such a way that anger as a kind of conduct is unleashed at the appropriate moment.

In being exposed to the world, human existence is continually buffeted by its encounters with the world in the uplifting or downcasting moods to which it is subjected. Human being, conceived of as the yuxh/, is exposed to the movement of ever-changing moods to which it must respond. A situation of danger, for instance, throws me out of my composure into a mood of fear which demands an adequate response, which in turn can only derive from an habituated manly stance as a readiness for dealing with danger in which I regain my composure and act appropriately, and neither 'lose my head' nor break out in a passion.

According to Aristotle, therefore, human goodness is not an abstract moral quality but a quality of lived human existence which has been attained through practice and habituation in being exposed to the world and its vicissitudes. The human 'virtues' are not to be understood as moral virtues as opposed to vices or sin, but rather as habitual 'virtuosities' or accomplishments more akin to the practical abilities attained and exercised in the practical arts. A good man for this Greek understanding of goodness is not a morally impeccable man but one who has attained, through practising many times, a set of stances adequate for dealing with the many and varying concrete situations in life and who practises these abilities successfully in his life-world context. Such a good man leads his life under the guidance of experienced, practical insight, responding to the moods of situations appropriately from the ready, composed stance, controlling his passions so that they are expressed appropriately as the situation demands, and keeping his desires in check so that he is not lost to the world in striving to fulfil them. Such a good man has come to stand out in the world in his existence in the double sense of being exposed to the world and its continually changing situations and also in the sense of having adopted a stand within himself from which he is able to competently deal with situations as they arise. Such a good man is worthy not simply because he is esteemed by others, but has something valuable of his own in the life-stance which he has practised and adopted.

Aristotelean friendship

After this brief detour sketching how, according to Aristotle, the capable stand attained in a human existence comes about through practising and habit, we are in a better position to understand Aristotle's conception of friendship and friendliness which, as he says at the outset of the book on friendship (VIII), is "a kind of capability or associated with capability" (a)reth/ tij h)\ met" a)reth=j VIII i. 1155a2) which implies first of all that friendship has to be concretely practised. Aristotle distinguishes three types of friendship, i) that based on pleasure (h(donh/ VIII iii. 1156a13) ii) that based on utility (xrh/simon 1156a11) and iii) that based on the good (a)gaqo/n 1155b19). These three motives for friendship align with the three conceptions of the good life or happiness treated in Book I (i.e. leaving aside the theoretical "life of the spectator" (Burnet), the bi/oj qewrhtiko/j) as based on pleasure (h(donh/ I v. 1095b17), esteem (timh/ 1095b23) or capability (a)reth/ 1095b30). This is not entirely surprising because friendship is a phenomenon covering how human beings who live together in a shared way of practical life can be good for each other, and furthermore it is clear that friendship is "most necessary for living" (e)/ti d" a)nagkaio/taton ei)j to\n bi/on 1156a2), even to the point that one can say that "friendship also appears to hold together the way of living in cities" (e)/oike de\ kai\ ta\j po/leij sune/xein h( fili/a 1156a23).

For a life based on pleasure and enjoyment, the bi/oj a)polaustiko/j (1095b17), friends are good for giving pleasure in each other's company. The friend satisfies a desire in lifting one's mood, for this is the meaning of pleasure. Such friendships sought for pleasure are the most fickle because they depend on changeable moods "according to what happens" (kata\ sumbebhko/j 1156a17), i.e. what accidentally "comes along" (sumbai/nein), and are therefore "easily dissolved, separated" (eu)dia/lutoi 1156a19). The soul of the pleasure-seeker has no firm, defined stand within itself but is uplifted or downcast according to the momentary moods that arise out of its encounters with the world. The pleasure-seeker is thus a spontaneous individual.

A similar instability pertains to friendships based on utility because the mutual liking depends on how the friends can be useful for each other and not for how they are in themselves. "They do not like each other in themselves but only insofar as some good accrues to them from each other." (a)llh/louj ou) kaq" au(tou\j filou=sin, a)ll" $(= gi/gnetai/ ti au)toi=j par" a)llh/lwn a)gaqo/n. 1156a12) When such friends cease to be useful to each other, when they are no longer of mutual advantage to each other, the friendship dissolves. Such advantage is not merely the pleasure of an uplifted mood, but involves calculative understanding (logismo/j) which calculates its advantage, its gain. The useful friend is a means to an end which is a good for me, not a good in itself.

To be continued...

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