Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nicomachean Ethics : Choice and Supreme Good as Practical Matters

One of the most intriguing distinctions Aristotle makes in Nicomachean Ethics is the description of choice and the accompanying road map given for making a choice. Aristotle writes, “The object of choice is something within our power which after deliberation we desire, choice will be a deliberate desire of things in our power; for we first deliberate, then select, and finally fix our desire according to the result of our deliberation” (141). This develops a sense that before one even deliberates about a decision, one must understand the importance of being conscious of one's limitations and knowing what is possible given the diasporas of circumstance surrounding an action. When thinking of politics and those who lack experience of the supreme good, we find that one can know nothing of the patterning of actions and their effects in relationship to the general welfare of all people without experience through action, rooted in deliberation, and observation.
For Aristotle choice seems to revolve around deliberation--"We deliberate about things that are in our control and are attainable by action (which are in fact the only things that still remain to be considered; for Nature, Necessity, and Chance, with the addition of Intelligence and human agency generally, exhaust the generally accepted list of causes). But we do not deliberate about all human affairs without exception either" (135). Here we come to understand that deliberation is thought about an action leading to a wish or goal which is, most importantly, in one's reach. The practicality of knowing what one is capable of and then putting conscious effort into thinking about it means this deliberation could lead to direct attainment of that goal.
I feel Aristotle's notes that we do not deliberate on things like orthography, the eternal or the natural cycles are important as these things are beyond the scope of the individual, his or her agency, and cannot be easily swayed by ones’ actions. This being said, Aristotle's linking of deliberation, action and attainment equates to his earlier mentioned Life of Politics as a virtuous life of action. This returns us to the importance of an understanding of what is possible, what is good and how to attain a goal.
This 'reality check' of what one is capable of ties into the discussion of ignorance from lack of experience, and qualifies Aristotle's statement that the young cannot know most thoroughly what is Good, because they lack experience in it. Of this Aristotle writes, "Ideal Good may be desirable as an aid to achieving those goods which are practicable and attainable: having the Ideal Good as a pattern we shall more easily know what things are good for us and knowing them, obtain them"(25). Therefore experience is a key to realistic deliberation before a future action is taken—thus trumping or growing out of ignorance; those lacking in experience may not have a patterned set of life-happenings to deliberate and judge various choices against.
Deliberation is a means to a successful and possible end, thus constituting the basis for a choice. Deliberation marks the beginning of the execution of a choice leading to the achievement of an ends—the ultimate goal being a Good result. Experience must be steeped in a pursuit of the good in order to be of value to deliberation--and thus informed action and effect. Earlier Aristotle writes, “Will not then a knowledge of this Supreme Good be also of great practical importance for the conduct of life?” (5).

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