The Metaphysics of Goodness in the Ethics of Aristotle

Philosophical Studies 174 (7):1839-1856 (2017)
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Kraut and other neo-Aristotelians have argued that there is no such thing as absolute goodness. They admit only good in a kind, e.g. a good sculptor, and good for something, e.g. good for fish. What is the view of Aristotle? Mostly limiting myself to the Nicomachean Ethics, I argue that Aristotle is committed to things being absolutely good and also to a metaphysics of absolute goodness where there is a maximally best good that is the cause of the goodness of all other things in virtue of being their end. I begin by suggesting that the notion of good as an end, which is present in the first lines of the NE, is not obviously accounted for by good in a kind or good for something. I then give evidence that good in a kind and good for something can explain neither certain distinctions drawn between virtues nor the determinacy ascribed to what is good “in itself.” I argue contra Gotthelf that because several important arguments in the Nicomachean Ethics rely on comparative judgments of absolute value—e.g. “Man is the best of all animals”—Aristotle is committed to the existence of both absolute goodness and an absolutely best being. I focus on one passage, Aristotle’s division of goods in NE I 12, which presupposes this metaphysical picture.
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