Aristotle on the choice of lives: Two concepts of self-sufficiency

In Pierre Destrée & Marco Antônio Zingano (eds.), Theoria: Studies on the Status and Meaning of Contemplation in Aristotle's Ethics. Louvain-La-Neuve: Peeters Press. pp. 111-133 (2014)
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Abstract

Aristotle's treatment of the choice between the political and contemplative lives (in EN I 5 and X 7-8) can seem awkward. To offer one explanation of this, I argue that when he invokes self-sufficience (autarkeia) as a criterion for this choice, he appeals to two different and incompatible specifications of "lacking nothing." On one specification, suitable to a human being living as a political animal and thus seeking to realize his end as an engaged citizen of a polis, a person lacks nothing by possessing a wide range of goods that directly require other people. On the other, more suitable to a god or a beast, a person lacks nothing by having no need of goods that directly require other people. The ambiguity of this criterion renders the choice between the political and contemplative lives difficult.

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Eric Brown
Washington University in St. Louis

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