Wishing for Fortune, Choosing Activity: Aristotle on External Goods and Happiness

Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium of Ancient Philosophy 22 (1):221-256 (2006)
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Aristotle's account of external goods in Nicomachean Ethics I 8-12 is often thought to amend his narrow claim that happiness is virtuous activity. I argue, to the contrary, that on Aristotle's account, external goods are necessary for happiness only because they are necessary for virtuous activity. My case innovates in three main respects: I offer a new map of EN I 8-12; I identify two mechanisms to explain why virtuous activity requires external goods, including a psychological need for external goods; and I show the relevance of Aristotle's distinction between wishing and choosing. On the view I attribute to Aristotle, our capacity to choose virtuously requires, first, that we wish for external goods (because virtue requires the right attitudes of evaluation) and, second, that these wishes are generally fulfilled (because the social consequences and psychological pain of unfulfilled wishes undermine our opportunity to act virtuously and to take pleasure in acting virtuously). I close with discussion of how Aristotelians should defend this approach.

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Eric Brown
Washington University in St. Louis


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