Aristotle on Law and Moral Education

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 42:263-306 (2012)
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It is widely agreed that Aristotle holds that the best moral education involves habituation in the proper pleasures of virtuous action. But it is rarely acknowledged that Aristotle repeatedly emphasizes the social and political sources of good habits, and strongly suggests that the correct law‐ordained education in proper pleasures is very rare or non‐existent. A careful look at the Nicomachean Ethics along with parallel discussions in the Eudemian Ethics and Politics suggests that Aristotle divided public moral education or law‐ordained habituation into two types. One type is a defective form practiced by the Spartans, producing civic courage and similar defective virtue‐ like states motivated by external incentives. By contrast Aristotle endorses the law‐ordained musical education described in Politics 8. The chapter argues that Aristotle considers the well‐habituated state of proper pleasures in virtue to be best cultivated by this kind of musical education; and that this explains both his emphasis on good laws and on their scarcity.

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Zena Hitz
Saint John's College


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