Luck in Aristotle's Physics and Ethics

In Devin Henry & K. Nielson (eds.), Bridging the Gap between Aristotle's Science and Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 254-275 (2015)
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Abstract

I discuss how Aristotle’s formulation of the problem of moral luck relates to his natural philosophy. I review well-known passages from Nicomachean Ethics I/X and Eudemian Ethics I/VII and Physics II, but in the main focus on EE VII 14 (= VIII 2). I argue that Aristotle’s position there (rejecting the elimination of luck, but reducing luck so far as possible to incidental natural and intelligent causes) is not only consistent with his treatment of luck in Physics II, but is to be expected, given that the dialectical path of EE VII 14 runs exactly parallel to that of Physics II 4-6. Although Aristotle resolves some issues that he raises, he cannot avoid the problem of constitutive moral luck that, as Thomas Nagel puts it, pertains to ‘the kind of person you are, where this is not just a question of what you deliberately do, but of your inclinations, capacities, and temperament’. The problem for Aristotle follows not only from his ethical positions, but also directly from his more general physical and political principles and assumptions. Furthermore, the problem touches the very essence of Aristotle’s moral theory.

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Monte Johnson
University of California, San Diego

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