Review of Pakaluk, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: An Introduction [Book Review]

Ancient Philosophy 28 (2):435-439 (2008)
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Introducing Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics to undergraduates, which is the explicit goal of Michael Pakaluk’s volume, is both easy and difficult. On one level, Aristotle’s text takes a common-sense view of human goodness and the qualities productive of it, a view which resonates with students when they reflect upon the general question of what they seek in life or whom they admire. Topics such as friendship, recognition (a.k.a., ‘honor’), self-improvement, and well-being are part of every student’s lived-experience and Aristotle’s discussion of such topics reaches students ‘where they live’, as it were. And yet, on another level, as any student or teacher of the Nicomachean Ethics has discovered, Aristotle’s text presents numerous philosophical, exegetical, and editorial difficulties. For instance, Aristotle’s discussion of whether friendship is necessary for happiness (EN ix 9) is eminently practical and its conclusion almost trivially commonsensical; and yet Aristotle’s argument in support of the claim that friendship is necessary for happiness contains one of the most impenetrable discussions in the Ethics, namely the account of the apparently reflexive perceptions which only two friends can share (1170a13-b17), a phenomenon that goes to the very question of whether Aristotle possesses a notion of self-consciousness.
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