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Title: Aristotle on Ethical Epistemology
Authors: McDavid, Brennan K.
Advisors: Morison, Benjamin
Contributors: Philosophy Department
Keywords: Aristotle
Moral knowledge
Subjects: Philosophy
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Aristotle tells us explicitly in Book 6 of the Nicomachean Ethics that phronēsis (the most excellent psychic state in the ethical domain) is not epistēmē (the most excellent psychic state in the theoretical, scientific domain), but leaves us to wonder just what kind of knowledge phronēsis is if it is not scientific knowledge. I am interested in answering that question. In the first chapter, I lay out Aristotle's theory of scientific knowledge reflecting its description in the Posterior Analytics. There Aristotle tells us that having scientific knowledge is a matter of grasping the reason why something is true, i.e. it is a matter of knowing explanations. These explanations are packaged in the form of "demonstrative syllogisms" and they point to the nature of studied entities as being the primary explanation for any phenomena in which that entity is involved. In the second chapter I recover the structure of ethical knowledge from what Aristotle has to say in Book 6 of the Nicomachean Ethics. I argue that ethical knowledge, too, consists in grasping explanations. But these explanations do not involve the natures of things. Rather, ethical explanations are facts grasped by excellent ethical agents as being moral reasons to act in one way or another. Happiness (eudaimonia) is one such reason, but some other facts such as "human beings are social animals" also have such moral force. I explain how these facts, and their explanatory role, set up ethical knowledge as having a structure similar to the structure of scientific knowledge. The final chapter is devoted to the question of what points of contact exist between science and ethics. I argue that Aristotle conceives of practical wisdom as being “quasi-subordinate” to certain domains of scientific knowledge because there are points of overlap with those domains where the science in question either contains a scientific explanation for some ethical fact or else the science in question relies on some fact as a first principle and the fact also features in practical wisdom as a starting point. This, I argue, is the limited sense in which there is anything scientific about Aristotle’s ethics.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Philosophy

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