Philosophy as a scholastic field is known for its versatility, vague boundaries of application and flexibility of the majority of concepts’ interpretations. Fluidity of thought and reasoning process within the philosophical thought can be identified as some of its main characteristics. Nevertheless, it remains a sophisticated science with its own established traditions, schools and major actors, who have solidified a significant part of the field’s canon. Aristotle is undoubtedly one of such scholars, whose views on ethics, conceptualized in the work Nicomachean Ethics, has on multiple levels affected the ways ethics is seen today. This paper aims to discuss the application of Aristotle’s view on ethics onto the tendency of modern digitalization and its relationship with the experience-centric understanding of knowledge. It also aims to comment on one of the most prevalent philosophical questions of whether a man is inherently good.
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Popular sources have been referring to Aristotle as the patron saint of the digital age, singling him out as the classical scholar whose framework supports the modern technocentric way of life the most. Although peculiar at the first glance, this claim is rooted in Aristotle’s perception of good and his concepts of ethics and morality. In his magnum opus, Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle introduces the idea of every impulse of science and innovation being fundamentally aimed towards good purpose (Aristotle et al, 2009). In his worldview it is not the results of the innovative pursuits that are positive and moral, but the impulses that drive them. According to Aristotle, the human drive to perfect, develop and create is ethical and aimed at the general prosperity of society.
In terms of knowledge, Aristotle belonged to the empirical school of thought as opposed to rational, claiming that knowledge is fundamentally experience-focused. His ethics, however, is largely separated from this line of reasoning and argument, since it is not centred around knowledge. In contrast, Aristotle believed that the purpose of ethics lies beyond the knowledge of what is good or evil, but rather focuses on the application and practice of the theory. Thus originates the function argument that concerns the practical, rational purpose of the human soul. He asserts that the general good of the world lies in the pursue and dominance of reason, and hence the practical pursuit and actions are superior to the theoretical concepts (Hansson, 2017). In this he famously rejects Plato’s framework of morality being reliant on the personal detailed knowledge of mathematics and other sciences, debating their importance in the ethical debate.
In his stanza on the eternal question of whether a man is good or evil by nature, Aristotle takes an arguably neutral stanza. He claims that every man on the Earth possesses and internal combination of vice, a negative element, and virtue, a positive element, in different proportions (Leunissen, 2017). The existence and the intensity of vice, which in later works he extends to include continence and incontinence in his view is dependant on the degree of internal disharmony. He applauds the human ability to do good but cautions against the vulnerability in the face of evil even among the best of the best.
In conclusion, Aristotle’s view on ethics is notable for its balanced arguments and positive sentiment exhibited towards the human soul. It explains the attractiveness his particular worldview on the subject is still known for many years after the original publication of Nicomachean Ethics. In the end, the debate on the nature and traits of good and evil in the world will forever concern the human society, as one of the questions that cannot be answered, but must be discussed.
Aristotle, Ross, W. D., & Brown, L. (2009). The Nicomachean ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hansson, S. (2017). The Ethics of Technology: Methods and Approaches. Rowman & Littlefield.
Leunissen, M. (2017). From Natural Character to Moral Virtue in Aristotle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.