review flannery thomist final frey.docx

review flannery thomist final frey.docx
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   1  Action & Character According to Aristotle: The Logic of the Moral Life . By KEVIN L. FLANNERY, S.J. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2013. Pp. xxxii +314. $75.00 (cloth). ISBN: 978-0-8132-2160-1. Kevin Flannery’s recent  book is a significant contribution to our understanding of Aristotle’s theory of action as the foundation for his ethical thought. While it is surely of interest to Aristotle scholars, I would argue that those working in contemporary virtue ethics would also benefit from a close study of it. For in this book Flannery argues, in meticulous detail, that the central moves Aristotle makes in his ethical treatises are grounded in his account of the internal structure of particular human actions. In so doing, he demonstrates how and why Aristotle conceived of ethical theory as having its proper foundation in philosophical psychology and action theory. Flannery begins b y stressing the centrality of Aristotle’s conviction  that  perception of singulars is the coin of the practical realm; this explains why ethics is not a  proper science  —  i.e., why it cannot yield proper syllogisms from which we could construct a specifically practical epistêmê . And yet this perception is still distinctive of rational life. Aristotle likens it to the perception of a particular triangle in a geometrical  proof, which is not an object of the senses but intellect. Flannery suggests that Aristotle adopts the language of perception in order to pick out a unique mode of presentation of the particular to the intellect: for “it is through perception by means of sight that we recognize the form present in each individual ” ( Top . II.7, 113a31-32). If ethics is not a proper science, then what sense can we make of the practical syllogism? Flannery insists that any legitimate account must explain how the realm of   2 thought and knowledge, which is general, and the realm of action, which is particular, interact with each other. In his rich discussion of this problem, two points stand out. First, one can only move from knowledge to action through desire, which moves one towards a particular object. Second, knowledge and action are unified by the principle that underlines all reasoning and intelligibility: the principle of non-contradiction (henceforth, PNC). Flannery notes that Aristotle understands the PNC as grounded in the  perceptual order, since it is only at the level of particulars that it is impossible for something to both be and not be a certain way, in a certain respect, at a certain time. He concludes that the “subject matter” of philosophical psychology is singulars, and therefore when properly conducted it must begin with an analysis of particular human acts, rather than universal propositions about acts. The purpose of chapter two is to show that the structure of action is a determination of the broader genus of motion. Here Flannery demonstrates that for Aristotle an act gets is species (its form as an instance of a general kind) from its end. He stresses that for Aristotle an end cannot be cut off from its object. For instance, teaching is the actualization of the one who can teach in the one who learns; the action is fundamentally a movement towards an object that provides a limit and measure of its success or failure. To remove the object  —  to say that in teaching the teacher learns  —  results in a violation of the PNC. Flannery concludes that the distinction between agent and patient, subject and object, is fundamentally grounded in the PNC, such that the  bipolar structure of human action is demanded by it. This is turn shows that the nature of  particular acts is not solely determined by the subject; the object upon which the subject acts also makes a contribution to its intelligibility.   3 Chapter three shows that the rationally articulate internal structure of action is the necessary foundation for Aristotle’s account of the degrees of personal responsibility . For Aristotle, an action is voluntary to the extent that is it unforced and in accordance with the knowledge characteristic of the exercise of will ( boulesis )  —  it is through the exercise of it that man becomes “the soverei gn principle of his act ” (74) . It is crucial to Aristotle’s account that some elements of a person’s  action can be forced (and to that extent, non-voluntary) while others free, and that some elements of a person’s  action can  be known (and therefore voluntary), while others unknown. In order to make sense of this, Flannery notes that we need to distinguish between the particular act itself and its distinguishable internal elements. This internal articulation is also crucial to the explanation of various character types; for instance, the self-controlled man  —  the one who listens to reason against desire  —  is n’t entirely free, for he has to force himself to resist himself. Chapter four continues to show ways that agents can be ignorant of the different constituents of their actions while still acting voluntarily to some degree; much of the discussion focuses on “willful error” ( hamartia ) and negligence more broadly. Flannery goes through all seven constituents of action to show why they must make up a unity in order for a particular action to be an instance of a more general kind. He also discusses the ways these constituents admit of truth, and how there can be a failures of correspondence between our thoughts about them and what we actually do. It is because the essential constituents of action are “beings of reason” that an agent’s knowledge of them is central to Aristotle’s account of the voluntary. For    “in the real m of human action,   4 reason  —  as manifest especially in the constituents  —  is everything; it can change the nature of an act ” (138) . Chapter five is the hinge of the entire book, and marks the transition from action theory to ethics proper. To make this transition, we must see how the ends of particular acts connect to larger ends: crafts, sciences, the polis, and human life generally. To do that, we need to be able to identify “lines of intelligibility” between particular actions and “la rger systems of intelligibility ” (140) . Flannery draws a distinction between lines of intelligibility that are  per se  and  per accidens .   Knowledge of the end of a particular act is crucial to its  per se  intelligibility, but some aspects of the pursuit of that end might be  per accidens , since they do not serve it. This is possible because action takes place in the  perceptual realm of particulars, which is messy and includes much that is not essential to the intelligibility of action. What is crucial to Flannery’s analysis is that knowledge is what settles the  per se  intelligible. Consider the end given to man by nature, his true good. He is ordered to this good whether he knows this good or not. The  phronimos  knows it, and this is essential to establishing the  per se  lines of intelligibility between his particular act and this final end: he sees the good for man in his particular act. The vicious man is oriented towards the same good by nature  per se , but he perceives and pursues the merely apparent good through his actions  per accidens . That is, the end he pursues in his particular act does not correspond to his final end, his true good. In chapter six, Flannery turns his attention to the wider context of the polis. He  points out that for Aristotle, actions are not fully intelligible outside the broader moral context in which they come to be, which is the human political community in which they   5 are pursued and realized, since this is the linguistic-social context in which objects of  particular acts are both supplied and pursued. Flannery explores this through a careful discussion of the difference between doing and making, and the corresponding distinction  between the knowledge of techne  and  phronesis . Take a craft, such as shoemaking. We need shoes for life in the city; without this need, the craft of shoemaking would lose its practical intelligibility. Moreover, the shoemaker must understand that he is making a shoe throughout his shoemaking; therefore the form of the shoe is always present to him in a similar way that happiness is always present to the one who is living well. For the practically wise, it is in making that the maker pursues the good (living well), but this requires that he sees his making in light of its contribution to the c ity. For the agent’s moral understanding of what he does, which is the understanding characteristic of  praxis , embraces all the things that he does. Any act that involves a break of intelligibility from the end that specifies it to the end of human nature as such cannot be a good human act. So the directive and productive knowledge characteristic of voluntary acts must contain within it practical wisdom if the action can be truthfully described as an instance of living well  —  i.e., if it deserves unqualified praise. In chapter seven, Flannery turns to an account of the truth to which the  phronimos  is disposed:  practical truth , or “the truth bound up with getting to things” (229) . He argues that this truth is attained when the calculating part ( to logistikon ) is well regulated according to its proper virtue, but this requires correct desire, or moral virtue. Practical intellect is operating well (getting onto practical truth) when what it affirms is in accordance with right desire. Ones secures practical truth insofar as one aims at the
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