Ristotle and Kant on Ethical Theory and Practice

Aristotle and Kant on Ethical Theory and Practice

Prompt: Aristotle and Kant present two fundamentally different orientations toward ethics. Within their general opposition can be identified a number of disagreements on various issues crucial to ethical thought and action (see page 2 below).

In this paper, you will (1) explain at least one specific area of disagreement between Kant and Aristotle; (2) argue persuasively, using textual citations and philosophical reasoning, in support of either a Kantian OR an Aristotelian position on the issue in question; (3) defend your chosen position, in a brief but substantive way, against criticisms or counterarguments from the other side; AND (4) illustrate your defense of the position in question by using at least one specific example that clearly demonstrates why the position you choose to defend is superior to the other.

Some areas of disagreement to consider:

1) The highest good: Is happiness the highest good (Aristotle), or is good will (Kant)? Is the highest good also good a?fora? something (Aristotle), or is it good without qualification or condition (Kant)?

2) Egoism/Altruism: If happiness is the highest good, is ethical motivation ultimately selfish? Is selfishness (always? ever?) morally bad? If good will is the highest good, is ethical motivation ultimately self-less? Is self-lessness (always? ever?) morally good?

3) Happiness: Is human happiness best understood as eudaimonia (a?optimal human functioninga?; Aristotle), or as desire-satisfaction (a?satisfaction of inclinationsa?; Kant)? What difference does it make?

4) Optimism/Pessimism: Is it too optimistic to believe that goodness and happiness will always coincide (Aristotle)? Is it too pessimistic to believe that goodness and happiness have no essential or necessary connection, beyond the claim that good will makes one deserving of happiness (Kant)?

5) Relativism/Objectivism: Is an ethical theory which is relative and variable, with respect to contexts, individuals, and societies (Aristotle) better than an ethical theory which is universal and impartial, without respect to contexts, individuals, or societies (Kant), or vice versa?

6) Teleology/Deontology: Should ethical actions be judged a?gooda? by practical standards of what those accomplish or achieve (ends, goals, functions; Aristotle), or should ethical actions be judged a?gooda? by non-practical, i.e. purely rational, standards (rational universalizability, the categorical imperative; Kant)?

7) Moral Demanding-ness: Is the Aristotelian orientation that ethics is a?a way of lifea? too demanding, in that it potentially makes every decision an ethical decision? Or is the Kantian orientation that ethics is a?obedience to moral lawa? too demanding, in that it allows for no accommodation to natural human inclinations (e.g. for happiness)? Oppositely, is Aristotelianism a?too easya? in that it might simply re-affirm common sense self-interest? Or is Kantianism a?too easya? in that it might remove the need for individuals to engage in any thoughtful sensitivity to context?