Notes from Philosophy 100.12 (2012-13 - second term)

What follows are the generally unedited and uncorrected student notes of the class. It may provide a guide for what was covered in class. Caveat lector.

January 9, 2013 / Marilyn Richardson

Why should I be just? Why should I be moral? (Justice is at least a part of morality)

Is justice a compromise? Is it something that is also good for itself?

What is Justice?

One of Plato’s definitions: “it is related to the ‘function’ of human beings (our psyche/soul)”

-        We are more just than just our physical selves(soul/consciousness)

-        We choose, we don’t always act on instinct like other animals do.

-        When we guide ourselves with excellence (choices allow us to grow and be happy), we are successful humans.

-        So, justice and morality are tied to a larger question – about HUMAN NATURE.


-        384-322 BCE

-        He was a student of Plato

-        Born in Thrace (northern Greece)

-        Father Nichomachus – Court Physician to Phillip of Macedonia (Father of Alexander the Great).

-        Joined the Academy, and he studied under Plato

-        Author of lectures, but most texts and notes were edited after his death.

-        He wrote many texts on a variety of genres (looked at facts and phenomena)

-        He got Alexander to send him information from different places.

-        Aristotle was Alexander’s teacher for 5 years.

-        Returned to Athens

-        Ran away when people started to react to him the same way they reacted  to Socrates (Aristotle didn’t want the same fate as Socrates)

How should we look at Aristotle’s Ethics?

General Comments

-        Connected with Politics and life in Society (Ethics is a big part of social science)

1. A PRACTICAL SCIENCE: Any kind of organized systematic area of study and research. (Ex: natural sciences, earth sciences, theoretical sciences, social sciences, etc...)

- Theory is always subordinate to practice: If a theory doesn’t work (isn’t true) when you put it to the test, it can’t be true. Knowledge is tied to practice.



2. EXPERIMENTAL/EMPIRICAL: Is not the same as other sciences.

No one is altogether mistaken; you can find evidence from people who disagree with you. Aristotle studied what other people had to say about things.

Precision is relative to the subject matter at hand.

-        Mathematics is not truer than biology because they are different subject matter.

               Different methods = Different truths.

3. TELEOLOGICAL: (telos = end purpose)

Everything has a purpose/goal/function attached to it.

Human being have a purpose (What is it?)


Aristotle is talking about the ‘end’ – the goal or purpose –of human life. Everything acts for some end/purpose and so do humans. Different activities have different ends still, some ‘ends’ are ‘superior’ to others (ends apart from the actions (ex: instrumental goals)). 


January 11, 2013  / Kelsey Wheeler


Speculative philosophy: Aims at answering big, ethical questions such as do human beings know anything at all? Is there good or evil?

Critical philosophy: The task of looking at philosophers who have tried to answer big questions, includes arguments and reasoning.

Most of what we have studied and will study is critical philosophy.

We have looked at Socrates attempt to find the definition of justice.

Now, Aristotle attempts to answer the question of what is morality? Justice is a part of morality. Is it good for its consequence? Good in itself? Does it have value?

Aristotle attempts to answer these questions using texts from Nicomachean Ethics, which on a whole focuses on happiness. We will be focusing on Books I and II.

Ethics is a science, or a systematic way of studying a topic.

3 Principles of Aristotle’s Ethics

1.      Practical Discipline

2.      Empirical Science

3.      Teleological

Looking at human beings over time, what is distinctive about humans is out psyches or mind. Other traits such as eating and sleeping we have in common with other living beings. Not all beings, however, have capacity for emotion. Uniquely, we have capacity for self-reflection and individual aspirations. I.e. cats can’t choose to become something.

Ethics is based on nature. Different natures entail different activities, different functions. The kind of being you are influences goals, activities. We all seek certain things, we are different in nature as we can pursue different goals.

Aristotle says we all commonly seek:


-life, staying alive



Everyone seeks certain things.

Humanity is like all other organisms in nature. Everything is striving towards some purpose, and this purpose is …..

But, to achieve their purpose, human beings must behave in certain ways.

Book I

Aristotle is talking about the “end”—the goal/purpose of human life. Everything acts for some end/purpose, and humans do as well. I.e. whenever you act, it is in order to do something.

Is there a highest/ultimate end [for human beings]?

Aristotle says yes.

Different human ends can be ranked.

1.      Achieved purposes are better than their activity alone. There are different ends i.e. short-term/long-term goals, some are more important to us than others.

2.      If there is something which is not pursued for the sake of another, then it is the highest good.

3.      And since we do rank ends/purposes, there must be a highest end or purpose

Everything else would be a means to the highest end. SO, the ‘highest end’ is one which is not pursued for the sake of another. This ‘highest end’ is the same for all human beings, because we all have the same nature. And this ‘end’ is distinctive to all humans—and is reflected in what we do i.e. what our function is.

 The end that humans seek is ‘the good’. We call is happiness—eudaimonia(leading a fulfilling life).

But, there is some disagreement about what exactly this happiness amounts to.

SO, how do we get there?

Requires knowledge about human nature. Something that satisfies us physical and intellectually.

To get happiness requires both physical excellence and intellectual excellence.



January 14



Jan 21 - Kelly Mitchell

To be just person, to have virtue, excellence… you must:

-        Develop the right habits

-        Reinforce habits by engaging in practice

But we may ask: how do I know what the right choice in this situation is?
Two types of intellectual excellence:

-        Theoretical  wisdom – Sophia

o   Get from study, teaching, scientific experiment

-        Practical wisdom – phronesis

o   Through experience

Aristotle says – to know what the right choice – must find the mean

-        This is done through practical wisdom

Aristotle says – this isn’t easy

-        Being ethical is hard  

Some general guidelines on how to act in accord with the mean:

-        Know the facts of the situation

-        Figure out the mean

-        How to carry out the mean

We need to know:

1.      Sometimes this can come from study

2.      Sometimes, we can get this by observing the just

a.      Ex. mentors

3.      Sometimes, we should use certain “rules of thumb” (II, 9)

a.      We know that excess or deficiency tend to destroy a virtue

b.      Watch out for what most attracts us

c.      Watch out for pleasure – we are not impartial judges of pleasure


-        What is morality/moral virtue (which includes justice)?

According to Aristotle:

-        Follow the mean; find the middle point

1.      To be just, you need to have the other virtues

a.      Developing one virtue helps you develop others

2.      Justice is to get “exactly” what you deserve (not too little or too much)

a.      Deficiency in getting what you deserve, is unjust

b.      Excess in getting what you deserve, is also unfair

-        Why should I be just/morally virtuous?

1.      It pays

a.      In terms of success, avoid penalty (injustice by others)
AND, more importantly:

2.      Good in itself (without “external” rewards)

a.      Living well = happiness = eudaimonia

b.      Morality is a matter of being not of doing: we see to be moral

Aristotle: Physics

What is real? What reality is all about (metaphysics)

-        What makes a thing what it is?

-        What makes two similar things, similar?

-        What makes similar things distinct/different?

-        When we say we know a thing (i.e what a thing is), what exactly is it that we know?

-        BUT, how do things come to be what they are?

February 19th, 2013  Jillian Scott

Aquinas: the five ways 

Read the ‘bacground’
Pay attention to how he structures his discussion
Focus on ways 2 and 3
What is the conclusion?
What are the premises?

Aristotle: Physics
What is real? What reality is all about? (Metaphysics)
-What makes a thing what it is?
-What makes similar things, similar?
-What makes similar things distinct( different)?
-When we say we know a thing(ex. What a thing is), what exactly is it that we know?
-BUT How do things come to be what they are?
Existing things:
-natural -> principle of motion within itself
-non-natural(artifacts)-> something that is supernatural-> something not in motion.

What is motion?( or any kind of change)
“the actualization of that which is potential”
How does a thing move/change from potentiality to actuality?
-“Nothing has within itself the principle of its own production” No thing moves/causes itself

It is self-evident that there are natures (and substances with natures)and the attributes or properties of a thing depend on them.
1.Substance->(what persists through change)
2.of some quality or quantity or relation (“ relative to another”)-accidents
How does a substance ‘come to be’?
-When matter takes on a form
BUT how does matter ‘take on’ a form?
this brings us to ‘causes’

What caused that (event)? Ex, a bomb blast at an embassy
-the bomb itself
-the idea that the bomber has in mind?-She set off the bomb
-her ‘nature’- she’s a terrorist
-her ideal?-she wants to liberate her country.

Aristotle writes that there are many causes
-four causes
Ex. A sculptor
-the stone is the material cause
-the image in his mind of the finished product is the formal cause-> the ‘form’ that he intends to put into the matter.
-He is the efficient cause-> the agent that brings about the effect
-His “goal”-> the purpose for which he makes the statue( possess a beautiful object) is the final cause