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Garver, Eugene. Confronting Aristotle's Ethics: Ancient and Modern Morality.

GARVER, Eugene. Confronting Aristotle's Ethics: Ancient and Modern Morality. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2006. ix + 290 pp. Cloth, $49.00--Challenging the view that Aristotle's account of virtue can be revived in today's world, Eugene Garver argues that Aristotle's theory of virtue is tied to a social context so different from our own that his ethics cannot be transplanted into ours. Garver examines the problem within the framework of what he sees as the two essential elements of virtue for Aristotle: doing good things that effect good results for the community (the external end) and doing things well (the internal end) such that the soul of the doer is, to use Garver's phraseology, brought into good condition. In the author's view, Aristotle's wager is that these two elements will coincide.

Garver maintains that internal ends (goods that are internal to practices) emerge from actions originally done for their good external results. He draws a comparison with Aristotle's Rhetoric to exhibit how this takes place. Although rhetoric differs from ethics in being an art and therefore being non-moral and instrumental, it nevertheless has both an internal end, which is to find the available means of persuasion, and an external end, which is to persuade. In rhetoric, the emergence of internal ends from external ones can be examined without the moral overlay that is present in ethics. This makes it easier to see the distinctively moral element of internal and external ends in ethical versus artistic or instrumental actions.

Garver argues that aiming at external ends involves practices. Internal ends of practices arise from limiting the available means for achieving the external end. These limitations are not arbitrary; rather, they exclude those means that are not properly related to the external end. The means permitted are the only ones that rationally achieve the external end. If one finds, through the process of deliberating about means, that an external end cannot be thus internalized and rationalized, then that external end is empty and should be abandoned.

The difference revealed between the internal ends of an art and those of virtue is that the latter bring the soul into good condition, while the former do not. Virtuous actions are therefore done for their own sake and are complete in themselves, while artistic actions are not. Virtuous actions not only complete a process (moving from kinesis to energeia) but also realize a power in the soul (moving from the dynamis of the irrational, desiring soul (the passions) to the rational energeia of virtue). An entire chapter is devoted to relations between the way such notions as energeia, kinesis and dynamis are presented in the Metaphysics and the way they are used in Aristotle's ethics.

Garver goes on to discuss happiness as virtuous activity (energeia kat'areten). He shows, in his discussion of four conditions of moral failure not acknowledged by the Stagirite, how Aristotle gives no thought to the tragic possibility of unrewarded good acts: there may be goods for which there are no definite practices (such as "being a good parent"); internal ends might not lead adequately to the external end at which they aim; individual good acts might bring about bad results for society; and virtues that bring the individual soul into good condition could conflict with those that bring good results to the community.

There follows a discussion of how the rationality of deliberation (phronesis) itself defmes the mean for the passions. It is precisely decision (proheiresis) regarding the right thing to do that makes one feel the right amount of passion. This is the mechanism by which, according to Garver, deciding well about how to achieve the external end also causes one to stand well in relation to the passions (dynameis), such that the soul is in good condition.

Relating Aristotle's ethics to the Politics, Garver shows how Aristotelian virtue presupposes, in sharp contrast to prevalent attitudes of the present day world, the coincidence of personal and civic identity and virtue. For Garver, importing Aristotle's virtues into the contemporary context requires the distortion of Aristotle's theories. Today's world provides too many circumstances that cause the two sides of virtue-doing good things that bring about good results for the community, and doing things well such that the doer's soul is put in good condition--to diverge rather than coincide.

One might disagree not only with some of Garver's conclusions, but also with his interpretation of some of Aristotle's terminology and with some of his underlying assumptions. For example, he believes Aristotle's account has explained virtuous action without invoking any theory of human nature. But then he contradicts himself: he appeals precisely to human nature when he states that one who acts virtuously "chooses not only acts that are their own end but acts that are the fullest realization of his nature" (p. 101). In addition, his prose is sometimes convoluted to the extent that it is difficult to follow his thought. Nevertheless, Garver's interpretation is original and provocative of a re-examination of Aristotle's system and its significance for contemporary ethical questions.--Sr. Mary Veronica Sabelli, RSM, St. John's Seminary.
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Author:Sabelli, Mary Veronica
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2007
Words:847
Previous Article:Fortenbaugh, William W. Aristotle's Practical Side: On his Psychology, Ethics, Politics and Rhetoric.
Next Article:Gersh, Stephen and Moran, Darmot, eds. Eriugena, Berkeley, and the Idealist Tradition.
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