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Different Models of Human Nature in Aristotle?

Date and Time: 
Thursday, May 2, 2019. 04:30 PM - 06:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Watt Dining Room
Workshop: 
Ethics and Politics, Ancient and Modern 2018
Meeting Description: 

All EPAM sessions are pre-read. We will begin with a brief summary of the paper and comments by a graduate student, followed by a response from Professor Joseph Karbowski. Afterward, the floor will be opened for questions.

Aristotle thought about human nature at least as much as any other thinker in history. However, no single treatise houses all of his views on the topic.  To be sure, Aristotle refers to the joint program consisting of the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics as his “philosophy of human affairs” (NE X.9, 1181b15). But the central question explored in those treatises is “What is the best human good/happiness?”, not “What is a human being?”. Our hands are not completely tied, however. Aristotle has considered views about human nature, and they deeply inform his conception of human happiness and the ideal political constitution. Though he never definitively spells out in a single locus his view of the structure of human nature, it would surely be worthwhile to try to reconstruct it from pertinent remarks in the Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, and elsewhere. In this paper Professor Karbowski aims to point out and address an apparent obstacle to the aforementioned reconstructive project. The obstacle, in brief, is that Aristotle seems to adopt very different views of the structure of human nature in different contexts. In NE I.7 he seems to construe mankind (anthrōpos) as a functional kind, like a saw or an eye (1097b25-33); but then in Pol. I.2 he construes it as a communal kind, like a sailor or bee (1253a7-9). Aristotle’s vacillation here might lead one to doubt that his ethico-political treatises paint a single, coherent picture of the structure of human nature. However, Professor Karbowski will attempt to show that there is no need for such a negative verdict. The two models can be harmoniously combined into a single, coherent picture.

Professor Joseph Karbowski, University of Pittsburg, focuses on the intersection of ancient Greek epistemology, natural philosophy, psychology, and ethics. He recently completed a monograph, entitled Aristotle's Method in Ethics: Philosophy in Practice (in press with CUP), which develops a novel interpretation of Aristotle's conception of philosophy and shows how it influences his ethical method and epistemology. He has also published papers on Aristotle's method in natural philosophy, his view of dialectical reasoning, and his conceptions of human sociability and rationality. His current research explores issues pertaining to animal cognition (on the one hand) and the role of images in thought (on the other) in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. He will also shortly begin work on a second book on Aristotle's conception of human nature and its ramifications for his hylomorphism and theory of human reproduction.

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