Thursday, September 03, 2009

Human flourishing vs. self-actualization

Other things being equal, a blog should have a central theme. That is a great advantage. Alas, with many of them that theme is simply a contemporary avatar of Vanity Fair: the whirligig of political junkiedom, stereotypically viewed from either a liberal or conservative perspective. A few of the more rewarding sites, such as Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, manage thoughtfully to combine the two perspectives, left and right, but they still tend to be present-minded.

A blog that escapes these traps is the one that an energetic and intellectually gifted citizen of San Francisco maintains under the name of Gay Species. The rubric above his personal profile states his central theme: “human flourishing.”

This concept is seductive: after all, who of us does not wish to flourish? Consider the alternative!

Defining the term proves tricky, though. Gay Species cherishes the concept as the inseparable companion of his preferred political philosophy of liberalism. “Liberalism is the set of principles which endeavors to maximize individual and social flourishing by promoting the individual good by social cohesion and the common good--or general welfare--in which BOTH the individual and the common good are maximized.” (, posting for Sept. 1, 2009).

Presently we will return to that “BOTH.” I would start, though, by observing that the term “human flourishing” is not textual (as constitutional lawyers say), for it is absent from the founding documents of the American Republic, not to mention the classical statements of liberalism.

Still the term “human flourishing” has gained a certain purchase in Anglophone academic discourse of the second half of the twentieth century. It seems to have arisen in the following way. Book I of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics contains an influential discussion of the philosopher’s concept of "eudaimonia." The conventional rendering of this Greek word is “happiness,” which still seems to be preferred in translations today. However, some latter-day interpreters have found the H-word inadequate. A half century ago the English philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe proposed a substitute, arguing that eudaimonia be translated as “human flourishing.”

Let us set aside her proposal for the moment and stick to the Greek. Eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία) is a classical Greek word made up of the prefix "eu-" ("good" or "well being") and the noun "daimōn" ("spirit" or "minor deity”; by extension, one's lot or fortune), with the final suffix -ia serving to designate an abstract idea.

The gravamen of this Greek expression resides in the six letters making up the word's center: daimon. In this context a daimon is a guardian or tutelary spirit. Yet this supernatural element is uncongenial to modern interpreters who seek to downplay the feature by asserting that the ancient Greeks did not expatiate on it. Of course not, because they took the existence of such spirits for granted; no gloss was needed to affirm their reality, regarded as self-evident. Polytheism suffused the very air the ancients breathed. It no longer does so. Since ancient times we have seen the relentless advance of what Max Weber termed the Entzäuberung der Welt, the disenchantment of the world, whereby the principle of animation that formerly personalized nature and our conceptual tools has been banished. Thereby we gain in rationality, perhaps, but we sacrifice a whole vast range of life-giving metaphors.

There are it seems spirits that bring eudaimonia to life. What are the consequences of accepting that our personal happiness must be achieved with the beneficent collaboration of some power or powers outside ourselves? First, we must set aside the Renaissance reliance on self-fashioning: the confidence that we are, or can be the s o l e authors of our being. Contemporary parallels are scarce. Making a fairly big leap, though, we could regard eudaimonia as a precursor of the “good karma” of todays’ New Age speculation.

A collaboration of the personal and the external, eudaimonia involves an element of striving. It is not simply delivered to us to enjoy in perpetuity as some steady-state bliss, what the Greeks called makaria. Eudaimonia must be ceaselessly attained and affirmed.

There is more, for a full understanding of the resonances of the term in ancient Greek cannot be obtained by limiting ourselves to Aristotle, who gives it a particular spin. From Homer onwards the most common meaning of eudaimonia was “prosperity, opulence.” In later usage, which emphasized personal well-being, this somewhat crass emphasis was not entirely lost. And perhaps it was right that it should linger, for the achievement of a rewarding life depends in part (whether we choose to acknowledge the fact or not) on having been given or having attained a certain level of earthly prosperity. Thus a broad account of eudaimonia should be compatible not only with Aristotle's concept but also with more mundane theories which identify eudaimonia with a life of pleasant amusements, a life devoted to the acquisition of wealth, a life devoted to the pursuit of honor, a life of public service in which one exercises civic virtues, and so forth. 

Yet Aristotle clings to a kind of ethical monism. Eudaimonia is that for the sake of which human beings do everything that they do; it is not pursued for the sake of some further goal. Aristotle further holds that the only style of life that is fully conducive to eudaimonia is the contemplative one (bios theoretikos). Some would say that this choice reflects the typical bias of the intellectual.

We need not follow Aristotle in every detail--and much has been omitted here--to acknowledge that it is worth asking what conditions will foster a satisfying and prosperous existence.

In this quest the term “human flourishing” strikes me as a somewhat unhappy choice. The word “flourishing” derives from the French fleurissant, both meaning flowering. To be candid, the allusion to flowers seems precious. As plants, flowers are sessile and vulnerable. Should one seek to go through life as a potted plant? Moreover, the noun “flourish” (a flourish of trumpets, a literary flourish) connotes an ornamental enhancement, commonly an ostentatious one. Strictly speaking, a flourish is superfluous.

Perhaps the term “human thriving,” or simply “thriving,” would be preferable. Still, none of these terms capture the full sense of eudaimonia, which has the advantage of stressing the beneficial interaction of human effort and what might be termed luck. The best choice might be to retain the Greek word.

For the purposes of further argument let us adopt the expression “human flourishing” pro tem.

The nub of the matter is that this project has two radically distinct forms: individual human flourishing, and collective human flourishing. These cannot be reconciled by simply invoking that little word “both.” The former, the individual variety, may entail various forms of selfishness and even ruthlessness. Try this thought experiment. In order to obtain the position and money that I feel I require, I may need to employ devious means to become head of the marketing division of my company. This promotion--the foundation of my flourishing as I see it--will require the forced retirement or dismissal of the current head of marketing whom I will supplant. In this way the increase of my store of human flourishing requires the decrease of someone else’s flourishing. I flourish to the extent that the other does not: a zero-sum game.

Such is the bitter truth that realism counsels. Individual human flourishing can manifest itself simply as self-assertion and greed. No wonder the concept has proved appealing to some followers of Ayn Rand. But maybe we can get round this difficulty by transposing the idea onto the plane of some larger aggregate: c o l l e c t i v e human flourishing.

That sounds appealing, but how this goal is to be reached? One answer is John Rawls’ well-known difference principle, which permits inequalities in the distribution of goods only if those inequalities benefit the worst-off members of society. In this sense collective flourishing means that individual flourishing can only be pursued as a means to an end. That end is social leveling.

I must be frank. Neither of these types of flourishing seems very attractive. In the last analysis the first mode may come down simply to the conniving of a Gordon Gecko. I'll get mine, and screw everybody else. The second version seems to correct the deficiencies of the first. But at a price, for it spells the restriction of individual freedom in the interests of the community. Inclusive flourishing, if you will, requires significant limitations on individual flourishing. At all events the two concepts are incompatible: one must chose one or the other.

All this may seem so much quibbling. Surely there must be some useful framework in which we can discuss the very important matter of leading a fulfilling life. Despair not, for I have found that there is; the key is the term “self-actualization.”

The classic formulation of this concept is due to Abraham Maslow. Maslow (1908-1970) was an American academic psychologist whose ideas have proved to be widely influential. Following an earlier tentative formulation by Kurt Goldstein, Maslow developed his key concept of self-actualization. This he advocated in his article,”A Theory of Human Motivation” (1943), and subsequently in a series of books.

Maslow defined self-actualization as "the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." Maslow used the term self-actualization to describe a desire--not a driving force--that could foster realizing one's capabilities. He doubted that self-actualization determined one's life in any simplistic way; rather, he held that it endowed the individual with a desire or motivation to achieve budding ambitions. A more explicit definition of self-actualization according to Maslow is "intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately of what is the organism itself . . . self-actualization is growth-motivated rather than deficiency-motivated."

The American psychologist detected certain factors that he regarded as conducive to the path of self-actualization. Some common traits found among individuals who have reached self-actualization are that they embrace reality and facts rather than denying truth; that they are spontaneous; that they are drawn to solving problems; and that they are accepting of themselves and others. Certain particular qualities are required, among them independence, autonomy, a tendency to form few but deep friendships, a "philosophical" sense of humor, a tendency to resist outside pressures, and a general transcendence of the environment rather than simply taking each thing as it comes.

In addition, Maslow assumed a hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization cannot normally be reached until other lower-order necessities are satisfied. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: with the lowermost level comprising physiological or bodily needs, while the upper levels are growth needs stemming from the psychological realm.

One need not subscribe to all of the details (only a few of them are sketched here) to recognize the fruitfulness of Maslow’s concepts, which are intended to clarify the ways in which successful people navigate in the world.

Some critics hold that Maslow’s scheme is too rigid; in reality, our lives unfold according to many different patterns, and not just on a single track, as he suggests. Point taken, but suitable modifications may be made.

Another possible drawback is the intimation that the basic ingredients already lie within us. All that is necessary is that, under favorable conditions, we nurture them so as to realize our potential. While this self-sufficiency is an attractive prospect, it glosses over the fact that we may need to access additional elements that are external. That is, self-actualization is not simply a matter of enhancing what we have, but may require the incorporation of positive features stemming from outside our own realm. With this emendation, I believe that Maslow’s general approach is fully serviceable.

However one may pinpoint the source of the resources that are deployed, self-actualization is an essentially internal process. For this reason it lacks the element of acquisitive striving and competition that taints the concept of human flourishing, That is so because of the heritage of eudaimonia, stemming ultimately from Greek ideas alluding to material prosperity and opulence. These are advantages that in a context of scarcity must be secured by appropriating them from others, as we saw in the hypothetical instance of the individual who seeks to become head of his department by displacing the existing occupant.

[NB. My thanks to Kathy D. Schnapper, who rightly suggested two years ago that I take a good look at Maslow’s ideas.]

ADDITIONAL NOTE. In writing the above, I was of course aware that it could be argued that the familiar phrase "pursuit of happiness" could be summoned as a kind of equivalent of Anscombe's neoteric "human flourishing." We are all acquainted with the story of how Jefferson took John Locke’s triad of “life, liberty, and property” and replaced the third term with "pursuit of happiness," thought by some to be distinctly American. The source of the expression has been sought in Samuel Johnson, who used it several times. However, Jefferson does not seem to have read Johnson.

In a 2007 article in the History News Network, Carol V. Hamilton seems to have found the correct solution. Once again it is John Locke.

Here are Hamilton's pertinent observations:

"Jefferson’s intellectual heroes were Newton, Bacon, and Locke, and it was actually in Locke that he must have found the phrase. It appears not in the Two Treatises on Government but in the 1690 essay Concerning Human Understanding. There, in a long and thorny passage, Locke wrote:

'The necessity of pursuing happiness [is] the foundation of liberty. As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires always follow, the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action, and from a necessary compliance with our desire, set upon any particular, and then appearing preferable good, till we have duly examined whether it has a tendency to, or be inconsistent with, our real happiness: and therefore, till we are as much informed upon this inquiry as the weight of the matter, and the nature of the case demands, we are, by the necessity of preferring and pursuing true happiness as our greatest good, obliged to suspend the satisfaction of our desires in particular cases.'"

Hamilton goes on to connect the idea with Greek and Roman thought. This may be so, but her arguments are inconclusive. Later in life Jefferson acknowledged an indebtedness to Epicurus, but there is no evidence that he derived the particular phrase from that source, nor from Lucretius, a special favorite.

At all events Jefferson did not obtain the phrase by channeling Elizabeth Anscombe. Her "human flourishing" is an artefact, with no particularly distinguished pedigree.



Blogger Burk Braun said...

OK, the post was a little long, but I get the point! It is easy, actually to transpose the daimon into modern parlance, for it is the unconscious, as Julian Jaynes so flamboyantly theorized. The gods, especially of polytheism, are after all representations, under modern psychological theory, of our internal drives and cross-purposes. Jung had alot to say about it as well.

As for the "both" discussion, it is important to see us as communal beings, cultivated by the collective and interfused with it in countless ways. Our flourishing/actualization/whatever is never achieved in isolation, but as part of a larger society, which, if it/we are to flourish, needs to be tended and cared for as well as we do for our personal and private wants. This is what was always meant by "enlightened self-interest" and similar terms attempting to cast our happiness into an integrated scheme that takes the totality of life (extended over time) into account, including its social setting.

11:31 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Are you decoding the Talmud or what? Have you morphed into a "literal fundamentalist," Wayne?

Reading the Declaration of Independence from the prism of Aristotle's "complete end" will suddenly make everything clear.

Declaration of Independence

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Two minor observations. The other Founders required "self-evident" (a philosophical standard) to replace Jefferson's original "divinely-endowed." So, the gods do not grant these rights, humans grant them because they are self-evident.

Secondly, notice the "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness." The "pursuit of happiness" is "human flourishing. (See, J. L. Ackril et alia who discuss this at great length). The language is the "pursuit of happiness," not merely "happiness." In other words, we do not have an inalienable "right to happiness," but "to the pursuit of happiness." Thus, happiness is the complete good that "our pursuits" (instrumental goods) AIM. Indeed, the rights to "life" and "liberty" without the "pursuit of happiness," would be incoherent (or minimally small-minded).

"Prudence" and "ends" comes directly from ARISTOTLE. And, ". . . to institute new government, laying the foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall most likely effect (act as "the means") to their safety and happiness." And some blogger insists the language of human flourishing ("the pursuit of happiness," "means" and "ends," and "happiness") are not textually revealing of human flourishing. Must be a a literal fundamentalist.

The Constitution

"We the PEOPLE of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of life to ourselves and our posterity . . . . ." What about this "Preamble" is unclear? This preamble sets forth the OBJECTIVES (the ENDS) which the State shall AIM.

But someone screams, "where is the phrase 'human flourishing'?" Where is it NOT? Some sophists think that because the words, "Trinity, Epiphany, Incarnation, Pascha, Purgatory," are not in the text, the concepts don't exist. Believe, my such "literal fundamentalists" are guilty of what Saint Paul calls "reading the letter, but missing the spirit, of the letter."


If I use "gay" or "androphile," my reference and sense are the same, because they are synonyms. "Pursuit of happiness" and "human flourishing" and "promote the general welfare" ALL have the SAME reference and sense. Only the use differs.

11:58 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Note: I don't fundamentally disagree with Maslow's Hierarchy of Goods, but I don't think they are all self-evident. For one, I think "self-actualization" is utter bullshit. Does it differ from "self-realization" or "self-awareness," or is it transcendental Forms the human mind unites in the Platonic Heaven?

But IF you accept Maslow's basic structure, then I would argue that "positive rights" to food, clothing, shelter, and education" cannot be dismissed, and thus these rights are incumbent upon government to provide for those without. But libertarians deny "positive rights." Do they deny our "right to survive?"

12:04 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

BTW, I think "human flourishing" goes back McTaggert, whose protege Peter Geach and wife Elizabeth Anscombe incorporated, as had many others. It's really not important, since most every virtue theorist has adopted "human flourishing" for translating "eudaimonia."

Similarly "arete" is now translated "personal excellence," rather than the Victorian "virtue," which is Latin, and therefore an anachronism.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Don't hold back, Gay Species. What do you really think?

I am not unfamiliar with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. To equate the "pursuit of happiness" with "human flourishing" is just special pleading. Unless Jeffersos was a clairvoyant he could not be acquainted with a phrase and content that were only fabricated in the twentieth century. Fabricated is indeed the operative term.

I await proof that McTaggert introduced the phrase. Even if he did, the charge of anachronism still holds. I have shown, pretty conclusively, that "human flourishing" is not an adequate rendering of eunomia. As far as I can see, no one before the twentieth century thought so.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

PS For "eunomia" read "eudaimonia."

1:57 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...


Are you endorsing Quine's "indeterminacy of translation," or just being indeterminate? If the former, may I suggest Robert Kirk's Translation Determined or A. C. Grayling's An Introduction to Philosophical Logic ? It matters not the origin of where we find more accurate references and senses of "eudaimonia" (it sure wasn't from Maslow), and I don't care if it was McTaggert.

The current scholarship of GREEK into ENGLISH translation has determined "human flourishing" best captures the reference and sense of "eudaimonia." If you have better authorities, fine, cite them. But whether we use "the pursuit of happiness," "the complete life lived-well," or "thriving, surviving, and succeeding" the sense and reference ARE THE SAME. Only the USE differs. It's merely synonymy. Not changing goal posts.

And yes, I rarely "hold back." But I do know when to cry "uncle." Perhaps the best analogy for this Dutchman is . . . he gladly plugs leaks in the dyke, but when the dam gives way, he goes with the flow.

TGS ;-)

8:10 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Having earned my living as a translator for a number of years I am well acquainted with its problems. No translation, or set of translations, can supplant the original. This is the mistake that is made by those well meaning individuals who seek to determine the meaning of biblical texts by comparing various English translations. This will not do. The only proper procedure is to consult the texts in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

I have examined the Greek text of the Aristotle passages in question. As I explained in my analysis of the etymology and historical semantics of the Greek word eudaimonia, neither "happiness" nor "human flourishing" is adequate. This negative conclusion remains valid, whatever the fashion may be in the dwindling corps of analytic philosophers, very few of whom know Greek.

5:25 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Let me give an example of how misleading translations of Aristotle can be. A few weeks ago I was browsing through the Princeton [Oxford] edition of "The Complete Works of Aristotle," edited by Jonathan Barnes. This is the most highly regarded comrehnsive edition. Knowing that it had once been highly influential (as with Roget's Thesaurus, for example), I began reading a work entitled The Categories. I was immediately brought up short by the following assertion: "both a man an a picture are animals." How can a picture be an animal? Then I remembered that in Greek the word "zoon" has two senses: 1) living being or animal; and 2) painting or artistic representation (not necessarily of an animal). The word fuses two distinct meanings, but Aristotle seems blissfully unaware of the confusion this peculiarity of the Greek lexicon can sow. Moreover, the translator J. L. Ackrill, who is highly regarded, provides no footnote explaining the anomaly.

In this welter what is the Greekless reader to do? I would recommend consulting commentaries, especially those that have a linguistic emphasis. Beware of overconfident assertions by analytic philosophers, whose influence is steadily declining.

According to Amazon there are at least nine translations of the Nicomachean ethics that are currently available. Doubtless more are in the pipeline. Of the three translations I have (including the prestigious Princeton-Oxford one), all render eudaimonia as "happiness." It is by no means evident that translators have uniformly gone over to the neoteric "human flourishing." At all events, making a census of translations (which should of course include renderings into German, French and other modern languages) is useless. Only the Greek text is authoritative.

7:34 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Look at the date (1894) -- yes the 19th C. -- of the Complete Works of Aristotle "Nicomachean Ethics by Bywater from the Oxford Classical Texts (Oxford/Princeton).

In case you are unaware, the NEW REVISED OXFORD translation contained in Ackrill's Reader makes only minor changes, but his commentary (elsewhere) establishes the difficulty with "happiness."

The larger point, on which Aristotlean scholars concur, is that "eudaimonia" means approximately "the complete life lived well," which is consolidated into "human flourishing" for convenience. After all, any decent synonym reference lists "happiness, thriving, prosperity, and success" as synonyms for "flourishing." Often a translator takes the easiest, not the most faithful, choice -- as you well know.

Ackrill, Vlastos, Williams, Code, and virtually everyone else prefers "human flourishing" to "happiness" and in preference to the more accurate, ""the complete life lived well." Several newer translations incorporate it.

10:19 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...


I fundamentally agree with your comments in an email to me. We can only hope for the very best translation, but then scholarship has to elucidate the nuances. Here is a classic case in which a single word has no English equivalent. The closest arguably is, "the complete life lived well." Some translators prefer "well-being" others "thriving" and still others "flourishing."

Through my acquaintance with Geach, Anscombe, Code, Ackrill, and Williams, these scholars prefer "flourishing" to the alternatives. Given the choices, either "flourishing" or "the complete life lived well" does the original meaning justice. When Barnes and Urmson continued "happiness" in the Revised Oxford translation, they got an earful of protest. It's not that "happiness" is necessarily wrong, but it is not complete, and in a work about completeness, it triggered a deserved maelstrom.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

As I have previously noted, all of the modern translations--the "complete life well lived," blah, blah, blah--erase the fundamental nature of the daimon. It is a s u p e r n a t u r a l entity.

Go back to the Greek. That is the only answer.

12:11 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...


You do a great imitation of Sarah Palin. Are you next in Levi Johnson's book, or moving to Anchorage to get a life?

3:30 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

It's Johnston (with a t), Bud. Have a connection with Levi? Who wouldn't want that kind of human flourishing?

Also valuable in its own way is "human flushing"--dispatching third-rate limey philosophers down the great bung hole.

6:07 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...



"A blog that escapes these traps is the one that an energetic and intellectually gifted citizen of San Francisco maintains under the name of Gay Species. The rubric above his personal profile states his central theme: “human flourishing.”

This concept is seductive: after all, who of us does not wish to flourish? Consider the alternative!"

Well, you've considered the alternatives. Do you feel happiness, or frustration? Methinks the latter, not the former. But I leave THAT judgment to you.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

I generally feel contentment when I detect a piece of flaccid rhetoric and expose it for what it is. That is what responsible intellectuals are supposed to do. So it is with the nonsense about "human flourishing."

I am not sure that Maslow is the answer, but he is a great deal more coherent--and refutable--than the limey bilge about human flourishing. The latter fails, and fails big, to meet the Popperian standard of refutability. It amounts to so much hot air.

As I have shown, "human flourishing," to the extent that it has any content at all, can be used to justify all sort of greed and oppression of others.

Those who appreciate this rhetoric may be expected to cling to it. But it is essentially a feel-good product, a sort of comfort food with all the nutritive properties of untreated tofu--or shall I say untreated something else?

6:17 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

At another site, Gay Species remarks in part: " If human flourishing without gods is possible, as Aristotle insists [sic], then, of what need is the Christian kerygma of salvation by faith, as Aquinas insists? This "problem" is only a difficulty for Christianity if it accepts the Greek eudaimonia, because, accepted, the need for salvation is superfluous and obviated. . . . Indeed, the notion of human flourishing (eudaimonia) denies [sic !] God has any part in the way of life (ethos) that Aristotle's Ethics advocates; moreover, if humans can flourish through virtue (arete, also translated as "personal excellence") and avoidance of vice, then humans do not have need of "salvation.""

This bizarre interpretation of Aristotle, who spent a good deal of time arguing for the Unmoved Mover, is completely arbitrary--an instances of projection if there ever was one. Moreover, there is no evidence that Aristotle ever renounced Greek polytheism. These polytheistic views had room for many lesser spirits. And among these are our personal DAIMONES. That is what "eudaimonia" is all about. What is that eu (good) is being predicated of?

An atheist or agnostic Aristotle is not only an anachronism, but anachronism on stilts.

8:59 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Wait, a minute Wayne.

"This bizarre interpretation of Aristotle, who spent a good deal of time arguing for the Unmoved Mover."

I. False Claim

He does no such thing. He simply "asserts" the Unmoved Mover as the first animating principle of "substance in motion." The Unmoved Mover is NOT God. He does not "argue" for UM either; it is simply asserted (and is viciously circular and endlessly regressive, which is why he does not -- inceed could not -- argue for it.) It simply begs the question.

II. The UM Is NOT God.

The UM is simply the "first principle" that animates "substance" in motion (See, e.g., Mary Louise Gill, Aristotle on Substances: The Paradox of Unity Princeton, 1989).

III. The Anachronism

You are committing the anachronism, by superimposing Thomism onto Aristotle.

IV. The Metaphysics

If you understood ARISTOTLE'S essentialism, substance (undifferentiated matter) needs an "animating principle," in order to EXIST. The principle is the FORM, the matter is the SUBSTANCE.

The First Animating Principle is the "unmoved mover." Trying to make that principle into a deity is a "category mistake" -- to cite Ryle.

To understand this metaphysic, one must understand Aristotle's four be-causes, AS DISTINCT from that the UM. The FIRST ANIMATING PRINCIPLE or SOUL of MOTION is not to be confused with the four be-causes found in nature. That is Aquinas' confusion (or distortion) of Aristotle to justify his theological incorporation of the pagan Aristotle.

V. Analogy of Psyche to Nous

Just as the "psyche" is the animating force of substance that allows "nous." SAME PRINCIPLE with the UNMOVED MOVER.

When Alexander Pope writes, "to err is human, to forgive divine," he is not "arguing for the existence of god."

VI: Human Flourishing Divine-like

When Aristotle speaks of gods (that's plural by the way) -- as he does in the Ethics -- he has the entire panoply of Greek gods in mind. His evocation of the "gods" and the "divine" are of those attributes like "contemplation" and "reasoning," unlike the "slavish masses" that follow gut instinct. But even more important -- and pivotal to understanding his Ethics -- human flourishing is divine, because it is the closest to being able to be GLOBAL and ALL-ENCOMPASSING, and thus "divine-like."

VII. Conclusion

To put a Thomistic spin on Aristotle is a true anachronism. The Unmoved Mover (capped or not) is NOT GOD. It is the first animating principle of substance in motion. IF the UM were god, it would be viciously circular and rather useless as a deity, who "flicks his Bic and evaporates."

10:46 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Let's use Aristotle's own methodology here. Let's assume the truth of your hypothesis:

Hypothesis: The Unmoved Mover is God.

Okay, what have you claimed? Are these identities "equivalent" or are you using "god" in a special sense. At best, the Unmoved Mover is the Big Bang. That is all Aristotle claims. As he writes, "we could go on into infinity trying to establish the first principle of all motion." To arrest that "infinite regress," I, Aristotle, arrest it with the "Unmoved Mover," by begging the question.

What is the Unmoved Mover? The First Principle of the Form animating Substance in Motion.

Is that God? If so, Aristotle has a very Big Bang notion of god. Most theists and deists subscribe to something a little more substantive than "God = Big Bang."

Let's take the prism of theism:

Is the Unmoved Mover a "being?" No. Is the Unmoved Mover a "spirit" or "immanence?" No. Is the Unmoved Mover the "logos?" No. Incarnate? No.

Well, let's try theodicy:

Is the Unmoved Mover "omnipotent?" No. Is the Unmoved Mover "omnipresent?" No. Is the Unmoved Mover "omniscient?" No. Is the Unmoved Mover "omnibenevolent?" No.

Let's try religion:

Is the Unmoved Mover "revealed" by burning bushes? No. Hebrew-speaking jackasses? No. By prophets? No. By kings and queens? No. By Satanic evil? No.

Okay, I've used THREE different criteria by which to determine whether the Unmoved Mover resembles anything like a "deity." In all three cases, not one approach yields an affirmation. The only analogy we possess is that the Unmoved Mover is like the "Big Bang."

Do people pray to the Big Bang or Unmoved Mover? Offer sacrifices? Repent of their sins? Proselytize? Herald the Unmoved Mover's kingdom or realm of Unmoved Movement? Do people parade in streets, genuflect, bow in adoration, offer praise, worship? Maybe you know of people that do, but I don't.

By all the reasonable standards of "god" thinking, the Unmoved Mover is not "god." This method of heuristic and argumentation comes from Aristotle himself and is known as reductio ad absurdum. If a claim is ultimately absurd, it cannot be true.

Have I exhausted all the arguments? Perhaps not, but then I've listed enough to put the burden on the claimant, who claims the hypothesis, not on the one who denies it.

I think if we consult the source (Meta XII, 6, 7, 9 passim) we ultimately find the equivalent of "begging the question to prevent endless regress to infinity" or the "Big Bang." In fact, it is difficult to determine whether the Unmoved Mover is even a "entity." Indeed, writes Aristotle, "On such a PRINCIPLE, then, depend the heavens and the world of nature." (1072b14. If "principle" and "god" are synonymous, my Thesaurus cannot find it. Maybe deism of the Third Enlightenment Age can relate to a "principle without providence," but even I find that a stretch.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

There are many definitions of god, gods, and the divine. To say that Aristotle's Unmoved Mover in incompatible with any of them is simply an obiter on the part of Gay Species. Such a pronouncement is a bald assertion, not an argument. Equating it with the Big Bang so grotesque it takes my breath away.

Not addressed is the vital point that the daimon which animates our eudaimonia is in fact a spirit, something supernatural. There is no way of getting around this point, so inconvenient to the promoters of the pallid "human flourishing."

In this context Aquinas is simply a straw man. Unlike Gay Species I never quote Aquinas because I find that he resides, very firmly, atop the rubbish heap of human history.

Later I will present an essay on the evolution of Greek religion which will show that the anachronistic Aristotle GS presents here is truly a travesty. It has no historical justification.

5:06 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Your generous quote from Positive Liberty still does not excuse the fact that "instrumental goods" are incomplete, and only "the complete good" gives instrumental goods their AIM.

In my citation of Aquinas (which you butchered), my point was that "human flourishing" COULD NOT be the complete good, because Christianity requires a different END. For Aristotle, the complete END is "the complete life lived well," but for Aquinas, it is god or hell.

In order to "use" Aristotle, but then disfigure his Ethics, may be just the type of "means justify the ends," that both Aristotle and Aquinas decry.

BUT, if human flourishing IS the complete end, we won't go "off half-cocked" on why libertinism is liberty, why democracy is tyranny of the majority, why drug addiction is just as good as non-addiction, and why prostitution is not slavery.

The prism of human flourishing -- the COMPLETE GOOD through which ALL OTHER INSTRUMENTAL GOODS -- have their worth, has been the focus of liberalism since Hayek.

To miss the complete good, and replace it with an "instrumental good," just gets you Libertarianism, not Liberalism. It also gets Socialism, Marxism, Progressivism, Conservatism, and every other ideology in which ANOTHER good replaces the COMPLETE GOOD.

6:30 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

My comments end. I hope the dialectic is enlightening to others, but at some point, moving goal posts every other post only causes distraction.

Human Flourishing is well-established as the reference, sense, and current use for "eudaimonia." What the Unmoved Mover has to do with eudaimonia will be someone else's exercise in futility. It has NO place in Aristotle's Ethics, and not even Wayne can impose it by fiat. He'll just have to convince himself.

Rather than read us, read Aristotle (however difficult he appear). In whatever translation. And don't become a "mere plant" that refuses to reason.

6:58 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

I'm not hostile to etymology, but then no etymology makes sense if its "use does not determine meaning and reference."

E.g., "gay," means "Full of, disposed to, or indicating joy and mirth; light-hearted, carefree. Given to pleasure; freq. euphem., dissolute, immoral. Leading an immoral life; spec. engaging in prostitution. Good, excellent, fine. Now chiefly dial.Of a woman: beautiful, charming, debonair. Showy, brilliant, brightly coloured. Also, brightly decorated with. Finely or showily dressed. Now rare. Superficially attractive; (of reasoning etc.) specious, plausible." Who uses "gay" in this way today?

Only in the 1950s, did "gay" come to mean androphile, gynophile, or homophile. A synonym for "queer," "faggot," and finally "men who are erotically aroused by other men" birthed the USE that Ludwig Wittgenstein insisted is that use determines meaning.

No one quarrels with his observation. Save Wayne.

The 17th Sunday after Trinity Collect reads:

"Lord, we pray thee that they grace may always prevent and follow us . . . "Book of Common Pryaer, 1549-1929. The problem with this Collect is that "prevent" comes from the root "prevene" or to go before, not to "stop, interrupt, or prevent." The etymology aside, the Church changed the words in 1979 to:

"Lord we pray thy grace may always precede and follow us . . ." Why? Because the USE had changed the meaning, and the only way to correct the misuse was to change the use.

Let's see what Wayne wants to retain? "Prevent us god, but go before us, as the Unmoved Mover, the principle of Aristotle, as we ask this in your philosopher's name, Aristotle, through whom, in whom, and from whom all goodness flows?"

10:24 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Endlessly, we learn from Gay Species that Aristotle was not a Christian! Gee, Sherlock, when did you get the first clue? The world needs to hear more of this extraordinary finding.

GS’s arguments exhibit the fallacy of false extremes. Aristotle was not a Christian on the model of Thomas Aquinas (who of course pilfered from the Greek thinker), therefore he must have been a secular humanist. (!) There are, of course many intermediate stages between Trinitarian Christian and secular humanist. Aristotle belongs to neither camp.

Enough general statements, however necessary in the face of invincible ignorance. Aristotle’s own texts refute the mistaken notion that he was a nontheist. He wrote of both hoi theoi, the gods, and ho theos, god. Here are examples of both:

1) “But that complete happiness (eudaimonia) is a contemplative activity will appear from the following consideration as well. We assume the gods (hoi theoi) to be above all other beings blessed and happy; but what sort of actions must we assign to them? Acts of justice? Will not the gods seem absurd if they make contracts and return contracts? . . .” And so forth.
Just to explicate the obvious, Aristotle does not say that belief in the gods is absurd, but only that the ascription of certain qualities to these beings is in error. The reality of the gods is taken for granted. Otherwise why should one take the trouble to discuss their powers and qualities? Note that this discussion appears in the Nicomachean Ethics (X, 8), the very book that Gay Species insists is free of the taint of theism.

2) “If then, the good state which god (ho theos) always enjoys is as great as that which we enjoy sometimes, it is marvelous. . . . Moreover, life belongs to god. For the actuality of god is life (zoe), and god is that actuality; and the essential actuality of god is life most good and eternal (aidios). We hold, then that god is a l i v i n g b e i n g [emphasis added], eternal and most good; and therefore life and a continuous eternal existence belong to god; for that is what god is. (Metaphysics. XII, 7). That makes eight references to god, eight, in a very short passage.

In both the ancient and modern senses of the term, Aristotle was a theologian, one who grappled seriously with the nature of divinity.

It is clear that these opinions are neither feigned nor ironic. They are part of larger arguments, which are in turn connected with speculations by Socrates, Plato, and the Presocratics on the nature of the divine. While modern secularists like Gay Species may admire Aristotle and profit from the study of his works, he was not one of them. The effort to kidnap the Greek thinker for this purpose must be firmly repulsed.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

We commonly think of polytheism and monotheism as opposed and indeed incompatible. How could Aristotle (seemingly) entertain both the ideas of gods (plural) and god (singular)? The easy way out is to say that he thought different things at different times.

I think, though, that the answer is different. Grammatically, the Unmoved Mover (equivalent to god in the passage from the Metaphysics) seems to be singular. However, through a complex cosmological calculation, the philosopher explains that there may be as many as 55 Unmoved Movers. Thus the singular becomes plural.

However, this is not the end of the matter. Aristotle goes on to say that one must respect the venerable concept of the plurality of gods (that is, polytheism in the traditional sense). It is only necessary to divest these of the anthropomorphic trappings that have been added to them by the demotic imagination--and possible for socially rewarding purposes. When one strips away the inessential, though, the gods remain as real beings.

These reflections suggest a solution in which there is a supreme god (or supreme cluster of gods), ruling over a great many subordinate deities and spirits, among them certainly the daimones who assure personal happiness and luck.

Something similar can be found in the Upanishads even before Aristotle. That is to say, a sense of the transcendent God is harmonized with the familiar deities of the Hindu pantheon. Aristotle was unfamiliar with the Upanishads. With his reverence for tradition, I feel certain that he would not reject this thinking out of hand.

There is more to god-talk than Christianity, much more.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

The similarities between Aristotle and the Upanishads suggest that both rest upon an archaic Indo-European substratum. And indeed ancient Greek and Sanskrit are both I-E languages (Sanskrit being the older), exhibiting major grammatical similarities, such as the fundamental opposition between nominalization and predication (as indicated by the suffixes appropriate to inflected tongues). I suspect that there may be something more--along the lines detected a good many years ago by Emile Benveniste and recently refreshed by M. L. West in his brilliant exposition "Indo-European Poetry and Myth" (Oxford, 2007).

10:27 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Eudaimonia (the Good for Man) -- Bibliography

J. L. Ackrill, Aristotle's Ethics. London, 1973.

------, "Aristotle on Eudaimonia," in Rorty, op. cit.

W.F.R. Hardie, "The Final Good in Aristotle's Ethics," Philosophy 1965.

------, Aristotle's Ethical Theory, Second Edition, Oxford,1980

Antony Kenny, "Aristotle on Happiness," Articles on Aristotle 2 ed. Barnes, Schofield, and Sorabji, 1975-9 (Vols. 1-4)

Thomas Nagel, "Aristotle on Eudaimonia," in A. O. Rorty, Essays on Aristotle Ethics.

D. Keyt, "Intellectualism in Aristotle, Paideia, 1078

T. H. Irwin, "The Metaphysical and Psychological Basis of Aristotle's Ethics, " in Rorty, op. cit.

-------, Aristotle's Ethical Theory. Second Ediition. Oxford, 1968,80.

Richard Kraut, "Two Conceptions of Happiness, Philosophical Review, 1979

-------, Aristotle on the Human Good, Princeton, 1989.

W. F. R. Hardies, "Aristotle on the Best Life for a Man," in Philosophy, 1979.

K. V. Wilkes, "The Good Man and the Good for Man in Aristotle's Ethics," in Rorty, op. cit.

John H. McDowell, "The Role of Eudaimonia in Aristotle's Ethics," in Rorty, op. cit.

D. T. Deverux, "Goodness and Human Aims in Aristotle's Ethics," in O'Meara, Studies in Aristotle, D.C., 1981.

M. V. Wedin, "Aristotle on the Good for Man," Mind, 1981.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

The above bibliography simply documents the current Anglophone conventional wisdom on the subject. I submit that that conventional wisdom is wrong.

I take it that my demonstration of Aristotle's fundamental theism is now uncontested.

7:14 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

No. It is thoroughly contested. I think you are confusing Unmoved Mover for the "gods," and the use of "godly" and "divine" as if these were "arguments."

If Aristotle was a theist, he sure did not tell us what god or gods, what he believed about them, or what he did to propitiate them. I am not going to continue repeating myself, so I won't argue with you. But Aristotle was not a theist or deist or overtly religious, that we know. I suspect if he was a religionist, it was of the Greek pantheon of deities.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

As I demonstrated, Aristotle used the word theos repeatedly, in both the singular and the plural. Since he was not being ironic or flippant, this usage qualifies him as a theist. In the NE he comments on the traditional gods of the Greek pantheon, saying that they had been burdened with accretions. Something--some beings--are the ones who bear this burden.

Please, give us no more fables distorting Aristotle.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

By the way, your caption "The Good for Man" is sexist. Is it not good for women as well?

12:59 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

Now you are being silly. "Man" used here by ME -- first letter capitalize -- is understood to be "human." Are you using Elizabethean English as your "Modern Usage Guide?" or the MLA?

1:20 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Today most careful speakers and writers (myself among them) avoid the generic use of "man." It is so easy to substitute "human" or "human beings." Even GS does so in his chosen mantra of "human flourishing." He could write "man's flourishing." Why not, if the generic use of "man" is A-OK?

This example illustrates yet another way in which the meaning of words is recentered. It is not through "use"; that came after. The change is due, if you will, to a pressure group, feminist thinkers.

Today, we see many examples of such directives, some valid, some not. We are told that we must no longer refer to the Amerindian shamans as "berdache." The preferred term now is "two spirit." This change (not as yet universally observed) did not come about as a result of organic changes in the pragmatic world of "use." It stemmed from a source outside the precincts of the use dogma. A small group of gay anthropologists got together and decided that "berdache" was eurocentric and therefore not PC.

Once again the meaning of words changes, narrows, and broadens, in response to many factors. These crucial factors need to be identified and weighed, rather than resorting to the simplisric ploy of the monocausal fetish of "use."

6:38 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

No, YOU are chiding my USE. You may not get "it," but you write as if you do.

Ultimately, USE determines MEANING, not what a dictionary (or translator) claims. That was one of LW's signal notions. He may have carried to extremes -- or more likely, his devotees -- but USE does determine meaning, and YOU just confirmed it, whether you intended it or not.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Once again, this contribution misses the point. We all "use" language. Otherwise it would have no purpose.

The issue at hand is how is MEANING established? As I have repeatedly indicated, the monolithic concentration on the use-criterion, typical of the minor philosophers who adore Wittgenstein, is a logical mistake, confusing a part for the whole. These use/meaning advocates are slavish devotees of Wittgenstein, but not unfortunately not slavish enough. It seems that they cannot read. So much for their self-serving claims to "precision."

In any event this myopic approach traduces what Wittgenstein actually wrote. The acolytes have simply screwed up, big time.

7:16 AM  

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