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Confronting Aristotle’s Ethics

Ancient and Modern Morality

What is the good life? Posing this question today would likely elicit very different answers. Some might say that the good life means doing good—improving one’s community and the lives of others. Others might respond that it means doing well—cultivating one’s own abilities in a meaningful way. But for Aristotle these two distinct ideas—doing good and doing well—were one and the same and could be realized in a single life. In Confronting Aristotle’s Ethics, Eugene Garver examines how we can draw this conclusion from Aristotle’s works, while also studying how this conception of the good life relates to contemporary ideas of morality.

The key to Aristotle’s views on ethics, argues Garver, lies in the Metaphysics or, more specifically, in his thoughts on activities, actions, and capacities. For Aristotle, Garver shows, it is only possible to be truly active when acting for the common good, and it is only possible to be truly happy when active to the extent of one’s own powers. But does this mean we should aspire to Aristotle’s impossibly demanding vision of the good life? In a word, no. Garver stresses the enormous gap between life in Aristotle’s time and ours. As a result, this bookwill be a welcome rumination on not only Aristotle, but the relationship between the individual and society in everyday life.

328 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Ancient Studies

Philosophy: Ethics, History and Classic Works


“This is a smart, inventive, highly original, and important contribution to our understanding of Aristotle. Eugene Garver has a clear and unified vision of Aristotle’s project in ethics and, in particular, of the importance of Aristotelian politics and metaphysics in this understanding. His is an entirely new and refreshing approach, one that challenges many of the mainstream accounts of Aristotle. Overall, a healthy corrective to the appropriation and co-option of Aristotle by common sense and ordinary language philosophy that began towards the middle of last century.”--Charles Young, Claremont Graduate School

Charles Young

Confronting Aristotle’s Ethics is a wonderfully rigorous, systematic study of Aristotle’s ethics, focusing on the difficult relations among dynameis, kineseis, and energeiai. These illuminate the relations between an activity’s external goals/ends (defending the city) and internal goals/ends (acting courageously for the sake of courage and virtue), and go some considerable way to showing that Aristotle’s ethics are political, making sense only in good polities, and also metaphysical, and that the metaphysical, in turn, must be understood in terms of the ethical. Garver powerfully shows what is attractive and what is repellant in Aristotle. A genuine tour de force—one of the most instructive and confronting works on Aristotle that we have.”--Michael Stocker, Syracuse University

Michael Stocker

“Throughout Garver offers fresh perspectives that illuminate Aristotle’s ethics and its application to contemporary life. Even where one might disagree with him, one will benefit from grappling with his ideas. Well worth reading.”--Norman Dahl, University of Minnesota

Norman Dahl

"Garver’s interpretation is original and provocative of a re-examination of Aristotle’s system and its significance for contemporary ethical questions."

Mary Veronica Sabelli | Review of Metaphysics

Confronting Aristotle’s Ethics is an extremely thoughtful and mature account of Aristotle’s ethics that challenges the reader and opens up new ways of thinking about Aristotle. . . . Garver’s main contribution is to deal with questions that are of paramount importance and to try to understand these questions—about doing good and being good—from a comprehensive perspective.”

Review of Politics

“I highly recommend Garver’s book to anyone who wishes to engage in serious inquiry about the facts of antiquity and the condition of modernity. . . . Garver offers an inventive (and sure to be controversial) interpretation of Aristotle’s claim that the theoretical life (bios theôrêtikos) is more active than the life of action (bios politikos).”

Philosophy and Rhetoric

Confronting Aristotle’s Ethics takes a fresh look at Aristotle’s ethics. . . . Garver’s work is well worth the time needed to digest it. . . . He goes a long way to showing how Aristotle’s ethics should be understood and why it bears careful study.”

International Philosophical Quarterly

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations of Aristotle’s Works

Chapter 1
What Aristotle’s Rhetoric Can Tell Us about the Rationality of Virtue

Chapter 2
Decision, Rational Powers, and Irrational Powers

Chapter 3
The Varieties of Moral Failure

Chapter 4
Passion and the Two Sides of Virtue

Chapter 5
Aristotle’s Ethical Virtues Are Political Virtues

Chapter 6
The Ethical Dimensions of Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Chapter 7
Living Politically and Living Rationally: Choosing Ends and Choosing Lives

Name Index
Index of Passages in Aristotle’s Works

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