. 5
( 12)


work of living, receives an initiation from the outside and learns to own
it. One always ¬nds oneself in the midst of established cultural contexts
and lines of transmission, always late with regard to one™s “background,”
as we call it. Whatever the guise, the source of formation is there prior
to one™s arrival on the scene. There will always already have been a set
of activities to be acquired, re-enacted, and even transformed. One will
not have started from nothing. And yet, if this is the case, we should
notice the following. Referring an activity back to a prior activity ends
up effecting a transposition of the whole issue from the order of singu-
lar human beings to the order of humankind as such. Moreover, such
a trajectory back to the previous cause is no mere logical pursuit, but
entails an ineliminable chronological dimension. For, if what is passed
on from generation to generation is a practical patrimony, which can be
received through time and exercise alone, the issue of beginning cannot
be easily disengaged from its temporal and historical dimensions. The
question concerning the beginning remains irreducibly genealogical in
character. However, what is relevant in this connection is that, in tracing
an actuality back to its antecedent, and so forth, we follow a backward
trajectory without coming to stop. We end up wondering about the com-
ing to be of humankind™s originary activities “ of those ¬rst habits that
would have inaugurated humankind as such, constituted the beginning
of humankind™s education out of its capacity, by nature, for learning and
teaching. However, we ¬nd no answer in which to rest.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

In this shift from the individual child or apprentice to humankind as a
whole, the developmental logic that underlies the phenomenology of the
virtues poses the problem of in¬nite regress. Indeed, the in¬nite regress
of the source of instruction is implicit here, for the analogy between
humankind and a singular human being is interrupted by the severe
dif¬culty involved in envisioning the former™s infancy and childhood,
let alone its parents or teachers. Indeed, whence would humankind as
such have ¬rst learned and developed the various forms of habituation
and manners of logos? Who or what actuality would have led and guided
humankind into its growth? No de¬nite beginning is posited here or even
sought after “ unless we think of the good as ¬nal end, and, hence, as
beginning, but this can as such hardly be that which bestows cultural for-
mations. Thus, the regress is possibly disclosed as even more vertiginous,
for, ¬nding no inaugural mark decisively setting humankind aside from
other manners of animality, it may, in its pursuit of the habit before a
given habit, continue well into the domain of those animals proximate to
the human animal, which, even though to a lesser degree, live “by habit”
(Politics 1332b4“6).
Thus, referring back to earlier and earlier moments along the line(s)
of transmission, we broach the question of the arkh¯, the question of a
¬rst actualization of the natural potentiality for growth, education, trans-
formation “ of a ¬rst attempt to articulate an aspect of being not pre-
scribed by nature, to respond to a void or lack of determination on part
of nature. Not only do we not ¬nd a relevant reply to such a question,
but the formulation of the question is itself arduous, awkward. We are
left with a reference to the next cause, in an asymptotic approximation
to the beginning.
What can be said with a degree of con¬dence is that, in Aristotle, there
is no coming to be of any kind of actuality or activity, let alone knowledge,
ex nihilo. Rather, these appear as acquired, whether wholly or mostly,
from previous actualities, in a process of transmission that is not equiva-
lent to the simple, linear conveying and receiving of what is there. Aris-
totle at crucial junctures evidences that the actuality of comportments,
including the exercises of knowledge, in fact, the reception and cultiva-
tion of logos tout court, must be seen as a genuinely historico-genealogical
phenomenon. The following statement from Metaphysics Alpha Elatton
deserves to be recalled for its paradigmatic character:

It is just to be grateful not only to those with whose opinions we might agree,
but also to those who have expressed rather super¬cial opinions; for the latter,
too, have contributed something, namely, they have handed down for us the
On the Soul 121

habit [™xin] [of thinking]. If there had been no Timotheus, we would not have
much lyric poetry; and if there had been no Phrynis, there would have been no
Timotheus. The same may be said of those who spoke about the truth; for some of
them handed down to us certain opinions [d»xav], but there were others before
who caused [a­tioi] them to be what they were. (993b11“19)16

As is clear in the development of the ¯thos of knowledge and inquiry,
but also in the formation of customs and beliefs broadly speaking, the
acquisition of actualities amounts to taking up the past, to inheriting, in
a gesture that is essentially a matter of interpretation and critical con-
sciousness. Indeed, hermeneutical sophistication appears to be a crucial
requisite in communication at large and, most particularly, in the com-
munication across time thanks to which we commune with our “fore-
fathers” and receive their “opinion” (Metaphysics 1074b1“14). In such
an interpretive reception, knowledge is both transmitted and changed,
inaugurated and found “ made, not from nothing, but from previous
teachings. Now, previous knowledge is the problem with which the Pos-
terior Analytics begins (71a1“11). It is precisely the question concerning
whence, ultimately, knowledge proceeds, which opens the treatise. Yet, as
we saw, endless regress is ruled out there because of the compelling char-
acter of the things themselves. The fundamental intuitive apprehension
of what is grounds discursive or syllogistic knowledge and, more broadly,
the practices of teaching and learning. However, in the present course

16 Al-Farabi will have proven especially receptive to this strand of Aristotle™s thinking. In
“The Attainment of Happiness” he formulates a similar awareness of the intertwined
themes of transmission, communal sharing, the genealogy of practical as well as rational
formations, of communities as well as communities of inquiry. In a powerfully synthetic
gesture, he situates such issues in the context of the innately political character of human
beings, of the primordiality and necessity of political bonds, and, in the ¬nal analysis, of
friendship: “each man achieves only a portion of that perfection [he should achieve],
and what he achieves of this portion varies in its extent, for an isolated individual cannot
achieve all the perfections by himself and without the aid of many other individuals. It
is the innate disposition of every man to join another human being or other men in
the labor he ought to perform: this is the condition of every single man. Therefore, to
achieve what he can of that perfection, every man needs to stay in the neighborhood of
others and associate with them. It is also the innate nature of this animal to seek shelter
and to dwell in the neighborhood of those who belong to the same species, which is why
he is called the social and political animal.” In considering this remarkable statement,
it is worth recalling that al-Farabi had no access to Aristotle™s Politics. We should also
consider the note immediately following the passage quoted, in which al-Farabi hints at
the priority of political science, at political science as the achievement crowning human
inquiry: “There emerges now another science and another inquiry that investigates these
intellectual principles and the acts and states of character with which man labors toward
this perfection. From this, in turn, emerge the science of man and political science”
(Alfarabi™s Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, 23).
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

of investigation we are inquiring not about the foundation of discursive
and scienti¬c procedures, but rather about these procedures themselves,
along with the other habits. In other words, we are inquiring about the
very fact of inquiring, teaching, and learning, about the originary habits
of teaching and learning necessary to turn the potentiality for teaching
and learning into an actual praxis. Most comprehensively, the inquiry con-
cerns the habit or practice of transmitting habits, that is, ways of doing
things, of living, of learning, teaching, transmitting. In¬nite regress seems
inevitable in this regard.

3.2.3. Seeing the End
The end moving human beings, that for the sake of which they do what
they do and live the way they live, is a hypothesis “ a hypothesis formu-
lated thanks to the actuality of virtue, whose origin, in turn, remains
elusive because of the phenomenon of in¬nite regress considered above.
Indeed, it is the virtues that determine the end, which bring it into view
and ¬x themselves on it. Virtue, which is a condition or quality of soul
both enabling action and brought about through action, makes the end
perspicuous, recognizes the end as principle and orientation. Or, if any
habit assumes an end, it could be said that virtue, qua excellent habit, is
that thanks to which the end in view either coincides with the good or is
“right,” orthon, aligned with the good.
During the discussion of deliberation, bouleusis, in the Eudemian Ethics,
Aristotle observes that, “since one who deliberates always deliberates for
the sake of something, and someone deliberating always has some aim in
view [skop»v] in relation to which he contemplates [skope±] what is con-
ducive, nobody deliberates about the end, but this is a beginning [ˆrcŸ]
and hypothesis [Ëp»qesiv], like the hypotheses in the theoretical sciences”
(1227a6“10). The end, then, cannot be determined through reasoning
and logistical considerations. Rather, it must be assumed hypothetically,
posited as a postulate, and thereby accepted as a beginning. Reasoning
takes place for the sake of it and thanks to it. The assumption of the
end is made according to the psychological structures in place, to the

Does virtue bring forth [poie±] the aim in view or that which promotes the aim
in view? Our position is that it brings forth the aim in view, because this is not a
matter of syllogism or logos, but in fact this must be laid under as a beginning. For
a doctor does not contemplate whether his patient ought to be healthy or not,
but whether he ought to take walks or not, and the gymnastic trainer does not
consider whether his pupil ought to be in good condition or not, but whether
On the Soul 123

he ought to wrestle or not. Similarly no other [discipline] [deliberates] about its
end. For, as in the theoretical [sciences] the hypotheses are beginnings, so in the
productive [sciences] the end is beginning and hypothesis; since so and so ought
to be healthy, if that is to be so it is necessary for such and such [a thing] to be
provided, just as [in mathematics], if the angles of a triangle are [equal to] two
right angles, such and such [a consequence] is of necessity. Therefore the end is
the beginning of thought [nožsewv ˆrcŸ], the completion [teleutž] of thought
is the beginning of action. (1227b23“34)

The end, whether the proximate end of a particular action or the most
complete end, which is happiness or the good, is not the object of scien-
ti¬c examination. The vision of the end occurs thanks to the “acquired
structures” of the soul. Thus brought forth, the end underlies the pro-
cesses of reasoning whereby one determines what might lead to that end,
what might sustain and encourage it. Analogously to the procedure of the
sciences in the strict sense, the articulation of logos rests on that which
exceeds it, which is otherwise than demonstratively accepted as princi-
ple. So much so that, despite Aristotle™s concluding remark on the end as
arkh¯ of thought and on the ful¬llment of thought as the arkh¯ of action,
e e
it could be said that thought, no¯sis, and action, praxis, emerge from this
line of thinking in their interdependence. In other words, thought and
action appear not to be related according to the former™s priority and
the latter™s derivative character, but rather to be mutually determining.
For, while deliberation determines the course of action appropriate to
the end, action is implicated in the formation of the virtues that, in turn,
identify the end and make it visible. And it is the end that provides the
non-deliberated ground of deliberation. That is also why, as Aristotle var-
iously points out in Book Alpha of Nicomachean Ethics, one should be
virtuous to begin with, in order most pro¬tably to engage in the study
of ethics. For the excellent conformation of the soul would allow one
to frame issues in a most conducive way “ to understand and at once to
embody a certain orientation to the good. On such a terrain the logos of
ethics would thrive.
Again, the interdependence of praxis and no¯sis points to the peculiar
character of ethics or politics as a productive discourse. For ethics under-
takes to bring forth that which it is in the course of investigating. In this
perspective must be understood its peculiar teleology.

3.2.4. More Remarks on the Virtues
Two more words on the virtues are in order. In the ¬rst place, it seems
worth noticing that in these discussions a great deal of emphasis is placed
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

on teaching and training as radically formative, indeed, transformative
practices. In this respect, Aristotle is luminously representing a long tra-
dition tending to attribute to the human being a nearly unlimited plas-
ticity, thus following the saying ascribed to Periander, according to which
“through practice all can be obtained.” One discerns here what one would
be tempted to call a felicitous na¨vet´ of Greek ancestry, minimizing the
physiognomic or unconscious datum to the advantage of pedagogy, of
practice in its forming and molding power “ to the advantage of edu-
cation in its nearly in¬nite creative power, which supposes the body as
indifferently versatile. Only a culture so ready to acknowledge the adapt-
ability of the human being, to understand the soul as almost nothing
aside from its cultivation, could develop such a re¬ned, articulate body
of re¬‚ection on upbringing, paideia. Only the disquieting experience of
vulnerability, of pliability vis-` -vis the surrounding conditions, could have
demanded such a concerned attention to the construction and stabiliza-
tion of conducive psycho-physiological traits.
And yet, this posture reveals a sort of blind spot, for it leads to the
assumption of the unconscious not only as shared, common, but, per-
haps too quickly, as neutrally malleable. So much so that in this tradi-
tion, at least at this stage of its development, we ¬nd that the enormous
emphasis on education or training is hardly counterbalanced by a compa-
rable analysis of psycho-physical conditions. To be sure, the Aristotelian
analysis, in Probl¯mata, of the psycho-physiology of melancholy in supe-
rior human beings constitutes an exemplary attempt in this direction.
However, we remain under the impression that a full-¬‚edged study of the
physiological or even physiognomic basis of cultivation is lacking, and the
same can be said for psychological contents, such as emotions, desires,
or, broadly speaking, the passions. Again, this appears to be all the more
remarkable precisely because Aristotle himself underlines the role and
power of the desirous element in all matters human, and especially in
the phenomenon of incontinence, as we shall see. In this connection,
the overpowering force of the desires is acknowledged and examined in
its structural function, yet is not phenomenologically analyzed. Aristo-
tle diagnoses desire™s capacity to make one blind and reason inactive “
as though reason would retreat into latency, become disconnected from
the body of desires, and therefore from the origin of action, from life
itself. As we shall have the occasion to see when considering this later
discussion, because of the vehemence of the passions, the human being
is in a condition analogous to sleep or drunkenness. These states consti-
tute a sort of black out, mark the intermittence of reason, that is to say, a
On the Soul 125

lack, a negativity. But this is not quite enough. It would be necessary to go
beyond, to delineate an in-depth study of the positive phenomenon, of
the fact of overwhelming desires in their constitution, peculiarities, and
unfolding. We shall return to this.
One ¬nal word must be devoted to the ethical virtues as the middle
between extremes. Excellence aims at the mean in the sense of a perfect
equilibrium in carrying out one™s work:

If, then, this is the manner in which every science accomplishes its task well,
namely, by keeping an eye [bl”pousa] on the mean [t¼ m”son] and working toward
it (whence arises the usual remark concerning excellent works, that nothing can
be subtracted from or added to them, since both excess and de¬ciency destroy
the excellence in them, while the mean preserves it), and if, as we say, it is with
an eye on this that good artists do their work, and if virtue, like nature, is more
precise and better than any art, then virtue would be aiming [stocastikž] at
the mean. I am speaking here of ethical virtue, for it is this which is concerned
with feelings [p†qh] and actions, in which there is excess, and de¬ciency, and the
mean. (1106b8“17)

Human beings aim at making themselves into excellent works. This means
that, in their work of living, they aim at encountering each circumstance
and unfolding themselves into each context in a way that is excellent
each time, perfect in the sense of balanced, measured, both practically
and emotionally. It should be underlined that the middle is neither some
neutral point in between, nor some calculable intermediate in a geomet-
rical space, nor a mathematical average, let alone a going only halfway.
For, “when related to us, it neither exceeds nor falls short, and this is
neither one nor the same for everyone” (1106a32). Again, the mean one
pursues is “not the mean with respect to the thing itself [pr†gmatov]
but the one related to us” (1106b7). The middle is what is right, or just,
at a given time and place, in that particular circumstance and in that

For example, we may have the feelings of fear, courage, desire, anger, pity, and
any pleasure or pain in general either more or less than we should, and in both
cases this is not well; but to have these feelings at the right times and for the right
things and toward the right [human beings] and for the right purpose and in the
right manner, this is the mean and the best, and it is precisely this which belongs
to virtue. In actions, too, there is excess, de¬ciency, and the mean in a similar
manner. Now a virtue is concerned with feelings and actions, in which excess and
de¬ciency are errors and are blamed, while the mean is a success [succeeds in
being right] [katorqo“tai] and is praised; and both success and praise belong to
virtue. (1106b18“26)
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

The middle, thus, indicates what is harmonious, attuned, open “ a quality
of wakefulness, of insight into the situation. It is a qualitative shift, an
altogether different way of being and relating: at any given moment, it is
the one and only way: being there fully, ready to embrace that condition
without reservations; ready to be that condition, to af¬rm it, as if for
all time, for it completely is what it is, lacks nothing, is perfect. This is
so even though circumstances are ever changing and the equilibrium
ephemeral, even though perfection is never attained once for all and
one™s experience re¬‚ects such an ongoing dynamism. Thus, the middle
bespeaks neither grabbing hold of whatever may be the case nor letting
it slip away, but, rather, holding the present circumstance in care and
attention. In the wake of these re¬‚ections, Aristotle begins to formulate
a de¬nition of the ethical virtues:

Virtue, then, is a kind of mean [mes»thv], at least having the mean [m”sou] as its
aim [stocastikž]. Also someone may make an error in many ways (for evil, as
the Pythagoreans conjectured, belongs to the in¬nite, while goodness belongs to
the ¬nite), but he may succeed in one way only; and in view of this, one of them
is easy but the other hard. It is easy to miss the mark [skopo“] but hard to hit it.
So it is because of these, too, that excess and de¬ciency belong to vice, but then
mean [mes»thv] to virtue. For human beings are good [–sqloª] in one way, bad in
many. (1106b27“35)

Of course, the one way of succeeding, that is, of being right, “hitting the
mark,” must be understood in light of in¬nity, as the unity and uniqueness
of the perfection pertaining to each of the in¬nitely many arrangements
of place and time. Because this concerns comportment as well as the qual-
ity of emotional contents, virtue names being disposed to both effective
action and equanimity. A comprehensive understanding of virtue may
now be gathered:

Virtue, then, is a habit of deliberate choice [proairetikž], being at the mean
relative to us, and de¬ned by logos and as a prudent human being would de¬ne it.
It is a mean between two vices, one by excess and the other by de¬ciency; and while
some of the vices exceed while the others are de¬cient in what is right in feelings
and actions, virtue ¬nds and chooses [a¬re±sqai] the mean. Thus, according to
its substance or the logos stating its essence [t¼ t© §n e²nai], virtue is a mean, but
with respect to the best [t¼ Šriston] and to excellence [t¼ e”], it is an extreme.

We shall consider shortly the issues of deliberate choice and of logos that
are mentioned here as decisive in the coming to be of ethical virtue. Here
let us simply add that, as Aristotle will point out much later on in Book
Iota, the life of a human being who is thus determined by excellence
On the Soul 127

is “good” and “delightful,” and such a human being “wishes himself to
live and be saved.” Echoing the Platonic statement regarding the soul
that is harmonized in all its components, characteristic of one who has
become “one™s own friend” (Republic 443c“e), Aristotle adds that such an
individual “wishes to live together with himself, for he does so with plea-
sure” (1166a18“26). Such is the condition of the human being who ¬nds
the measure in the environing circumstance “ who senses the measure
surfacing in him- or herself.

3.3. Excellences of Logos
3.3.1. The “Power” of Logos
The excellences pertaining to the “thinking part” of the soul will be con-
sidered in Book Zeta. Only a few preparatory remarks are in order at
this point, connecting issues raised above to the later discussion. As we
have seen, the virtues of character, ¯thos, pertain to the part of the soul
that has reason in the sense that it does or may listen to it. The virtues of
the intellect or of thinking, dianoia, pertain to the part of the soul that
has reason in the sense that it itself properly thinks and is the “seat” of
logos. Regarding the intellectual virtues, we also saw that they “mostly”
“come to be” and “grow” “from teaching” and, hence, require “experi-
ence and time” (1103a15“17). We shall come back to this quali¬cation,
“mostly” or “for the most part,” to pleion. Here let us simply recall that,
to the extent that the intellectual virtues originate from teaching, they
are a matter of praxis no less than the ethical virtues. Actualizing oneself,
whether according to logos, that is, under its guidance, or in terms of
the development of logos itself, takes time and consistent exercise, that is,
habitual practice. Again, let us think of the inheritance of the “habit of
thinking” from our predecessors, in the genealogical considerations put
forth at the beginning of Metaphysics Alpha Elatton (993b11“14). The
trait of humanness emerges as essentially grown, cultivated, cultural: as
the process of maturation leading to the ful¬llment that could be called
adulthood, as the adulthood not simply reached in virtue of time alone
but rather requiring practical supplementation.
Logos, then, in its various aspects or excellences, comes to be in certain
living beings, mostly through their altogether temporal and embodied
practices. In a certain sense, logos is a possession of a body, a having, ekhein,
of an animal “ a having that, as it were, comes to be had. To the extent
that it comes to be in virtue of teaching, and is not immediately activated
in its fullness, what was previously observed concerning the virtues of
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

character can be restated concerning logos and the virtues articulating it:
logos is not, or not simply, by nature and constitutes a potential or power in
a very peculiar sense. In the case of the powers of sensation, for instance,
nature disposes their activation without preparatory training. In the case
of logos, the fact that it can be acquired and developed, that is, the fact
that it is potential, is given by nature; however, what or how it may be is
not determined by nature. Nature hosts it, as it were, without regulating
or legislating about it. Logos is a strange gift, harbored within nature, in
accord with nature, yet not thereby ruled “ not, at least, in any humanly
discernible way. It is given in its indeterminacy, given as an assignment,
given to human beings in order to receive determination. Nature provides
no further points of reference for human beings to develop it one way or
another. In this regard, it seems to love to hide.
For ta phusei onta, the beings by nature and of nature, to realize them-
selves means to realize their nature, the potential inscribed within them,
to become themselves. In each case, a being by nature develops toward
its own to ti ¯n einai, “what it was to be,” thus ful¬lling it. Yet for human
beings this is not simply the case. Inexorably becoming what each was to
be, human beings simultaneously enjoy what can be called a certain free-
dom. The possibility of logos bespeaks at once the multiplicity of possible
actualizations or enactments of logos, its coming to be “in many ways.” For
logos is a strange endowment, a “having” that entails a lack of clarity con-
cerning who, what, and how a human being is to be and, subsequently, a
lack of automatism concerning what and how a human being is to do. In
a way, we could say, we have a nature. Yet it does not simply, not fully deter-
mine us and decide for us “ at least, not in a way that is intelligible to us. It
is our nature not to be in an unquali¬ed way resolved by nature. It is our
nature to enjoy (or undergo) a margin of indeterminacy, as if a condition
of solitude before the task of determination and self-determination, of
unraveling and unveiling the possible. In our condition, the ful¬llment
of one™s “what it was to be” is not unmediated. Nature does not guide the
human being to his or her completion or fullest actualization in the way
in which it leads other beings. Accordingly, all the appeals to nature in
ethical matters are bound to be rather problematic.
Whatever the dif¬culties pertaining to the full actualization of the
animal “having” logos, however, it may minimally be said that such an
actualization is attained only in a community, polis. The mutual implica-
tion of logos and polis is acknowledged at the very outset of the Politics,
where it is stated that clearly “the human being is more of a political
animal than a bee or any other gregarious animal; for nature, as we say,
On the Soul 129

does nothing in vain, and the human being alone of all animals has logos”
(1253a8“10). In view of this, re¬‚ection on the polis becomes indispens-
able to the investigation of the human being and the cultivation of its
peculiar potentiality. Thus, while in the “genetic” (phusei) account Aris-
totle starts from the couple and family, in the order of ¬nal causality he
recognizes the priority of the polis. In line with the Platonic view (Repub-
lic 369b), the human being is seen as essentially not self-suf¬cient, and
hence ¬rst of all and “by nature political” (Politics 1253a3): “It is clear,
then, that a polis is by nature and is prior to each [of its parts]; for if
each human being is not self-suf¬cient when separate [from a polis], he
will be like other parts in relation to the whole; and one who cannot
commune [with others] or does not need [an association with others]
because of self-suf¬ciency is no part of a polis but is either a brute or a god”
In this perspective, it could even be said that, aside from and beyond
the comprehensive designation of the human being as “political,” it is the
polit¯s, the citizen, who interprets most fully the potential of the “animal
having logos.” Indeed, being politikos and being a polit¯s do not amount
to the same. The former de¬nes the human condition as such, a con-
dition common to all, slaves, women, and children included. But being
a citizen bespeaks being free, having the chance (or burden) of explor-
ing what is left underdetermined by nature, necessity, or mechanism.
Being a slave or a woman, then, means precisely being deprived, either
in part or in full, of the ability to explore human potential “ whether
this phenomenon be explained in terms of natural privation or political
deprivation (and both explanations, of course, are essentially political,
determined by the operative interpretation of the meaning of polis). Free-
dom, precisely in being de¬ned by contrast to the condition of slaves and
women, emerges primordially in the polis, reveals itself politically as the
highest human possibility. Troubling as it may be, this distinctive human
trait emerges precisely through communal arrangements that structurally
deny its being shared in common and, in fact, establish it as a relatively
infrequent merit. Through the divisive dynamics establishing hierarchy
and privilege in the community (establishing community as the structure of
hierarchy and privilege), freedom becomes manifest as an issue. After all,
only within the framework of the polis does leisurely time become possi-
ble, in virtue of which the exercise, unfolding, and investigation of human
potential become available to some. In a typically compressed statement
near the beginning of the Metaphysics, Aristotle weaves together the motif
of freedom (understood as a mark of both certain human beings and
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

certain human endeavors, namely, those pursued for their own sake)
and that of leisure:

it was when almost all the necessities [of life] were supplied, both for comfort and
activity [diagwgŸn], that such thinking [fr»nhsiv] began to be sought. Clearly,
then, we do not seek this science for any other need; but just as a human being
is said to be free if he is for his own sake and not for the sake of somebody else,
so this alone of all the sciences is free, for only this science is for its own sake.

Freedom, then, bespeaks the order of the highest ¬nality, that which is
for its own sake, with reference to nothing further and no one else. Of
course, the physical, material, and political conditions for such an “eman-
cipation” from conditions, for such an allegedly unconditional indepen-
dence, are quite perspicuous. As Aristotle states again in the Politics, it is
in virtue of the “use of slaves” (1255b32) that a few human beings can
“attend to political matters or philosophy” (1255b37).
This is what seems to be at stake, then, in the quest for privilege or eleva-
tion within the communal organism: a certain liberation from hardship,
from the binding aspects of toil, from the slavish (i.e., passive) posture in
the face of necessity. Externalizing the burdensome maintenance of life,
attributing this function to a speci¬c group within the group (slaves and
manual workers), in a gesture of denial of that which remains neverthe-
less inevitable for each, the free catch a glimpse of a human possibility,
of a condition not unlike that of gods. The pursuit of investigation for
its own sake, because of the pleasure that the pursuit itself grants, is the
mark of such a condition:

the possession of this science might justly be regarded as not be¬tting the human
being; for human nature is servile [do…lh] in many ways and so, as Simonides
says, “god alone should have this prerogative,” and it would be unworthy of a
man not to seek the science proper to his nature. If, then, there is something in
what the poets say and the deity is by nature jealous, he would most probably be
so in this case, and all eminent human beings would be unfortunate. But neither
is it possible for the deity to be jealous . . . nor need we suppose that there is a
science more honorable than this one. For the most divine science is the most
honorable. (982b28“983a5)

The free citizens af¬rm freedom as a distinctive human possibility over
against the condition of slavishness. Yet the discovery of human freedom
occurs at the price of a division internal to the human community, a rift
between the free and the slaves “ at the price, that is, of the denial of
human nature as shared by all human beings. This, of course, exposes
On the Soul 131

the boundaries between the human and other animals to potentially
permanent contestation and negotiation.17

3.3.2. Logos and Polis
In line with these considerations, then, we should at the very least under-
line the inherently political character of the “having” of logos. It is only in
a community that human beings can actualize their potential (humans
are “by nature political”). Logos, polis, and anthr¯pos emerge in their indis-
soluble intertwinement. Within this framework is situated Aristotle™s elab-
oration of human nature, an elaboration whose aporetic structure is illu-
minated by the contrast between the being of the citizen and that of the
human being as such.
More often than not, Aristotle seems to imply an understanding of
the human being in its singularity, as a “this,” a unique being whom it
is often arduous to refer back to a comprehensive conception of the
human. On the one hand, in fact, the human being essentially and by
nature belongs in the polis. On the other hand, the political constitu-
tion of the human being does not obviously dictate an understanding
of the individual as an indifferent and interchangeable unit. In other
words, the individual is seen both as a “this,” whose singular identifying
features by de¬nition remain to be assessed, and as political in the sense
of neither self-constituted nor yet autonomous. This appears to be the
converse of what will have been the modern conception of the subject “
construed, on the one hand, as free and absolved from heteronomous
conditions and, on the other hand, as utterly homogeneous with respect
to any other subject.18 The subject at once distinctively and indifferently
rational, that is, characterized by the power of reason while least singular,
least differentiated by reference to this power, this subject bespeaking
the possibility of undifferentiated intersubjectivity, remains unthinkable
for Aristotle. On Aristotelian terms, being human per se entails minimal
automatic assumptions and, hence, minimal automatic entitlement to

17 In this regard, see D. J. Depew, “Humans and Other Political Animals in Aristotle™s History
of Animals,” Phronesis 40 (1995).
18 Aristotle™s incipient elaboration of the difference between “natural slave” and other
human beings in terms of the difference between “beasts” and human beings, or between
“body” and “soul” (Politics 1254b17“20), and even the remark to the effect that the bod-
ies of the most excellent men are “useless” in carrying out necessary labors (1254b30),
foreshadow the modern conception of the subject as disembodied and essentially ratio-
nal. However, as will be shown, because of the problematic status of such remarks in the
context of the discourse as a whole, the Aristotelian vision remains crucially irreducible
to the developments it may have made possible.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

sharing rights and privileges in common. Privileges and goods, as well as
responsibilities, are assigned to individuals not in virtue of their being
individuals, but on the ground of a kind of axiological calculus, as we
shall see in the analysis of justice. So much so that, for Aristotle, not every
human being is a citizen, and we pervasively notice an attentive resistance
against the con¬‚ation of the two.
And yet, while such an emphasis on the “this” dictates an understand-
ing of community in which no numerical equality can be simply presup-
posed, the assumption that the differences among human beings are by
nature and that the political hierarchies merely reproduce natural differ-
entiations does not follow at all. As a matter of fact, such an assumption
is even at odds with the demand of close scrutiny of each individual, for
the reliance on a straightforward natural classi¬cation would make the
alertness regarding the individual unnecessary. Indeed, the relevance of
such an alertness as well as the essentially political status of logos suggest
that, far from determined by nature (i.e., evident from birth), who one
is and will become (the degree of perfection or accomplishment) will
crucially be determined by opportunity and evident to us only retrospec-
tively. Regarding issues of communal strati¬cation, Aristotle, attempting
to square the implications of his own line of thinking with conventional
wisdom as he ¬nds it, provides a discussion torn by unresolved con¬‚icts.
The claims, in the Politics, that barbarians and, most remarkably, slaves
are “by nature” (1252b1“9, 1254a14“17, 1254a18“1255a3) are exem-
plary of a certain passive acceptance of contemporary practices and con-
ventions. Again, the “having” of logos must be nothing too widely shared if,
as we are told, some human beings differ from others “as much as beasts
do from human beings,” and these “are by nature slaves, and it is better
for them to be ruled despotically,” for “a slave by nature is a human being
who can belong to another . . . and who can participate in logos [koinwn¤n
l»gou] to the extent of apprehending [a«sq†nesqai] it but not possess-
ing [mŸ ›cein] it” (1254b15“23). Implied here, to limit ourselves to the
exemplary line of thinking on the subject of slavery, is the complete lack
of logos in some human beings: “the slave does not have [oÉk ›cei] the
deliberative [part of the soul] [bouleutik»n] at all [‚lwv]” (1260a12).
And yet the reference to nature can hardly settle this problem. The
“having” of logos must be nothing too self-evident, if indeed sustained
interaction, dialogos, is needed in order to discover such a “having” in
action. Aristotle intimates this much when, calling into question his own
hypothesis that it is possible to discern “immediately after birth” the slave
from the ruler by nature (1254a23), he af¬rms that “it is not so easy to
On the Soul 133

perceive the beauty of the soul as it is to perceive the beauty of the body”
(1254b39“1255a1). Indeed, nature does not always work in linear, legible

Nature, too, tends to make the bodies of the freemen and of slaves different,
making those of slaves strong for the necessities [of life] but those of freemen
upright and useless for such services but useful for political life, whether for war
or peace. But often the contrary, too, happens, for some [slaves] have the bodies
of freemen but some freemen have the souls [of slaves]. (1254b27“34)

Of course, the only partial legibility of nature, the fact that nature may
do “nothing in vain” (1256b21) yet remain inscrutable in its purpose,
entails that human institutions cannot claim to be aligned with natural
determinations, let alone grounded on them. Human beings, in sum, may
present radical differences in terms of their psychological organization
and endowment. But how such differences come to manifest themselves,
and hence be read, ordered, juridically regulated, remains precisely a
problem requiring sustained re¬‚ection.
Accordingly, Aristotle concedes that it is for good reasons that some
argue that slavery rests on a conventional ordering and is “by law”(kat‡
n»mon) (1255a3“b16). At stake is not simply claiming the natural or con-
ventional status of political hierarchies and classi¬cations, but, above all,
recognizing that both claims are equally political and a matter of political
contention, in the sense that both rest on presuppositions regarding the
political, its nature, purpose, and excellence. Both rest on the logos, on the
capacity for articulate discernment that comes to be (comes to be “had”)
in the polis. To such an extent does Aristotle counter his main claim about
the “natural” status of the slave, that he even calls for the liberation of
slaves as a “reward” for their merit (1330a34) “ which presupposes that
slaves are not simply deprived of logos or deliberation, but rather, if given
a chance, may develop these powers and deserve emancipation (see also
Oikonomik¯n 1344b15“16). This is evidently in line with the notion that
logos is essentially, if not exclusively, “cultivated” and that it is only in light
of the outcome of training that the extent and character of the having of
logos can be evaluated.
However, these argumentations signal Aristotle™s reluctance to grant
essential presuppositions, to rely on an absolute determination of the
human being as such without further quali¬cation and inspection. He
displays a heightened caution vis-` -vis any abstraction regarding what it
would mean to be human and what would properly pertain to such a man-
ner of being. Nothing seems to be pre-judged, as though the discovery
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
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of a being such as the human, “having logos” in some way, whether by
nature or by law/convention or both, were still recent and astonishing.
In light of the assumption that no essential psychological characteris-
tics should automatically be attached to a body with a given conformation,
even the institution of democracy comes to be disclosed problematically.
Democracy entails the transitivity of one body, one subject, one vote, and
this seems to be at odds with the suggestion that no intrinsic features are
obviously common to those who appear in human guise. Moreover, the
question of the distinction between human beings and other animals,
already broached in the previous considerations on logos and voice, is
con¬rmed in its dif¬culty. Statements to the effect that “the use made of
slaves, too, departs but little from that of other animals; for both slaves
and tame animals contribute to the necessities of life with the aid of their
bodies” (1254b25“7) only bring us back to the elusiveness of an effec-
tive differentiation of the human from proximate modes of animality.
The attribution of logos to human beings, far from securing a de¬nition
of human nature, leaves open the question whether humankind may in
fact be discerned in terms of kind at all. In fact, if anything, difference
in kind appears to be internal to humankind: “for a ruler and a subject
differ in kind [e­dei diaf”rei], and this difference is not one of degree at
all” (1259b37). The re¬‚ection on slavery paradigmatically exposes the
crisis of the de¬nition of the anthr¯pos as logon ekhon.
Thus, the human is examined in every single case, every single “this.”
Some human beings may not have logos in any prominent or signi¬cant
sense. In the end, in our undertaking to capture the human in its distinct-
ness, we are left with no formulation of essence, but only with the fact of
an operative human community, of a community at work, recognized as
human despite (or because of ) the mutable shapes it gives itself and the
¬‚uctuating outcomes of the communal quest for self-understanding and
other negotiations. To “have” logos is never simply to speak, to utter artic-
ulate sounds, but to do so having learned from others, and exhibiting a
capacity to mean and understand, hence to listen and interact. Logos is
essentially dialogos, and this is the meaning of being “by nature” politikos.
Of course, the question remains pressing, concerning the way and
direction according to which logos would best develop. For it can grow in
disparate directions, pernicious as well as bene¬cial. It bespeaks at once
a healing power and danger:

for just as the human being when perfected is the best of all animals, so he is the
worst of all when separated from law and justice. For the most cruel [calepwt†th]
injustice is the one which has weapons to carry it out; and the human being, born
On the Soul 135

[f…etai] with weapons to be used with prudence and virtue, can misuse these
for contrary [ends] most of all. Because of this, a human being without virtue
may be the most unholy, the most savage, and the worst for lust and gluttony.

Logos is such a dangerous “weapon,” indifferently amplifying magni¬-
cence and bestiality alike. The good, said to orient logos, is by de¬nition
excessive with respect to it. Over¬‚owing as it does any attempts at discur-
sive grasp, the good thereby remains the object of debate.

3.4. Volition
3.4.1. Willing the Virtues
But let us consider more closely an issue thus far noted only marginally.
We observed, in that which is by nature, the priority of potentiality over
actuality. In ethical matters, however, we saw how actuality proceeds from
actuality (virtue from virtue). No habits are simply by nature. That we
are capable of developing and acquiring habits is a kind of gift from
nature. But the gift does not prescribe what those habits should be. In
other words, human beings are not bound to necessity absolutely or in
an unquali¬ed way. They enjoy a margin of “freedom” that is at once
a source of perplexity, a lack of direction. In this perspective, in the
previous analyses we repeatedly underlined the role, in ethical forma-
tion, of convention and dialectical agreement. Yet the acquisition of the
virtues pertaining to thinking is not merely a matter of practical train-
ing. As Aristotle cautiously puts it, these virtues are “mostly,” but not
only, the fruit of teaching. Their belonging in the practical and tempo-
ral order of transmission is, thus, quali¬ed. So much so that, as already
pointed out, Aristotle seems to divine in the excellent exercise of think-
ing a trace of objectivity, if not universality, and to refuse to reduce the
wise assessment of things to a merely arbitrary phenomenon, which could
just as well be otherwise. In their evaluation of experiences and vicissi-
tudes, the wise tend to agree, to speak at one, in marked contrast with
the many whose opinions on such matters widely differ (1099a12“15,
1113a30“5). Accordingly, it might perhaps be said that human beings
are free, but less in the sense that they are not subject to necessity than
in the sense that they are free to discover their necessity. Such a dis-
covery seems to bespeak freedom as a more intimate understanding of
The Eudemian Ethics is even more extreme in granting to logos and
the virtues pertaining to it a certain emancipation from conventional
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
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conditioning, indeed, a certain naturalness. In the following statement,
logos is associated with desire and recognized as naturally inhering in us:

by nature we have both [parts]; since l»gov belongs by nature, for it will be in
us if our development [gen”sewv] is allowed and not inhibited, and also desire
[–piqum©a] [is by nature], for it accompanies and is in us from birth; and these
are, broadly speaking, the two features by which we de¬ne that which is by nature;
it is what accompanies everybody straight [eÉqÆv] from birth, or what comes to us
if development is allowed to go on straightforwardly [eÉqupore±n], for example
gray hair, old age, and other such things. (1224b29“35)

The development of logos is said not positively to depend on teaching, but
to come to be of its own accord, naturally, if only upbringing and other
conditions do not prevent it. The emphasis here switches from teaching
as a positive informing practice to negative conditions, that is, conditions
not hindering the natural development of logos. In this perspective, logos,
similarly to any other natural unfolding such as aging, would only take
The fact that the intellectual virtues are “mostly” but not exclusively
generated by teaching makes even more tense and questionable the rela-
tion between arbitrary convention and natural necessity “ for, while irre-
ducible to each other, they are far from simply opposite. Indeed, they
are intertwined in ways worth examining closely. Moreover, in the ten-
sion between human institutions and nature can be located the question
of individual self-determination, of the singular human being™s ability to
steer his or her own course, even beyond the education received and con-
ditions undergone. What is intimated here is the human power to inter-
rupt, albeit in a quali¬ed way, the determining work of circumstances
shaping the human being as if this were a completely inert patient. Aris-
totle goes so far as to af¬rm that, to an extent, we are individually respon-
sible for our acts, even the cause of our own habits. If, indeed, once a
habit is established it carries the necessitating force of nature (of a second
nature), the formation of such a habit is in the ¬nal analysis up to one.
The issue of volition is thus introduced:

in the case of an unjust and an intemperate human being, it was up to them at
¬rst not to become such, and so they are voluntarily [—k»ntev] such; but having
become such, it is no longer up to them not to be such [now]. Not only are the
vices of the soul voluntary, but for some human beings, whom we censure, those
of the body also; for no one censures those who are ugly because of [their] nature,
but we do censure those who are ugly because of lack of exercise or because of
negligence. (1114a19“25)
On the Soul 137

Action and habituation, thus, result from (1) convention (dialectically
determined rules and customs), (2) natural factors, and (3) individual
responsibility. In other words, human beings are not simply, passively
determined by their upbringing and surroundings. There is something
like responsibility for one™s own virtues and, in general, habits, and hence
for one™s subsequent behavior. In a sense, and to a degree, one is one™s
own moving cause: “If, then, as it is said, the virtues are voluntary [–ko…-
sioi] (for we ourselves are partly responsible [suna©tioi] for our habits,
and it is by being human beings of a certain kind that we posit the end
as being of a certain sort), the vices, too, will be voluntary for a similar
reason” (1114b23“5). This is so in spite of and beyond nature, second
nature, and the crystallization of habits. Or, more precisely, this is so
because of the irreducibility of nature to second nature “ an irreducibil-
ity that keeps second nature and its crystallizations mobile, subject to
re-evaluation and re-negotiation already at the individual level, that is,
at the level of “one™s nature.” It is the commitment to unfolding one™s
own nature, to let it become manifest, take shape, unravel in its legibility,
it is such a commitment to confront nature™s unintelligibility that allows
for a certain emancipation from the factors demanding conformity, from
conformism in general.
To summarize, while stating that ethics is (1) by nomos and not by
nature, Aristotle also recognizes in it (2) an element of “objectivity” or
“naturalness,” a non-conventional dimension. He discerns, furthermore,
(3) an element of responsibility, a factor at work which is neither con-
ventional nor genetic, but rather like an ability, or a determination, to
break through. The latter could be understood as a daimonic element
pervading, even disrupting, the polis, traversing the polis and potentially
suspending its normativity. Again, this force in the polis would be irre-
ducible to political determination “ it would be, rather, an eudaimonic
operation aligned, if anything, with nature. In the framework of the polis,
such a force would indicate the human possibility of not being com-
pletely absorbed within the customary, the margin allowing human beings
to step back and assess that through which they nevertheless become
who they are. It would indicate the possibility of metamorphosis, of rec-
ognizing communally formulated ¬nalities as hypotheses “ for, as seen
above, the end is and remains a hypothesis, caught within the circular-
ity of actions and habits both determined by the end and revealing the
end, making it perspicuous, bringing it forth. As a working hypothe-
sis, the end presents itself as an in¬nite task, requiring ongoing inquiry.
Ethics is not only a matter of habitual formation, but also contemplates
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

transformation, the renewal always possible through insightful break-

3.4.2. Ignorance and Evil
The phenomenon of volition requires closer inspection. Aristotle distin-
guishes voluntary actions from those performed “by force” (t‡ b©a„) or
“through ignorance” (di¬ Šgnoian) (1110a1). The latter are said to be not
voluntary (oukh hekousion), whether involuntary (akousion) or nonvolun-
tary (oukh hekon). The distinction internal to what is not voluntary is based
on the emotional response to what one unwillingly did and caused:

Everything done through ignorance [di¬ Šgnoian] is not voluntary [oÉc —ko…sion],
but if it causes pain and regret, it is involuntary [ˆko…sion]; for the one who
through ignorance did something, whatever this may be, but is not displeased at
all by that action, though he did not act voluntarily [—kÜn], as he did not know
[what he was doing], neither did he act involuntarily [Škwn] if he is not pained.
So of a thing done through ignorance, if the agent regrets it, he is thought to
have acted involuntarily [Škwn], but if he does not regret it, since he is different,
let him be called “nonvoluntary” [oÉk —kÛn]; for since he differs, it is better for
him to have a special name. (1110b18“24)

Ultimately, what determines the quality of an action not voluntarily
performed is the psychological posture revealed by the psychological
response to the consequences of one™s action. It is only the regret at the
realization of one™s own ignorance and its consequences that can make
a given action properly involuntary. The case of the one who does not
display any pain or concern after the fact is different; and so is the case of
the one who acted “in ignorance” and not merely “through ignorance”:

Again, acting through ignorance seems to be different from acting in ignorance
[to“ ˆgnoo“nta]; for he who is drunk or angry is not thought to be acting through
ignorance but through one of the causes stated, not knowing [e«dÜv] his act
but in ignorance [ˆgno¤n] of it. Thus every evil human being [mocqhr¼v] is in
ignorance [ˆgnoe±] of what he should do and what he should abstain from doing,
and it is through such error that human beings become unjust and in general
bad. Now the term “involuntary” tends to be used not whenever a human being
is ignorant [ˆgnoe±] of what is expedient, for ignorance [Šgnoia] in intention
[proair”sei] [of what should be done] is a cause not of what is involuntary but of
evil [mocqhr©av]; and [involuntariness] is not universal ignorance (for through
universal ignorance human beings are blamed), but ignorance with respect to
particulars [kaq ¬ ™kasta] in which action is and with which action is concerned.
For it is on these particulars that both pity and pardon [suggnÛmh] depend,
since one who is ignorant [ˆgno¤n] of some of these particulars acts involuntarily
[ˆkous©wv]. (1110b25“1111a2)
On the Soul 139

An essential connection is here asserted between the problem of evil and
ignorance. What is at stake, however, is not the ignorance of the peculiar
details making each circumstance unique. Indeed, exhaustive knowledge
of (and, hence, control over) a situation in all its variables cannot be and is
not assumed. There may always be an idiosyncratic, strictly unpredictable
factor setting off an undesirable chain of events, despite one™s careful
assessment of the situation. This is the case with involuntary actions, per-
formed through ignorance. Instead, the ignorance associated with evil
is the complete black-out regarding one™s circumstances, which can be
compared to states of altered or dimmed consciousness. In this sense, evil
appears as a more fundamental problem than vice, which entails ratio-
nal effectiveness oriented to questionable goals. A comprehensive lack
of awareness of one™s situation and potential impact over it, a lack that is
not inevitable but due to systematic negligence, constitutes the genuine
mark of evil. In other words, it is disregard that is evil, the lack of interest
in and commitment to one™s context, and the presumption that one may
act in that condition nevertheless. Evil emerges here as a manner of being
in the world characterized by willful ignorance or, at least, carelessness of
the things of the world. And while evil thus understood can conceivably
be the result of unfavorable upbringing and other compromised circum-
stances, it is in no way to be justi¬ed as the permanent condition of a
human adult.
In this connection, once again, we are reminded of the image of the
city-ship in Plato™s Republic (488a“489a), of the way in which “navigation”
requires knowledge of sea, earth, and sky, that is, the ability to read the
context within which one ¬nds oneself living, moving, and acting. It is
from this watching or “reading” that one derives guidance, instead of act-
ing in ignorance. It is from this attention and solicitude that one draws the
awareness of interconnectedness, of the ripples caused by one™s actions,
of the systemic repercussions of one™s comportment. Evil, mokhth¯ria, thus,
amounts to irresponsibility and lack of conscious commitment.

3.4.3. Quali¬ed Willing
Needless to say, in this context the language of willing and volition indi-
cates neither what will have been called “free will” nor, again, the power
of unlimited self-determination. As was just observed, one never has com-
plete control over a given situation and, thus, one™s comportment, inten-
tion, and evaluation of conditions always encounter a certain resistance or
opacity in the surroundings. However, even more radically, it appears that,
as “moving causes,” volition and intention or deliberate choice operate
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

in their indeterminate intertwinement with no less moving, indeed, com-
pelling factors such as desires, passions, and, more broadly, irrational or
unconscious motifs. Volition, therefore, cannot be understood as a solely
rational function. In fact, Aristotle remains rather ambivalent concerning
the ability of humans simply to govern themselves. His perplexity is due
above all to the dif¬culty in discerning, at the root of human comport-
ment, self-causation and natural causation, each in relation to the other
as well as in its distinctness:

One might say that all human beings aim at the apparent good [fainom”nou
ˆgaqo“] but cannot control [k…rioi] what appears [fantas©av] [to them to be
good], and that the end appears [fa©netai] to each human being to be such as
to correspond to the sort of human being one is. Now, if each human being is in
some way the [moving] cause [a­tiov] of his own habit, he is also in some way the
cause of what appears [fantas©av] [to him]. But if not, then no one is the cause
of his doing what is bad but each does these through ignorance [di¬ Šgnoian] of
the end, thinking that by doing them he will attain the best for himself, and the
aiming at an end is not self-chosen [aÉqa©retov], but one must be born [f“nai de±]
having [a power, such as] vision, by which he will judge beautifully and will choose
[a¬ržsetai] the good according to truth [kat¬ ˆlžqeian]; and so a human being is
well born [eÉfužv] if he is from birth beautifully endowed [kal¤v p”fuken] [with
this power], for that which is greatest is also most beautiful, and that which can
neither be received nor learned from another but is disposed to function in the
manner which corresponds to its quality from birth, if it be well and beautifully
endowed, will be by nature a perfect and true [ˆlhqinŸ] disposition [eÉfu¹a].

Aristotle ends up avoiding to take a clear position in this regard. He con-
cludes that the human being is at least in part responsible (sunaitios) for
his or her own habits, and hence self-causing. In this sense, one is in a
way the cause of the end one pursues, that is, one envisions and posits
a certain end in virtue of the kind of human being one is (1114b23“5).
However, responsibility without quali¬cation remains out of the question.
It is also worth noticing that, in this argumentation privileging natural
gift over against rational self-determination (an argumentation that Aris-
totle never simply rejects in full), (1) discerning and choosing (hairesis)
function analogously to the powers of sensation, such as sight, and, con-
sequently, (2) truth is not a function of knowing understood as a merely
human construction.
That acting voluntarily may not be a purely rational matter is also made
explicit by certain decisive references to beings other than human adults,
such as children and other animals. Aristotle observes:

Since that which is involuntary is done by force or through ignorance, the volun-
tary would seem to be that whose [moving] principle is in oneself [–n aÉt ], [in
On the Soul 141

the one] who knows [e«d»ti] the particulars in which the action [takes place]. For
surely it is not beautiful to say, as some do, that whatever is done through temper
[qum¼n] or desire [–piqum©an] is involuntary. For, ¬rst, none of the other animals
would do anything voluntarily, not even children. (1111a22“7)

A voluntary action reveals that the moving principle is (in) the one who
acts, although it may not be rational, that is, not in the order of self-
mastery. So much so that the ability to “will” a certain course of action
is attributed to animals other than the human and to children (“incom-
plete” human beings). Desires and emotional contents, in other words,
are integral to the voluntary initiative and altogether consistent with
appropriate as well as desirable action. For “we should be angry with
certain people and we should desire certain things, such as health and
learning” (1111a31“2). Acting voluntarily, then, rather than being solely
a matter of reasoned determination, appears in some sense to include
acting on impulse, acting under the compulsion of passions that, however
endogenous, cannot be brought within the compass of calculation. Aris-
totle insists: “it seems that passions, which are non-rational [Šloga], are
not less human, just as those actions which are from temper and desire
also belong to the human being. It would be absurd, then, to posit them
as being involuntary” (1111b1“3). Volition seems to designate, more pre-
cisely, a volitional drive.
However, things seem to stand differently with intention, or deliberate
choice, proairesis. Thus is indicated that which precedes (pro), promotes,
and is relative to (pros) action, the precursor of action that most prop-
erly manifests virtue and reveals character even more than action itself.
For intention designates that which animates and motivates action, and
not the merely external performance (1111b6“7). This is carefully distin-
guished from volition: “Now intention appears to be volition but is not
the same as volition, since the latter is wider; for children and other ani-
mals share [koinwne±] in volition, but not in intention, and things done
on the spur of the moment [t‡ –xa©fnhv] are said to be voluntary but
not according to intention” (1111b7“11). It is because of its exquisitely
deliberative character that intention must be set aside from volition. It is
also to be distinguished from wish, boul¯sis, both in terms of its aim and in
terms of its modality. Wish is of what imposes itself on one as eminently
desirable, of what moves one to a given pursuit, whereas intention deter-
mines the manner of the motion, of the pursuit toward (pros) that which
is wished:

a wish is rather of the end, while intention is of that which pertains to the end
[t¤n pr¼v t¼ t”lov]; e.g., we wish to be healthy but we choose after deliberation
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
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[proairo…meqa] that through which we may become healthy, and we wish to
be happy and speak of this, but it does not be¬t us to say that we choose
after deliberation [proairo…meqa] [to be happy] and, in general, intention
seems to be concerned with that which can be brought about by us. (1111b27“

Intention, then, is considered aside from wishing and the desirous as well
as compulsive quality characteristic of it. It is elucidated as the process in
virtue of which one identi¬es and chooses the path to a certain outcome,
the way of action most conducive to a certain desired end. Indeed, “inten-
tion [is formed] with logos or thought [met‡ l»gou kaª diano©av], and the
name [proairet»n] itself seems to suggest that it is something chosen
[a¬ret»n] before [pr¼] other things” (1112a16“17). And yet, even the
deliberative operation of intention intersects signi¬cantly with desire. So
much so that we could say that it derives its operative effectiveness from
the element of desire it incorporates:

Since that which is intended is that which is deliberately desired [proaireto“
bouleuto“ ½rekto“] and which is in our power to attain, intention too would be
a deliberate desire [bouleutikŸ Àrexiv] of that which is in our power to attain; for
having discerned [an alternative] after deliberation, we desire [½reg»meqa] [that
alternative] in accordance with that deliberation. (1113a9“13)

It could be said that, without the moving impulse provided by desire, here
understood both as (1) wish for the end and as (2) deliberate desire of
the speci¬c traits of the action to be carried out, intention or deliberate
choice would remain formal and without consequence. For, while such
a choice is a principle of action, it is so less in the sense of a moving
cause than in the sense of a principle determining the way, the how of
If, then, praxis, action, is kin¯sis, motion (Eudemian Ethics 1220b28),
these are the factors causing and determining its course. The virtues,
themselves formed through actions in their orientation, make the end
perspicuous, but do not set one in motion. It is the desires, instead,
whether volitional drives or other manners of impulsion, which move.
Motion being thus compelled, its way, its how is delineated, necessitated
by the structures of habituation and excellence “ more precisely, by
the intentional/deliberative capacity. As the most genuine expression
of habitual structures, intention decides on the outlines of action, but,
again, it derives its governing authority from desire in its “deliberative”
mode “ from the drive toward that which is envisioned as the desirable
path. It is not deliberation or intention alone that bring about motion,
On Justice 143

let alone acting. Our thinking does not move us, we cannot simply (i.e.,
in a purely rational fashion) will ourselves one way or another.

4. on justice
We have variously insisted on the fact that ethics is politics. For (1) the
human being is by nature political, and (2) education (habituation as
well as teaching) is a task of the community, not a private matter.19 We
come, thus, to the discussion of justice,20 dikaiosun¯, this unique virtue
said to be “complete” and distinctively concerning the relation to an
other, that is, coexistence, commonality, community. Justice names the
open, communal ¬eld of the working and practice of virtue. It names the
psychological state at work relationally, enacted in the polis. Accordingly, in
the Politics it is said that “the political good is that which is just, this being
that which is of common bene¬t to all (koin¯i sumpheron)” (1282b17“18).
Let us recall again the immediately political dimensions of ethics, by
turning to a few remarks in the Politics. The treatise opens with a pertinent

We observe that every polis is a sort of association [koinwn©an], and that every
association is formed for the sake of some good (for all human beings always
act in order to attain what they think to be good). So it is clear that, while all
associations aim at some good, the association which aims in the highest degree
and at the most authoritative [kuriwt†tou] of all [goods] is the one which is the
most authoritative [kuriwt†th] and contains [peri”cousa] all the others. Now
this is called polis and it is a political association. (1252a1“7)

As the all-embracing and, therefore, most authoritative manner of com-
munion, the polis harbors the human pursuit of the highest good. It
constitutes the place of such a pursuit, indeed, its very condition. It is

19 I deliberately emphasize the language of the “common,” koinon, over against the posterior
terminology of the “public,” in order to underline the comprehensive anthropological
connotation of the former. The locus of justice is irreducible to “public space” understood
in its opposition to the “private.” See Politics 1337a22“7.
20 Among the texts variously providing the background for the considerations here put forth
regarding justice, I especially recall the following: Otfried H¨ ffe, Politische Gerechtigkeit.
Grundlegung einer kritischen Philosophie von Recht und Staat (Frankfurt am Mein: Suhrkamp,
1987); Eric A. Havelock, The Greek Concept of Justice from Its Shadow in Homer to Its Substance
in Plato (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1978); and Franco Volpi, “Che cosa signi¬ca
neoaristotelismo? La riabilitazione della ¬loso¬a pratica e il suo senso nella crisi della
modernit` ,” in Enrico Berti, ed., Tradizione e attualit` della ¬loso¬a pratica (Genova: Mari-
a a
etti, 1988), 111“35.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
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in such a context that something like the orientation to the good, and
hence “living well,” become at all an issue:

A complete association composed of many villages is a polis, an association which
(a) has reached the limit of every self-suf¬ciency, so to speak, (b) comes to be
for the sake of living, but (c) is for the sake of living well. Because of this, every
polis is by nature, if indeed the ¬rst associations too [were by nature]; for the
latter associations have the polis as their end, and nature is the end. For that
which each [thing] is at the end of a generation is said to be the nature of that
[thing], as in the case of a human being, or a horse, or a house. (1252b28“

The polis, then, is the end, that is, the nature, of any and every association:
it is the being of an association, what this is and, therefore, is to be. We
should notice right away the problematic status of self-suf¬ciency and
completeness attributed to the polis, for it is far from clear when and by
what criteria an association of villages would be judged “complete,” and
hence called a polis proper, or how the condition of “self-suf¬ciency” in
every respect would be satis¬ed. This issue is far from marginal, because,
later in the treatise, the morphological and quantitative pro¬le of the polis
will be shown to be intimately connected with the question of justice. Let
us brie¬‚y follow this line of thinking in its basic implications.
By reference to the image of the ship, Aristotle will insist on the
importance of observing a “moderate or measured magnitude” (meg”qouv
m”tron) for the polis, lest it be deformed, deprived of its “power” and of
its “nature” (1326a37“40): for a ship, too, “will no longer be a ship if it is
a foot long or a quarter of a mile long, and it will do badly as a ship if it
deviates from its proper size by a certain magnitude either in the direc-
tion of smallness or in that of excess” (1326a41“b2).21 What is at stake
is the unity of the polis, the possibility of the polis as such. And the polis
limited according to the proper measure is “most beautiful,” because “the
beautiful” can be found “in number [plžqei] and magnitude [meg”qei]”
(1326a35“6). Thus, only the polis aptly growing to the appropriate size
can function at its best, and this has to do with the peculiarly human
character of such an organism:

21 In Nicomachean Ethics, in the course of the discussion of friendship, Aristotle wonders:
“should there be as many friends as possible [ple©stouv kat¬ ˆriqm»n], or is there, as in the
case of a city, a certain measure [m”tron] to them? For neither would ten human beings
make a city, nor will it remain a city if increased to one hundred thousand. Perhaps the
quantity is not one particular [number], but all those between certain limits [metaxÆ tin¤n
Þrism”nwn]” (1170b30“5).
On Justice 145

of cities which are thought to be beautifully governed, none is observed to be
indiscriminate in the size of its population. Conviction through speeches [l»gwn],
too, makes this clear. For law is a certain order [t†xiv], so good law must be a good
order; but a very excessive number [ˆriqm¼v] [of human beings] cannot partake
of order, for to do so would be a task for the divine, which also holds together
all [sun”cei t¼ pŽn] . . . whereas the beautiful [for human beings] usually comes
to be in number and magnitude. (1326a28“36)

The polis, despite its “most authoritative” encompassing character
(periekhein), remains altogether other than the all-embracing gesture
(sunekhein) of the divine. Thus, Aristotle will suggest that the size of the
territory and population must be contained according to the ability of
the polis to carry out its task optimally (1326a12“14) and that, in general,
the polis should be large enough to be self-suf¬cient, but small enough to
be visible “at a glance” (eusunoptos) (1326b24“5) and to allow military
leaders or heralds to communicate effectively (1326b6“7). The polis,
then, will be understood as a “community of sensibility,” held together by
the parameters of sensible sharing “ a community that can be held in view
by each of its members and within which communication can circulate
(be heard) without hindrance. In turn, the possibility of mutual acquain-
tance among citizens will be found to be a condition for the possibility of
In judging what is just and distributing of¬ces according to merit, the citizens
must know each other™s characters; for, wherever this does not happen to occur,
both that which pertains to of¬ces and the judgments [of what is just], being done
without adequate preparation and so unjustly, are necessarily bad; and evidently
such happens to be the case whenever populations are very large. (1326b14“21)

The possibility of justice, then, will appear to be rooted in the concrete,
embodied prerequisites for genuine and meaningful exchange within
the community. It is these material conditions that lay the ground for the
cohesiveness and harmonious articulation of the community. Though
regulating communal living beyond particular inclinations, predilec-
tions, and bonds of affection, and as such contrasted to friendship, justice
appears not to be merely a matter of indifferent normative imposition.
Rather, it presupposes and results from a certain tenor of human rela-
tions, a certain socio-relational climate, as it were. Justice as legality, which
is said to order the polis, to hold it together and grant its continuing unity,
requires for its operation that certain numerical-structural features be in
place, that the polis be one. Justice as the exercise of normativity presup-
poses justice more primordially understood, that is, justice as constitutive
of the togetherness and integrity of the political organism.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
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Of course, in line with these considerations on self-suf¬ciency and,
hence, on the “perfection” of the communal organism, we are led
to wonder how each relatively accomplished polis, each of these poles
(polos) around which revolves (pelein) the life of human beings gathered
together, would commune with others. That is, we wonder how things
stand concerning the communication among communities, whether jus-
tice names the practice of the virtues with respect to an other even when
alterity presents itself under the guise of an other political center and
not of an other individual. Of course, implied in this questioning is
the examination of the possibility of dialogue, of balanced exchange
among diverse interpretations and instantiations of the political. Preoc-
cupations of this kind acquire a particular sharpness in light of remarks
such as the one added, almost as a mere afterthought, to the passage
just quoted. After connecting the exercise of justice to the size of the
political body, Aristotle notes that, whenever the number of inhabitants
is inappropriately large, “foreigners and resident aliens would easily be
able to share in the government; for it is not dif¬cult to do so with-
out being detected [t¼ lanq†nein] because of an excess of population”
(1326b21“3). There is, thus, an essential problem in measureless or, at
any rate, disproportionate gatherings: beyond a certain number, trans-
parency becomes impossible and the surveyed circulation of informa-
tion hindered. Acquaintance is increasingly super¬cial, and this makes
even relevant issues disappear, fading from view. We shall return to
Taking note of these concerns, for the moment let us simply say that
justice is the virtue of the polis, its perfection and realization. Indeed,
justice, dikaiosun¯, is “political, for dik¯, that is, the discernment of what is
e e
just, is the order of the political association” (1253a38“40). As virtue of
the polis, justice indicates its organization. As the exercise of “complete
virtue,” that is, the practice of all the virtues, justice indicates customs,
rules, and laws in their genuinely formative, pedagogical role. In this
sense, laws would not merely be a matter of restraining viciousness and
correcting its consequences, thus re-establishing a prior order, but, rather,
they would have a positively informing function, they would demand
excellence, prescribe or, at least, encourage it in each case. They would
outline a vision of excellence, trace an envisioning of order. Let us also
signal the terminological bifurcation into dikaiosun¯ and dik¯, for it may
e e
pertain to the non-coincidence, which we shall have to examine later, of
any juridical syntax and justice itself.
On Justice 147

4.1. The Manifold Meaning of Justice
4.1.1. Justice as Legality
Justice, we are told, “has many meanings,” presents a certain equivocity
(1129a27“9). Primarily, the just (dikaion) is “that which is lawful [n»mi-
mon]” and “that which is fair [­son]” (1129a34“b1). In the latter sense, it
points to the posture of one who is neither grasping nor driven by the
passion for indiscriminate acquisition. At stake in both cases is the search
for balance and measure in the relation to another or among others.
As com-position of many (literally, the self-positioning and taking place
of many together), community requires a management of difference in
the mode of peaceful articulation. This is what distinguishes an organic
manifold from a random collection of fragments, and the conduciveness
of relative stability from the threat of ongoing disintegration.
In this discussion, once again, we should note Aristotle™s way of pro-
ceeding from the more to the less familiar. The gradual, relentlessly ver-
tical character of the Aristotelian inquiry, to be sure, means proceeding
from common, even super¬cial opinions to increasingly more layered
and problematic formulations, according to the insight that what is ¬rst
in the order of being comes later or is last in the order of knowledge,
that is, in the process of coming to know. However, in the case of justice,
starting from the more familiar also means starting from injustice, in
order progressively to gain an understanding of justice. Hence, the ¬rst
point of reference is the “unjust human being,” who is “thought to be,”
broadly speaking, a “lawbreaker” and, more narrowly, someone “grasp-
ing or unfair” (1129a33). It is from these two main commonly held views
of injustice that follow two corresponding ways of understanding justice,
namely, as lawfulness and as fairness.
Aristotle ¬rst elaborates on justice understood as legality, which he
takes to be justice in the broader sense. The system of laws and regula-
tions is here seen as the structural support of the community. It is that
through and as which the vision sustaining communal articulation is itself
articulated. As usual, the inception of the inquiry is dialectical in register:

it is clear that all lawful things are in some sense just; for the things speci¬ed by
the legislative [art] [nomoqetik¦v] are lawful, and we say that each of them is just.
Now the laws deal with all matters which aim at what is commonly expedient,
either to all or to the best or to those who have authority, whether with respect
to virtue or with respect to some other such thing; so in one way we call just
those things which produce [poihtik‡] or preserve [fulaktik‡] happiness or its
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

parts in a political community. Thus the law orders us to perform the actions of
someone brave . . . and similarly with respect to the other virtues and evil habits,
commanding us to do certain things and forbidding us to do others; and it does
so rightly [½rq¤v] if it is rightly framed [ke©menov ½rq¤v], but less well if hastily
framed. (1129b12“25)

The just is equated with the order of legality, for the body of laws grants the
well-being of community and discrete human beings alike: it promotes
that which is advantageous to the political aggregation and is formative
of the individual. Already from these introductory remarks, however, we
notice a symptomatic caution. The legal system may sustain the devel-
opment of the polis in many ways, in certain cases favoring all those
involved without restrictions, in other cases only those distinguishing
themselves for their qualities, in yet other cases those detaining power,
whether thanks to their individual excellence or to less than essential
considerations. We are already warned that “common expediency” may
be and is, in fact, interpreted in different ways; that what is said to be
for the sake of the community may take place under radically heteroge-
neous guises; and that, above all, the best and those in power may not
coincide. The power to order the polis may be in the hands of undeserv-
ing individuals whose inadequacy or, worse, self-interest will be re¬‚ected
in the measures they establish (indeed, as the saying of Bias advises, “the
way one rules will show him up” [1130a2]). The concern with the good
of the community may be distorted and laws conceived to further the
disproportionate privilege of a few.
This cluster of problems is suggested here only in minimal terms, but
the implications are already clear: no sooner is the coincidence of jus-
tice and legality stated than doubt is cast upon it. We see Aristotle begin
from the commonly held view of the coincidence of justice and legal sys-
tem and, immediately, pose certain quali¬cations, provisos, or cautionary
remarks around it. The law does indeed appear to be an expression of
virtue in its entirety, and hence of justice, that is, complete virtue. For it is
the laws that determine which virtues are to be cultivated and that grant
the pertinent education or habituation. Yet laws can be framed not well,
hastily, not rightly. Hence, they may not (in fact, do not) coincide with
justice, capture and express justice fully. And this is not simply because
of contingent errors or dispensable accidents. The very possibility of per-
ceiving a law as unjust or to be corrected proves the gap between justice
and legality as such. But that the laws may satisfy their political and ped-
agogical function well or less well, for they may be laid down well or less
well, does not simply indicate the non-identity of law as such, without
On Justice 149

any further quali¬cation, and justice. It also indicates that law, to the
extent that it may fall short of justice, hence be somewhat unjust (i.e.,
not coextensive with justice as a whole), is not even necessarily a part
of justice (i.e., something that is just). Aristotle will return to this set of
issues shortly.
Justice as legality is clari¬ed further. We are told that “this kind of
justice is complete virtue” (albeit “not in an unquali¬ed way [‰pl¤v]”)
and designates the exercise of the virtues “in relation to another [human
being]” (1129b26“7): “And it is a virtue in the most complete sense, since
the use of it is that of complete virtue; and it is complete, since the one
who possesses it can use it also toward another and not only for one-
self” (1129b31“3). The attainment of one™s highest potential, and this
means the most complete expression of virtue, is a relational matter. It
is by acting with respect to others, that is, through interaction, through
one™s manifest attitude toward others™ experiences and demands, that
one carries out one™s task and becomes who one is in the fullest sense.
In general, actions with particular repercussions at the communal level
reveal in a magni¬ed way the character traits of the one who performs
them “ whether virtuous or vicious. They may prove to be most bene¬-
cial or most damaging, according to the psychological order of the one
performing them:

And for the same reason justice alone of the virtues, by relating to another,
is thought to be another™s good; for [the just human being] acts for what is
expedient for someone else, whether for a ruler or a member of the community.
The worst one, then, is the one whose evil habit relates both to himself and to
his friends, while the best one is one whose virtue is directed not to himself but
to others, for this is a dif¬cult task. Accordingly, this kind of justice is not a part
of virtue but the whole virtue, and injustice, which is its contrary, is not a part of
vice but the whole vice. (1130a4“11)

Justice names the manner of the thrust toward (pros) another. As legality, it
constitutes the phenomenal, worldly manifestation of the character of the
legislator(s); it makes visible, transposed into communal interactions, the
habitual as well as deliberative structures of the psukh¯ that has envisioned
a certain community and brought it forth, given it shape; it is a political
vision manifest and at work.


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