On the Dependence of Aristotle’s Ethics on the Natural Sciences
This paper is a survey on the dependence of Aristotle’s ethics on the natural sciences. Naturalism in Aristotle’s ethics has two issues, which are found in modern meta-ethics. The first one is whether ethical concepts and things have objectivity or not. The second is whether ethics is depend on natural science or not.
Several scholars have presented some interpretations of these two issues. With respect to the first issue, neo-Aristotelian Naturalists interpret that it is possible to explain ‘happiness’ and ‘goodness’ from human nature, and that human nature gives objectivity to these concepts. With respect to the second issue, they think that Aristotle’s ethics is an autonomous discipline, that is, his ethics is independent of his natural science.
On the other hand, the opponents to neo-Aristotelian Naturalism do not necessarily disagree with neo-Aristotelian Naturalism in terms of the first issue. However, they oppose the idea that Aristotle’s ethics is independent of his natural science. Shields states that the function argument in Nicomachean Ethics I 7 implicitly assumes the specialized psychological knowledge in De anima. Leunissen states that Aristotle does not require that students of ethics (or political science) are familiar with the rudimentary knowledge of natural science, but rather that they are educated for the specialized knowledge on his natural (biological) science. It is the ambiguity of Aristotle’s own explanation that neo-Aristotelian Naturalists and their opponents disagree with regards to the second issue. Aristotle clearly distinguishes between practical and theoretical knowledge. On the other hand, he also seems to say that in order to understand ethics we need to possess knowledge of natural science, which does not need to be strict enough to know the principles of natural science. It is ambiguous whether the knowledge which Aristotle expects us to acquire is a rudimentary or a specialized one. Therefore, opinions of scholars also disagree as to whether his ethics depends on his natural science.
The author speculates that Aristotle’s ethics depends partly on natural science. Because, in Rhetoric, Aristotle seems to think that the rhetorical reasoning which is related to political science uses a premise of natural science.