Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 87, 2013

Aristotle Now and Then

Sebastian Purcell
Pages 183-194

Natural Goodness and the Normativity Challenge
Happiness Across Cultures

The present essay aims to respond to one of the most recent empirical challenges posed to an Aristotelian based virtue ethics. In the course of the debate concerning the existence of character traits a second and more recent challenge has emerged, which Jesse Prinz has called The Normativity Challenge. The argument in this case is that the empirical study of happiness undertaken by psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists, reveals that the end which virtues are supposed to support, namely happiness, is so thoroughly culturally specific that an Aristotelian virtue ethics cannot hope to stand as an alternative to other forms of ethics. In response I argue that Prinz’s critique is committed to two presuppositions about Aristotle’s conception of eudaimonia that are not supported by a careful reading of the Nicomachean Ethics, one of which is a careful understanding of natural goodness, so that the sociological evidence he produces does not support the conclusion he supposes that it does.