Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 33, 2008

Gianluca Di Muzio
Pages 19-32

Aristotle’s Alleged Moral Determinism in the Nicoachean Ethics

Did Aristotle believe that upbringing determines character, and character, in turn, determines action? Some scholars answer this question in the affirmative and thus read Aristotle as a determinist with little use for the idea that people are morally responsible for what they do. The present paper counters this interpretation by showing that a deterministic reading of Aristotle’s theory of action and character is indefensible in the face of the text. The author points to three main facts: (1) a passage in the Nicomachean Ethics shows conclusively that Aristotle did not regard upbringing as determining moral character; (2) the doctrine of character expounded in Nicomachean Ethics III does not entail that people can only act in conformity with their moral dispositions, and (3) Aristotle viewed alternate possibilities as genuinely open to moral agents, not as available to them only in principle (i.e., if they had received a different upbringing or had had different beliefs and desires).