Volume 10, 2007
Ancient and Modern Philosophy
The Continuous Activity of Ordinary Life
Aristotle is right to argue that the best life is a life of unimpeded activity, but I believe he went wrong in thinking that ordinary human life is, or must be, far removed from the best life. To establish this claim, I offer a historical explanation of what unimpeded activity involves. I use the class of art patrons in Renaissance Florence to show how mathematical skills acquired in everyday life can be applied to widely differing tasks. As patrons extend their mathematical skills, their activities become more self-realizing and hence more continuous in Aristotle's sense. I argue that the activities of the Florentine patron class, to be sustained over time, require many of Aristotle's virtues. Examples like this show, I argue, that reasonably unimpeded activity is an important human good and that it is genuinely desirable to, and within the grasp of, ordinary people, even those who initially claim no interest in virtue.