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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 44, 1998

Theoretical Ethics

Raymond M. Herbenick
Pages 103-111

Aristotle and Mathematical Ethics for Happiness?

Philosophers since antiquity have argued the merits of mathematics as a normative aid in ethical decision-making and of the mathematization of ethics a theoretical discipline. Recently, Anagnostopoulos, Annas, Broadie and Hutchinson have probed such issues said to be of interest to Aristotle. Despite their studies, the sense in which Aristotle either opposed or proposed a mathematical ethics in subject-matter and method remains unclear. This paper attempts to clarify the matter. It shows Aristotle’s matrix of exactness and inexactness for ethical subject-matter and ethical method in the Nicomachean Ethics. Then it probes a resultant puzzle from the matrix, namely, the HL model of the happy life without consideration of mathematical justice (Bk. III) and the HJL model of the happy life with such consideration (Bk. V). Finally, it examines Aristotle’s twofold rationale for differentiating these two models in his overall moral feedback loop system: differences in the intellectual virtue of good deliberation; the priority of friendship over justice for the happy life. This suggests Aristotle saw no objection either to using mathematics as an aid to ethical decision-making for a happy life, or to mathematizing at least some parts of an ethical theory of eudaimonism.

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