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Self-Love and Self-Sufficiency in the Aristotelian Ethics

Jerry Green

The aim of this paper is to compare two of the most vexing passages in Aristotle’s ethical works, Nicomachean Ethics (NE) IX.9 and Eudemian Ethics (EE) VII.12. Both chapters discuss the same topic, whether the self-sufficient person will have friends, and both answer ‘yes’. So it is natural to see same argument in both chapters.[1]But this, I argue, is mistaken. The NE and EE differ in a crucial way, in that the NE’s argument extends self-love to friends, who are “other selves”. The EE uses a different argument, and indeed rejects the notion that a friend is another self.[2] This is part of a broader trend of the EE’s disagreement with the NE over the role of self-love.[3]These differences, I will suggest at the end of this paper, give us important clues as to the relationship between Aristotle’s two ethical treatises.

[1] A clear example of this reading is Stern-Gillet (1995), p.132.

[2] Another notable difference between NE IX.9 and EE VII.12 is the way humanity and divinity figure in Aristotle’s conception of self-sufficiency and eudaimonia. I cannot address this issue here, but the short version is this: in the EEAristotle explicitly rejects the notion that human happiness is similar to divine happiness, or that we can infer facts about the former from the latter. This issue is only hinted at in NE IX.9, but it is explicit in NE X.7-8 where Aristotle argues that eudaimonia is the activity of nous, the divine part of the soul which operates as the gods do.

This argument in turn relies on NE IX.8, which explains in what way the good person is friend to herself, for the premise that a person is her nous most of all (1168b34-1169a3; cf. IX.4, 1166a16-17). We can run an argument about these issues structurally similar to the argument of this paper, which I hope to do in more detail elsewhere.

[3] I’ve discussed other aspects of this topic in my “Self-Love in the Aristotelian Ethics”, presented to the SAGP in March 2011 and the APA in April 2011.

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