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Pleasure and Motivation in the Eudemian Ethics

Giulia Bonasio

Columbia University

The nature of pleasure and its role in the good life are much debated topics among Aristotelian scholars. Scholars agree that perceiving something as pleasant often entails believing that it is good. They stress that this process may lead one to consider something as good when it is not and they tend to emphasize the illusory and deceptive nature of pleasure. Jessica Moss argues that pleasure is the apparent good. She defines appearance of goodness as “a motivating representation through phantasia, which derives from previous perception of its object as pleasant, and forms in turn the basis for thoughts about goodness”. Moss argues that all motivations involve an appearance of the object desired as good. In the view she proposes, the pleasant is the object of desire qua apparent good and phantasia is the faculty that detects it, while the good is the only conceptualized object of desire. Moss' argument starts from a passage in the EE and then focuses on the NE.

In this paper, I engage with Moss' view and I propose a different interpretation of pleasure. I will show that Aristotle, at least in the EE, offers an acount of motivation in which the good, the beautiful, and the pleasant all play a role in motivating the subject to act. In my argument, I focus on the nature and role of pleasure in the Eudemian Ethics and I claim that the passage in the EE, which is Moss' starting point, has a different upshot, if read within the context of the EE. As I will argue, while there are bad and deceptive pleasures, there are also pleasures that are not misleading and illusory. In my view, pleasure can appear good to the subject in two senses: the appearance can be misleading and the pleasure can ultimately result in not being good at all, or pleasure can appear good and be indeed good for the subject. But these are not the only ways in which the subject perceives pleasure: pleasure can be perceived qua pleasure and it can be desired in this guise. As I will show, pleasure co-motivates the subject to pursue virtue: virtue becomes second nature for the excellent person and it is perceived as pleasant. Thus, I end up disagreeing with Moss on three counts: first, her position is not compellingas far as interpretive matters go (the EE passage cannot justify the reading of the NE that she puts forward); second, her position ends up seeing pleasure in far too negative a light, at least with reference to the EE, and arguably also to the NE; third, on my account of pleasure, as Aristotle conceives of it in the EE, pleasure is a value property in its own right, namely, while Moss thinks that pleasure is a kind of surface property of the good, I am proposing that the pleasant and the good are two kinds of properties.

In this paper I start by presenting Moss' view (section 1); I then argue that the account of pleasure that Aristotle gives in EE VI (=NE VII) if read in the context of the EE, connects pleasure to virtue and to happiness, and thus gives a positive role to pleasure in motivation (section 2). Finally, I present my argument in favor of pleasure as contributing to the good life by co-motivating the subject to pursue virtue and my reasons for disagreeing with Moss' view (section 3).

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Ancient Greek Philosophy (organized by the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy)

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