Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.19

Friedemann Buddensiek, Die Theorie des Glücks in Aristoteles' Eudemischer Ethik.   Göttingen:  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999.  Pp. 288.  ISBN 3-525-25222-6.  49 Euro.  



Reviewed by Ludger Jansen, Philosophisches Seminar II, Universität Bonn, Germany
Word count: 1912 words

The Eudemian Ethics (EE) can still be characterized as the little sister of the Nicomachean Ethics (NE), standing in the shadow of her sibling. Like many little sisters she suffers from being judged too often only in comparison to her sister. The aim of Friedemann Buddensiek's book is to take the EE seriously as a philosophical text on its own. Buddensiek does not indulge in lengthy philological discussions and developmental hypotheses, nor is his objective to compare the EE with the NE or to contribute to something like "Aristotle's ethics -- period". But he discusses the EE as a text in its own right, its philosophical propositions and arguments. As the title indicates, Buddensiek's special stress is on the theory of eudaimonia, a focus that is surely well grounded in the text of the EE itself, for the first chapter of the EE explicitly introduces the book's topic by making a complex claim about eudaimonia (to be rendered as something somewhere between prosperity and happiness): eudaimonia, or so EE I 1, 1214a 7-8 says, is not only (E1) the most beautiful (kalliston) and (E2) the best (ariston) thing, but also (E3) the most pleasant one (hediston).

Buddensiek starts with a general outline of the structure of Aristotle's theory of eudaimonia in the EE (ch. 1.1, pp. 11-20). Here he already hints at his most important findings, though he does not yet present all of his arguments. And, yes, Buddensiek does assume that Aristotle is the author of the EE -- something that has been doubted by so many eminent scholars that it is still important to state this explicitly. Buddensiek argues that EE is more dependent on Platonic thought and language and thus older than NE, with the "common books" (EE IV-VI = NE V-VII) being, at least, part of EE. Buddensiek does not add new arguments to these philological debates, but he summarizes and evaluates the different opinions and their arguments (if there are any), in order to pinpoint his own point of view which is also the backbone of his own interpretation (ch. 1.2, pp. 21-43).

After this introduction, Buddensiek turns his attention to several crucial passages of the EE, first to the proem EE I 1-6 (ch. 2, pp. 44-63) and then to the passage where Aristotle discusses the claim (E2), namely EE I 7-II 1, 1219a 39 (ch. 3, pp. 64-103). The last bit of this passage (EE II 1, 1218b 31-1219a 39) contains the so-called "ergon-argument": Man's happiness comes about through the fulfillment of his proper function. This argument is given the special attention it deserves in ch. 4 (pp. 104-147), and this leads to a more precise account of the concept of the good in EE (pp. 144-145). Then Buddensiek turns to the claim (E1) that happiness is most beautiful (ch. 5, pp. 148-184). To interpret this claim, Buddensiek has first to give an account of Aristotle's theory of beauty and to explain how it differs from goodness. For this, Buddensiek refers to Metaph. XII, where Aristotle says that the first mover is beautiful and connects this with the spare hints Aristotle gives elsewhere about the beautiful (kalon). Finally (in ch. 6, 185-257), Buddensiek can put things together and interpret EE VIII 3, where Aristotle discusses kalokagathia, the virtue of beauty-and-goodness ("Schön-und-Gut-Sein"), by way of a running commentary on that chapter. As the text of this last book of the EE is notoriously corrupt, Buddensiek also discusses extensively the emendation of the text: thirteen of the 32 deviations from the OCT (edited by Walzer and Mingay) that Buddensiek discusses or mentions in his book (which are all displayed in an appendix, pp. 258-259) concern EE VIII 3.

A question that has vexed many readers of Aristotle's ethics is whether fulfillment of the proper function is the only goal that has to be fulfilled in order to make a human being happy (making theoretical life a "dominant" goal), or whether it is one among many equally important goals (making theoretical life an "inclusive" goal). Buddensiek goes beyond this dominant/inclusive dichotomy (which was first suggested by W.F.R. Hardie). Buddensiek starts with the observation that a human being is a structured whole, a "System" -- not only a "pan", but a "holos" (p. 138-144 with reference to Metaph. V 26). By analogy, human eudaimonia should be considered to be a structured whole (p. 20), a view previously hinted at by Thomas Nagel (p. 109). Many things are necessary for human happiness (which preserves an important point of the "inclusive" view), but these things are not of equal standing (which modifies the inclusive view in an important respect and, in turn, preserves an important point of the "dominant" view): Theoretical life is the most important thing in human happiness, but many different things are necessary for living a theoretical life. Strong textual evidence for this view is Aristotle's claim that virtue is a tool (an "organon") of the intellect (the "nous", EE 1248a 29). But tools are means to some ends, while there is no doubt that having virtue is itself a goal for a human being. Thus human happiness involves many goals that are hierarchically ordered by mean-end-relations with the theoretical life at the top of the hierarchy. In the long run, no human being can think without food. And, one might add, in the end only the social division of labor in the polis provides the ground for enough leisure time to think about philosophical matters and thus for the good life (see Metaph. I 1 and Pol. I 1-2).

Overall, Buddensiek ties eudaimonia tightly to the first category. It is the proper function which brings about eudaimonia, and this proper function is rooted in man's essence. On the other hand, it is contingent whether a person is happy or not. Buddensiek does not deny this possibility: "A human being lives even if he is not happy" (p. 145). But he claims that it is not possible for a person "qua human being not to live well" (p. 145). Sadly, Buddensiek does not say much to clarify this clumsy phrase. Is it supposed to imply that a human being qua human being always lives well? And does this in turn imply that an unhappy person is not strictly called a human being but only analogically? This is a bold claim, indeed, but it might connect with other bits of Aristotle's philosophical framework: We could say that "human being" expresses a second entelechy when applied to the happy person, while with the unhappy person "human being" expresses only an unrealized capacity. Then only the actually sawing saw would properly be called "saw" (cf. pp. 180-184 and 196 with reference to EE VII 9, 1241b 17-24 and EE VII 10, 1242a 13-19). But it would also be impossible for a human qua human not to be awake, and this seems to be quite an odd claim. And this points out that kind-terms like "human being" often denote rather the first entelechy of being able to fulfill the proper function than the second entelechy of actually fulfilling it, even if the latter is more basic (kyrioteron, EE VII 10, 1242a 17).

In EE I 8 Aristotle presents a two-tiered argument for the homonymity of the good, attacking the conception of a single idea of the good. The first tier consists in two arguments that suggest distinguishing different meanings of "good" paralleling the different categories of being (1217b 25-34 and 34-35), while the second tier distinguishes different "goods" within the same category (ta homoioschemonos legomena agatha, 1217b 35-36) which are supposed to differ from each other because there is no single science studying them (1217b 35-1218a 1). Only the first argument of the first tier deserves the name "Kategorienargument". But even both tiers together are not strong enough to prove, as Buddensiek suggests, that "for any being there is a good being such that the latter incorporates the property of being the goal or characteristic (essential) of the first" (p. 93). Buddensiek does not discuss, how and when and where this "good being" is supposed to exist. Presumably the one idea of the good is not to be replaced by many small ideas-of-the-good-F?

The claim (E3) that happiness is most pleasant is given attention in the EE only in its last chapter, in EE VIII 3, 1249a 17-21, in connection with Aristotle's discussion of the kalokagathia. As discussion in the EE starts with the deviant view of the inscription in the propylaeum of Delos ("most pleasant is to achieve one's heart's desire", EE I 1, 1214a 6 in Wood's translation), it is surprising that Aristotle is not more explicit at this point. Buddensiek identifies kalokagathia with eudaimonia. They consist in having actualizations of an appropriate structure, and their structure is appropriate if they are organized such as to have theoretical life (the actualization of the human nous) as its ultimate goal. But as an intentional activity thinking needs an object, and the appropriate object in order to make the theoretical life not only good but also beautiful is the unmoved mover, the theos.

With regard to a book such as Buddensiek's it would be surprising if a reader agreed in every detail. One such detail in which I disagree is Buddensiek's translation of "epaineton" ("praiseworthy"). He does not really give a reason why he does not use the common German word "lobenswert" but "lobbar", which is not a current word of contemporary German. Similarly, Buddensiek translates "teleion" with the neologism "zielhaft" ("having the character of an achieved goal") instead of e.g. "vollendet" ("perfect"). Here, however, he gives an elaborate justification for his choice (p. 91 with reference to Metaph. V 16), which is quite plausible in its philosophical substance: There is indeed a very close relation between being good, being a goal and being the result of an appropriate process. But why should this philosophical insight be pressed into the translation of "teleion"? Because otherwise, Buddensiek argues, Aristotle uses "teleion" in the important ergon-argument in EE II 1, 1219a 28 without any introduction. Were there a close connection with "telos", the use of "teleion" would have been prepared by the previous use of telos in EE I 8, 1218b 10 and II 1, 1219a 8-11. It should be obvious that this observation does not necessitate Buddensiek's translation, which is at the same time too suggestive and too unclear. In any case, Buddensiek explicitly does not claim that "teleion" can be translated with "zielhaft" in all its occurrences. So why not stick to the usual translation and say the rest by way of commentary?

A final detail: Buddensiek does not exactly write in an exciting style. He often hides his information in sub-clauses and tends to correct his own formulations. Thus the book is at times a hard read. But it gives a fresh look at an often neglected text. Buddensiek makes Aristotle's arguments speak again, discussing them while taking account of the different interpretations given by the commentators and their weaknesses. When evaluating previous interpretations, Buddensiek has a good eye for hand-waving and holes in the argument. When presenting his own suggestions, he always presents his account within the context of Aristotle's general philosophical framework, thus motivating and explaining the position Aristotle assumes in the EE. Especially for the passages that are discussed extensively (which have been mentioned above) it will be worth reading the book side by side with the few commentaries (for example those by Franz Dirlmeier or Michael Woods).

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