Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is the first and arguably most important treatise on ethics in Western philosophy. It remains to this day a compelling reflection on the best sort of human life and continues to inspire contemporary thought and debate. It shed light on Aristotle's rigorous and challenging thinking on questions such as: Can there be a practical science of ethics? What is happiness? Can we arrive at convincing accounts of virtues? Are we responsible for our character? How does moral virtue relate to good thinking? Can we act against our reasoned choice? What is friendship? Is the contemplative life the highest kind of life?
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics 1113 b 7-8 and free choiceSusanne Bobzien
1. EN 1113 b 7-8 and its putative role as evidence for indeterminist free choice One of the various arguments proposed in favour of the claim that Aristotle had an indeterminist notion of free choice is based on a sentence in the first paragraph of book 3 chapter 5 of the Nicomachean Ethics.
Here is a much-quoted translation of this sentence:(A) (1) For where we are free to act we are also free to refrain from acting, (2) and where we are able to say No we are also able to say Yes. (Arist. EN 1113 b7-8, tr. Rack-ham 1926)
The phrases ‘we are free to’ and ‘we are able to’ both translate eph’ hêmin
The sentence translated by (A) and (B) is a central sentence of a central passage in which Aristotle is concerned with certain things that are eph’ hêmin.
To see why this sentence is thought to support indeterminist free choice, we first need to see what indeterminist free choice is. Authors often do not provide a definition, but the following account should be sufficiently general to cover the various relevant views:
An agent is undetermined, and thus free, in their choice ( prohairesis), if at the moment of making their choice, what choice they make is not fully or sufficiently determined by preceding, and/or simultaneously existing, causes. At the moment of the agent’s making the choice, no causal factors prevent them from not making that choice.2
Link al ensayo de la Ética Nicomaquea de Suzane Bobzien: documento completo:
1 More literal common English translations of eph’ hêmin
Context determines what translation is most suitable. For a detailed discussion of Aristotle’s use of eph’ hêmin
see Meyer in chapter 6 of this volume.
2 This formulation allows for the possibility that agents are sufficient causes of their actions, but are themselves unpredetermined in what choice they make. Cf. e.g. Bobzien, 1998: 133-4