Aristotle's Genealogy of Morals

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Ancient Philosophy | Arts and Humanities | Classics | Philosophy


“The subject of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is desires and their ends, and at the center of the different relations between desires and ends stands the mysterious idea of an action being its own end. I propose to clarify that idea by an account which proceeds along quite different lines from the argument of the Ethics and which uses a decidedly un-Aristotelean vocabulary, hoping that such changes will make intelligible an otherwise perplexing idea. My procedure is quite different from Aristotle's because I offer a genetic account which makes ends in themselves the outcome of a history. My language is different from Aristotle's because, while I use Aristotle's technical vocabulary of kinesis and energeia, poesis and praxis, I also use the looser, more modern language of values, preferences, and the like. Finally, although Aristotle restricts his analysis of ends in themselves to virtuous actions, I think they can be illuminated by showing the way even non-moral actions can be their own ends, and so I will build my account by reference to some non-ethical Aristotelean texts.”