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CPAMP Work-in-Progress (WIP) Talk (Sukaina Hirji, Pennsylvania)

Monday January 13, 2020, 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

The Collaborative Program in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy welcomes Sukaina Hirji, an assistant professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Hirji works in both ancient philosophy and contemporary ethics. Much of her research explores the idea that there is something intrinsically valuable about developing and exercising capacities that are central to our nature as human beings. She is also actively engaged in initiatives focused on improving the discipline of philosophy through greater equity and diversity.

Talk Title

How Virtue Is a Means to Contemplation

Talk Abstract

In a number of passages in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle seems to suggest that ethical virtue is an instrumental means to contemplation. But, as many scholars have worried, this view seems to be both implausible on its face, and in tension with other commitments Aristotle has. The difficulty in understanding the relationship between ethical virtue and contemplation forms part of a larger puzzle about the structure of value in Aristotle’s ethical theory. Does Aristotle countenance a plurality of independently valuable ends for human beings? Or, is the value of all other ends for human beings ultimately reducible to the value of the highest human good?

In this paper, I argue that the dominant attempts to explain the relationship between virtuous actions and contemplation in a non-instrumental fashion are unsuccessful. Instead, I argue, we should accept the face-value reading: virtuous actions really are “for the sake of” contemplation because they instrumentally promote contemplation. Specifically, virtuous actions are for the sake of the noble or kalon insofar as they promote conditions of peace, security, and freedom from necessity, and these are precisely the conditions under which contemplation is possible. This view is, I argue, consistent with the idea that performing virtuous actions is also an end, choice-worthy for its own sake.

On the interpretation I defend, we find in Aristotle a sophisticated theory of value that demonstrates the possibility of being a pluralist while still maintaining that every good is hierarchically organized around some one highest good. More surprisingly, Aristotle’s view contains an important reminder about the degree of privilege required to engage in philosophy, and a suggestion for the kind of moral responsibility we might have as philosophers to make philosophy accessible to a wider number.





Monday January 13, 2020
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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The Collaborative Specialization in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (CSAMP)
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Room 205, Lillian Massey Building | Centre for Medieval Studies
125 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C7 Canada
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