Some Nussbaum

Sam Pawlett rsp at
Sun Nov 21 23:53:20 PST 1999

"To value a public scheme of education is to value something both vulnerable and difficult to realize. Aristotle's arguments against prevailing custom in Politics VII makes it clear that anything approaching adequate general practice is rare. And even if it is possible to become good in less ideal surroundings, cultural instability of a sort familiar in his time will frequently bring practice below the threshold of acceptability. Furthermore, even in a good and stable culture, because of economic necessity there will always be those who, living the life of manual laborers, will be debarred by the exigencies of daily work from having the education requisite for full human excellence. 'If one is living the life of a craftsman or hired servant, it is not possible to practice the things belonging to excellence'[Politics 1278a20-1; cf. 1329a39-41]. Even the life of the farmer is not compatible with full human excellence, 'for leisure is required both for the coming to be of excellence and for political activities.'[1329a1-2]. But craftsmen, hired servants and farmers will always be needed for the sake of survival and prosperity. The conclusion we must draw from these facts is that even in a good city the best human life cannot be open to all, since it requires conditions that cannot at any one time be distributed at all. Aristotle, looking upon these difficult facts, does not conclude that these social conditions, after all, be genuine necessary conditions for excellence. He concludes instead that, even excellence should be available, as he has said, to all who are not naturally able to attain it, that is not for all people, the way the world is. Some injustice is required by the exigencies of social life itself under contingent existing economic conditions. To put things this way is, in his view, better than to define the good in terms of the possible: first, because it provides an incentive to the legislator to work against these limitations as much as possible; second, because to aim only at what is, for everyone 'commensurate with life' is to aim at a lower and impoverished mark." *Fragility of Goodness* p347

Shades of Sen? Was Aristotle a bourgeois liberal after all?

Sam Pawlett

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