Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Aristotle on the Limitations of Rationality in Ethics

"Our discussion will be adequate if its clarity matches the subject matter. For we should not seek exactness in all accounts alike...And fine and just actions, which political theory investigates, exhibit difference and fluctuation, so that it seems they exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also exhibit a similar sort of fluctuation because they cause harm to many people. For it has happened that some have been destroyed because of their wealth, and others because of their bravery. Thus we must be content, in speaking about and from such things, to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and we must be content in speaking about things that hold for the most part and in drawing conclusions of the same sort from such things."

---Aristotle, circa 325 BC, Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by N. Sherman in N. Sherman "Making a Necessity of Virtue: Aristotle and Kant on Virtue", p.268.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How far have we fallen.

The Richard Reid trial:

We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before.

There is all too much war talk here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice.

You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist.

You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist.

To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

So war talk is way out of line in this court. You're a big fellow. But you're not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders. In a very real sense Trooper Santiago had it right when first you were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and he said you're no big deal.

You're no big deal...

It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose. Here, in this society, the very winds carry freedom. They carry it everywhere from sea to shining sea.

It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom. So that everyone can see, truly see that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely. It is for freedom's seek that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf and have filed appeals, will go on in their, their representation of you before other judges. We care about it. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties.

Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden; pay any price, to preserve our freedoms. Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. Day after tomorrow it will be forgotten. But this, however, will long endure. Here, in this courtroom, and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done.

The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged, and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.

See that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag still stands for freedom. You know it always will. Custody, Mr. Officer. Stand him down.