Skipping the rest of Book 1, Chapter 6. I am not interested too much in Aristotle’s polemics against the Platonists. At least not now. Especially since I do not yet understand Plato very well.


What is the good of a given art? The good of a given art is that for the sake of which the art is done. The good of medicine is health; of strategy, victory; architecture, a house; and so forth. “For it is for the sake of this that all men do whatever else they do. Therefore if there is an end for all that we do, this will be the good achievable by action, and if there is more than one, these will be the goods achievable by action.”

“Since there are evidently more than one end, and we choose some of these (e.g. wealth, flutes, and in general instruments) for the sake of something else, clearly not all ends are complete ends; but the chief good is evidently something complete.” That which is pursued for the sake of itself is complete, whereas that which is pursued for the sake of something else is not. The former is complete because it is sufficient for itself; one needn’t do anything but it, for any reason other than doing it. Also, that which is desirable only for itself, is better than that which is desirable both for itself and for something else. And more complete, as well. (What is more complete is also better.)

Happiness is held to be the most complete end, for we choose it for itself, whereas we do not choose honor, pleasure, reason, and every excellence for themselves, but for the sake of happiness.

COMMENTARY: Why is what is more complete better? Because the most complete subsumes all goods; if health produces happiness, so too does victory. And if happiness includes both health and victory, it is both more complete and better than either alone.

In the next paragraph, Aristotle goes into sustained argumentation about why happiness is complete and therefore self-sufficient. If anyone wants to look at it, it has the Bekker number 1097b7.

But how do we flesh out this happiness–since “to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude”? We first ask what is the function of a human being. A flute-player has a function, which is to play the flute, and a sculptor, to sculpt, and any artist in general, to make art, and the tanner to tan, and the carpenter to practice carpentry, and the eye seeing, hand manipulating, and foot walking or kicking, and so forth. And the good for each is executing their function well. Has man to have no function? If so, what is peculiar to man? Plants grow and have nutrition, so it is not growing or having nutrition. And animals sense, too, so it is not sense. Only man is rational. Man’s function, then, must be in accordance with, or at least not without, this rationality. “If we say that a so-and-so and a good so-and-so have a function which is the same in kind, e.g. a lyre-player and a good lyre-player…eminence is excellence being added to the function.” Human good, therefore, is a life lived excellently in accordance to the rational principle, and this too is happiness.

COMMENTARY: Aristotle makes a lot out of this kind of comparative zoology. If man has the rational principle as what distinguishes him from the animals, then certainly to live according to this rational principle to its utmost is to live humanly, BUT ONLY IN RELATION TO THE ANIMALS. There is no reason to say that it is exclusively man’s reason that must be cultivated; man’s being is not defined in relation to the animals, but only through an appraisal of him alone. Yet that is only an assertion. Aristotle’s example of the lyre player is an extremely compelling one, for isn’t the lyre player defined by the fact that he plays a lyre, and his activity almost solely defined by this fact? And yet the only thing that distinguishes the lyre player from any other person is his having a lyre. I think it would be sufficient to show how man’s situation vis-a-vis the other animals is different from the lyre player’s situation vis-a-vis other men, if we were to attempt to undermine Aristotle’s rationality-centered conception of man’s purpose. But I do not know how to do this.

COMMENTARY: As a side note, it must be understood here that happiness (eudaemonia) is not understood in the same sense as moderns understand it.

Aristotle, in a brief side-note, says, “one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed or happy,” just as good playing by a lyre-player for a fraction of a song and bad playing during the rest does not make a good lyre player.

“Let this serve as an outline of the good; for we must presumably first sketch it out roughly, and then later fill in the details.”

“We must consider it, however, in the light not only of our conclusion and premisses, but also of what is commonly said about it; for with a true view all the facts harmonize, but with a false one they soon clash.”

There are three classes of goods: external goods, those of the body, and those of the soul. Everything that Aristotle has posited is that of the soul. And the philosophers agree on this point. And so on.

Now “with those who identify happiness with excellence or some one excellence our account is in harmony; for to excellence belongs activity in accordance with excellence.” But is the chief good the possession or use of excellence? In the former case, the state may produce no good result, as in an excellent man who sleeps or one who has stolen away into seclusion. And in athletic contests, it is not the man who is beautiful or strong who wins, but those who compete.

The life of those who use excellence is also pleasant. Just as a horse is pleasant to the lover of horses, so too are excellent things pleasant to the lovers of excellence. We would not call one excellent who did not love excellence, such as someone who only behaved excellently for the sake of appearances but hated it in itself–just we would not call a man noble who did not rejoice in what is noble; one must both possess excellence AND put it to use. One must possess excellence to use excellence; otherwise, what one uses only appears to be excellence but is really vice masquerading as excellence. And using excellence is, too, as we have seen, a necessary condition for us calling a man excellent.

For most men, excellence is not pleasant, because their pleasures are in conflict with each other; yes, they value excellence, but they also value things that are not excellent, and so when they use excellence, they are never satisfied with it; they remain unsatisfied even with excellence, and so the pleasantness of excellence is mixed and quite often even unpleasant, since they often love things that are not excellent more than things that are excellent.

And because what is excellent to humans is excellent because it helps man to fully realize his nature–just as the lute player realizes his nature as a lute player through excellent lute playing–excellence is natural, and what is not excellent is unnatural.

Excellent actions are also good and noble, because an excellent man judges well about good and noble things. Excellence is, indeed, equivalent to what is good and noble. For what else could goodness and nobility be apart from what is man’s nature to the highest degree, that is, his excellence?

Happiness is, then, in accordance with what is natural, and it is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing.

It is impossible, or not easy, to be happy and excellent without the proper equipment. Evidently, then, one needs external goods as an addition to internal ones. “In many actions we use friends and riches and political power as instruments; and there are some things the lack of which takes the lustre from blessedness, as good birth, satisfactory children, beauty; for the man who is very ugly in appearance or ill-born or solidary and childless is hardly happy, and perhaps a man would be still less so if he had thoroughly bad children or friends or had lost good children or friends by death. As we have said, then, happiness seems to need this sort of prosperity in addition; for which reason some identify happiness with good fortune, though others identify it with excellence.”

COMMENTARY: I see no reason that it should not be both–that excellence is a gift of fortune.

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I am only glossing the B version of the introduction–that is, the version of the introduction written by Kant for the second edition of the Critique. While I am sure the scholarship on the differences between the A and B versions is interesting, it is not my immediate interest.

Objects affect our senses and produce representations; these representations are compared and combined and separated (worked up) into knowledge of objects which we call experience. All knowledge begins with experience, but does not all arise from experience. It may well be that experience is only the occasion, the realizer, of knowledge–which already lies latent before experience in the human mind.

Is there knowledge that is independent of the experience, though? Such knowledge is called a priori, and is distinguished from the empirical, or a posteriori, or that which is known through experience. By a priori is not meant knowledge of a world, which is brought about through experience, but which is not yet experienced, e.g. knowledge that a house will collapse before it collapses. By a priori is meant knowledge that has no origin whatsoever in experience.

We are, in a word, interested in pure a priori knowledge. This can be contrasted to impure a priori knowledge, e.g. ‘every change has a cause.’ This is impure a priori knowledge, rather than pure a priori knowledge, because change is a concept which can only be found in experience.

A priori judgments are both necessary and universal. Judgments from experience are neither. A judgment from experience says only that something is; it does not say whether or not it is necessary. Kant will later argue that the capacity to know if something is necessary or not comes from reason, not experience: science (at least nomothetic science [nomothetic= law-stating]), whose main subject matter finds its possibility a priori, is the foundation on which we can make any claim regarding necessity.

And a judgment from experience only has “assumed and comparative universality,” not strict universality as such. We can say that all swans are white on the basis of only seeing white swans, but this universality is only relative to our own experience. In order to make a truly universal judgment, then, we need to bring into play something apart from experience. This something is a priori knowledge. Making a priori knowledge the foundation for strictly universal judgments was Kant’s response to Hume’s and other similar objections to making universal statements on the basis of induction.

An example of such a necessary and universal statement: “every alteration must have a cause.” Kant claims that Hume’s attempt to derive it from a repeated association of experiences fails because what is produced is merely a subjective necessity.

COMMENTARY: But would this be a problem, if this subjective necessity were replicated in the experience of many, and then transformed into speech, making it possible to corroborate this “subjective necessity”–thereby producing an objective knowledge?

Kant then makes an important argument: “Even without appealing to such examples, it is possible to show that pure a priori principles are indispensable for the possibility of experience, and to so prove their existence a priori. For whence could experience derive its certainty, if all the rules, according to which it proceeds, were always themselves empirical and therefore contingent?”

COMMENTARY: But what rules does Kant mean? Does Kant mean the rule of turning experience into necessary and universal judgments? But does the common person ever really make necessary and universal judgments in the philosophical sense? That is to say, is the function of speech of the common person when he says, “All roses are red,” to make a scientific statement (a necessary and universal one), or rather, is it not to limit the possibility of action? Perhaps the common man says that all roses are red not PRIMARILY to make a universal statement, but instead to discourage his friend from looking for white roses. So while the propositional content of the statement, its context specific content and the way it is said are perhaps the real point of the statement, e.g. “All roses are RED!” Is it possible, therefore, that to focus on the epistemological content of the proposition is to miss the point of the proposition in common experience? Who is to say, moreover, that when we say that “all roses are red,” we really mean what we experience? For Kant means to suggest just that–that what we experience can only be made possible by these sorts of a priori judgments. But what if judgments are not essential to experience as such, but only extraneous? It may be necessary to wait to see what Kant means by experience.

Kant makes a final argument based on Aristotelian metaphysics, which he claims is an appeal to common sense. If we subtract all properties from an object, we are still left with the substance (being, or in Greek ousia) of the object, and this cannot be taken away. “Owing, therefore, to the necessity with which this concept of substance forces itself upon us, we have no option save to admit that it has its seat in our faculty of a priori reason.” I for one am not convinced on this point. More on this in next section.

Kant opens with the following sentence:
“But what is still more extraordinary than all the preceding is this, that certain modes of knowledge leave the field of all possible experiences and have the appearance of extending the scope of our judgments beyond all limits of experience, and this by means of concepts to which no corresponding object can ever be given in experience.”

COMMENTARY: Isn’t that precisely what the concept of substance does? I leave this an open question.

Kant gives us the same story we have been given in the prefaces. Reason is endlessly motivated to find solutions to the nature of God, freedom, and immortality; the result is metaphysics. With metaphysics, the most reasonable thing would be to carefully determine whether the foundations for metaphysics are legitimate. But this, according to Kant, rarely happens in reality. Instead, as with Plato, metaphysics is constructed in the empty space of pure understanding–so easy, because the space offers no resistance, but impoverished because the space offers no resistance to the wings of thought and therefore no reality apart from fabrication through which to navigate.

Now what sustains this flight is the flattery of the “analysis of the concepts we already have of objects.” And “this analysis supplies us with a considerable body of knowledge, which, while nothing but explanation or elucidation of what has already been thought in our concepts, though in a confused manner, is yet prized as being, at least as regards its form, new insight.” While this procedure yields real knowledge a priori, another process also takes place, whereby reason “introduces assertions of an entirely different order, in which it attaches to given concepts others completely foreign to them.” The distinction between these two processes must be made, and it is the topic of the following section.


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I am skipping most of the details Kant’s discussion in the last ten pages of the Second Preface on the relationship between his Critique of Pure Reason and the content between his second, slimmer Critique: the Critique of Practical Reason.  I do this because I am a bit overwhelmed by the way Kant’s practical-theoretical distinction plays out, and my head spins in comparing his account to Aristotle’s and Descartes’.  I am also much more interested in focusing on his theoretical for the time being, seeing how it plays out, and THEN focusing on his practical philosophy.  Because the Critique of Pure Reason barely touches on his practical philosophy, I don’t think discussing the bit of preface on his practical philosophy is too important.

So, as a summary, I will just gloss over the entire account of Kant’s philosophical system to wrap up this discussion of prefaces, and in it, I will include the outline of his practical philosophy as well.  I may scan a bit of a chapter out of a book that introduces Kant’s philosophy in a few pages, which would explain these things better than I do.  But after that, I am going to start on the Introduction to the COPR.


This capacity for sensing (the sensibility), when isolated from actual experience, generates imaginations.  For Kant, speculative reason is the result of applying reason to our imaginations.  For example (and we will see this discussed in detail later in the COPR), in the same way that we understand that everything must have a cause in the world, we will imagine that there must be a cause outside the real world for the things in the world.  We in this way apply what we use on the REAL WORLD to something we imagine outside the real world.  Now when we take this speculation to actually be saying something about the real world in the same way as we take our senses to be saying something of the real world, we make a mistake.  We think that what we speculate beyond sense experience is the real world (and this discipline of speculating the real world and taking our speculations as true is called metaphysics), but what we speculate to Kant really does not have the same status as what we sense of the real world.  To Kant, we must limit the status of this speculation to really what it is: mere speculation.

Those who do not limit speculation in this way, metaphysicians, debate endlessly over the following subjects: does God or does God not exist?  Is there free will, or are human beings unfree?  Is there an immortal soul or is there not?  These are the three issues that become central to Kant’s practical philosophy, which is as follows.

Because Kant says that we must limit speculationand thus remain agnostic about these issues, he claims to paradoxically open up the possibility for resolving these issues once and for all.  Here is how: the answer to these metaphysical questions have profound practical implications.  If God does not exist, there is no morality; if there is no free will, there is no responsibility; if there is no immortal soul, there is no meaning to life, since it will just as soon be eradicated as it came into being.  Kant claims that what metaphysics had been fighting about had been impoverishing a clear and stable practical orientation to the world, since if we do not know the answers to these questions, we cannot know how to live.  But, if we need an answer to these questions so much, and which answer we need is pretty clear-cut, then from the perspective of a practical reason, we must say that the answer is what practical life requires.  Therefore, God exists, we have free will, and we have immortal souls–because practical reason demands that these be true.  What were once disputed within metaphysics are now determined, once and for all, by the demands of what practical reason requires in order to live; where metaphysics had initially said that in the world-in-itself (behind all appearances) existed (or did not exist) God, free will, and/or immortality, now practical reason says that in the world-in-itself (behind all appearances) exists God, free will, and/or immortality.  This is the case, even as theoretical reason, which is limited only to what we can know by the senses, says that we CANNOT know these things.  We end up with two kinds of world then: a world of appearances, which is known by theoretical reason, and a world-in-itself (a world beyond appearances), which is known only by practical reason.

This way of establishing the truth of something, through an appeal to practical reason, while it seems paradoxical, would come to undergird practically all of modern thought: from Hegel and Marx to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and Freud to Wittgenstein and Foucault.

Now there is a lot more to Kant, a LOT of really important things, but these don’t seem to be in the prefaces, and we’ll get to them as we get through the book, but this should give a flavor.

*(Metaphysics reached its first pinnacle in Aristotle, from whose book we take the name of the discipline.  The origin of the word metaphysics is really this: Aristotle wrote the book, Physics, which was an attempt to account for all change in the natural world, and then he wrote a book after the Physics, which had no title.  And so Andronicus, the man to rediscover Aristotle’s books in a library after a Roman invasion of Greece, decided to give a title to this book.  Well, one meaning of the particle in Greek “meta” is “after.”  So the Metaphysics, “after physics,” is so titled, because it is the book Aristotle that wrote after the Physics.  One can of course take the other meaning of the word meta, which is “beyond”, to be the real meaning of meta in the word metaphysics, in which case metaphysics means “beyond physics,” which is roughly the sense in which many have understood the term “metaphysics” to have meant.)

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A note on the prefaces.  There are two prefaces because there are two editions to the book.  The first preface corresponds to the first edition, the second preface the second.

1. What constantly finds itself in dispute, what does not make progress, what is frequently stopped in its tracks is not science.  The COPR intends to follow the path of science, even if this science abandons some (unthoughtful) questions as fruitless.

2. Logic is a complete science, a model that has not changed since the days of Aristotle.  (The 20th century has of course vigorously overthrown this idea with modern formal logic.)  “Logic’s sole concern is to give an exhaustive exposition and strict proof of the formal rules of all thought, whether it be a priori or empirical, whatever be its origin or its object, and whatever hindrances, accidental or natural, it may encounter in our minds.”

3. Logic owes its success to its limitations.  But for reason to enter upon the same path is more difficult, “since it has to deal not with itself alone but also with objects.”  Logic, therefore, is only a preliminary of the sciences.  And in order to come to a critical estimate of specific modes of knowledge, we must look to the sciences proper.

4. If reason plays a role in the sciences, then something must be known about the sciences before one begins to do science.  For how else could reason play a role in the sciences if it did not produce a knowledge that precedes them?  That is to say, if science is to be reasonable, then we must know what reason is in order to make it reasonable, and hence this knowledge of reason must be preliminary to any reasonable science.

5. “This knowledge may be related to its object in one or other of two ways, either as merely determining it and its concept (which must be supplied from elsewhere) or also as making it actual.  The former is theoretical, the latter practical knowledge of reason.  In both, that part in which reason determines its object completely a priori, namely, the pure part…”  Oh god this paragraph doesn’t make sense.

6. This one does not either.  Mathematics and physics have to determine their objects a priori?  I am sorry, but what does “determine” mean here, or “objects” for that matter?  Much less “determine their objects”?  I think Kant is saying that you will have to read his book to figure out what he is saying in the preface.  Wish he would just say that directly.  (I nearly gave up here, but I will overcome!)

7. Kant goes on with his talk of objects, concepts, and determinations, whatever these all mean.  In any case the conclusion here, after a discussion of Greek geometry is this: “If he [the mathematician or scientist] is to know anything with a priori certainty he must not ascribe to the figure anything save what necessarily follows from what he has himself set into it in accordance with his concept.”  WAT.  Is Kant suggesting that we somehow imput geometry onto the triangle?  I think he’s saying exactly that.   :coolsmiley:  But critically, he is saying that we cannot imput anything onto the triangle that we do not KNOW with a priori certainty.  So, while there is a sense in which, yes, man is the measure of all things, there is also a sense in which man just so happens to be a pretty inflexible fellow.  One cannot, in other words, say just anything about the triangle simply because what we say about the triangle depends on man; instead, our statements are bound by the limits of reason, of which COPR is the investigator, and through such an investigation, when made public, also the law-giver.  The COPR tells what reason is, and thereby sets down laws on what can be said about the object and what cannot be said about the object according to its dictates.

8. Kant goes on to praise Bacon, Galileo, Torricelli, and Stahl: “they learned that reason has insight only into that which it produces after a plan of its own, and that it must to allow itself to be kept, as it were, in nature’s leading-strings, but must itself show the way with principles of judgment based upon fixed laws, constraining nature to give answer to questions of reason’s own determining.”

9. METAPHYSICS BASHING TIME.  Metaphysics is not on the path of a secure science, even if it is older than all the sciences.  It is, Kant concludes, a merely random groping.

10. Yet neither mathematics nor physics are a merely random groping.  Maybe we can use their example and apply it to philosophy to resolve the problems with metaphysics.  And look!  We have Copernicus as a model.  “Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved around the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest.”
(Of course, from a purely analogical point of view, Kant seems to do the opposite of Copernicus.  Where Copernicus de-centers us in the cosmos, Kant centers us in epistemology.  Where the earth is no longer the center of the universe, now man at least is the center of what is to be true and untrue.  Still, from a history of science and history of philosophy point of view, the analogy is wonderful: Kant wants nothing less than a revolution in how we frame philosophical questions.)

11. Kant goes on to discuss two possibilities that result from his thesis that we only understand our experience through certain a priori concepts.  First, that the world does not conform to these concepts, and we get something like a partial view, like the Flatlanders in Flatland get a partial view of the soda bottle (a circle or ellipse) as it passes through flatland.  And second, that the world does conform to these concepts, which is to say that the concepts are already, as it were, inherent to the structure of the world itself.  The first possibility is problematic, since even if we do know something about the world through our experience, what we know precisely is unclear (just as what the Flatlanders know about the soda bottle, in being represented to them as a circle of varying sizes as it passes through the world, is unclear).  The second possibility is more hopeful, since everything I know about the world is really what it is.  (Sadly, as we will see later, we cannot know a priori which possibility is true, so we do not actually know which situation we find ourselves in, but fortunately, there are ways around this for Kant–this way around is the crux of Kant’s philosophy.)

12. If we take the second possibility to be true, then we start upon the secure path to science, since we can explain how there can be knowledge a priori.

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Gloss on preface 1.
1. Human reason yearns to answer questions it cannot ignore, yet are beyond its capabilities to resolve.  It contains within its own body the thorns of its torment.
2. To come to grips with these questions, human reason must resort to principles that go beyond the limits of any empirical data.  These principles are known as metaphysics.   But these principles come into self-contradiction, making metaphysics a battlefield of endless controversies.
3. Metaphysics was once Queen of the sciences.  Now (in the late 18th century), it is scorned.  Metaphysics was at first dogmatic (Aristotle).  But the Empire of metaphysics gradually gave way to anarchy, and skepticism at times reigned supreme (Sextus Empiricus et al).  But metaphysics was constantly re-established.  Locke tried to put an end to metaphysical debates by tracing their origins to the vulgar understanding.  But to no avail; Locke was wrong.  Metaphysics then lapsed back into its old dogmatism (Leibniz and Wolff).  The prevailing mood now is indifference to metaphysics.
4. But the indifferentists are themselves metaphysicians, despite their pretense of popular language and of their polemics toward the Academy.  Yet this indifference is the result of maturity, not shallowness.  What is especially important is that natural science flourishes in the midst of the decline of metaphysics.  Reason is now called upon again to re-assess itself in light of this development, and to legitimate the claims of reason and dismiss groundless pretensions “according to its own eternal and unalterable laws.”  This reassessment is the critique of pure reason.  (What these last two sentences mean, I don’t know.  I dare say I sense a little bit of obscurantism here, but I may be wrong.)
5. The critique of pure reason is an investigation of the extent and limits of the faculty of reason divorced from experience.  Being divorced from experience is what makes pure reason “pure.”  When the investigation is complete, the possibility or impossibility of metaphysics will be determined, as well as the precise way in which it is possible, if it is possible.
6. Kant says that, using the principles derived from this investigation, he has discovered how to guard against the errors and contradictions of key metaphysical problems.  “I venture to assert that there is not a single metaphysical problem that has not been solved, or for the solution of which the key at least has not been supplied.”
7. Some pretensions to humility; the metaphysicians have been claiming far more than I am, Kant says.
8. Kant nods to Aristotle: “it is in no wise permissible to hold opinions. …Any knowledge that professes to hold a priori lays claim to be regarded as absolutely necessary.”  The COPR is science in the classical (Greek) sense of the word: a system of deductive knowledge.  In order that the argument is not misunderstood, several clarifications of points made in the book to follow are necessary.
9. Two investigations are undertaken: the first, one of the objects of pure understanding (that is, of external reality), in order to render intelligible the validity of pure understanding’s a priori concepts.  (Whatever the word “concepts” means, I hope will become clear later.  I’ve never really understood the word.)  This first investigation is essential to the project.  The second investigation, on the other hand, “will investigate pure understanding itself, its possibility and the cognitive faculties upon which it rests; and so deals with it in the subjective aspect.”  So the first investigation is into the objective side of the pure understanding; the second investigation is into the subjective side.  But only the former investigation is essnetial.
10. The COPR is written in “dry, purely scholastic fashion,” because aesthetic considerations, i.e. examples and illustrations, would have made the resulting volume far too large.  And, such considerations are only necessary from a popular point of view, and the COPR is not intended for popular consumption.  Also: “many a book would have been much clearer if it had not made such an effort to be clear.”
11. Kant claims that, according to the COPR, metaphysics will reach its completion, and that successors to it will only have the liberty of considering metaphysics from a didactic, but not an intellectual point of view (i.e., how to teach the system, not to re-think it which is impossible).  This completed metaphysics, which will grow out of the principles of the COPR, will be produced under the title Metaphysics of Nature.  The COPR’s goal, from this point of view, is simply to “discover the sources and conditions of the possibility of such [principles], clearing, as it were, and levelling what has hitherto been wasteground.”  (This wasteground is, of course, the battlefield of the history of metaphysics.)  “For however completely all the principles of the system are presented in this Critique, the completeness of the system likewise requires that none of the derivative concepts be lacking.”  This book The Metaphysics of Nature, which would contain these derivative concepts, was never written.
The second preface will be completed tomorrow.

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According to Aristotle, there are three types of lives.  The life of the many, the political life, and the contemplative life.  The life of the many (polloi) identifies happiness with pleasure; this life is neither free, in that the man of pleasure is the slave of his desire, nor does this life operate on a principle different than that of the animals.  The political life, a life of greater refinement than that of the many, identifies happiness with honor; this kind of good is superficial, since it depends more on others than on oneself, and “the good we are looking for should be one’s own and not easily taken from one.”  Yet it is also true that, among the better of the political men, they seek honor only from those who know them, and on ground of their excellence.  So it may be so that what the political man seeks is not mere honor, but excellence.  But to Aristotle, excellence can be had while asleep, but when we speak of happiness, we speak of a state which we are actively experiencing; also excellence can be had while enduring tremendous misery, so how can it be called happiness?

There seems to be an insertion into the text, a critique on money-making, apparently a fourth kind of life, or perhaps more properly, a kind of false life, even less real than the life of pleasure.  For one cannot love money for itself; for money to be an end in itself is an absurd notion.  And so on with other such kinds of lives that are based on the love of some object.  “It is evident that not even these are ends–although many arguments have been thrown away in support of them.  Let us then dismiss them.”

COMMENTARY: How can a life of pleasure, which is an unfree life since it is governed by something beyond one’s rational control, be thought to be a hallmark of freedom?

Aristotle takes on Plato’s Form of the Good, i.e. the idea of a universal good that exists beyond this world that underlies the goodness of all good things.  It should be made clear that Aristotle is not sympathetic to such a notion.  This is perhaps one of the central differences between Aristotle and Plato, though the difference is subtle and I will not attempt to address it here.  But Aristotle is going to attack the notion of the Form of the Good, even though “such an inquiry is made an uphill one by the fact that the Forms have been introduced by friends of our own. … [but] as we are philosophers, … while both are dear, piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.”

Reading a bit further, this passage requires some background knowledge of Aristotle’s metaphysics, but I will distill the reading to make it intelligible without such a background.  Basically Aristotle asks: how can one universal Form account for numbers, relations between objects, colors, smells, etc., if these are all such distinctly different kinds of things (ousia)?

He then asks a related question: how can all good things be subsumed under one Form of Good, that is, all “substance, God and reason, the virtues, that which is moderate, the useful, the right opportunity, the right place, and so forth.”  Aristotle concludes on this point that “clearly the good cannot be something universally present in all cases and single.”

“Further, since of the things answering to one Idea there is one science, there would have been one science of all the goods; but as it is there are many sciences even of the things that fall under one category, e.g. of opportunity (for opportunity in war is studied by strategy and in disease by medicine), and the moderate in food is studied by medicine and in exercise by the science of gymnastics.”

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The good is that at which all things, every art and every inquiry, aim.  Some ends are activities, and some are products of activities.  When the ends are products, they are better by nature than the activities.  There are many activities, so there are many ends.  But where some ends are subordinate to others, such as the end of pike-making to the end of war–since we make pikes in order to make war–the master end is preferred to the subordinate end.  This is because it is for the former that the latter is pursued.  So we really undertake pike-making only incidentally to make pikes, but really to make war.

If there is some end for the things that we do that we do for its sake (“everything else being desired for the sake of this”), like the making of pikes for the sake of making war, and we do not really do everything we do for the sake of something else but really for the sake of one thing, this is the chief good.  (So, if we do everything we do in order to prepare for war (making pikes, making axes, etc.), this is a good, but if we make war for something else, and this something else is not done for the sake of anything else, then we really make war for the sake of this something else, and this something else is the chief good.)  “We must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is, and which of the sciences or capacities is its object.”  This object, if it exists, belongs to the most authoritative art.  The art of politics legislates finally what we are to do and what we are to abstain from, and so this end must include all other ends, e.g. the ends of strategy, economics, rhetoric.  And since the end of action is the good, then the end of politics must be the good for man.

Yet, even when the end of a single man and the state are the same, “that of the state seems at all events something greater and more complete both to attain and preserve, for though it is worth while to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for city-states.”

COMMENTARY: The political art, then, is best applied to the state; this is politics as such.  The political art applied to the individual man is ethics, and is subsumed under politics.  The good of man, i.e. the ethical life, is of the greatest concern, but the good of all men, i.e. the political life, is even greater.  But the greater importance of political art, which concerns the good of the many, is dependent on the lesser importance of ethics, which concerns the good of the individual.

Not all subjects admit the same degree of clarity; we should be content if our discussion has as much clearness as the subject of politics admits of.  Just actions, the object of political knowledge, exhibit variety and fluctuations across different kinds of societies.  We should think then that they are a matter of convention, rather than nature.  Goods also exhibit a similar fluctuation, because some goods bring harm to many people–e.g. wealth in some situations, courage in others.  Because of this variety, we should be content in speaking of this subject in outline, as being for the most part true in most cases.  And our statements should be received with this reservation.  “It is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician demonstrative proofs.”

Each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge.”  Hence, just as a man who has never looked at the stars and knows nothing about them would not be a good hearer of lectures on astronomy, so too the young man who has little experience in life is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science.  The knowledge of this text is not, then, intended for those who do not have any experience of good living, but it is very useful for those who do to understand more about good living.

What is it that political science aims at and what is the highest of all goods attainable by action?  “Verbally (in logos) there is very general agreement”: happiness.  But what happiness is to the many, and to the wise, is something different.  The many think the cause of it is obvious: pleasure, or weath, or honor.  But these disagree with one another, and they say different things.  Some think there is one thing that underlies all good things, i.e. Plato.  These are the most prevalent and reasonable opinions, and so Aristotle limits himself to these.

Aristotle must begin with what is familiar to reach the first principle, and that is why Aristotle begins with the various opinions first.  Anyone reading this text, therefore, must be familiar with what is good, or they will not be able to understand the discussion; therefore anyone who is to understand the text must have a good upbringing.  The man who has been brought up well can easily understand what is familiar, i.e. what are the starting points to a discussion of the good, the superficial appearance that leads us to a deeper principle.  Aristotle quotes Hesiod,

“For best is he who knows all things himself;
Good, he that harkens when men counsel right;
But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
Another’s wisdom, is a useless wight.”

COMMENTARY: Does this point of view condemn Aristotle to suggesting that it is only in virtue of a non-rational substratum, i.e. behavior, that one can know what is noble or not noble? Is knowledge of what is noble, therefore, ultimately reducible to something that is not rational? And if knowledge of what is noble is not rational, then do we have any foundation for thinking that there is anything rational about nobility? I will address these questions later on.

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