Thoughts, Actions, Values

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics famously begins with the following sentence (as translated by W.D. Ross):

Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.

We can see here a point of connection between my two recent posts There’s No Such Thing as the Mind and It’s Values All the Way Down. For Aristotle, who founded the science of biology, all of our physical activities and also all of our intellectual activities are rooted in the needs and yearnings of our aliveness.

The equally famous first sentence of Aristotle’s Metaphysics goes like this (translated by yours truly):

All people naturally reach out to know.

Yet he means not disembodied minds seeking value-free science, but living, breathing human beings seeking value-infused sagacity (σοφία). In line with Aristotle’s threefold analyses of both ethical and intellectual virtues, the opposites of sagacity are on the one hand ignorance (the absolute lack of knowledge) and on the other hand sophistry (mere knowledge without the benefit of insight into or guidance by what is best).

The fact that no human endeavors, not even our intellectual endeavors, are completely value-neutral is not something to be lamented but something to be celebrated, because it is a sign and consequence of our deeply integrated nature as thinking, acting, valuing creatures.

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