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University of Gothenburg
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Personality and Conceptualization

Project leader: J. Fink

The Problem

In Nicomachean Ethics books 2 and 6 (chapters 6.12–13 mainly but not exclusively), Aristotle discusses how moral agents come to perceive or conceptualize moral values and how they come to act in accordance with their moral values. His treatment of the question is rather obscure and modern interpreters of the Ethics have found no consensus for how to interpret his position. Roughly speaking, Aristotle applies this explanation: An agent’s perception of moral values depends on his or her upbringing or habituation. Humans conceptualize ‘the good’ in accordance with their character (or personality) and accordingly conceptualization of moral values is based primarily on personality and only secondarily on our capacity to reason. I shall refer to this explanation as ‘The Aristotelian Model’. This model takes its starting point not in phantasmata (as does the epistemological account of concept formation see Mora-Márquez) but in experience, habit, pleasure and personality. Apparently, the influence of personality on how things appear to someone is not confined to the agent when he or she is awake. Aristotle makes the curious claim that morally good people have ‘better’ dreams than the morally wicked (EN 1.13.1102b6–11), finally, he discusses the interrelation of ethics, psychology and biology in a number of contexts. Nevertheless, traditional investigations into Aristotle’s theory of concept formation virtually never take personality into account and so this sub-project offers a fresh approach to concept formation in Aristotle and in the Aristotelian tradition, which will supplement and complete the epistemological and more traditional approach.

Main Questions

1) The main question is how Aristotle (and after him his Greek and Latin interpreters) understands conceptualization of moral values and how an answer to this question might clarify and support the more traditional account of conceptualization. My thesis shall be that The Aristotelian Model is a useful interpretive tool for solving this major problem.

2) As a corollary to (1) the second main question is how to account for the relation between Aristotle’s Ethics and his psychology and biology to the extent that this is relevant for conceptualization.


Aug. 2014–Aug. 2016: Aristotle

In the first two years I want to explore and articulate The Aristotelian Model for conceptualization of moral values (see above). This implies not only formulating the model but also testing how well it works in accounting for conceptualization in its own and other spheres (such as psychology and metaphysics). Textual basis: EN; EE; An. 3.7 & 9; De Insomniis; De Motu Animalium chapters 7–8.

2016–17: Aristotle’s Ancient Greek Interpreters

The earliest extant commentary on Aristotle in the Greek tradition is on the Ethics (Aspasius, composed ca. 130 BC). Unfortunately this is the only commentary on the Ethics that survives from antiquity. For some reason Aspasius’ commentary contains nothing on books 5, 6 and parts of 7. This lack of sources for book 6 is problematic, but I will have to focus on the parts of the commentary that is otherwise useful (mainly the comments on EN 2). In the second phase of the project I will investigate Aspasius in order to find out how this early commentator tackled the question about moral conceptualization. It will be particularly important to establish what new ideas Aspasius introduces that will be relevant to The Aristotelian Model. A part from establishing (a) Aspasius’ position with respect to conceptualization of moral values, the other main aim will be (b) to identify the ideas introduced in this period that might be relevant for the Latin tradition. Textual basis: Aspasius, InEN; Commentaries InAn.

2017–19: Aristotle’s Latin Interpreters (12th–13th c.)

The Nicomachean Ethics was first known to the Latin West in an abbreviated form (EN books 2–3 and later EN 1–3). The first Latin commentators (mostly unedited) do not, therefore, comment on the crucial chapters 12 and 13 in Nicomachean Ethics 6 and so will be given less consideration than commentaries based on Grosseteste’s translation of the entire text (ca. 1246). I will do readings of the unedited sources with the assistance of the editorial group. The cataloguing research conducted by this group will facilitate this part of my project greatly. The main aim in this phase is to establish (a) how the school men interpreted The Aristotelian Model in the late twelfth to the late thirteenth centuries and (b) what connections these philosophers saw between the Ethics and Aristotle’s psychology and biology. Textual basis: Anonymous unedited commentaries (Avranches, Bibl. Munc. 232; Paris, Bibl. Nat. Lat. 3804A & 3572); Kilwardby (unedited); Albert, InEN 2 & 6; Thomas: InEN 2 & 6; InAn 3.7, 9; ST (Ia 75–102), Boethius de Dacia: De somniis, De summo bono; Radulphus Brito, InEN 2 & 6.

Relation to Other Sub-Projects

Mora-Márquez and Fink are tightly connected as described already. Mora-Márquez relies directly on the results of Ierodiakonou and Bydén (for the Greek part) and Thörnqvist/Radovic (for the Latin part); Fink relies on these mainly as they contribute to understanding Aristotelian experience (implying memory and other forms of sensory ‘knowledge’) and perception in dreams. It is to be expected that Kukkonen will contribute novel insights relevant for our Latin parts. In combination, Mora-Márquez and Fink will likely throw new light on conceptualization and we plan a co-authored publication about this. Our sub-projects supply the necessary basis for Hansen.

Page Manager: Andreas Ott|Last update: 3/18/2013

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