restricted access Aristotle's Metaphysics of Morals
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Aristotle's Metaphysics of Morals EUGENE GARVER "The ethical virtues, as defined by Aristotle, do not fit in any simple way into the classification of powers in the Metaphysics,as rational or irrational" (W. F. R. Hardie, Aristotle'sEthical Theory,lol). 1. IN Metaphysics 9, Aristotle offers a presumably complete means of articulating all the things that are through the correlative terms dynamis and energeia, potency and act, terms which are intended to be as universally applicable as the categories themselves. ~ Chapter 2 begins by distinguishing two kinds of dynameis, rational and irrational: "Every rational dynamis is capable of causing both contraries, but every irrational potency can cause only one; for example, heat can cause only heating, but doctoring can cause sickness as well as health" (9.2. lo46b5-7). The transition from potency to act differs in the two cases: when an irrational potency is in contact with something it can act upon, it does so, as fire necessarily heats the flammable, but if a rational dynamis would act automatically, it would produce both contraries simultaneously. "So in the case of rational potencies there must be something else which decides, and by this I mean desire or choice"(9.5. lo48alo). Just how desire or choice provides the transition from rational potency to actuality will be one of the things I propose to explicate; more generally, while an enormous amount of effort has gone into applying to his ethical writings the subsequent (9.6) distinction between kinds of energeiai kineseisand energeiaiproper--the ethical relevance He introduces the potency/act distinction at the beginning ofMetaphysics9 without explaining its place in his argument or in first philosophy as a whole, apart from this parallelism to the categories: "We have discussed primary being, which is substance, and to which the other categories of being are referred.... Now since 'being' means what is or quality or quantity, but it also is used with respect to potency and actuality and function (ergon),let us also describe potency and actuality" (9.1.lo45b28-35). [7] 8 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 27: I JANUARY I98 9 of this distinction between kinds of dynameis has been neglected.~ Aristotle's ethical employment of the concept of energeia has deservedly received attention , since two of the primary concepts of the Nicomachean Ethics, happiness and good action, are both called energeiai. Because virtue is correlative to both these central energeiai in the Ethics in ways in which dynameis are correlative to energeiai~happiness is defined as energeia kat'areten and good action is the energeia of the good condition of the soul--I think it profitable to ask just what sort of dynamis virtue is, a problem complicated by the way the virtues fit into neither sort of power, neither rational nor irrational, in addition to the fact that Aristotle identifies the genus of virtue, hexis, by contrast to dynamis, thus seemingly denying that the virtues are dynameis at all. I will argue that the virtue is the dynamis for morally virtuous energeiai and show what sort of dynamis it is, and then briefly explain what sort of relation between virtue and happiness is implied when Aristotle asserts that eudaimonia is energeia kat'areten. By so doing, I will articulate a basic problem for Aristotle's metaphysics of morals: if virtue is correlative to both good action and to happiness, it cannot be comfortably classified as either a rational or an irrational dynamis, and that lack of fit between theoretical and practical science has profound consequences for a science concerned with good action. Aristotle explicitly denies that virtue is a dynamis, and consequently, before I begin to discuss the implications Aristotle's discussion of kinds ofdynamis has for ethics, I need to justify my supposition that the virtues can be considered as dynameis, dynameis for both eudaimonia and good action. If the virtues are not dynameis at all, then it would be hardly surprising that they were neither kind of dynamis.3 I need to show the reasons the virtues fit the metaphysical account of dynamis, although it falls under neither of its metaphysical kinds, rational and irrational. At the same time I must preserve the ethical contrasts...