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Cognition of Value in Aristotle's Ethics

Promise of Enrichment, Threat of Destruction

Deborah Achtenberg

Publication Year: 2002

With this new interpretation, Deborah Achtenberg argues that metaphysics is central to ethics for Aristotle and that the ethics can be read on two levels—imprecisely, in terms of its own dialectically grounded and imprecise claims, or in terms of the metaphysical terms and concepts that give the ethics greater articulation and depth. She argues that concepts of value—the good and the beautiful—are central to ethics for Aristotle and that they can be understood in terms of telos where ‘telos’ can be construed to mean ‘enriching limitation’ and contrasted with harmful or destructive limitation. Achtenberg argues that the imprecision of ethics for Aristotle results not simply from the fact that ethics has to do with particulars, but more centrally from the fact that it has to do with the value of particulars. She presents new interpretations of a wide variety of passages in Aristotle’s metaphysical, physical, psychological, rhetorical, political, and ethical works in support of her argument and compares Aristotle’s views to those of Plato, Marcus Aurelius, the Hebrew Bible, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Freud, and twentieth-century object relations theorists. Achtenberg also responds to interpretations of Aristotle’s ethics by McDowell, Nussbaum, Sherman, Salkever, Williams, Annas, Irwin, Roche, Gomez-Lobo, Burnyeat, and Anagnostopoulos.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I have worked on this book for many years. It has been a solitary project, reflecting interests and concerns that have appeared to be my own. Still, there are some people whose responses to parts of this project have aided or encouraged me. ...


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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. 1-12

What is ethical cognition like? That is, when we make (ethical) choices or exercise virtue of character, what kind of cognition is involved? In addition, what is the cognitive component of emotion like? That is, what kind of cognition is involved in our feelings of love, hate, pity, anger, kindness, envy, and so forth? ...

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CHAPTER ONE: Valuable Particulars

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pp. 13-18

One group of commentators whose discussion this essay joins includes John McDowell, Martha Nussbaum, Nancy Sherman, and Stephen G. Salkever. McDowell is an early contributor to the discussion. In “Virtue and Reason,” he claims that, for Aristotle, the cognitive component of ethical virtue is not knowledge of the applicability of a universal, a set ...

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CHAPTER TWO: Ethics and Moral Theory

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pp. 19-59

Another discussion which this essay joins is the discussion of Aristotle’s ethics as an ethical theory that is not a moral theory. One main reason for recent interest in Aristotle’s ethics is that it is seen to provide an alternative to moral theories. Bernard Williams, for example, takes this position in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985).1 ...

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CHAPTER THREE: Ethics and Metaphysics

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pp. 61-96

Another discussion this essay joins, as chapter 2 makes clear, is the discussion of the relation between ethics and metaphysics for Aristotle. Among recent commentators, that discussion has centered on whether Aristotle’s ethics has or does not have a metaphysical foundation. Foundationalism, in recent philosophic terminology, has to do with epistemology ...

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pp. 97-122

Having dispensed with some objections to the interpretation I wish to maintain—and, in the process, having given some positive arguments for it as well—it is now time to give a number of freestanding positive arguments for the interpretation. As stated previously, I maintain that the cognitive component of ethical virtue and of emotion in Aristotle’s ethical ...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Analogy, Habit, Beauty, Unexpectedness

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pp. 123-158

The idea of the mean, as just interpreted, suggests that the virtuous person possesses both flexibility and insight (phrone\sis)—flexibility in that he or she does and feels what each situation calls for rather than acting and feeling in certain routinized ways; insight in that he or she sees in each situation what the situation calls for. ...

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CHAPTER SIX: Emotions as Perceptions of Value

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pp. 159-178

I have now given several positive arguments which, cumulatively, make a case for the claim that, according to Aristotle, the cognitive component of ethical virtue is the cognition of value where value can be understood as ‘enriching relatedness’ and shows up in analogous but unexpectedly different ways in different situations. What about the cognitive component ...

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CONCLUSION: Imaginative Construction

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pp. 179-190

In this concluding chapter, I will begin a process of assessing Aristotle’s account of the cognitive component of ethical virtue by giving a new characterization of cognition of value in Aristotle’s ethics, by pointing to some of the strengths of Aristotle’s account, and by pointing to some of the weaknesses of his account. ...


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pp. 191-205


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pp. 207-213


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pp. 215-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780791488638
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791453711
Print-ISBN-10: 0791453715

Page Count: 218
Publication Year: 2002