The Journal of Value Inquiry

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 317–340 | Cite as

On the metaphysical presuppositions of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

  • Deborah Achtenberg


In what precedes, I have argued that Aristotle does not, in his ethics, commit three metaphysical errors sometimes imputed to him: he does not define the good as a fact; he does not claim that human beings move by nature towards their telos; he does not claim, in the ergon argument, that human beings are fixed rather than versatile. Instead, I have shown, he does the opposite in each case: he argues that the good cannot be defined as a fact; he claims that human beings move towards their telos only if they have virtue and virtue is not by nature; he locates, in the human ergon, that which is responsible for human versatility. Finally, I have shown by example that the metaphysical commitments of Aristotle's account of human happiness are not as controversial as they seem.

If all of this is true, then perhaps the disorder that has existed in ethics since the enlightenment has been misdiagnosed. Perhaps it is not due to an unhappy choice between end-neutral emotivism on the one hand and Aristotle's bad metaphysics on the other. Perhaps instead it is due, at least in part, to a too hasty rejection of Aristotle's ethics on the grounds of a rejection of his biology.


Nicomachean Ethic Human Happiness Metaphysical Commitment Metaphysical Presupposition Unhappy Choice 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deborah Achtenberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Nevada-RenoRenoUSA

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