Philosophical Studies

, Volume 174, Issue 7, pp 1839–1856 | Cite as

The metaphysics of goodness in the ethics of Aristotle

  • Samuel BakerEmail author


Kraut (Against absolute goodness. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011) and other neo-Aristotelians have argued that there is no such thing as absolute goodness. They admit only good in a kind, e.g. a good sculptor, and good for something, e.g. good for fish. What is the view of Aristotle? Mostly limiting myself to the Nicomachean Ethics (NE), I argue that Aristotle is committed to things being absolutely good and also to a metaphysics of absolute goodness where there is a maximally best good that is the cause of the goodness of all other things in virtue of being their end. I begin (in Sect. 2) by suggesting that the notion of good as an end, which is present in the first lines of the NE, is not obviously accounted for by good in a kind or good for something. I then give evidence that good in a kind (in Sect. 3) and good for something (in Sect. 4) can explain neither certain distinctions drawn between virtues nor the determinacy ascribed to what is good “in itself.” I argue (in Sect. 5) contra Gotthelf (2012) that because several important arguments in the Nicomachean Ethics rely on comparative judgments of absolute value—e.g. “Man is the best of all animals”—Aristotle is committed to the existence of both absolute goodness and an absolutely best being. I focus (in Sect. 6) on one passage, Aristotle’s division of goods in NE I 12, which presupposes this metaphysical picture.


Aristotle Absolute goodness Nicomachean Ethics Teleology Value God 



For comments and discussion, I thank John Armstrong, Aaron Cobb, Caleb Cohoe, Corinne Gartner, Christopher Frey, Allan Hillman, Zena Hitz, Anne Jeffrey, Errol Lord, Jan Szaif, Alberto Watkins, as well audiences at the University of Paris-IV, Metropolitan State University of Denver, the 2015 meeting of the Alabama Philosophical Society and the 2016 Pacific meeting of the APA. For comments on a distant ancestor of this paper, I thank John Cooper, Gilbert Harman, Judith Jarvis Thomson, and an audience at Princeton University. I have also benefited by reading an unpublished paper by Hendrik Lorenz entitled “Comments on R. Kraut, Agathon and Sumpheron 1094a1–2.” Much of the research for this paper was funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013-MCA-COFUND) under grant agreement no245743—Postdoctoral Program-Braudel-IFER-FMSH, and I gratefully acknowledge this support. For their hospitality during my stay during Spring 2015, I thank the members of the Centre Léon Robin, especially Jean-Baptiste Gourinat and Fabienne Baghdassarian, both of whom offered helpful suggestions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of South AlabamaMobileUSA

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