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My question lies in the reconstruction of Aristotle's argument that "The human good turns out to be activity of the soul exhibiting virtues, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete" (NE 1.7 1078a16).

I understand that Aristotle's function argument which can be broken down as: 1) all objects have a distinctive function; 2) all objects are good if they perform their function well; 3) human's distinctive function is rational thinking; conclusion) the human good is to have rational thinking.

However, I don't understand how Aristotle equates rational thinking with the soul exhibiting virtues. What's can be the possible reasoning and is there textual evidence of it?

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  • Make your question "What is Aristotle's function argument?".
    – Meanach
    Nov 25, 2023 at 21:00
  • I think Aristotle writes in his other book "on the soul" that rational thinking is part of the soul, so rational thinking is a performance of the soul Nov 29, 2023 at 19:21
  • so performing rational thinking is performance of the soul* Nov 29, 2023 at 19:21

2 Answers 2

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The problem comes from definitions. Aristotle's (and all Greek philosophers) reasoning is teleological : the explanation of anything must consider its final cause (what to be achieved, the purpose) as well as its efficient, material, and formal causes.

The Greek word for reason is logos, but logos is not just reason, it means to know something with its cause, to understand it with its fundamentals.

see my analysis on the problem of reasoning.

Another problem is that Aristotle uses the words : "ἀγαθός", "σώφρων" or "φρόνιμος" which in fact are not directly linked with our current understanding of moral. There are more practical concepts, earth-like, not God-like related. Even morality is teleological here.

(In order to grasp the complexity of understanding, even for a Greek speaker would be difficult, because the words used, had different connotations from how they are used today. So in order to really understand what is going on, you have to read from the prototype in ancient Greek.)

To simplify as good as I can or can't do, for ancient Greeks reasoning and "virtue" are so interconnected, that to reason about something, which means to understand it with its fundamentals, means at the same time that you gained "virtue" in the sense that you know how it is, you know what you should do with it, how to use that knowledge. But at the same time, because reasoning is teleological, it contains inside the purpose, so it contains "virtue" too.

To explain "virtue" "αρετή" etymologically from Aristotle's times, it is considered as ability to fit/adapt in certain circumstances, ability to respond to something and generally, ability in the highest level.

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According to Aristotle virtue (= arete) means to develop and to act according to one's capability. The highest and characteristic human capability is rationality - according to Aristotle. Therefore the highest human virtue is to develops one’s rationality and to act accordingly.

Your translation “to be activity of the soul exhibiting virtues” is not a literal translation. The literal translation of NE 1098, a16-17 reads

“the human good is action according to virtue (= arete)”

It parafrases as “the human good is action according to the highest human capability, namely rationality”.

Aside: The passage is NE 1098, a16

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