As a result of Christian dogma, the distinction between moral and other merits has become much sharper than it was in Greek times. It is a merit in a man to be a great poet or composer or painter, but not a moral merit; we do not consider him the more virtuous for possessing such aptitudes, or the more likely to go to heaven. Moral merit is concerned solely with acts of will, i.e. with choosing rightly among possible courses of action. I am not to blame for not composing an opera, because I don’t know how to do it. The orthodox view is that, wherever two courses of action are possible, conscience tells me which is right, and to choose the other is sin. Virtue consists mainly in the avoidance of sin, rather than in anything positive. There is no reason to expect an educated man to be morally better than an uneducated man, or a clever man than a stupid man. In this way, a number of merits of great social importance are shut out from the realm of ethics. The adjective “unethical,” in modern usage, has a much narrower range than the adjective “undesirable.” It is undesirable to be feeble-minded, but not unethical.
Many modern philosophers, however, have not accepted this view of ethics. They have thought that one should first define the good, and then say that our actions ought to be such as tend to realize the good. This point of view is more like that of Aristotle, who holds that happiness is the good. The highest happiness, it is true, is only open to the philosopher, but to him that is no objection to the theory.
Bertrand Russell – The History of Western Philosophy p.178
For Aristotle, every living organism is a composite of form and matter. Form is an active force in the organism for the development of structure. Form, that is, promotes the development of form in living things. Form thus exists at various levels of organization. In the embryo or youth, form exists as a potentiality or force for development. A mature adult’s form, by contrast, is a completed structure. It is an active mode of functioning which preserves that structure. Now, as the living organism acquires structure, it becomes more intelligible. It is in the healthy functioning adult that the inquiring scientist can discover the principles or organization of that species. Only then can he understand what the youthful striving to acquire form was a striving toward.
It is as though the developing organism is striving to be understood. Aristotle took this possibility seriously. As the scientist studies the principles of organization and functioning of a living organism, these principles impress themselves on the inquiring scientist’s mind. His mind comes to reflect the structure he has discovered in the organism. A mind that has understood the form and is actively thinking it has itself taken on the form it is thinking. And as he teaches others about this structure, he is expressing the form itself, now at the level of thought. Mind actively contemplating form is the form itself at its highest level of activity. Living creatures, in striving to grow and acquire form, are doing the best job they can to imitate God’s activity. In striving to imitate God, they are striving to be understood. Humans distinguish themselves from the rest of nature by the fact that they can participate in the divine activity of understanding.
Jonathan Lear – Love and Its Place in Nature p.214
The third view, advanced by Aristotle, attempted to correct what he thought to be the errors in the two extreme views. In his conception of human nature, man is neither just a body or a collocation of atoms nor a union of two quite distinct and separable substances, one material and the other spiritual – one a body and the other a rational soul or mind.
In Aristotle’s view, man is a single substance and, in that respect, is like every other individual thing in the physical cosmos. However, unlike every other corporeal substance, man, as a single substance, is composite of matter and spirit, of material and immaterial aspects – the immaterial aspect consisting in the intellectual power that distinguishes man from other animals.
According to this third view, man is neither entirely a material thing, composed of elementary particles of matter or quanta of energy, nor is he compounded of two substances as alien to one another as body and soul or matter and mind. He is a living organism like any other animal, but he is distinguished from all other animals by virtue of having a mind or intellect – the powers and operation of which cannot be explained by the action of the brain.
Brain action is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for the occurrence of mental operations or processes. There is, in short, something immaterial about man, something spiritual in the sense that it is not reducible to bodily parts or movements and not explicable entirely by reference to them.
Mortimer J. Adler – The Angels and Us p.148
As Aristotle noted long ago, thought – or speech or reason – itself moves nothing, especially, one can add, thought merely laid down next to appetite. Thought, to be effective, must be inseparable from appetite.
The true source of action is not abstract thought, nor even thought applied to some separate motor or motive force, but rather a concretion, a grown-togetherness, of appetite and mind, so intertwined that one cannot say for sure whether the human principle of action is a species of desire become thoughtful, or an activity of intellection suffused with appetite. How mind and desire become grown together is, of course, a great question, but it is rarely accomplished by applying purely rational doctrines or rules in a passionless way to human agents. On the contrary, the true beginning is rather with the direct but unreflective education of our loves and hates, our pleasure and pains, gained only in practice, through habituation and by means of praise and blame, reward and punishment. Anyone concerned with influencing conduct must be concerned with these in-between powers of the soul, themselves irrational (in the sense of nonreasoning) but fully amenable to reason (in the sense of being formed, to begin with, in accordance with the reasons of one’s parents, teachers and laws, and being open to further refinement through the exercise of one’s own powers of deliberation and discernment).
Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.68
Aristotle claimed that to deny metaphysics is to do metaphysics. We have seen some reason to agree with Aristotle. The arguments against metaphysics, whether Anti-Realist, Lightweight Realist, Skeptical, or Fictionalist, are all based on certain conceptions about truth, meaning, knowledge, and explanation that inevitably raise metaphysical questions.
Robert C. Koons & Timothy H. Pickavance – Metaphysics: The Fundamentals p.241