All of Book I is
introductory or gives foundations, and Aristotle starts with an
assumption to the effect that "the good is that at which all things
aim", and about ends and means and their distinction.
EVERY art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit,
is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has
rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.
This is Aristotle's
starting assumption, that is very much in line with his general
teleological presumptions. I will not discuss it, and merely note the
following provisional assumptions I shall make, that are much more
A1. The deliberate
actions of human beings have ends (goals, aims).
A2. These ends are chosen (selected, acted upon) by the actors.
A3. Ends are chosen because the actor prefers them.
This is much less
general than what Aristotle presumes, and it requires a few remarks and
In A1 I restrict myself
to human beings, and leave aside other things, whether animals,
plants or inanimate nature. The main reason for this is to avoid
Also, I am speaking specifically about
deliberate actions, and not about reflexes, automatisms, habits,
movements etc. (But it may be well to presume that what is called a
human action is deliberate, or else should be called otherwise.)
In A2 I suppose
something like free will. This may be an illusion (though I
don't think so), but even so the point of ethics and morals is
that it is supposed conscious deliberations and advice are somehow
relevant to the ends one selects. For without a presumption like
this all of it would be as useless as is preaching to a stone.
In A3 what I assume
involves that the actor prefers the existence of the end over its
non-existence. This in turn presumes that the actor can and does
order the alternatives he or she considers and selects from somehow in
some order of rank, on a scale of better and worse, and regardless of
other possible properties of the scale, such as numerical values.
What these assumptions,
like Aristotle's, leave open is what ends are. Since I have limited
myself to human beings, I can propose the following provisional
D1. An end of a person
is a state of affairs or event that the person believes he can help to
realize or maintain by his actions and desires to realize or maintain.
It is noteworthy that an
end (1) depends on a person (2) involves beliefs of the person about
the relevant facts (3) involves a desire on the part of the person and
(4) usually, namely to the extent other persons are or may be
involved, depends on the actions (and non-actions) of others.
Hence, ends are relative
in these four senses - which does not mean they are necessarily
relative or arbitrary in another sense, for many ends are not so much
given as imposed, in as much as they depend on natural needs or social
pressures a person cannot avoid.
There is the general
question, or questions, concerning the relativity of ends, and of
what's considered good, bad, right, wrong, and indeed other evaluating
terms: Are judgments of value completely and only subjective, or is
there an objective part or side to them?
At present I want to
mostly avoid answering that question, except by noting that many human
desires arise from human needs, that exist as a matter of fact, and
that also it is fairly to very obvious in many contexts what are and
are not factual means to obtain or further desired ends. So in these
two senses, at least, there are objective facts involved in most
judgments of value.
It makes sense to
contrast wishes, desires and values, more or less on the following
lines: A wish is a feeling one wants something; a desire is a feeling
that something will further one's interests. And as it may very well
be that what one thinks is in one's interests differs from what would
currently be the most pleasant thing to do, it makes sense to
distinguish between wishes and desires. Values are the personal
judgments that are the basis of desires: Appraisals of what one
considers morally good, ethically good, or personally pleasant.
And it is or should be
clear that the ends of human beings are relative to many
things, including their circumstances, knowledge, beliefs, character
and courage. Even so, this does not mean at all that all values, all
desires, all wishes are merely relative, or bound to be
culturally relative nor does it mean that values, desires or even
wishes cannot be based on realistic, informed and shrewed
judgments of one's conditions and fellow-men. (See Edwards)
Besides, it is important
to realize that most judgments about human beings in general or in
groups are based on some presumptions about a
they all share, due to their similar anatomy and DNA, that give them
many similar capacities, needs, and feelings in given situations.
And that various
religions and political ideologies have differed considerably about
what human nature is, this does not show at all there is no such thing
as human nature, but only that it is difficult to circumscribe or
define fully and precise
and as it happens some 95 KB of this
file mysteriously disappeared over the summer of 2009, and my only
copy is on a scratched disk.
So.... (1) people who have a complete
copy: Please send it to me so that I can put it here again, and (2) I
think it was a very good and original set of notes, and so I say to
you if you stole it for your own Ph.D. or whatever (this is the first
time a file has disappeared in this way for me): Shame on you!