Virtue & Freedom: an exploration of autonomous human agency in Aristotle

Morrison, Craig (2010) Virtue & Freedom: an exploration of autonomous human agency in Aristotle. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

This thesis will address the potential for an Aristotelian conception of autonomous human agency, and its relation to virtue and happiness by exploring Aristotle's Physics and De Anima (with associated texts). This will require an exploration of Aristotle's treatment of ousia or substance, and of the individual as capable of both normative and novel activity within nature. For Aristotle all natural beings are in a state of motion, specifically characterized as change in the form of generation and decay. There is a necessity within this natural motion that is characterized by spontaneity and chance; where the arche of spontaneity is seen as a determined, regulative, and automatic motion that is primarily manifest as the efficient and material causes. That is, for Aristotle, such actions are, in principle, necessitated as regulative or normative by the internally active, differentially integrating motion of nature. Thus, it is always for the sake of that sustained identity as its end, its telos, that cause is manifest as formal. -- Novel motion is a capability, a hexis, of the human soul that is indicative of an informed independently active and cognitively responsive rational movement that underlies creative human actions in the world (the embodied new). That which is genuinely novel or new restores/refreshes activity, in that novel action interacts as both creative and supportive of new motion within the natural world. This concept of life having internally originating novel movement, when considered as a feature of the natural world, can be seen as a kind of freedom insofar as it induces new movement and is not merely an effect of spontaneous/normative movement. -- The relation between spontaneous/normative and novel motion is especially significant with respect to human beings and other living things in that, as technologically skilled, we participate in the natural world. When we initiate change or motion we are providing purpose to that which we change or move; this represents a source for the new fresh starts or new motions Aristotle states in his Metaphysics must exist within nature, and thereby must be a capacity or potency within, most notably, living substance. -- Thus my process will begin with an exploration of ousia and the natural world in Aristotle's Physics, particularly book two, chapters eight and nine wherein the ground for the significance of novel action appears as Aristotle allows for the influence of matter in the natural world. This section underscores the interactivity of spontaneous motion within the natural world in which some motions support or impede other movements. But this also allows for novel action given human reason has the capacity to affect the world through what it knows. I will then explore the implication of novel motion for virtue as Aristotle presents it: the nous, insofar as it shapes virtuous activity tempered by habit, represents a locus of an Aristotelian conception of freedom as autonomy. -- The novel expression of freedom becomes explicit in the overwhelming fact that the individual human can choose not to act on his/her knowledge at any time, in that having knowledge (specifically virtuous knowledge) does not necessitate such action. -- This exploration will involve some consideration of texts from Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, with selections from the Parts of Animals, and, finally, the Politics.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/9413
Item ID: 9413
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 80)
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Philosophy
Date: 2010
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Aristotle--De anima--Nicomachean ethics--Physics; Human behavior; Movement (Philosophy); Substance (Philosophy); Virtue

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