Seeing the good : moral perception in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.


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This dissertation argues that Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics and Politics offers a unified conception of a human activity of and capacity for perceiving the justice, nobility or goodness of moral actions and agents. This perception (aisthēsis), which I call “moral perception,” serves as a foundation for the attainment of moral truth, making possible prudent deliberation and an understanding of what is good or bad, just or unjust, noble or base. While moral perception enables us to grasp moral truth and while it is intellectual, it is not logical. Rather, analogously to sense perception, the activity of moral perception is one of receiving the forms of moral qualities as these are encountered in particular actions. Through moral perception, one “sees” rather than reasons to the moral character of particular actions. While the capacity for moral perception belongs to all human beings by nature, the capacity for moral perception must be developed through experience and guided by habituation in order to make possible the accuracy of moral perception belonging to the morally virtuous and prudent person. In addition to making the case for the existence of the concept of moral perception in the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, and explaining what it is, this dissertation explains how exactly experience and habituation contribute to the development of moral perception. Aristotle’s conception of moral perception explains how it is possible to attain moral truth in the face of the fact that people can have such strongly held opposing views over the most fundamental questions of morality. Moreover, the notion of moral perception offers a helpful framework for public discourse. Inasmuch as all human beings have some access to moral truth through the innate capacity for moral perception, there is common ground to which all can look in public moral and political deliberations. In addition to this, the concept of moral perception provides a way out of disagreement and confusion concerning moral truth in that experience and correct habituation serve as means of correcting and refining the various divergent perceptions held by the members of society.



Moral perception. Aristotle. Ethics. Sense perception.