The Ockham Society (Wednesday - Week 8, MT20)

Ockham Society

In contemporary academic philosophy ethics is considered one thing, politics another. Each is the subject of distinct disciplines, with their own aims, practices, and practitioners. Such a view would be alien to Aristotle, who claimed that his Nicomachean Ethics was “a sort of politics” (I.2.1094b10) and the Politics argues that the best constitution would be the one which allows its citizens the most human flourishing (VII.13.1332a2-6). Aristotle considers ethics and politics to be a unity, joined through one end: the human good. It is of note, then, that the revival of Aristotelian ethics and the concept of the human good in the 20th century – spearheaded by figures like G. E. M. Anscombe, Peter Geach, and Philippa Foot – did not see a significant engagement in politics in general (although Anscombe did write on some political issues) or the relationship between ethics and politics. 

However, one might think that Anscombe and co. are under no obligation to engage with politics. This can be seen as the case when one considers that Aristotle takes the unity of ethics and politics as a given: in none of his works does he explicitly address their relation or explain his position. Rather than engage this question historically this essay seeks to address it conceptually. Is the concept of the human good a political as well as ethical concept, and if so, how and why? What understanding of ‘good’, ‘human good’ and ‘political’ would one need to have for this to be the case? If it is political, to what extent? This essay will seek to answer these questions, and in doing so I will argue that the human good is an ineluctably political concept. If one takes the human good as their aim, then this entails both ethical and political commitments, and one will require the resources of both ethics and politics to grasp it. I will conclude by briefly considering the implications this has for contemporary practical philosophy.
Additional Information: Ockham will be held on MS Teams during MT20. Please email if you wish to attend. 

Ockham Society Convenor: Steven Diggin | Ockham Society Webpage