Self-improvement and self-deterioration may threaten to entail self-annihilation. Arguably, a human being cannot improve or deteriorate by becoming a divinity or by becoming a non-human animal, because it would not persist through the transformation. Similarly, one may think that we cannot persist through a radical transition from vice to virtue (and vice versa): Jean Valjean is no longer the same person when he becomes virtuous.
In this paper, I argue that for Aristotle the limits to self-improvement and self-deterioration are set by our human nature, and not by our character. We do not annihilate ourselves if we acquire vice or virtue, but we do annihilate ourselves if we lose our humanity.
I rely on this analysis to look at the difficult case of contemplation and immortalisation in NE x. Aristotle exhorts us to “immortalise” through contemplation because the contemplative life is a divine life most in accordance with the divine intellect (NE 1177b30-1178a8). This exhortation threatens to recommend a transition through which humans cannot persist because it requires them to transcend their animal nature and to become divine. I argue that Aristotle avoids the threat of self-annihilation because he takes the intellect to be both human and divine and because he sees immortalisation as a goal that human animals can achieve in their lifetime.
If you would like to join the speaker for dinner after the seminar, please email the chair by Tuesday 19th February.
Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Prof Ursula Coope, Dr Karen Margrethe Nielsen, and Dr Luca Castagnoli