May 10, 2013

What is Aristotelian Prohairesis?

A few weeks back, I gave my last talk for the semester, presenting a paper at the 7th Felician Ethics conference, asking and answering the question just what does Aristotle mean by that slippery term prohairesis?

Should it be taken to be what many translators -- at least in the Nicomachean Ethics -- have made it out to be, namely "deliberative choice"?  Does that really encompass all of the uses Aristotle makes of this term, not only in the two Ethics, but also in works as diverse as the Politics, Rhetoric, De Anima, or Poetics. I address the question in this video of the talk, and handle some interesting Q & A, eventually capping the discussion by some levity about the rhetorical force of aligning oneself with Jesus and one's opponents with Hitler.

I've been puzzling about this particular issue in Aristotle interpretation for some time, spurred not only by the ambiguities of Aristotle's own text, but also by Epictetus' much more expansive use of the very same term, and by the cognate similarity between Greek pro-hairesis, German Vor-nehmen, and English pre-ference (which of course, is itself of Latin derivation, through French!). 

Some months ago, I submitted my manuscript for a book chapter (in a volume on Virtue Ethics and Phenomenology) grappling with this very issue, but in a more comparative rather than exegetical manner -- making the case for a widened conception of Aristotelian prohairesis mapping onto the conception of Vorhehmen and value-response in the moral theories of Max Scheler and Dietrich Von Hildebrand.  But that, as they say, is another story, for another time. . .  perhaps once I've got the proofs to go over.

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