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Aristotle's Pleasures

Friday, March 29, 2013
4:00 AM
1171 Angell Hall - Tanner Library

Classical Philosophy speaker

For something so familiar and attractive, pleasure has proved remarkably resistant to analysis. One of the more fruitful attempts is Aristotle’s discussion in Nicomachean Ethics 10.4, where he undertakes to say “what or what sort of thing” pleasure is. This paper explores his response to the latter question. Is pleasure something that we experience, a possible or actual object of awareness that figures in the content of sensory or mental events? Or is it a distinctive kind or form of experience, a special feeling or attitude possessing some content of its own? Aristotle’s answer is, characteristically, neither and both. Capturing the intuitions behind both views, he analyzes pleasure as a peculiar feature of certain kinds of awareness, and thereby in turn a possible object of awareness. Pleasures, on his account, are neither mental states nor part of their content. Rather, they are features or properties of mental events; in particular, they are the properties of “perfection” in “perfect” sensory or mental events. To indicate the attractions of this account, I focus on three questions: What is the proper locus of pleasure? How is this property of perfection related to the activities in which it occurs? And how do we become aware of it?