Ethics of Aristotle

Course No. 408
Father Joseph Koterski, S.J., Ph.D.
Fordham University
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Course No. 408
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Course Overview

What is happiness? What is moral excellence? How can you attain them? Can either be taught? For more than 2,000 years, thoughtful people have been turning to Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) to help them find answers to questions like these. In this meditation on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, an award-winning teacher shows you the clarity and ethical wisdom of one of humanity's greatest minds.

Professor Joseph W. Koterski directs the M.A. program in Philosophical Resources at Fordham University. He is a recipient of both the Dean's Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching and the Graduate Teacher of the Year Award.

In these lectures, Professor Koterski shows how and why this great philosopher can help you deepen and improve your own thinking on questions of morality and the best life.

Moral Philosophy from a Master of Intelligent Inquiry

Often called "the philosopher of common sense," Aristotle offers an exquisitely balanced account of many ethical questions.

Professor Koterski's aim is to provide you with a clear and thoughtful introduction to Aristotle as a moral philosopher. And he suggests ways in which this thinker from so long ago still speaks to the deep concerns of our own or any age.

After absorbing some important background information designed to introduce you to Aristotle's career and general approach to the various fields of knowledge, you turn to the 10 books (today we would call them chapters) of this brief but towering work.

Probe Key Ideas in Ethics

The rewards of studying Aristotle come not only from mastering the substance of what he teaches but from learning to analyze, apply, and even criticize his very method of reasoning itself.

It's not just about what to think; it's about how to think.

Aristotle, as Professor Koterski emphasizes, was not only a philosopher but a pioneering biologist.

Most of his surviving writings, in fact, actually deal with the life sciences. And in light of the method he used in philosophy, that comes as much less of a surprise than might otherwise be the case.

Professor Koterski's enthusiasm is infectious as he explains the Aristotelian method of tackling a topic by observing and classifying exemplary cases and then seeking to work from those toward an intelligent account of general principles (the famous "inductive method").

Prompted by Aristotle's own commitment to case study, Professor Koterski analyzes examples from literature, history, and his own or common experience to clarify what this most practical of philosophers is driving at in his lucid but densely coiled treatise.

Some Topics You Will Cover

These six hours of carefully organized lectures invite you to join Professor Koterski in considering:

  • Aristotle's account of the four main virtues of courage, moderation, justice, and prudence
  • his claims that happiness (eudaimonia)— not pleasure, honor, or wealth— is the real goal of life, and that virtue is a mean between extremes
  • why he thinks that only moral excellence can make you happy
  • his explanations of how and why people attain— or fall short of— ethical excellence
  • his differences with his teachers Plato and Socrates over the hard question of what knowing rightly has to do with acting rightly
  • where Aristotle's thought fits into the long history of ethical reflection
  • what distinguishes his view of ethics from such other influential schools as utilitarianism or Kant's ethics of the categorical imperative.

Given his concentration on virtue, Aristotle devotes much of the earlier part of his treatise to defining moral virtue, then illustrating it by example.

In the effort to be wisely commonsensical, he stresses that virtue consists of a steady disposition to choose the golden mean between responses that would be excessive or deficient.

But, he insists, this mean should be understood not as the average or the mediocre but as the very peak of excellence. And this holds true whether in regard to our actions or our feelings.

His case studies of virtue feature the traditional set of four cardinal virtues: courage, temperance, justice, and prudence.

Pleasure, Intellectual Virtue, Reason, and True Friendship

In the second half of the Ethics, Aristotle takes up several issues that are crucial to the moral life.

Most significantly, perhaps, he explores the contradictions that are involved in taking pleasure rather than happiness to be the goal of life.

He also compares the notions of well-ordered and badly ordered pleasures to show that while pleasure may not equal happiness, handling pleasure well is a key test of moral excellence.

In Books VI and VII, you find Aristotle's account of the rational component of ethics. He offers a catalogue of the intellectual virtues to match his earlier list of specifically moral virtues. And he address two important issues:

  • the common phenomena of moral weakness and failure
  • the problem, raised by Socrates, of how someone can deliberately do what he or she knows to be wrong.

Since virtue has an irreducibly social dimension, it is important to understand what kinds of friendship there are and how each relates to moral excellence.

A Charming Look at Friendship

Aristotle's account of friendship in Books VIII and IX may, perhaps, be the most charming part of his entire text.

Using a threefold distinction based on the precise object of affection prominent in various relationships, Aristotle distinguishes the best sort of friendship (friendship of character) from friendships of pleasure and friendships of utility.

You learn Aristotle's method for sorting out and evaluating the different kinds of friendships, as well as his practical advice for this part of the well-lived life.

In his final books, Aristotle brings you back full circle to the argument about happiness with which he began. He states his reasons for thinking that a knowledge and practice of ethics is not self-sufficient, but points beyond itself to at least one fuller project essential to human flourishing.

Aristotle wrote a book on that fuller project. It is called The Politics. But that must await another course.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Philosopher of Common Sense
    How does Aristotle go about building his theory of human moral activity? Why does he place virtue or excellence at the core, and what does he mean by virtue anyway? How does his work compare with other important approaches to ethics, such as Kant's? x
  • 2
    What Is the Purpose of Life?
    How do Aristotle's thoughts about happiness and virtue fit into his larger philosophy? What does he mean by calling us "rational animals"? And why does he argue that ethics is part of a larger project, called politics, without which full human flourishing is impossible? x
  • 3
    What Is Moral Excellence?
    Where does virtue come from? Can you acquire it? Are some people born to it? How can you know it when you see it? What are the implications of Aristotle's definition of virtue as a mean between extremes? x
  • 4
    Courage and Moderation
    Although Aristotle has no explicit concept of "freedom," his treatment in Book III of voluntary consent, knowledge, and moral responsibility is a landmark in the history of ethical thought. Here you trace its immediate application to two of the "cardinal" moral virtues. x
  • 5
    The Social Virtues
    Are the virtues that Aristotle describes as crucial to life in society still normative, or are they peculiar to his own society? Attending to how he makes distinctions and argues his case will help you assess this issue, and deepen your appreciation of the entire work. x
  • 6
    Types of Justice
    Is justice a simple unity, or does it have several kinds? How can Aristotle describe virtues as relative without being a relativist? What are the implications of his influential distinction between natural and legal justice? x
  • 7
    The Intellectual Virtues
    What are the excellences of mind proper to humans? Why does the very idea of ethics imply that there must be such virtues? What roles do art and science—conceived as habits of mind—play in a well-lived life? x
  • 8
    Struggling to Do Right
    Socrates held—perhaps ironically—that knowledge and virtue are the same. What does Aristotle think of that idea? How does he deal with the relation between knowing what is right and doing what is right? x
  • 9
    Friendship and the Right Life
    What are the different types of friendships? What are the motivations and expectations—appropriate and inappropriate—that tend to go with each? x
  • 10
    What Is Friendship?
    In Book XI you find Aristotle at his most practical, offering advice on topics such as whether to break off a friendship, on the limits to the number of friends you can have, and on the link between friendship and virtue. x
  • 11
    Pleasure and the Right Life
    Is being pleasant what makes something good? Is pleasure the same as happiness? How does Aristotle support his own view of the relationship between pleasure, virtue, and happiness? x
  • 12
    Attaining True Happiness
    Learn how Aristotle brings his argument about happiness and virtuous activity full circle at the end of the Ethics, and then suggests that ethics points beyond itself toward the topics of two of his other works, the Politics and the Metaphysics. x

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  • 72-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Joseph Koterski, S.J.

About Your Professor

Joseph Koterski, S.J., Ph.D.
Fordham University
A member of the Society of Jesus, Father Joseph Koterski is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, where he specializes in the history of medieval philosophy and natural law ethics. Before taking his position at Fordham University, Father Koterski taught at the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He earned his doctorate in Philosophy from St. Louis University, after...
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Reviews

Ethics of Aristotle is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 76.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview Of Foundational Text This is a very clear and cogent exposition of the text that I regard as the foundational work on ethics in the western philosophical tradition. The professor does an admirable job summarizing Aristotle's arguments and insights and points out things that I didn't know: e.g. that over half of Aristotle's corpus were works on biology and that the methodology of his work on ethics is similar to that of his biological works. The professor also does a great job relating Aristotle's text to literary and other works of which I was not previously aware. For example, in the course of discussing how happiness is the greatest good in Aristotle's ethics, the professor discussed a novel that I had never heard of -- The Viper's Tangle -- and I've now read that novel and profited immensely from it. So this course was personally very valuable for me, and I recommend it both to persons interested in an overview of Aristotle's ethics and to persons who are familiar with them but interested in the unique perspective that this professor has on many of Aristotle's teachings.
Date published: 2016-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ethics of Aristotle Father Koterski makes Aristotle clearer than I have ever known. He neither dumbs down the substance nor talks down to the learner. Using everyday examples and a vast knowledge of the Aristotelian school of thought throughout history he makes plain the meaning of the Nicomachean Ethics in a memorable and interesting manner.
Date published: 2016-10-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Fine Refresher Course? Yes, but ... How did early and medieval Christians reconcile Aristotle’s Ethics with a sin-centred view of the world predicated on the Fall, the innate depravity of humanity and its preoccupation with worldly pleasure? And there must have been reconciliation for the Scholastics to have given Plato and Aristotle honorary places in the Christian heaven. Though my interests have long-centred on the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the rise of science, this question has niggled me since ‘doing Aristotle’ in Philosophy 101 60 years ago. Tantalisingly, Fr. Koterski is ideally qualified to help me but the Course Description gave no reason to expect he would do so and, alas, it proved commendably accurate. Nevertheless, (as other reviewers have noted) the course was worthwhile as a refresher because it is well-organised, engagingly delivered and covers Aristotle’s Ethics in fair detail. Cries of ‘simplistic’ and ‘boring’ are more a reflection on Aristotle than Koterski. If only there had been one lecture devoted to the influence of Aristotle’s Ethics on Western thought from St Augustine through St Aquinas to Scholasticism!
Date published: 2016-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty good, more attractive for Catholics The course gives a pretty good introduction to Aristotle's ethics, especially for people interested in Aristotle as background to Aquinas & co. (who get a fair deal of attention). I would have preferred a course more explicitly reflective of current Aristotle scholarship.
Date published: 2016-09-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting, not Scintillating audio download version As another reviewer noted, many things of interest come back to Aristotle, so I was quite interested in this course, even though I knew that the title limited the discussion of one of his single works, the "Nicomachean Ethics". And I did find it interesting, although often times dull. The lecturer, Professor Koterski, I thought did not have an interesting delivery, often bordering on boring, even though the material was presented in a logical, well thought-out manner. On the very positive side, I did learn a lot, (e.g. the three types of friendship) even though it was a bit of a struggle to pay proper attention. Perhaps had I not listened to the course during my morning walks, I would have been more attentive. recommended
Date published: 2016-08-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The professor's speaking style just did not do it for me. I listened to the entire course twice and I still can't summarize exactly what it was about or pick out any highlights that had be engaged. My mind wandered throughout the lectures.
Date published: 2016-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Valuable Insight. The presenter, Fr. Koterski, does a great job bringing this otherwise esoteric topic down to earth in a clear and understandable way. Further, the large questions of ethics and happiness, among other, was of both interest and value to me.
Date published: 2016-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent place to begin exploring Aristotle I own many Great Courses series on mathematics, science, and philosophy. The one thing all these fields have in common is Aristotle. I decided to purchase this course to get a deeper view of this revered man. I’m glad I did and I plan on purchasing more titles like this one in the future. I don’t have many CD format courses, but professor Koterski has a radio voice and great passion for the subject, so the format was not a problem for me. The professor, a priest and religious scholar, is amazingly balanced in his presentation of the material. Since I’m not a religious person, this was an important detail for me. Each topic is covered in depth and is sufficiently challenging, as this type of subject matter should be. I recommend this course and look forward to listening to it again as it is deserving of an encore.
Date published: 2016-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ethics of Aristotle I got this on a recommendation from a friend. I'm not philosophically inclined, but several of my children have gotten a liberals arts degree, so it seemed like a good idea to learn a bit about Aristotle. I found the talks very understandable. The course is well designed and concepts flow well from one to the next. Fr Koterski did a great job explaining basic concepts in a way that I was easily able to follow and comprehend. If you have no philosophy background, but would like to learn a bit about it, this is a great introduction.
Date published: 2015-10-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Ethic of Aristotle No for amateur likes me. Speaker maybe very knowledgeable but could not engage, simply boring! Could not pass CD 2
Date published: 2015-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Riveting I've read and heard many things about both Aristotle and philosophy, but this course brings it all together in an engaging yet concise way. The professor was obviously an expert on the subject yet was able to explain the concepts and ideas in a well-thought and easy-to-understand format. By far the best book for the value on this topic!
Date published: 2014-12-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction to Foundational Text Having completed many courses on intellectual history and philosophy with TTC Aristotle's "Ethics" has been mentioned many times. It is a text I have known about all my life and yet had never studied it directly. To repair this omission I took this course with Father Koterski and I am delighted that I did. The course offers an excellent thematic summary of the ten books comprising Ethics and Father Koterski's course guidebook is particularly helpful in that it offers detailed summaries of each lecture. It was fascinating to listen to Father Koterski's explication of Aristotle's treatment of the concept of "virtue" and also the basis for and nature of friendship. It was also valuable to have, in virtually all lectures, reference to more recent/contemporary thinkers who utilise Aristotelian concepts in their work; Alistair MacIntyre and Hannah Arendt are two so featured. This is timeless wisdom which if taught and followed today in private and public life would undoubtedly lift standards across society. The course has motivated me to read Ethics myself and also to order the "Masters of Greek Thought" course to delve deeper into the wisdom of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. Recommended.
Date published: 2014-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Happiness-eudaimonia-fulfillment? In this audio download version (at a bargain price), Fr Koterski reintroduced me to some of the fundamentals and mechanisms of thought and contemplation (often referred to as 'common sense') that help to clarify what it means to be happy. Is being happy the same as finding happiness in life? Can a person be happy without moral virtues (ethics)? As with all Philosophy, the questions are often more important than the answers. For Aristotle, happiness is the goal of human life because it is an end that is self-sufficient and desirable in itself. It consists in a life of virtue, provided that certain material conditions are present as necessary minimal conditions, including health, enough wealth to live independently and not to have to scratch out one’s survival, and a good reputation. But maybe true happiness (eudaimonia...a truly wonderful word) lies more in the pursuit rather than the realization...after all, how do you ever know 'you're there'? The satisfaction of knowing that you are living a life that is morally good, pleasurable and fulfilling might be the real meaning of happiness. My final take-away is from the final lecture (Lecture 12) in which Fr Koterski states:"Actions have their consequences and we have to take responsibility for them by cultivating (good) habits of personal choice. Such cultivation will, in itself, provide the happiness that is the ultimate goal of our lives." I found the course to be a stimulating introduction to Aristotle that will need to be revisited...some of the habits sink in more slowly than others.
Date published: 2014-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Virtue aspired I am a new 'member' to the Great Courses, and am devouring several of the courses, this one included. This actually comes from a Perfect Friendship, which for me is a gift. It is certainly appropriate to evaluate the course and the professor, but in reflection of listening to this twice, I find the true value to the meaningfulness is reflecting on the impact to the student. As a professor in a different dicipline, I am acutely aware of student receptiveness and success. Fr. Koterski is engaging and articulate. He offers to me something that was a serious challenge years ago in the guise of philosophy 101 as something that has life, and a heartbeat. Among the many lessons, we are offered that personal and cultural diversity have a common thread.
Date published: 2013-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent & Relevant! AUDIO DOWNLOAD You do not have to be interested in Aristotle and/or ancient Greek philosophy to appreciate and benefit from this course. It is about habits, choices, and your happiness. You will enjoy this course, guided by a knowledgeable, personable, and engaging professor who is able to keep your attention over twelve interesting lectures. Having been impressed by Father Koterski’s two other courses, I recently listened to this one on Aristotle’s ‘Nicomachean Ethics’. The course is not only really interesting, but also easily proves that Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’ is still relevant today, despite the passage of nearly 2,500 years. Now that’s staying power! In my reading in ancient Greek philosophy I have always preferred Plato’s elegant and engaging dialogues to Aristotle’s tedious treatises. I came to this course, therefore, hoping for a good summary and analysis of the ‘Ethics’. I was not disappointed. In fact, Father Koterski exceeded my expectations. Father Koterski ably demonstrates throughout these lectures that Aristotle’s “…commonsense approach provides an extremely valuable model for making sense of life, particularly…In defining virtue as the habit of choosing the mean between extremes of excess and deficiency in matters of action and emotion…a pattern for thinking through one’s options and for directing one’s own moral maturation and that of others…identifying happiness as the genuine goal of life and in defining it to consist of a life of the virtuous activity that actualizes our basic human potentials…[giving] a solid basis for assessing many of the other partial and incomplete, if not actually distorted, claims about the goal of life that are frequently afoot today…[and] In stressing the need for genuine human friendship of various kinds…[and] the indispensably communal dimension of human life” (Course Guidebook, Page 51) The course follows in sequence the ten books of the ‘Ethics’, and Father Koterski helpfully makes connections between it and Aristotle’s other works, most notably the ‘Politics’, which the ‘Ethics’ complements. Throughout, he adds contemporary real life examples to make Aristotle’s thoughts clearer and relevant to modern life, and notes where Aristotle has influenced other thinkers over the intervening centuries. This includes, most notably, Aristotle’s contributions to Natural Law theory. Father Koterski points out Aristotelian approaches in, if not Aristotle’s direct influence on, such individuals as St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Jane Austen, and the 20th century’s Jacques Maritain and Hannah Arendt. He even discusses the more recent scholarly revival of Aristotle, centered on his “virtue-ethics” model. An interesting side note is Father Koterski’s discussion of a ‘backhanded compliment’ (Page 46) Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ makes in using Aristotle’s habitual reinforcement to create a “mindset” in the service of developing a “hedonistic, utilitarian universe”. According to Father Koterski, however, “…in contrast to the view that all or most pleasures are bad (and in contrast to the popular view that pleasure is precisely what makes anything good), Aristotle argues that moral maturation involves growth in feeling pleasure in some pursuits and increasing sensitivity to the ugliness or inappropriateness of other pursuits.” (Page 46). In addition, I appreciated Father Koterski’s references to other ethical systems. Among the many interesting treatments, for me, include the deficiency of Socrates’ presumption that knowledge alone is equated with virtue; the detailed and striking differences of Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’ with the Stoics’ positions, most notably on the passions and emotions and, so decisively, on the subject of friendship; and the comparison of the ‘Ethics’ with Kant’s categorical imperative. So, I am now actually reading here and there in the ‘Nicomachean Ethics’, using the lectures as my guide. Father Koterski makes this easier in that he not only references book/chapter locations of key topics in the ‘Ethics’, but also, occasionally, the standard Bekker number for locating passages. Though Father Koterski does not recommend a translation of the ‘Ethics’, I find the Robert C. Bartlett/Susan D. Collins translation published by the University of Chicago (2011) an excellent complement to the course. Of course, you do not have to actually read Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’, as Father Koterski has done the heavy lifting for us. Highly recommend!
Date published: 2013-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Aristotle: The Ethical Dimension & Sanity Does morality and values have an objective foundation or are they at best only the relative and subjective opinions of their holders? Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is an exploration and prolonged reflection upon human nature and its sources of morality and laws; all relativity is in terms of objective conditions of human nature (species character). Existence – the human situation – incessantly asks us the PURPOSE and MEANING of life which MUST BE ANSWERED (irrespective of the answers given) to avoid going insane. It is predominately to the “QUESTION” that Plato’s dialogues address; it is Aristotle’s survey of the various “ANSWERS” given by the philosophical schools that is addressed here. He interrogates these responses with philosophical analyses focusing upon the life-furthering and life-thwarting effects on our human functioning in search of its excellence. This excellence of human nature is its rationality – the species form peculiar to man. The virtues (moral and intellectual) are the resultants of a continued habituation / maturation toward the golden mean between the vices of extremes (i.e. the virtue of courage as lying between recklessness and paralysis as its vices). Therefore, the theory and practice of moderation toward this mean of peak experience leads to genuine happiness – the true “end” of the good life. Other desires that man reaches for (the various schools of ethics) such as pleasures, honors, and wealth, are seen as an accompaniment of happiness and not negative in themselves. But they are only a means toward an end and hence require more and more to quench the thirst of an unfulfilled human nature – a kind of self-thwarting addiction with no end attainable. Beyond the moral virtues -- the intellectual virtue of contemplation – is a journey of self transcendence / the view of the gods in which many are called but few are chosen. I believe that both Aristotle and Professor Joseph Koterski was called and chosen. Professor Koterski lectures on “The Ethics of Aristotle” is an example of the excellence of human nature in its rare form of heightened rationality and aesthetics of the species. Thanks professor for the moral and intellectual struggles – it was worth the effort. And yes, I will read the "ETHICS" ... and sample your other lectures. Thanks again.
Date published: 2013-12-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Drivers beware--induces sleep So we've been told, don't text while driving. Please don't listen to Father Koterski while driving. I literally almost fell asleep at the wheel. He is a poor lecturer, has no dynamism and lacks a sense of humor. How did the T.C. ever choose him as a great teacher. Surely, someone was asleep at the wheel. This is a waste of time and money. Aristotle is best read and absorbed in the safety of your own home. Don't be a distracted driver--live another day.
Date published: 2013-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Next--read the Ethics Wonderful introduction to the subject. I have not read the Ethics (or any Aristotle), but it have always wanted to want to read it. It seemed like something I should read. After this course I am excited to read it. I plan to re-listen to the course as I read through the Ethics. The professor has a smooth delivery that makes it feel as if he was sitting in your living room. Excellent voice, excellent presentation and a professor I would love to have coffee with. I plan to listen to his other courses, starting with Biblical Wisdom Literature.
Date published: 2013-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Fine Intro/Refresher Course You won't find many flashes of brilliance here. Nor will you find insights that are extraordinary. But, as is always the case with Father Koterski, you will get a very solid course. And getting a solid course on Aristotle's Ethics is something of real value. If you have studied this material recently or are well versed in it, you might take a pass. But if you have not yet experienced this remarkable classic or could use a refresher, I strongly recommend this course to you. The professor follows a basic rule: he goes straight to the heart of each book in the Ethics, and he teaches the key elements precisely and effectively. So, students can be confident that they're getting "the full dose." When Koterski goes off on his own to explicate his sense of the lessons learned, he goes to places where he feels comfortable. He'll explore how Aristotelian concepts play out in the work of later philosophers. He frequently and naturally looks at how religious figures such as Augustine and Aquinas adapted Aristotle's thinking to their own teaching. And he resorts to his own observations of life in modern times, especially among students at Fordham. All of this was fine by me. Again, I experienced no highs and no lows here. But I experienced a balanced, thoughtful, comprehensive, and steady treatment of one of the most important books ever written. And that's an experience worth having.
Date published: 2012-12-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Appetizer but Missing a Main Course I found that while listening to the CD version of the course while driving there were parts where I had to listen intently (which is not a good idea while driving) and other parts that seemed common sensical to the point of 'duh'. The presentation manner was fine and there were very few low or high volume presentations that made listening to the presentation difficult. This being my second philosophical course (my first being Voltaire) I realize there is a certain timeline 'order' that is necessary to understand where later philosophical thought derives its basic premises from. While there is little confusion in going backward in time, you are 'cheating' in that you know how the line of thought will be used (and abused) down the road and, to put it into a not-quite adequate analogy, you know the effects of the course of thought before understanding the causes. I thought the course was very basic and by the end of it the most important concept taken away from it was a simplistic 'moderation in all things'. There is some good food for thought here but the faire seems a little light and was barely satisfying. I never really experienced any 'ah ha' moments or much of a desire to pursue any particular item presented in the course any further, something I regard as the hallmark of a truly Great course.
Date published: 2012-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 1.618 or the Golden Mean between the Ying and Yang CD My sixth course I sort of backed into this course. George Washington stated that the United States was not founded on "Christian Principals". He was right; it was founded on "virtues". (See American Ideals: Founding a "Republic of Virtue") In the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Ben Franklin crossed out the word property in the phrase "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property” and put in the word happiness. Happiness being a poor substitute for the concept of eudaimonia, but happiness is understood. This concept of pursuit of happiness or eudaimonia comes from Aristotle/Socrates. Eudaimonia is not a pursuit of pleasure but a pursuit of moral excellence or living rightly according to your own understanding of virtues. i.e. according to your own understanding of God’s will or whatever other value system you may have. Aristotle defines a virtue as being in an ideal place somewhere between extremes. This concept not only influenced the founders of the American Revolution, but western thought as well. The Apostle Paul and Augustine were both probably influenced by this concept. With all this in mind I felt it was time to learn more about Aristotle’s Ethics. This is my first philosophy course so I found it to be an excellent course. For me it was not too much new information, and not too general. It was easy to listen to and well paced. One needs to understand that this is not a 16 week 48 hour college class on these concepts. As with all the Great Courses I’ve taken so far, they are really good introductions to the subjects. I would recommend the course to others.
Date published: 2012-05-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not a soul-searching course I believe the course offered a clear, cogent, enjoyable introduction to Aristotle's "Ethics." The professor has a very enjoyable pace and tone of voice. It is relatively easy to follow, although it's also easy to let your mind drift from time to time. This alone would have earned it 4 stars in my book. However,the discussion was all theoretical and not anything practical in the here and now. There wasn't any direct discussion of how you can examine your own life, to see if you are an ethical person, and how you could improve. The rights and wrongs presented as examples seemed sort of black and white, and some a little bit silly. That is: I learned something, but was not changed for the better.
Date published: 2012-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Value/Cost Ratio of All This course was pleasing in the utmost sense. Fr Koterski is gifted with an engaging lecture style and the density of the material presented was cogently packed and exciting. I have listened to this course three times over and will keep revisiting it over the years.
Date published: 2012-05-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Leightweight and Unsatisfying If these lectures were the sole basis of one’s only understanding of Aristotle’s ethics it would be hard to understand their influence over thousands of years of western thought. Here are some specific comments: 1. For the professor to define a philosophical realist as someone who describes things as they ‘really are’ is just wacky. ‘Realists’ belong to a very specific tradition in western philosophy and are usually contrasted with ‘nominalists’. For example, Plato is a ‘realist’ (i.e., Platonic Realism), while William of Occam is a ‘nominalist’. 2. It is not possible to appreciate Aristotle’s ethics apart from his epistemology/ontology. This idea was not sufficiently developed. 3. Many current ethicists (Alasdair MacIntyre) and political theorists (Robert George) consider themselves to be Aristotelians. Their arguments rest upon an Aristotelian philosophical world view. For example, the argument between Robert George and Peter Singer regarding the morality of abortion cannot be resolved without a consideration of George’s Aristotelian notion of human life (an issue that Singer choses to ignore rather than address). An investigation of the implications of an Aristotelian philosophical outlook for modern moral issues would have been a great addition to the lectures. In sum, while these lectures would be useful for someone with no knowledge of philosophy I can not recommend them very highly.
Date published: 2012-05-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An interesting introduction to Aristotle This was my first course purchase (Audio Download) and overall I was very happy with the purchase. Even though I was happy with the purchase, I still had to give it only 4 stars due to the sheer amount of material that was covered in such a short amount of time. I found myself going back on at least 5 of the different lectures to listen to them multiple times because I could not absorb all the information that quickly at the level I wanted to. I don't believe this is the fault of the professors lecture style. I think his teaching and lecture style is excellent and easy to listen to, but the sheer volume of information presented in some of the lectures was probably a little much to be squeezed into only 30 minutes. If you can catch this course on sale, I believe it to be a very worth while purchase if you are interested in getting an overview on the Nicomachean Ethics.
Date published: 2012-04-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Just if you’re planning to read the book It’s quite obvious that it’s impossible in such a short course to correctly understand the science of Aristotelian ethics, but works well as a first exposure to the subject, just to start hearing about Aristotle ideas and style, it also works great to facilitate your future lecture of nichomachean ethics, but if you’re just staying here probably its not even worth starting. Good professor, clear, intelligent, a pleasure to hear.
Date published: 2012-01-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Intro Audio CD This course is like an audio Cliff Notes of Ethics. Father Koterski presents a cogent examination of the classic by Aristotle. I found that it was very valuable to read the book in conjunction with listening to the course.
Date published: 2011-10-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Ethic of Reason My approach for this course was to get background on the subject matter by doing research on the origins of human ethics and morality. I discovered, for example, that the Egyptians expounded the principle of Ma’at in the Papyrus of Ani [2450 BCE,] some 2000 years before Aristotle was born! This papyrus also predates Hammurabi’s Code [1750 BCE] and the Ten Commandments [1350 BCE.] I concluded that moral feeling and moral precepts were not unknown amongst the most ancient of ancient civilizations, and that the humans of thousands of years ago had moral and ultimate concerns not far removed from the concerns of modern man today. I also had to come to a better understanding of Aristotle’s culture, and to see his ethics in that light. Aristotle’s ethics were developed before the advent of Christianity and without too much (if any) familiarity with Jewish influences. I saw that I needed to remove myself from Judeo-Christian conceptions of morality to be able to see Aristotle “with fresh eyes”and on his own terms. This was in contradistinction to Koterski’s approach which frequently seemed to mix the Christian and Aristotelean ethics together to produce a hybrid ethics which seemed to me neither quite Aristotelean nor quite Christian! For example, in discussing Aristotle’s “golden mean,” Koterski seemed to say that while getting drunk is an excess, drinking just enough alcohol to enhance one’s social experience is a virtue. If we follow Koterski’s implication of Aristotle’s thought, it would follow that being a teetotaler would be a moral deficiency! Parents of Fordham students must be very happy to know that Koterski is teaching their children virtue by instilling the proper ways of drinking and socializing there! On the other hand, a questionable employment of the “golden mean” may not be entirely Koterski’s fault, but Aristotle’s. Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, for example, upon hearing about how aloof and condescending Aristotle’s virtuous man of magnaminity would be, expressed our modern viewpoint on Aristotle’s “man of excess” by wryly noting, (and making indirect comment on Aristotle’s doctrine of the golden mean by saying,) “[If Aristotle’s man of magnaminity exhibits such pride, then]... one shudders to think what a vain man would be like.” Aristotle sees “reason” as the quintessential quality of virtue, and virtue as the essential precondition for happiness, which is the proper and final end of man. Virtue is also the fullest expression of the powers of the human being, requiring practice and inculcation of good habits, which results in good decisions being made and good character being formed. This theory of “virtue ethics” is demonstrated by the fact that people do desire to improve their understanding, skills and character in this life – [as in their buying "Aristotle's Ethics" from the Teaching Company] -- with the ultimate end to excel and to flourish as human beings. Within these lectures, Koterski does a thorough job in describing what the Nicomachean Ethics are, and to what purpose Aristotle developed these ethics. Nevertheless, it was frustrating for me that Koterski never attempted to go beyond these ethics to describe his subject from a meta-ethical point of view. For instance, are the Nicomachean Ethics compatible with Christian ethics? Is Aristotle’s view of one’s basic necessities having to be met in order to attain to human happiness compatible with Jesus’ demands for us to cut out our eyes if they offend us, or to sell all that we have and give to the poor so that we can have treasure in heaven? How are such disparate ethics to be reconciled? I should add that, if Koterski had never bothered to go beyond the immediate text of Aristotle, he might have been justified in keeping to the subject at hand, but since Koterski takes the time to tell us that he believes in a Creator God and that this is the basis for Natural Law and Thomism and Dante’s Divine Comedy, (all of which have no direct connection to Aristotle) does he not owe his audience an explanation for at least attempting to reconcile Christian and Greek ethical systems, on which he is considered an expert and for which he is presumably giving time to proselytize? I had to consciously force myself to disregard Koterski’s diversions into theology to give proper focus to the task at hand – Aristotle’s work! Nevertheless, Aristotle’s ethics were a great revelation to me, mostly because of Aristotle’s far-reaching influence of which I had only dimly been aware. For instance, I realized that: 1) living life as a Christian many times seems antagonistic to using one’s reason and intelligence. This is because much of Christian theology actually seems intent on describing man’s condition as being totally depraved, corrupted and dependent on grace. In contrast, Aristotle’s ethics seem to give the individual (even the Christian!) the ability to “follow through” on one’s good intentions by making virtue a reasonable, proper and attainable goal to which humans can and ought to aspire. 2) Additionally, I see that Aristotle is an intellectual bridge between the Catholics and Muslims. In fact, one could say that Aristotle is Islam’s gift to the West, because without the Muslim culture, Aristotle’s writings would not have survived the Dark Ages! Today, both Catholicism and Islam are united by a common appreciation for, and the influence of, Aristotle’s rationalistic worldview. 3) Aristotle also provides a basis for Kantian ethics of duty through his account of “incontinence.” (i.e. Why some people sometimes weakly choose less than good and reasonable.) Indeed, Aristotle says that many times people choose weakly because they confuse their “universal premises.” [Book Seven, Nicomachean Ethics.] Kant, for his part, would have promoted this proper regard for the universal premise as a basis for ethical action. 4) Aristotle also gives a rational component to the Nietzschean “will-to-power,” making virtue and nobility proper goals of the rational human being. Nietzsche himself was greatly inspired by the nobility of the Greeks, and there is much in Aristotle’s ethics to bolster and confirm Nietzsche’s views of an aristocratic “master” morality. Nietzsche’s views serve to underscore the historical differences between a strong morality based upon individualism, reason, creativity and power, against a Christian morality which historically has emphasized abasement, asceticism, meekness and self-sacrifice. 5) In modern times, Aristotle has also inspired such modern-day writers as Ayn Rand, the founder of “Objectivism.” Rand actually subdivided her novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” on Aristotle’s three principles of logic [Identity, Non-Contradiction, Either-Or] as a testament to Aristotle’s influence on her work. She also developed her own theory of ethics based on the principle of “rational self-interest.” All of the examples mentioned above show the huge extent to which Aristotle casts his influence upon modern thought even today, and for me, this unifying influence over many schools of thought made me admire and appreciate Aristotle’s legacy all the more. With specific regard to modern-day Christian theology, I think recognizing the role of reason can be a great supplement to faith and it can be a great virtue for the Christian. Some theologians, such as Rheinhold Neibuhr, have cautioned against putting too much stock into the efficacy of rationalism, citing limitations of human goodness and also referring to humanity’s capacity for evil, but if reason is mankind’s most essential characteristic, (as Aristotle maintained,) then it would seem that we would be obliged (and ennobled) to try to attain to this ideal, even if this ideal may seem out of reach. In modern-day society, many humans have had a problem with their being swayed by the overpowering desire for pleasure. Recent scandals such as those involving Swaggart, Clinton, Wiener, Berlusconi and Strauss-Kahn emphasize that even those in positions of influence and power often do not have control, or do not exercise good judgment, over their own passions and urges. What Aristotle might counsel, is that one’s rational nature ought to control one’s decisions to the point where one has a compelling reason to enter into such a relation, and that, in doing so, this should lead to an expression of one’s own potentialities and flourishings, and not merely provide an occasion for one’s idle amusement, momentary indulgence or prurient satisfaction. With regard to existential ethics, I think Aristotle would counsel that rational determinations exist for every concrete situation, and that the existential pathos can be resolved by always appealing to the judgment of one’s own rational mind, since one’s actions are always, or ought always to be, determined on principle by one’s reason. In all, I found Aristotle’s ethics very meaningful, practical and revealing, giving great honor to human dignity and to the potentiality of rational living. Koterski is a competent interpreter of Aristotle. On the other hand, I distrust Koterski as an interpreter of Christian virtue, morals and values, because 1) I didn’t ask to be informed about them as a student of Greek philosophy in this course, and 2) what is presented as virtue by Koterski in this course may actually be at odds with a literal interpretation of Jesus’ own ethic. I was, however, willing to turn a blind eye to this in order to gain a better appreciation of Aristotle’s original contribution to ethics. I did gain a great insight into living a life of reason, based on the principles of practicality, self-respect and self-regard. This course is not merely an idle examination of two-thousand-year-old musings, but a practical guide to actually living a life of integrity and goodness. This course will serve nicely both as an introduction to familiarizing oneself with Aristotle’s own works, and in providing a basis upon which to read Aristotle for oneself.
Date published: 2011-10-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Mediocre Courses? I wish I could say that this was a "great course". The topic is certianly a great one and I had high hopes when I saw it listed in the catalog. I wouldn't discourage everyone from buying the course, however, I will say that if you are looking to really get into the "nuts and bolts" of the topic, then you will probably be disappointed. First off, I didn't find the lecture very engaging. From what I can tell the lecturer gives us the punchline of the Ethics very early on in the form of the "mean between the extremes". He develops this with examples of courage, honor, and their opposites etc. But I never felt like he really engaged Aristotle or took Aristotle to task. Basically all we get is a survey of what Aristotle thinks about certain things. I don't find this way of presenting the topic to be very helpful. For me it's all too forgetable. I didn't get the impression that the lecturer was really restling with the topic, just giving us a leisurely tour. I never felt provoked to think about anything in any greater depth. I agree with the reviewer who thinks there were too many digressions. I'm not really interested in the lecturer's personal history. I came here to learn about Aristotle's Ethics. I give the course 3 stars overall because I feel like I could have gotten an equally good presentation of Aristotle's Ethics in almost any community college. If it's supposed to be a "great course" then it needs to be more provocative.
Date published: 2011-09-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing! This course is more akin to a hodgepodge of spoken footnotes to Aristotle’s Ethics than to an actual discussion or analysis of the work. Very little historical or intellectual context is provided and much time is given to contemporary anecdotes on 20th century college life or personal experiences. Clearly, Father Koterski is very knowledgeable and masters the topic. Sadly, he goes from digression to digression and it is often difficult to follow his train of thoughts. Indeed, his lectures are poorly organized and sometimes just end without proper conclusion, presumably because the time allotted has been reached. Surprisingly, he lacks in common courtesy by never saying neither hello nor goodbye and occasionally confuses words, for instance ‘magnificence’ and ‘munificence’. For these reasons, it is difficult to recommend the course to anyone.
Date published: 2011-08-31
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