Looking to Others, Naturally
September 21, 2016
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“The liberal man…does not value wealth for its own sake but as a means to giving.
…for it is the nature of the liberal man not to look to himself.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Studying ethics is not so much about seeing what you should not do. It’s about seeing what you can become.

The notion of ‘nature’ is at the center of Aristotle’s worldview. Humans have a nature; that is, we exist in a certain way, a way that implies a not-yet and a can-be. Part of this nature is that we form ‘habits,’ which themselves constitute a kind of ‘second nature.’ And these second natures are either the completion of the can-be of our given nature, or they are not.

When a habit is a true completion of our given nature, it is a called a virtue. It is a reality of stunning beauty. To see such a thing is an opportunity for insight into our very selves.

I too can do such a thing. Indeed, I will not have become who I really am, until I do.

So reading through the Nicomachean Ethics is a unique adventure in self-discovery. Liberality—‘liberal,’ from the word for ‘free’—here names a virtue that refers to a habit of profound generosity with wealth. It implies that one has discovered and lives out the true value of wealth.

One day I could be so free; so myself; looking, by second nature, to others rather than to self. What a thrill to imagine it.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher.

Image: Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875), Feeding the Young

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5 comments

  1. I have never thought about virtue in this way, not in myself or in those around me– it opens an undiscovered realm of thought (and action) to me. Thanks, Prof. Cuddeback!

  2. I am very grateful to be able to bring you the wisdom of Aristotle regarding this amazing reality.

    1. And you reply by giving away the credit. I think you might be leading by liberal example here. I just might have to dust off the old volume of the Ethics I set aside many years ago. 🙂

  3. Forgive my more general comment, but I must say that I appreciate the emphasis you put on the embrace of Aristotle’s ethics being a choice that leads to freedom and being more yourself. It seems commonplace for ethics based on an objective standard (a nature) to be seen as an oppressive concept. I think that many students in today’s universities would be deeply offended by Aristotle’s ethics. It interesting that an entire culture often seems to run full speed away from freedom in the name of achieving freedom. Thanks for the thoughts.

    1. Jake, Thanks very much for this comment. I think you have a great point. I too love how clear Aristotle is that virtue brings out our true self.