Practical reason, habit, and care in Aristotle

Juan Pablo Bermúdez


Interpretation of Aristotle’s theory of action in the last few decades has tendedtoward an intellectualist position, according to which reason is in charge ofsetting the goals of action. This position has recently been criticized by therevival of anti-intellectualism (particularly from J. Moss’ work), accordingto which character, and not reason, sets the goals of action. In this essayI argue that neither view can sufficiently account for the complexities ofAristotle’s theory, and propose an intermediate account, which I call indirectintellectualism, that preserves the merits of both traditional interpretationsand is able to dispel the problems that trouble each. There is very strongtextual evidence for the claim that goal-setting is the task not of reason butof character (and in this anti-intellectualists are right); but reason is ableto set goals indirectly by carefully shaping the processes of habituationthat constitute a person’s character (and in this intellectualists are right).I argue for this position through a study of the division of labour betweencharacter and reason, and through a reconstruction of Aristotle’s conceptionof habituation.

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