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A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science

Ed. by Wildberg, Christian / Morison, Benjamin

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Volume 47, Issue 2


Incomplete Activities

Dr. Meyvis Olfert
Published Online: 2014-04-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/apeiron-2012-0058


Unsuccessful activities are pervasive facts of our daily lives. Our vision is nearsighted or farsighted; we puzzle over difficult problems without making headway; we make resolutions to do certain things and then fail to do them. For Aristotle, seeing, contemplating, and deciding belong to the metaphysical kind energeia (the technical term which often gets translated as ‘activity’). In this paper, I investigate the consequences of Aristotle’s conception of unsuccessful or incomplete energeiai for his theory of excellence in the Nicomachean Ethics. I will begin with some remarks on a difficult passage in Nicomachean Ethics X.4, where Aristotle seems to draw a distinction between more and less complete and successful, and more and less incomplete and unsuccessful, activities. I will argue, first, that the idea of degrees of completeness of activities should be understood in terms of degrees of approaching or approximating to a single state - completeness - and to the extent that a particular activity fails to be complete, it also fails to be that particular activity in a strict sense. I will then argue that this account of unsuccessful activities has a striking consequence: it means that good and excellent people can literally do things that the rest of us cannot. They are distinguished from the rest of us by being capable of performing the activities of desiring, contemplating, and deciding that on Aristotle’s view are definitive of rational agency

Keywords: Aristotle; Energeia; Kinesis; Activity; Virtue

About the article

Published Online: 2014-04-08

Published in Print: 2014-04-01

Citation Information: Apeiron, Volume 47, Issue 2, Pages 230–244, ISSN (Online) 2156-7093, ISSN (Print) 0003-6390, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/apeiron-2012-0058.

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