This dissertation takes a new stab at an old question in Aristotle interpretation. The question is this: how does Aristotle understand the process through which we acquire our goals in life, i.e. “practical first principles”? Many scholars interpret Aristotle as thinking that this process is a rational one: one pursues X because one has arrived at the judgment that X is good through reasoning. Others interpret Aristotle as thinking that this process is a non-rational one: one pursues X because one has been habituated to find X good. In this dissertation, I argue that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The process is non-rational in that what one finds good is determined by one’s habituation. But the process is rational in that reason plays the crucial role of clarifying what the ends set by one’s habituation actually are. I argue for this view by considering Aristotle’s practice as a teacher of ethics and by showing that Aristotle intends his lectures to do just that—to help clarify for his students what the ends set by their excellent habituation actually are.
Chapter 1 provides a roadmap for the dissertation. I lay out the view of my primary interlocutor, Jessica Moss, and I introduce and defend my approach to the question, namely to consider Aristotle’s pedagogical aims as a teacher of ethics.
Chapter 2 examines the terminus a quo of Aristotle’s teaching process (point A). I argue that Aristotle requires of his students that they have a rough grasp of the ends of the ethical life before they enter his classroom.
Chapter 3 considers the terminus ad quem of the teaching process (point B). I argue that the point of the lectures is to provide Aristotle’s students with nature-specifying definitions of the ends of the ethical life.
Chapter 4 examines the method Aristotle employs to move his students from point A to point B. My basic proposal is that Aristotle’s method is to teach his students through simulated inquiry, and the method he follows in such inquiry is the same method that he characterizes at length in APo II.