…As Maimed It is reasonable

…As Maimed

It is reasonable that happiness should be god-given… but this question would perhaps be more appropriate to another inquiry.



Nic. Eth, 1:9

I have no idea whether Aristotle ever gets around to making this “other inquiry”, and I have no suspicion either way. But since what is most formal to happiness is virtue, then the question seems to be whether virtue comes from God.

In the very next sentence, Aristotle says:

All who are not maimed as regards their potentiality for virtue may win it by a certain kind of study and care.

What does it mean to be “maimed” here? Like all terms in Aristotle’s writings, the term can probably mean several things, all of which we can trust him to make clear later. St. Thomas will no doubt pick up the slack if there is any. For the moment, though, I want to forget the book and look at the world for a moment. Is this “maiming” a minor problem, or a major one? Are wounded men the exception, or the rule?

Look to anything the universe that reaches maturity: fish, oak trees, dogs, roses… good grief, look at anything in the plant or animal kingdoms. Now ask yourself, “does any of these _________ have a difficult time living as a _______ should live? The answer will be a resounding “no”. There will be the occasional bizarre exception, the beaver that is exiled from the rest of his clan or the lone wolf that runs alone. There are, arguably, struggles that make certain animal lives difficult- the “survival of the species” and all- but these problems are beside the point. Even if a coyote kills a deer, we all know the deer was living the best deer-life he could under the circumstances up to that point. He didn’t die because he got high on wild hallucinogenic mushrooms and couldn’t run away. He didn’t die because he was killed by the new buck- friend of his last doe. He didn’t die because he hanged himself out of deer melancholy. He didn’t die at the hands of a deer tyrant. Just as he didn’t die for these reasons, he didn’t live a life under any of these conditions either. There are no porno shops, illegitimacy problems, divorces, murders, tyrants, drunks, drug addicts, obese gluttons, liars, disobedient children, whores, sophists, witches, drug dealers, felons, or anything of the kind in the animal or plant kingdom. Dogs in the wild will not eat until they can’t walk, or dull their wits with chemicals until they are in a stupor. If an animal is the sort of animal that mates for life, then we know that they will stay together until one of the spouses dies.

And then there’s us.

It is no objection to blame this all on the fact that we have reason or freedom of choice. How can pointing out that we have freedom explain why this free choice must fail us so often? What is there in the idea of “free choice” that lends it to being the sort of thing that should so often fail, and fail so drastically for so many? It also makes no difference if we point out that the goods that are offered by sensation (which can often go against what is good for us as men) are more vivid to us than the goods that are really good. This is simply to beg the question. Everyone agrees that certain sensible things, which are bad for us but apparently good, are more attractive than what is really good. But why is this the case? This merely re-states a conclusion that we all know as though it were a proof for the conclusion. Why is it that we are the sort of things that are so often deceived by sensible apparent goods? The “argument” above says nothing. That we sometimes do evil because it is more vivid to us does not explain why it is that we so often find actual evils more vivid, and more appealing: or why we are alone among animals in doing so for the most part. What is there in the idea of sensation that it must be stronger than reason? Nothing. Why is it stronger in us?

We must be maimed. We are born maimed. If we look to the faculties that we have, we stand on top of a universe that would not even make sense without us. If we look at the disorder among our faculties, we are the only thing that doesn’t belong in the universe. We are both the crown of the cosmos and its one mistake.

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