So the basis of hermeneutics is to proceed from the clear to the obscure. Ironically, the section on the sixth book of the Nicomachean Ethics that precedes the treatment of the Sophist is not clear at all! So I’m looking at what the disciple Gadamer has to say about book six in his chief text he wrote over 30 years after this course. Note- “Olympian” disciples don’t imitate or follow unthinkingly, they tend to focus on similar problems and offer unique answers, often in dialectical responses. And this is certainly the case with Gadamer who is a sovereign and autonomous subject.
If you’ve ever read Aristotle you might notice that he “pwns” Plato devastatingly at times. I was rereading the Politics the other day and remembered his critique of the Republic was just brutal. You do not want someone with Aristotle’s mind critiquing you! In that Vesuvius papyrus I mentioned the other day I learned that Aristotle’s “gang” bullied Plato into early retirement from the Academy with their questions. This is an extreme form of Olympian “discipleship”. Anyway, book six in question is also a critique of Plato, and that’s how H spends the first 200 pages of his Sophist course.
So, you might ask why I am so autistically obsessed with this course in particular. Philosophy disappeared from the earth when H died, and this is his only full commentary on a text by the founder of philosophy.
If you’re interested, he also has interpretations of sections of the Republic and Theaetetus here.
Carrying on, book six concerns what are known as the intellectual virtues.
Let’s get autistic here- these are Gadamer’s writings on book six
He also, near the end of his long life, published a translation and commentary on book six.
It is about the contemporary appropriation of Aristotelian ethics, guided by the question of whether Aristotle’s practical philosophy, which is related to the concrete situation, is preferable to Kant’s moral justification within the framework of a duty ethic based on the pure should.
Again, this is known as phronesis. It’s a response to Plato’s–what we usually call–navel-gazing. The original idea of the Good was taken to be an empty generality, and was thus reformulated into something more concrete and applicable in “the real world”.
Gadamer uses phronesis as the model for his own hermeneutics. I think everyone can sense that there’s MERELY “theoretical” knowledge. This is what gives philosophy a bad name. The academy is really guilty of this in my opinion. I just want to tell them that what they say means absolutely nothing and is irrelevant to anything important. You notice how I tend to go into “the heart of darkness” here? This is my style of phronesis. “I don’t know if I like phronesis then…” Yes, many people prefer to talk about useless abstractions and pat themselves on the back for it.
So what is phronesis? It’s not a science and it cannot be learned. Plato equates virtue and knowledge, whereas Aristotle formulates this relation more in terms of striving.
Yeah Gadamer is definitely “clearer” than Heidegger “ὁ Σκοτεινός”
Aristotle sees ethos as differing from physis in being a sphere in which the laws of nature do not operate, yet not a sphere of lawlessness but of human institutions and human modes of behavior which are mutable, and like rules only to a limited degree.
Stepping back again, Plato equated the intellectual virtues (cf. the Cratylus) that Aristotle went on to rigorously distinguish and rangordnung. The five hexeis–that late Gadamer translates as “paths”–are again art (techne), knowledge (episteme), practical wisdom (phronesis), philosophic wisdom (sophia), and intellect (nous). These are mental states, activities, or ways of conducting ourselves.
Stepping back AGAIN, H appears to be accusing Plato of sophistry on the grounds that he didn’t understand the significance of phronesis.
These distinctions between the virtues are not astrologizing. It could appear that way at first glance because we live in a relativistic time. Episteme for instance, for Aristotle, pertained to mathematicians and physicists. Usually today we see those as the only legitimate forms of “knowledge”. This was not the case in ancient times. For example, at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle indicates that politics can be an episteme.
Continuing the distinguishing, art/techne is making, whereas phronesis is acting (praxis).
Remember that phronesis concerns things that can be otherwise. It’s about freewill, or as H put it before the bell rang, conscience. Science is about things that can’t be otherwise.
Phronesis is a form of deliberation or calculation of what is good for its own sake. Everyone has this, TO SOME DEGREE. We can get misanthropic here or skip all that, I probably don’t have to say it at this point. “WE’RE EQUAAAALS!!” Yeah and you don’t know what is good for its own sake.
Gadamer translates phronesis as “rationality in the realms of opinions”. In other words, with this I’m detailing another reason why Aristotle is being removed from our democratic academy’s curriculums.
This doesn’t have to offend women- Aristotle believes there’s phronesis in both running households and states. Just kidding, I said that to offend women. He really does believe that though.
“YOU don’t have good practical reasoning if you make such jokes.” Why do you think the joke is for you?
Seriously though, I’ve caused the most bitterness and rage in women than anyone in recent times, and I’ve done it deliberately and through the use of phronesis. Gotta love it.
“I’m in HATE with you.” If that’s what you want to call it.
Anyway keep in mind that these Germans in question are disagreeing with Aristotle. Sophia is the highest virtue for him, i.e. science of first principles. So they do to him what he himself did to Plato, trying to demonstrate that it’s not a virtue to not be practical enough.
I think many will understand Nietzsche’s popularity over someone like Kant. Nietzsche was closer to Aristotle in this regard. Kant’s preoccupation with sophia is regarded as something not useful FOR LIFE. Some of us disagree, and think sophia is MOST practical. The dialectic goes on and on. If you like to visit this place you probably appreciate a mix of both phronesis and sophia. The theological-political question for instance due to its poisonousness and “illegal” status couldn’t be called phronesis proper in my opinion. People can read about it here and then MAKE it MORE “phronetic”, and this is what often happens.
Stepping back again, another reason I’m fixated on the sophist course is because SOPHISTS ARE EVERYWHERE. So I take it to be highly practical to know what they are. Because people tend to THINK they know, when they don’t.
We still need to understand the book six “preamble” to this course though. How does phronesis play a part in the Nicomachean Ethics itself? It is “the right reason” that determines the excess and deficiency between the virtues and vices.
Phronesis is the activity of… judgment.
“Oh so you just had to bring Kabbalah into this huh?” I’m practical.
Anyway, to be an “Olympian” disciple myself, I think H and Gadamer are “preaching to the choir” of today with their turn toward phronesis. Maybe in Germany that was needed. In “pragmatic” America there’s palpably a neglect of SOPHIA.
This is interesting (consider the sophist course through this lens)
Aristotle says that such a “politics” and phronesis are the same state of mind, though their essence is different.
The problem is, if you don’t understand first principles you shouldn’t even talk about politics.
This examination of the intellectual virtues is arguably a form of sophia itself, so I think we’re moving in a practical direction here.