Action and ethics in Aristotle and Hegel

Pendlebury, Gary (2001). Action and ethics in Aristotle and Hegel. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e359

Abstract

This thesis is an exploration of several themes in the work of Aristotle and Hegel concerning the nature of action and ethics, and discusses the issues raised in relation to modern moral philosophy. The thesis takes as its starting point both Aristotle's and Hegel's conception of rational, purposive human action as being central to ethics and morality. This is carried out in contrast to influential trends in modern moral philosophy regarding the nature of reason and desire. Part one considers Hegel's view of the task of philosophy, i. e. the assimilation and reflection of the particular subject matter of which it speaks, rather than abstract theoretical thinking. The discussion will highlight that many of the problems raised in the rationalist/empiricist debates of the 17th and 18th Centuries are due to the abstract nature of those discussions, and to attempts to assimilate the subject matter to primary assumptions about reason, experience and the individual. In particular, the metaphysics of mind and the epistemology that the debate involved, it will be claimed, draws a hard and fast distinction between reason and desire. This has led to abstract theories of reasoning and motivation.

One particular consequence of abstract, theoretical thinking is that the conceptual language of debate becomes divorced from the subject matter under discussion. In particular, the cluster of concepts that form the basis of the philosophy of mind, action, ethics - reason, desire, motive, intention, purpose, etc. - become refined and specialised to a degree that they come to bear only a vague resemblance to the reasons, etc. that are features of actual (as opposed to theoretical) human conduct. In Part Two of the thesis, I will offer a contrasting perspective, discussing Aristotle's and Hegel's treatment of these concepts without the theoretical framework inherited from 17th and 18th Century metaphysics and epistemology.

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