Ordered by the Laws: Aristotle on Law, Moral Education, and Nomothetike
42 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2020
Date Written: May 15, 2014
I attempt in this essay to draw a picture of moral education with regard to the political context in which Aristotle believes it must take place. In the first part of the essay, I consider what Aristotle means when he introduces the concept of necessity to his discussion of moral education in accordance with the laws. I argue that Aristotle considers laws to be necessary for moral education to be conducted properly, because in laws we find the intersection of nomothetikê — i.e., knowledge of how to make people good — and political life. In the second section I attempt to shed light on a question glossed over in the first section: why is nomothetikê both knowledge of how to give good laws and knowledge of how to make people good? I argue the answer lies in Aristotle’s position that justice is both the core principle of a political community and the culmination of human virtue. Nomothetikê is primarily concerned with justice, and it is from justice that both laws and human virtue flow. In the third and final section, we return to the original problem confronting moral education: if education needs to be public, where does this leave the family, and does the family have any role to play in making a person good? I argue that, in fact, Aristotle provides an important place for the human family in his political science precisely because he views the family as a necessary condition for moral education. This does not, however, compromise his claim from the outset that moral education must be directed by the laws: he views moral education as being in some sense divided between the public and private spheres, but with the laws overseeing this division and giving direction to private education within the family. This is the case because the family can provide certain goods and certain interactions that public life simply cannot.
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