virtue and jump shots

I’m using the following well-known passage from Aristotle to talk about incommensurability and theory-ladenness in my HET and political economy classes this week:

Some think that a very moderate amount of virtue is enough, but set no limit to their desires of wealth, property, power, reputation, and the like. To whom we reply by an appeal to facts, which easily prove that mankind do not acquire or preserve virtue by the help of external goods, but external goods by the help of virtue, and that happiness, whether consisting in pleasure or virtue, or both, is more often found with those who are most highly cultivated in their mind and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods, than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities; and this is not only matter of experience, but, if reflected upon, will easily appear to be in accordance with reason. For, whereas external goods have a limit, like any other instrument, and all things useful are of such a nature that where there is too much of them they must either do harm, or at any rate be of no use, to their possessors, every good of the soul, the greater it is, is also of greater use, if the epithet useful as well as noble is appropriate to such subjects… Again, it is for the sake of the soul that goods external and goods of the body are eligible at all, and all wise men ought to choose them for the sake of the soul, and not the soul for the sake of them.

The point is to get them to see how the part in bold might look just like the negative second derivative of a utility function to a contemporary economist, but is a very different concept when considered contextually (holistically). Aristotle’s concern about the qualitative distinction between virtue and “external goods” (not found in many microeconomic theory texts) is imo more closely related to the classic Allen Iverson commercial.

 

But yeah, still incommensurable.

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