Nicomachean Eight: 8: Self-Love And Selfishness

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Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics IX.8: Self-love and Selfishness

Text: §1 (1168a29-35)
“§1 There is also a puzzle about whether one ought to love oneself or someone else most of all; for those who like themselves most are criticized and denounced as self-lovers, as though this were something shameful. Indeed, the base person seems to go to every length for his own sake, and all the more the more vicious he is; hence he is accused…of doing nothing [for any end apart] from himself. The decent person, on the contrary, acts for what is fine, all the more the better he is, and for his friend’s sake, disregarding his own [interest].”

Commentary: §1 Who should humans love most: (1) themselves, or (2) others? Aristotle begins this puzzle with a common
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Since they love themselves most, they are self-lovers and selfish. Base people are claimed to be selfish because they act for what is beneficial to them—they do not act for what is objectively the right thing to do. Rather, they act in accordance to what benefits them. Hence, the more they act for the sake of themselves the more vicious they are. Decent people love others most. Since they do not love themselves most, they are neither self-lovers nor selfish. Decent people are claimed to be unselfish because they act for what is fine—they act for what is objectively the right thing to do. Unlike base people who act for what appears to be advantageous, decent people act for what is actually good. Hence, the more they act for the sake of others the more virtuous they are. Most people believe that self-love is selfishness and that base people or vicious people are self-lovers. So, most people would say that (2) humans should love others most. In this chapter, Aristotle argues that (1) humans should love themselves most, since self-love is not selfishness, and decent people or virtuous people are self-lovers.

Text: §2-§3
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He gives a description of the blameworthy type of self-love (which he argues it is not self-love at all). The main point in these two sections is that the vicious form of self-love involves selfishness since it rests on a false view of the self. Vicious self-love is the most common form of self-love and it is base. Base people are not always vicious, but they could fall to either side of the spectrum depending on how their character was habituated. Decent people should not desire to be base. Vicious people are guided by non-rational parts of their souls, and have lives guided by feelings. They overvalue money, honors, and bodily pleasures, and desire what appears advantageous to them. They allow the spirited and appetitive parts of their souls to overtake their rational part, and live base lives. Vicious people are competitive: they try overreaching to gratify only non-rational parts of their souls which consequently involves harming others. Base people (and vicious people) have an unbalanced set of values, whereas decent people (and virtuous people) have a balanced set of values. Vicious people fail to be guided by what is rational. For these reasons, vicious people ought to be reproached

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