Why talk about the Good in present times? It seems unreasonable, naïve, and romantic in these days of isolation, sadness, and needs of all kinds; days that make it hard for us to see a way out. However, it is precisely because we live in challenging times that it becomes urgent to talk and think about the Good, its practice, its works and its power to make the human, Human. In this special issue we propose to engage in contemporary readings on the question of the Good in ancient philosophy. We go over some of the thoughts produced then and still relevant to our time. The dialogue with the ancients has become extremely necessary because of the difficulty to conceive the good life beyond the narrow limits imposed by present closed model of well-being and its promises of economic prosperity, which are increasingly distant from our daily reality, characterized by the desire for security, by fear, and by the exclusion of differences.
In ancient philosophy, many ways lead to the Good. The first major dispute on the subject opposes Socrates and Plato to sophistry; then it unfolds in the clash between Aristotle and Plato. The good is also the object of desire for Plotinus and continues to be disputed by Epicureans, Stoics, Cynics and Skeptics. In ancient philosophy, the search for the good is inseparable from the question of the best way of living available to human beings, a question that must be answered in a practical way.
With this special issue we want to retrieve the ancient thought on the Good with the purpose of deepening the reflection about the ways to the good life. The volume is divided into four sections. The first one addresses issues related to the conceptions of happiness and the different understandings of the notion of good, bringing us reflections on moral action. The next section discusses the nature and the knowledge of the good, articulating desire and self-sufficiency, as well as the relative or absolute character of the good. The third section considers the good from the perspective of action and its intentionality, seeking to highlight the link between the human good and the other goods. The fourth and last section presents readings, by contemporary authors, who have been influenced by the ancient problematization of the good.
The article that opens the special issue, “O Bem Humano em Epicteto” (“The Human Good in Epictetus”), by Aldo Dinucci and Kelli Rudolph, invites us to think, through Epictetus, how the use of things can be good or bad. The authors focus their investigation on understanding what things that are not ours are, so that we can make good use of them. To this end, Dinucci and Rudolph discuss the distinction between things that depend on us and things that do not depend on us, and between the material (hyle) and its use.
Alex R Gillham, in his article “Classifying the Epicurean Goods and Contending with Zeus for Happiness,” proposes us to think of divine happiness as something possible to be achieved through our own efforts, regardless of external circumstances. To reach this conclusion, the author starts from the Epicurean classification of the goods, dealing with instrumental goods and constitutive goods, personal goods and immortal goods. Bringing Epicurus’ thought to our time, Gillham challenges us to think on the current importance of this vision.
In “What does Divination Mean for Plato’s Socrates? From the Relationship between Being and the Good,” Huaiyuan Zhang invites us to reflect on an unusual dimension of Platonic thought, examining the relationship between divination and philosophy that appears in Socrates’ discourse. According to the author, Plato not only complements the rational process of Socratic dialectic with divination but even seems not to give up divination when it comes to the vision of the Good. Thus, Zhang identifies a mixture between divination and reason in the Platonic text that corresponds to the very ambiguous relationship between being and good.
Closing this first part of the volume, Giannicola Maraglino, in “Eudaimonia: il ritorno agli antichi e degli antichi. Annotazioni attorno ad una proposta filosofica” (“Eudaimonia: the return to the ancients and of the ancients. Notes around a philosophical proposal”), highlights the ever-present philosophical interest in the thought of the ancients through the reflections of Martha Nussbaum. The visit to Aristotle’s thought is understood as necessary for thinking contemporarily about moral action.
The second part of this volume opens with Paulo Butti’s article, “A Autossuficiência do Bem. Sobre alguns Paradoxos da Ética Aristotélica” (“The Self-Sufficiency of the Good. On Some Paradoxes of Aristotelian Ethics”). In this article, the author highlights that in Aristotle’s Ethics we are frequently led from the self-sufficiency of the good to the needs of the human being, but the Stagyrian did not noticed this change in the object of the argument. Aristotle does not seem to feel the need to remember, in the face of the perfection of the good, the imperfection of human nature and the requirement, assumed by himself, that humans live in community.
Luís Felipe Bellintani Ribeiro, in “Sobre o Caráter Absoluto ou Relativo da Noção de Bem em sua Conexão com as Noções de Forma e Matéria” (“On the Absolute or Relative Character of the Notion of Good in its Connection with the Notions of Form and Matter”), thinks about the good from what he calls the kingdom of nature, questioning the relativization of the absolute meaning of good. The author calls our attention to the fact that if good is thought within the realm of what is useful and advantageous for life, then we will have a relativization of good, since good for one can be evil for other.
In “Good’s Irreducibility: The Discordancy Argument and Aristotle,” Aaron Morgan Anderson argues for the irreducibility of good in the sense that it can only be explained by itself. Defending Aristotle’s affinity with ethical intuitionism, building on the theories of G.E. Moore, the author considers the Discordancy Argument and general ethical intuitionism as justification for the Aristotelian idea that good actions are found in concrete particulars rather than in reducible abstractions.
In the last article of this part, “Desejo, Fantasia, Cognição e Bem Aparente em Aristóteles” (“Desire, Fantasy, Cognition and Apparent Good in Aristotle”), Francisco Marques Miranda Filho proposes, based on the resumption of the studies of Jessica Moss and Hendrik Lorenz, to highlight the important function that fantasy plays in Aristotle’s thought. The author proposes to consider fantasy as an important factor in understanding our deliberations and actions.
In the article “Sobre o Bem nas Memoráveis de Xenofonte” (“On the Good in Xenophon’s Memorabilia”), which opens the third section of the issue, Alice Bitencourt Haddad analyzes the notion of good according to the general view presented by Xenophon in the Memorabilia, which links good to utility and usefulness. The author points to the human difficulty of recognizing what is the properly advantageous, which requires enkratéia. The centrality of self-control and the restriction of pleasures points to the exemplarity of Socrates as the master of self-knowledge. The figure of Socrates thus appears as the figure of a benefactor.
In the article “Aristóteles Contra o Bem dos Economistas” (“Aristotle against the good of economists”) Mário Maximo takes as his starting point the refusal of economics as a descriptive, neutral science, as understood by economists. Economic science empties out any robust understanding of good, reducing goods to mere means, which is equivalent to elevating means to a condition of sovereignty. The debate with Aristotle becomes fruitful, because it allows us to see to what extent the error of the economic conception of good lies in a confusion between means and ends, since, for Aristotle, sovereign is only the ultimate end, and not the means that contribute to achieve it, such as wealth.
In “A Insuficiência das Leis: uma Reflexão sobre o Pensamento de Antifonte” (“The inadequacy of laws: a reflection on the thought of Antiphon”), Cristiane A. de Azevedo reflects on the relationship between nomos and phýsis in Antiphon’s thought. Contrary to the usual path of the Sophists, Antiphon emphasizes the role of nature, considering it superior to law. It is not a matter, however, of discarding the nomos, but rather of listening to nature’s call for human being to go beyond his/her own limits. It would be up to human being to know and know how to deal with his/her limits in order to live as well as possible according to his/her own nature.
In the article “Aristóteles e a Hierarquia dos Bens” (“Aristotle and the hierarchy of goods”), Francisco Moraes presents the hierarchy of goods as a proper Aristotelian solution to the impasse established between two conceptions of virtue that conflict in several of Plato’s dialogues: virtue as the wise man’s self-sufficiency and virtue as the capacity to reach and enjoy beautiful and good things. The author argues that Aristotle, while incorporating the Platonic critique of the instrumentalization of virtue, saves the traditional conception of virtue by understanding external goods and wealth itself as goods perfectly compatible with the noble, with the kalon, although he does not fail to reduce them to means, removing from the latter the first-order attractiveness.
Closing the section, in “Revisiting the Boy-and-Girl Fallacy at Nicomachean Ethics I 2,” Marco Zingano takes on the task of examining the alleged fallacy present in the argument developed by Aristotle at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics and aimed at establishing happiness as the ultimate end of our actions. The argument was accused of being fallacious by Peter Geach in an article published in 1958 and labeled by him as “the boy-and-girl fallacy”. For the author, however, it is a valid and rather complex argument that takes a firm first step, but whose result will only be achieved in the second half of book X of the same work, when contemplation will be shown to be the first happiness.
Opening the fourth and last section, the article “A Doença de Sócrates, ou a Doença Sócrates? Nietzsche entre Instinto e Razão” (“The Socrates’s sickness, other the sickness that is Socrates? Nietzsche between instinct and ratio”), by Fabíola Menezes de Araújo, presents and problematizes the Nietzschean verdict about Socrates and the role he would have played in the annihilation of Attic tragedy. Following the Socratic maxim reason = virtue = happiness, the author explains that, for Nietzsche, the philosophical unfoldings of the dichotomy between rationality and instinct necessarily led to the weakening of life, making it sick. But, for the author, despite this unilateral judgment, there are other elements that suggest a Dionysian Socrates, sensitive to the feminine, erotic, which would have even aroused Nietzsche’s admiration.
In “‘Expliquer le bien par une image’. Simone Weil et l’image platonicienne du Bien dans la République” (“‘Explaining the good by an image’. Simone Weil and the Platonic image of the Good in the Republic”), Francesca Simeone highlights that the Athenian philosopher becomes an important reference for Simone Weil in her project of elaborating an ethics for contemporaneity. According to the author, Weil recovers from Plato the instance of conversion of the soul, the path it takes to contemplate the sun when it leaves the cave and bows down to it. However, for Weil, this path does not concern only the noûs. In this sense, the freer interpretive line adopted by Weil is to integrate desire. She would thus move away from an intellectualist understanding of the view of the good.
In the article “Ethics of Friendship: Ancient and Modern Philosophical Approaches to the Good,” John Holst maintains that, in spite of many divergences concerning epistemological and metaphysical questions, Plato and Aristotle coincide in endowing friendship with an ethical meaning, which will exert considerable influence on several modern and contemporary thinkers. Philosophers such as Nietzsche, who in his posthumous writings assumes the importance of an ethics of friendship, as well as Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, and Alasdair MacIntyre are expressly mentioned, which demonstrates the timeliness of the Platonic-Aristotelian ethics of friendship.
And closing the last section, in the article “Aristotle’s Account of Moral Perception (EN. VI. 8) & Nussbaum’s Priority of the Particular Thesis”, Benjamin Hole proposes to problematize the thesis supported by Martha Nussbaum, coined from a return to Aristotle, of the priority of the perception of particular cases, of moral perception, in relation to moral principles. Nussbaum’s argument, clearly inspired by Aristotle, consists in highlighting that practical matters require a flexibility that is even absent in scientific matters. For the author, however, the prioritization of moral particularities over ethical principles opens the way to intuitionistic moral epistemology and relativism, which would be absolutely undesirable.
Finally, we hope that the articles presented here will contribute to deepen the reflections about the good and its actuality. We thank the authors for having contributed to this discussion, highlighting all the richness and scope of the issues related to the theme.