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The form of Grecian and heathen ethics which attained in Aristotle to its highest perfection, is that of the natural man as contented in and with himself; it lacks the consciousness of the historical reality and of the historical development of sin,—of the antagonism of the reality of natural man, as sprung from an historical act, to the moral idea, and of the earnestness of the moral struggle against sin; instead thereof we find the introduction of a proud distinction between a multitude incapable by nature of true morality, and an elect minority of free-born men capable of all wisdom and virtue, and among the latter a lofty virtue-pride of man as having attained without severe inner struggle to an easily-won self-satisfaction. Humility is not a virtue of a free sage, but only of the slave and plebeian, as born unto serving obedience.—Morality rests only upon the knowledge (independent of the religious consciousness) of the per se good, but not upon love,—neither upon love to God nor upon love to man; love is not the ground, but only a co-ordinate manifestation-form of virtue. Hence also the solely true moral community-life is only a product of wise and rational calculation, but not of love; and the primitive community-life of moral love, namely, the family, is not the basis, but only one phase of the state-life. The moral view of Aristotle, and indeed of the Greeks in general, is consequently not merely manifoldly different from the Christian view, but indeed radically opposed thereto.123
It is very important clearly to realize this inner antithesis of Aristotelian and Christian ethics, and all the more so as Aristotle has had, even up to the latest times, a so great and so largely bewildering influence upon the shaping of Christian ethics. Though not wishing to undervalue the high scientific significancy of the Aristotelian system, we are yet not at liberty to find in it thoughts which are really foreign to it.
The Christian consciousness rests entirely upon the recognition of the general necessity of redemption, and indeed not simply in reference to a moral defectiveness inborn in man, but to one that has fallen to all men through historical guilt. Of this Aristotle knows nothing. When Brandis says: “The doctrine of hereditary sin would not have seemed foreign to him,” inasmuch as he saw very clearly the corruption of human nature,8484 Arist., ii, p. 1682. we think he is quite incorrect. It is true Aristotle ascribes to the great multitude, and above all to those who are born for service and labor, an inborn badness, and he describes it in the strongest colors and as a real insuperable incapacity for true virtue; and it is under this head that falls the confirmatory utterance cited by Brandis, namely, that it is good, in the state, to be dependent, and not to be at liberty to do whatever one may please, “for the liberty to do what one pleases cannot hold in check the evil that is inborn in all men” (το ἐν έκάστῳ των ἀνθρώπων φαῦλον) (Pol., vi, 4). Were this to be taken in its full and unlimited sense, Aristotle would thereby come into contradiction with his other so definite and repeated declarations as to the perfect will-freedom of those who are capable of true virtue, and thus overturn his entire ethical system,—which rests absolutely on the presupposition of this freedom. The fact is, he is speaking here as a statesman and not as a moralist, and alludes therein to the great multitude of those who, though arriving at magisterial offices, are yet not philosophers nor truly free. Indeed, he expressly says that the truly good should not by any means be limited by laws, but stand absolutely above all law;8585 Polit., iii, 13: κατὰ δὲ τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστι νόμος, αὐτοὶ γάρ εἰσι νόμος and though he admits that such persons are very rare, yet he presupposes that there are actually 124some such. Now the fact that Aristotle unquestionably excepts the true philosophers as the elect few, from the otherwise all-prevalent moral corruption, does not offer any thing similar to the Christian doctrine of natural sinfulness, but indeed the very opposite,—is not, as the Christian doctrine, an expression of deep humility, but on the contrary, of unmeasured pride, as despisingly conscious of a superiority to the rest of mankind. To make exceptions to the general prevalence of sinfulness limits not merely the thought of this sinfulness, but entirely overthrows it; the virtue-merit of the few chosen ones—and these are of course always the philosophizing moralists themselves—stands forth all the more glaringly the deeper the rest of mankind are degraded. It affords no similarity to the Christian consciousness when, to the few philosophers, that character is attributed which Christianity ascribes exclusively to the God-man.
To what height the proud self-consciousness of the philosopher, as pretendedly perfect in his virtue, rises, some idea may be obtained from the following description of the virtue of magnanimity: “Magnanimous is he, who, being worthy of great things, esteems himself as in fact worthy of them. . . . The greatest of out. ward goods is honor; hence the magnanimous man has to act with propriety in respect to honor and dishonor. . . . As the magnanimous man is worthy of the greatest things, he must necessarily be a perfectly good one; to him belong whatever is great in every virtue; . . . hence it is difficult to be really magnanimous. . . . In great honors, and honors shown him by eminent men, the magnanimous man rejoices moderately, as at that which he deserves, or which even falls below his desert; for, for a perfect virtue there is no entirely sufficient honor. Nevertheless he accepts it, because there is no greater one for him. But the honor shown him by ordinary men, or for inferior things, he disdains, for they are not worthy of him.” After having observed, that in order to true magnanimity also outward gifts of fortune are requisite, and that the magnanimous man thinks only very lightly of men and things, and regards only few things so highly as to expose himself to danger for them, Aristotle says of him further: “He is inclined to do good, but disdains to receive benefits, for the former is characteristic of the eminent, and the latter, of the 125inferior; and he gives more liberally in return, for thereby he who was before a creditor is made a debtor. Also he gladly recollects those to whom he has done favors, but not those from whom he has received benefits! for the receiver of a benefit becomes subordinate to him who renders it, whereas he is fond of being superior to others; therefore he also hears mention, with pleasure, of the former (his own good deeds), but with displeasure of the latter (the received benefits); . . . he remains inactive and hesitating when no great honor or great work is involved; he does only a little, but that little is great and honor-bringing; . . . he acts boldly and openly, for he cherishes contempt for others; he speaks the truth, save when he speaks with irony; and he does this when lie has to do with the great multitude; . . . he admires nothing, for nothing appears to him as great. . . . The movements of a magnanimous man are slow, his voice restrained and his pronunciation measured. For he who is interested in few things, is not in haste; and he who regards nothing as great, is not zealous.” (Nic., iv, 8, 9). This portraiture of one who, as judged from a Christian stand-point, is but a courtly fool, is the virtue-ideal of Aristotle.
A very essential defect of Aristotelian ethics is the falling into the back-ground of the religious character of the moral; and in this respect it is far inferior to that of Plato. The moral stands out alone in entire self-sufficiency, not needing any other ground or basis than itself; the good is good without reference to God,—is good in and of itself, and is at the same time the motive of its own realization. That the moral is essentially God’s will, that it brings man into life-communion with God, that man has an immediate moral life-relation to God, that piety is the ground and life of all virtue,—of all this we find in Aristotle but a few very faint and wavering hints. And this is especially surprising in view of the fact that the world-theory of Aristotle is, in other respects, by no means inimical to a close connecting of the moral with the religious, seeing that his God-idea is a very highly developed one, and that lie derives all life of the world and of its contents absolutely from the proto-causality of the highest self-conscious reason, that is, the personal God. It is not so much the consequentiality of his philosophical system, as the feebleness of the religious consciousness 126and life in Aristotle himself, that occasioned him to develop the religious phase of the moral so imperfectly; he does not reject this phase, he even alludes to it, but he does not develop it.
Morality in Aristotle lacks therefore its essential motive; for, in that he himself expressly and repeatedly declares. against Socrates, that from the knowledge of the good the willing of the same does not necessarily follow, but, on the contrary, a contradiction may occur between willing and knowing, he thereby indeed evidently shows that he has observed real life with greater impartiality than Socrates, but he has also thereby rendered impossible any clear understanding of the moral life. For if knowledge does not invariably result in willing, what then is the impelling power which calls forth willing, or the lack of which works non-willing? It is not love, for love appears not as directed toward the good per se, or toward God as the highest good, but only toward the individual manifestation, as individual friendship,—not as a motive to virtue, but as one particular virtue along-side of many others. The willing of the good springs not from love, but appears as something entirely independent and unbased, along-side of knowledge and along-side of love; and for the very reason that Aristotle knows not the moral power of love, he can discover for the civic virtue of the great multitude no other motive than fear.
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