The purpose of this 2-page exegetical paper is to encourage you to engage closely with the text of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. This paper should represent your attempt to wrestle with the basic interpretive questions: what does the text mean and why does it matter?
The purpose of this paper is to undertake an interpretive analysis of the text it in the interest of gaining a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the concepts & arguments that it addresses.
This paper should not be an account of your reactions to the text (i.e. what associations it might have elicited for you) and it should not be an evaluative response (i.e. an account of whether you liked it or agreed with it).
There is no single “correct” interpretation of any text, but interpretations can be better or worse. First and foremost, a good interpretation will make sense: it will adhere to an internal logic of its own, and jive with the logic and meaning internal to the text. The primary goal in writing these papers should be clarity and cohesion in both your interpretation of the passage and your written account of that interpretation.
The majority of the paper should be devoted to a clear, concise account of the meaning and significance of the passage you choose in the context of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. To conclude the paper, you might briefly (i.e. in one or two sentences) raise and/or address some broader questions about or implications for ethics writ large.
Scope & Citations
- Papers should be a minimum of 500 words and a maximum of 750 words. The word limit is intended to encourage conciseness, clarity, and focus: say only what needs to be said; avoid redundancy and unnecessary editorializing. Please include a word count in brackets at the end of your paper.
- Please do not use any outside sources.
- Please cite quotations from the Nicomachean Ethics using either the Bekker numbers (e.g. 1105a-10) or the (Book, Chapter, Section) format.
When preparing to write your papers, I recommend you use the following procedure:
Reread the text surrounding the passage you have chosen (i.e. the section and chapter) at least three times before beginning to write. Keep reading until you have a clear sense of the meaning of each word in the passage, and of the passage as a whole. If there are unfamiliar words, look them up in a dictionary, then consider their meanings within the context of the passage.
Use these questions to guide your interpretation and the structure of your paper:
1. What does it say?
What is the literal meaning of each sentence in the passage? Try to restate what Aristotle is saying using your own words. Look out for things like:
pronouns (what are “these things”? who are “they”?)
figurative language (i.e. metaphors)
analogies (why is he talking about bird meat? how is the soul like the body?)
specific terms (what is a “principle”? what does “choiceworthy” mean?)
All of these things should be explained and clarified.
2. What does it mean?
Each passage appears in the context of an argument that Aristotle develops. What is that argument? Within the context of that argument, what does this passage mean? What role does it play in that argument? Try to reconstruct the argument around the passage.
3. Why does it matter?
Each of the arguments Aristotle makes contributes to his discussion of ethics. How are this passage and the argument to which it contributes significant? How do they relate to the rest of his discussion? Finally, how do they relate to the issues we’ve discussed in class? How do they relate to our lives?
At the very end of your paper, you might devote a few sentences to exploring the contemporary implications of the passage or articulating further questions that emerge out of your interpretation.
One of the most difficult and important parts of the writing process is editing. Please be sure that you read, re-read, and edit your papers for sense, clarity, and mechanics. Do not submit a paper you have not edited.
Please choose one of the following passages from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as the focal point of your paper.
2. “Correct habituation distinguishes a good political system from a bad one.” Book II, Chapter 1, Section 5 (1103b-7)
3. “That is why we need to have had the appropriate upbringing—right from early youth, as Plato says—to make us find enjoyment or pain in the right things; for this is the correct education.” Book II, Chapter 3, Section 2 (1104b-12)
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