Aristotle’s Approach to Human Desire

Ethics has been examined using numerous theoretical frameworks proposed by various historians. In this regard, Aristotle is among those historians who provided a unique perspective on the application of ethics in the contemporary human society. According to Aristotle, humans do not settle for everything on the basis that an alternative is available, because doing so will result in a limitless urge to fulfill one’s desire resulting in emptiness and futility (Boulton and Kennedy 106). This brings important aspects regarding human desire into light. In doing so, Aristotle is trying to convince his readers that in as much as doing an action may provide both personal gain and satisfaction to the community, in the long term, the benefits accrued from these efforts will reach a maximum good where the individual loses meaning for desire, consequently building their integrity, resilience, and virtue; however, it still undermines the element of involuntary response and the possibility of failure in controlling one’s desires.

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Indeed, when personal desire for something has been eliminated, the individual acquires a new set of virtues that serve to guide his or her commitment to the prescribed ethical principles that guide his/her actions. This is echoed in Kirk Kenneth’s essay titled ‘the cardinal virtues’, where he argues that the ideal Christian character must be manifested during one’s stay on earth because this is the only way through which his/her good actions will be manifested to the rest of the society (Boulton and Kennedy 238). Hence, I support Aristotle’s argument on the premise that human action can be summated or quantified to provide a clear account of one’s individual actions that contributed towards their description as being good. This implies that in as much as individuals may be classified as being morally correct, it is not always the case until they have completely exhausted their earthly desires such that the only remaining virtue is that one comparable to a heavenly being, for example, in the case of Christianity we would compare the journey taken by the individual in the footsteps of living saints who are revered in the community.

The object of resilience in man depends upon the experiences that one goes through in their pursuit for better outcomes in their lives. Indeed, man is constantly being faced by numerous challenges that deter them from achieving the sole goal in their lives. Part of the challenges experienced result from man’s passion for personal gain. According to Boulton and Kennedy, when man achieves freedom from his passions and other oppressive events of life that are mutually tied to his passions, this freedom gained should be correctly interpreted against the premise that responses taking place at individual level are guided by the events (200). This partly reflects Aristotle’s belief system that the repetition of events in one’s life serve to guide their passions. This guidance enables them to achieve choose on the right processes to follow in order to attain maximum benefit. Additionally, the existence of mutual connection between man’s passion’s and experiences strengthen their ethical perspectives in certain areas where they previously did not have control over.

Virtue is another concept that is strongly illustrated from Aristotle’s claims on man’s approach to desires. According to Lagerlund, human beings usually two main options: to either live a life in which they are completely estranged from their religious virtues and traditions, and to take ultimate care of themselves by deliberately conforming and showing obedience to the divine commands, which guide their intellect (326). This can be clearly reflected in real life where we are always faced with two major decisions: to do the right thing or pursue an alternative.

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Similarly, Aristotle attempts to show that it is possible to choose the second option by remaining good and avoiding the alternative option. According to Aristotle “the object of contemplation is truth; that of calculation is truth corresponding with right desire” (103). Thus, it implies that man goes through a process of personal conviction where he is faced with a moment where he as to make the right choice in order to bear fruit. Thus, to some extent it is possible to claim that man can actually control his desire, which enables him to serve his society in better ways. “Hence, the choice is either desiderative reason or ratiocinative desire, and such an origin of action is man” (Aristotle 104). Most of the time, people would pursue a decision that is guided by certain societal codes that they prescribed to; hence, Christianity provides a reliable foundation through which it is possible to provide a rational interpretation of events.

On the contrary, Aristotle may not be entirely justified in his reasoning on that man’s desire can become futile on the premise that it implies humans can reach an ultimate level of desire where they can actually control them without failure. This is assumption suggests that by practicing good deeds, humans can attain a level of perfection where failure is avoidable. Rosemary Radford argues in her essay “Feminist Interpretation: A Method of Correlation” that religious philosophy relies upon certain theoretical foundations, which have basically turned into tradition over time (Boulton and Kennedy 88). Boulton and Kennedy “but such experiences, however new and transformative, do not interpret themselves. They are always interpreted in the context of an accumulated heritage of symbols and codes, which are already available to provide touchstones of meaning” (88). Similarly, Aristotle’s perspective regarding man’s response to desires is partly guided by the religious transition observed in the life of biblical characters who in the end become heroes. Indeed, there are times when a certain concept can be embraced by the entire society to the extent that it acquires significant acceptance from many people.

Moreover, Aristotle’s approach misses out on the concept of man’s involuntary response to some incidents and experiences. Indeed, the action to control one’s desires appears to be voluntarily activated, which eliminates the aspect of realism. In as much as man may be able to control his/her desires, there are situations in which responses occur involuntarily. Aristotle’s view on the on the aspect of desire suggests that man can voluntarily control their action leading to their classification as perfect beings. His approach may make sense in the contemporary world of Christianity where man derives his resilience and virtue from the spiritual nourishment he/she receives. Indeed, actions that are done under the control of desire tend to be involuntarily inspired (Aristotle 219). In this regard, the claim that man can actually modify their involuntary center in order to control their desire is not well placed. It undermines the concept of reality with regard to human action. According to Aristotle “the originator of action in this narrow sense will turn out to be choice a combination of reason and desire” (236). Achieving this delicate balance in real life does not seem to be possible because there are other factors that come into play. For example, man’s desire may be controlled by his surrounding such that the element of personal will diminishes completely.

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Finally, in an attempt to strike a balance between the existence of involuntary response and the possibility of failure, several issues can be pointed out. To some extent, Aristotle’s reliance on a biblical perspective justifies his claim that through repetitive action man can control his desire, which enables him to exploit achieve the maximum benefit for the society. Desires can become futile and unreasonable when there is no more benefit being achieved at personal level. This shows that it is a process that takes time and practice. The presence of a strong belief system such as Christianity provides a conditioning reflect to the way man responds to his/her desires. This modification is what Aristotle seems to rely upon in justifying the applicability of his claims. However, by taking the assumption that man can voluntarily control his desires, Aristotle’s claim lacks some enough evidence to show how this can happen in real life. Indeed, at some point, he challenges his own belief regarding the human desire by suggesting that desire is involuntarily inspired. Since, action results from the desire, there is little chance that it will take place voluntarily. 

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