HomePhilosophia: International Journal of Philosophyvol. 15 no. 2 (2014)


Peter Simpson

Discipline: Philosophy, Social Science



 In the Aristotelian corpus of writings as it has come down to us, there are four works specifically on ethics: the Nicomachean ethics, the Eudemian ethics, the Magna moralia (or Great ethics), and the short On virtues and vices. Scholars are now agreed that the first two are genuinely by Aristotle and most also believe that the Nicomachean is the later and better of the two. About the Magna moralia, there is still a division of opinion, though probably most scholars hold that it is not genuine. Those who hold it is genuine suppose it to be an early work or a redaction of an early work made by a later Peripatetic. As for On virtues and vices almost everyone holds it to be a spurious work written some two centuries after Aristotle's death. However, the arguments scholars give for these opinions are entirely unconvincing. In fact, they beg the question by assuming the conclusion in order to prove the conclusion. My own contention is that all the hard evidence we have compels us to conclude that all of these works are definitely by Aristotle but that they differ not by time of writing, as scholars universally suppose, but by audience and purpose. Inbrief, the Nicomachean and Eudemian ethics are writings internal to Aristotle's School with the Nicomachean being directed to legislators and the Eudemian to philosophers. The Magna moralia is an exoteric work meant for those outside the school. On virtues and vices is a collection of endoxa, or common and received opinions about virtues, perhaps meant as a handbook for young students but also for use in philosophical analysis. It is almost certainly referred to as such by a cryptic remark in the Eudemian ethics.