An aesthetic reading of Aristotle’s ethics

Richard H Kraut*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

13 Scopus citations


Does Aristotle think of ethical activity as beautiful? I am not asking whether he calls ethical activity kalon. Rather, my question is whether he is adverting to the property of beauty when he uses the word kalon in his ethical writings. My answer is: ‘frequently, yes’. I will therefore argue that ‘beautiful’ is often (but not always) the best translation of kalon in his practical treatises. The standard Greek-English lexicon of Liddell, Scott and Jones tells us that in some passages ancient authors use kalon to refer to beauty, but that it also means ‘good’ or ‘fine’ or ‘excellent’. They say furthermore that the word can have what they call a ‘moral sense’, and they suggest ‘noble’ or ‘honourable’ as equivalent terms. But I will argue that there is no evidence that it has a special moral sense in Aristotle’s works. Four excellent translators of the Nicomachean Ethics into English avoid ‘beauty’ almost entirely. When Aristotle characterizes virtuous people as philokaloi — lovers of what is kalon (1.8.1099a13) — Irwin 1999 renders this ‘lovers of the fine’; so too Rowe (in Broadie and Rowe 2002). Ross 1925 has ‘lovers of what is noble’; Crisp 2000 ‘fond of noble things’. In every passage in which Aristotle speaks of the virtuous person’s devotion to what is kalon, these translators use ‘fine’ or ‘noble’, not ‘beautiful’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPoliteia in Greek and Roman Philosophy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781139096843
ISBN (Print)9781107020221
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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