Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 19

1

Formal und Material Goodness in Action


Mueller's "Formal and Material Goodness in Action." Sketch of the argument From the Nicomachean Ethics we can learn how our understanding of human action may profit from a certain way of reading what Aristotle has to say about the teleology of cognition. The fol The following considerations are to convince you of this and, in particular, of the place, in a broadly Aristotelian account of acting well, of motivation.

Analytical table of contents 1 The inherent immanent telos of judgement seems to be truth. 2 This teleology, however, does not distinguish judging from guessing. A typical judgement is aimed at being right for the right reasons. 3 So perhaps knowledge is what you aim at in judging. Such knowledge, however, can be identified with Aristotles episteme only if we allow that the middle term of an apodeixis may represent a mere ratio cognoscendi rather than a ratio essendi. Your judgement can be called formally correct if, in this judgement, you are right for the right reasons, and materially correct if you are right, tout court. 4 The telos of a judgement as to whether p does not provide you with a guide, or criterion. 5 The distinction between material and formal correctness can be applied to action. You may do what it is right to do, for the right reasons or not for the right reasons. 6 Aristotle himself draws attention to an analogy between judgement and action with regard to a formal correctness due to their respective archai. 7 We may, to some advantage, modify Aristotles account by denying the inherent telos of praxis its role as a reason for acting. 8 Is material goodness conceptually prior to formal goodness? 9 Saving a persons life (Example I) appears to be a good action, tout court whether its motive is good or bad. 10 Pocketing a purse (Example II) is an action type that is neither good nor bad. The formal quality of its tokens (or subtypes) depends on their motivation, their material quality on what it would be formally good, and bad, to do in the situation.

11 Example I differs from II in calling forth evaluation in terms of both natural and ethical goodness. 12 If we keep these two kinds of evaluation apart (as we should), we see that, in cases like Example I as well as II, we need to determine the formal quality of an action in order to be able to decide on its material quality. 13 The relevance of a broadly Aristotlian account of actions goodness concerns our understanding of 1) human agency in general, 2) the connexion between ethics and the philosophy of action, 3) the relationship between rationality and morality, 4) interesting analogies between judgement and action, 5) the nature of an actions ethical quality, and 6) the rational core of a virtue.

1 The inherent immanent telos of judgement seems to be truth. In EN VI 10, 1142b11, Aristotle says that correctness of judgement is truth; in 2, 1139a27-29, that in the case of thought that is theoretical, and not practical nor productive, well and badly consist in the true and the false (this is, after all, the function of any faculty of thought); and in b12-14, he says of both intelligent parts that their function is truth (amphoteroon toon noeetikoon morioon aleetheia to ergon); so the excellences of both will be the dispositions in accordance with which each of them will grasp truth to the highest degree. The second of these passages suggests that productive (poietical), as opposed to theoretical, thought does indeed aim at truth but has a further telos in the thing to be produced. Concerning the faculty of pracical thought, Aristotle adds that its well consists in truth in agreement with the correct desire. But here, too, a further telos must be aimed at, viz. good praxis unless it turns out that good praxis is somehow identical with practical truth. Whatever may properly be said about the teleology of thought productive or practical, Aristotles official pronouncements on the teleology of theoretical judgement as such amount to this: Truth is its telos, and it has no telos beyond its truth. Or, to put it more accurately: A judgement that p has, for its proper telos, the subjects being right as to whether p; and in actualizing this telos the subject does not actualize anything other than the judgement that p. Or, again, to put it in medieval jargon: The telos of theory, viz. truth, is purely immanent. So much teleology of thought is agreed upon by the Aristotelian tradition, St. Anselms De Veritate, Wittgensteins Tractatus, and a lot of analytical philosophy (cf. Michael Dummetts criticism of Freges views on truth). Since it is the judgement as such that is oriented towards its own truth, we may say that the immanent teleology of thought

is also constitutive, or inherent. Even though necessarily intended, my judgements orientation towards its truth is not due to any further intention of mine in the way in which, e.g., my remarks orientation towards clarification is due to the intention with which I make the remark. There is no such thing as intending to form a judgement on whether p without intending to form a true judgement on whether p; and when forming a judgement, I am not choosing between judging with the intention of being right and judging without this intention. (Nevertheless, the intention to judge is not, of course, identical with the intention to judge truly, since, notoriously and sadly, the former may come off without the latter doing so!) We may note, in passing, that the inherent teleology of a judgement, though not admitting of alternatives, and in this sense not a matter of choice or intention, like the teleology of an individual action, is not a case of natural teleology either if this means the natural tendency (horme) of a kind of body towards a kind of action (kineesis) or condition (diathesis). The teleology of judging may be called natural in the sense that it is in the nature of judgement to be aimed at truth. Truth is not, indeed, a telos as it were conferred upon the judgement that p by an intention thereby to form a true judgement. But, on the other hand, my judgements being aimed at truth does presuppose my intention to judge correctly. 2 This teleology, however, does not distinguish judging from guessing. A typical judgement is aimed at being right for the right reasons. Truth, then, seems to be the telos of judgement. On closer inspection, however, we find that truth does not exhaust the purpose even of theoretical thought. This becomes obvious as we consider the possibility of being right accidentally. Let us therefore compare judging with guessing. I am not here discussing more or less informed guesses. These do not really differ from hedged judgements, and they can be understood, I believe, on the model of judgements.

What I have in mind is the kind of guess that you ask a child to make when you ask him to guess which number between 1 and 100 you have written down on a sheet of paper, etc. Interestingly, although the child cannot be said, in this kind of game, to intend to come up with the right answer, truth is still the inherent telos even of this kind of guess. And the child has guessed well in case the guess turns out to be correct. Moreover, anyone who guesses is aware of this teleology; and a genuine guess carries with it the wish, or hope to guess correctly much as taking part in a lottery typically involves the wish, or hope, though not of course, an intention, to win. The teleology of guessing comes out also in there being an achievement sense to this word. Instead of saying You have guessed correctly we may say You have guessed it! And just as one cannot ask Do you want me to judge whether p correctly, or rather incorrectly?, nor can one ask Do you want me to guess correctly or incorrectly? When you guess, you guess with a view to guessing right. Hence, so far, the teleology of guessing does not seem to differ from that of judging with one exception: The intention to guess does not involve an intention to guess correctly, while the intention to judge involves an intention to judge correctly. The difference does, however, go deeper. For your hope, or wish, to be right doesnt amount to a serious intention unless you intend to hit on the truth non-accidentally. And this means, at least in typical cases: for the right kind of reason. Hence, an intention to judge that p, involves the intention of being right as to whether p on the basis of suitable reasons. And this intention is not implemented if you judge that p correctly but for the wrong reasons. No comparable failure is possible in the case of guessing. This result may be expressed by saying: While the truth of a guess is essentially accidental, the truth of a judgement is only accidentally accidental. For, unlike guessing, judging involves an intention to be right, and this intention is (in typical

cases) tied to the reliance on considerations that tend to secure the judgements truth. It seems to be in the nature of a judgement, then, to be aimed at a kind of correctness that goes beyond truth: in judging you aim at being right for the right reasons. Let us see what Aristotle has to say about this kind of correctness. 3 So perhaps knowledge is what you aim at in judging. Such knowledge, however, can be identified with Aristotles episteme only if we allow that the middle term of an apodeixis may represent a mere ratio cognoscendi rather than a ratio essendi. Your judgement can be called formally correct if, in this judgement, you are right for the right reasons, and materially correct if you are right, tout court. What comes to mind first is this: If in your judgement you are right for the right reasons, you may be said, in Aristotles terminology, to have episteme, usually translated: knowledge (cf. AnPost I 1, 71b9-13). This suggestion is supported by the consideration that, in typical cases, ones knowing that p implies that ones judgement that p is justified by good reasons. Let us say, then, that justification by reasons is that part of the telos of judging that goes beyond truth; that your aim, in judging, is, to be right in your judgement because it is based on suitable reasons; and that knowledge rather than just true judgement is what we aim at in judging. This account seems to go well with Aristotles view that apodeixis (proof) is required for establishing episteme (EN VI 3, 1193b31-35; AnPost I 1, 71b16-25). But we must tread carefully here. Suppose we have a syllogism in BARBARA, with true premises and with a conclusion stating that A universally belongs to C. This, it seems, amounts to an apodeixis only if the middle term, B, represents an (Aristotelian) cause that explains why A belongs to C.

Thus, for you to have real episteme of the conclusion that A belongs to C, you must have reached this conclusion on the basis of reasons that tell you why A belongs to C. The dia ti that you need is explanatory, not just evidential and justificatory. It seems to follow that apodeixis should be translated as explanation rather than proof, and episteme as understanding rather than knowledge. In order for you to know, for instance, that sugar dissolves in water, it is sufficient that your judgement be based on suitable evidence like your own experience, or the testimony of a suitable book. And you prove your judgement to be true by conducting an experiment, or by quoting from that book, or by producing some other type of evidence i.e. by setting forth possible reasons for the judgement. On the other hand, to have episteme of the fact that sugar dissolves in water, you need to understand why it does that. And you gain this understanding from an apodeixis, i.e. an explanation of the phenomenon, a deduction that reveals its cause. This very strict requirement on episteme, however, may not be Aristotles last word on the matter. For the expressions he uses in this context (dia ti, aitia, aition, arche) may mean ratio cognoscendi as well as ratio essendi. Thus, in Met V 1, 1013a14-17, he expressly says that the word arche (and, likewise, aition) can be used for the starting point from which something comes to be known (gnooston); and he mentions the premises of an apodeixis as an example of this kind of arche, thus allowing, it would seem, a kind of demonstrative syllogism whose middle term, B, represents a reason for judging that A belongs to C that is not a reason why it is the case that A belongs to C i.e. not a cause. So, while according to Aristotle austere, apodeiktikos implies explanatory, there might be, according to Aristotle lenient, forms of apodeixis that can be seen as mere proofs, as non-explanatory, purely justificatory inferences, and cases of episteme that involve no more than the ordinary knowledge that results from such an inference.

Whether or not it is right, as a matter of exegesis, to become soft, in this way, on the requirements of apodeixis and episteme, the resulting conception certainly fits the structure of both everyday and scientific thinking. On this conception, the inherent telos of judging that p is, typically, being right, in judging that p, for the right reasons, i.e. actualized knowledge ((cf. energeia(i) episteme)). And I am going to count this conception as part of an Aristotelian account of rationality. Let us call a judgement formally correct if its immanent telos is achieved, and materially correct as long as it is true whether the immanent telos is achieved or not. 4 The telos of a judgement as to whether p does not provide you with a guide, or criterion. It should be observed that the telos of a judgement as to whether p, though constitutive of it and necessarily cointended in the intention to judge, is not a guide to choosing between judging that p and judging that not-p. When you intend to travel to Berlin, this telos of yours will play a decisive role in your considerations concerning how to get there, i.e. by what means to achieve your aim. By contrast, the telos of being right, as to whether p, for the right reasons plays no part at all in your considerations concerning how to judge whether to judge that p or that not-p in order to achieve that aim. In other words, the reasons that speak in favour of one or the other judgement do not include the aim of being right (of judging correctly); rather, they represent available evidence. 5 The distinction between material and formal correctness can be applied to action. You may do what it is right to do, for the right reasons or not for the right reasons. Let us now examine whether we can conceive of the teleology of action on the model of the teleology of judgement. Aristotle himself points out analogies between the two (Cf. ). Admittedly, a distinction between formal and material correctness is only implicit in his account of the immanent end

10

of theory, so we should not expect him to transfer it to the case of action. He does, however, provide us with the materials for an interesting comparison in this respect. Consider however this passage: Pol II 4, 1277b25-30. Here, phronesis is being opposed to doxa alethes. The distinction is presumably the absence of dia ti in the latter. This means that the (practical) judgement concerning what to do will be materially rather than formally correct. At the same time, the lack of phronesis is bound to affect the qualifications of pathos and praxis: no ethical as opposed to natural virtues. In other words, the very dia ti whose presence would allow the formal correctness of judgement is at the same time the dia ti whose presence would make for formally good praxis. Here we have not analogy but identiy. To see this, we have to look at passages in which Aristotle talks about the requirements for the goodness of praxis. In EN II 4, 1105a28-33, for instance, he says that the things that come about in accordance with the excellences count as done justly or moderately not merely because they themselves are of a certain kind, but also because of facts about the agent doing them first, if he does them knowingly, secondly if he decides to do them for themselves, and thirdly if he does them from a firm and unchanging disposition. The second of these conditions is of special interest in the present context. We may say that a praxis is materially just, or moderate, or otherwise good if it is of a certain kind (ean auta pos eche(i)); in order for it to be formally just, or moderate, or otherwise good, the agent must do it for its own sake (prohairoumenos di auta). Just as we say that in some cases people do what is just without being just themselves, e.g. those who are doing things that have been prescribed by the laws, but either counter-voluntarily, or because of ignorance, or because of some different consideration, not because of what the things themselves are (even though they are doing what one should, and everything consistent with being a person of excellence), so, it seems, it is possible to do the various sorts of things from a certain disposition, so as actually to be a good person: I mean e.g. doing

11

them because of decision, and for the sake of the things being done themselves (VI 13, 1144a13-20). A distinction between material and formal goodness of action is being drawn here on the same lines as in the earlier passage I quoted to you before. 6 Aristotle himself draws attention to an analogy between judgement and action with regard to a formal correctness due to their respective archai. The present distinction occurs in the context of a defence of the need for phronesis (VI 13, 1143b21), i.e. for a disposition to pass safely from a sound conception of reasons for acting to a correct selection of what is to be done for those reasons. Real virtue, Aristotle holds, requires the agent not only to do the right thing, i.e. to do what is in accordance with that sound conception of reasons, but rather to have, himself, the right conception of why to do what, and to act on this conception (1144b26f.: esti gar ou monon he kata ton orthon logon, all he meta tou orthou logou hexis arete estin). To be materially good, an action has to be of a certain kind: it has to be what should be done; and this is what would be done if the agent acted on the right reasons, so that his action would be good formally, too. Thus, what distinguishes the formal goodness of a praxis from its material goodness is the agents correct and effectively action-guiding conception and of its dia ti. This is my justification for comparing the formal goodness of a praxis with the formal correctness of a judgement, which likewise depended on the subjects being guided by the right kind of reason. We may state the analogy as follows: If you judge that p for the right reasons and your judgement is therefore correct, it achieves its inherent telos and is formally correct. If you for the right reasons and your praxis is therefore good, it achieves its inherent telos and is formally correct. I find this comparison in Aristotle, too, who says, e.g., in EN VII 8, 1151a16: For excellence and badness respectively keep healthy, and corrupt, the fundamental starting point, and in

12

action this is that for the sake of which, just as in mathematical arguments the initial posits are starting points. And Aquinas, a paradigmatic Aristotelian, expressly compares action with judgement with regard to their respective reasons, when he writes (in Sth I/II q 12 a 4): finis ratio est volendi ea quae sunt ad finem. Idem autem actus cadit super obiectum, et super rationem obiecti []. Et est simile de intellectu: [] in hoc [] quod conclusioni propter principia assentit, est unus actus intellectus tantum. 7 We may, to some advantage, modify Aristotles account by denying the inherent telos of praxis its role as a reason for acting. There is, however, an important difference. The inherent telos of your judgement that p is not your reason for judging that p; it does not guide you in your judgement (section 4). The inherent telos of a praxis, on the other hand, does seem to be, according to Aristotle, your ultimate reason (your motive) for performing that praxis. For in his account of bouleusis, Aristotle says that people take the end for granted (themenoi to telos) and examine how and by what means it will come about (EN III 3, 1112b15f.). This end, then, is something one is actually going to intend, and be motivated by, when acting on the outcome of ones bouleusis. And Aristotle seems to hold that eudaimonia, too, the inherent end of praxis, is of this kind, when he calls it an end in our practical projects that we wish for because of itself (telos [] toon praktoon ho di hauto boulometha: I 2, 1094a18-20); and when he affirms that it is sought by politike as the topmost of all achievable goods (I 4, 1095a14-20). Even a bad man, it would seem, pursues this end. I admit that this interpretation is highly debatable. But if it is correct, this part of Aristotles teaching is in need of revision for various reasons that I do not wish to go into here at any length. Let me just say that it is not plausible to hold that eupraxia requires you to intend eupraxia. As Nietzsche says: Man does not aim at happiness, only the English do that (Der Mensch strebt nicht nach Glck, nur der Englnder tut das: Gtzen-

13

Dmmerung, Sprche und Pfeile Nr. 12). On the whole, the constitutive, or inherent, end of praxis acting well, or acting as you should does not, in a given situation, enter your considerations in favour of, or against, say, paying your debts. Rather, you act well, in the sense of formal goodness, in paying your debts as long as you do it because you owe the money to so-and-so; you need not intend thereby to act well. The virtuous character of your -ing will not, in general be what motivates you, it will not constitute your reason for -ing. If we modify Aristotles conception of formal goodness in the light of these observations, the analogy between judgement and action seems even more convincing. In both cases, the telos is now different from the dia ti that has to guide the subject in order for the telos to be achieved. 8 Is material goodness conceptually prior to formal goodness? We may now ask in what way formal and material correctness depend on each other. I am not going to pursue this question with respect to the case of judgement. Let me just note that it may seem, at least, that we have an idea of the truth of a judgement that does not depend on the notion of the evidence for its truth. But whether or not this impression proves to be correct, a similar priority of material over formal correctness cannot be claimed for the case of praxis. For what would be our criterion for the material goodness of a praxis within the framework of a (broadly) Aristotelian ethics? To support this claim, I am now going to look at a couple of examples. 9 Saving a persons life (Example I) appears to be a good action, tout court whether its motive is good or bad. Suppose I save a persons life, e.g. by dragging him out of a river where he is about to drown. This may seem to be a good thing to do, whatever my reason for doing it.

14

Let us assume, however, that I have been blackmailing that person for years, and my motive in saving his life is simply the wish not to lose a valuable source of income. In this case, the rescue is still a materially good action, because it is the thing to do in the circumstances. It is not, however formally good, since it is not done for the right reasons. An objector may insist that even the blackmailers rescue operation is a good action, tout court; and that he acts badly only in the sense that he does a good action with a bad further intention. What the example shows, the objection may go on, is simply that the goodness of an action is unaffected by the motivation of the agent.

15

10 Pocketing a purse (Example II) is an action type that is neither good nor bad. The formal quality of its tokens (or subtypes) depends on their motivation, their material quality on what it would be formally good, and bad, to do in the situation. Before I return to this claim, let me give you another example: Going across the street, I find a purse that someone has lost there, and pick it up; having made sure it contains a substantial amount of money, I put it in my pocket. With this example, the ethical quality of my action does seem to depend on further intentions. (For, by itself, pocketing a purse appears to be an ethically neutral thing to do.) If I pocket the purse in order to keep the money, my motivation is a bad one in that I fail to give priority to rightful claims over the allurements of comfort, and the action is formally bad. If my ultimate reason for pocketing the purse is a wish to return it to its owner, I have acted from a good motive, and the action is formally good. In either case, the ethical quality of the concrete action is, or is inherited from, the formal goodness or badness, respectively, of an action type of which it is a token. Note that, in calling my action good, or bad, we are treating the kind of reason for which the purse is pocketed as itself constitutive of the action type and, hence, of its tokens as well. Alternatively, we may view my actual pocketing of the purse as instantiating just the pocketing of a purse. Obviously, this kind of action pocketing a purse is neither good nor bad. Hence nor is an instantiation of it, as such. Is this a difference from the case of judgement where there does seem to be such a thing as being right / wrong about p, whatever my reasons for holding that p / not-p? What, then about the material goodness of pocketing a purse? For the reason just mentioned it is not a matter of evaluating an action independently of its motivation. Nor is it a matter of evaluating it with a view to its motivation that being its formal goodness. Rather, as I stated earlier, to be materially good, an action token has to be what would be done in the situation if the agent acted on the right reasons.

16

Thus, assuming that valuable things one happens to find ought to be returned to their owner, we may say: When I put a purse I have found into my pocket, my action is materially good, whatever my actual motivation, because it is the kind of thing I ought to do; or, more precisely: because it instantiates a way of acting that, under the circumstances, there are good reasons to implement. 11 Example I differs from II in calling forth evaluation in terms of both natural and ethical goodness. Let us now return to my first example, and ask: Why is it that the rescue operation, unlike the pocketing of a purse, may seem to be a good action whose quality is not affected by the agents bad motivation? Two things must be said in answer to this. The first is that, on my own view, like the pocketing of a purse, the blackmailers action is indeed materially good since, in both cases, the agent ought to do what is actually done, i.e. there are sufficiently good reasons for doing it. The other answer is this: Unlike my second example, the first represents a kind of case that raises two different types of evaluative question. On the one hand, we may ask whether it is good to be dragged on land for a person who is about to drown. (Nothing corresponds to this question in the second example.) The question is not an ethical one, and the answer is simply: Yes. At any rate, if this answer needs qualification, the qualification will depend on special features of the situation of the person who is being rescued, not on the motivation of the one who does the rescuing. On the other hand, we may ask whether the latter is acting well in saving a person about to drown. And since it is good for this person to be saved (= answer to the first question), there is indeed a presumption in favour of answering (the second question) by saying that one is acting well in saving him. Nevertheless, the two questions Is it good for one to be saved? and Does one act well in doing the saving? must be kept apart.

17

Of course, the answer to the second question is related to that of the first question. But unless utilitarianism is right, the relationship is a rather complex one, and the two questions must not get mixed up with each other. So to say that it is good for X to be saved is not the same thing as to say that I am acting well in saving X. Nor does It is good for X to be saved entail, without further ado, I am acting well in saving X. 12 If we keep these two kinds of evaluation apart (as we should), we see that, in cases like Example I as well as II, we need to determine the formal quality of an action in order to be able to decide on its material quality. If we are looking for a general account of acting well, we should treat the second of these questions as being on a par with the question: Does one act well in pocketing a purse someone else has lost? This latter question, however, can receive an answer only in the light of the agents motivation. So it seems plausible to conceive of a good action, quite generally, as something that consists in doing the right thing for the right reasons. This would mean that, just like pocketing a purse, saving somebodys life is a good or bad (!) thing to do only in the light of the agents motivation. Our problem was: Why does saving someones life appear to be a good action whose quality is not affected by the agents bad motivation? My answer is: Because in this type of case it is tempting to confuse a question of natural goodness, as Philippa Foot would call it, with a question of ethical goodness. And I suggest that a general account of ethical goodness is bound to bring in consideration of the agents motivation. For we can assimilate, reduce, Ex I to II but not v.v. Isnt pocketing a purse the paradigmatic case? So that the onus probandi is on the person who defends Parfits view (= that saving Ys life is as such a good action)? On such an account the notion of material goodness depends on that of formal goodness, not vice versa. This is particularly

18

obvious, of course, in the type of case exemplified by pocketing a purse, where we are not even tempted to attribute an ethical quality to the action on account of the kind of action it is. Evidently, to determine the ethical quality of an actual pocketing of a particular purse, we must fall back on considerations of the agents motivation. In doing this, however, we aim at determining the actions formal quality. And only by doing this, i.e. by clarifying, with regard to specified circumstances, what good, or compelling, reasons there are for doing what, can we determine an actions material quality, viz. decide whether an agent who, from whatever motive, pockets a purse here and now, is doing what he would do if doing the right things for the right reasons. If this is a correct account of Example II, on what grounds could it be wrong as applied to Example I after we have admitted that there is no straightforward inferential connexion between natural and ethical goodness? The primacy of formal over material goodness goes well with Aristotles idea that the end point of a kinesis, together with its starting point, determines its eidos (EN X, 1174b5), and with his general observation that each thing is distinguished by its end (III, 1115b22: horizetai gar hekaston to(i) telei). Aquinas brings this into his account of action by saying (in Sth I/II q 18 a 2): actio habet speciem ex obiecto, sicut et motus ex termino. 13 The relevance of a broadly Aristotlian account of actions goodness concerns our understanding of 1) human agency in general, 2) the connexion between ethics and the philosophy of action, 3) the relationship between rationality and morality, 4) interesting analogies between judgement and action, 5) the nature of an actions ethical quality, and 6) the rational core of a virtue. What do we learn from Aristotles teleological accounts of judgement and action? Or, since he is not overly explicit about these matters: What do we learn from reflecting on his remarks concerning the teleologies of judgement and action?

19

I suggest the following: 1) By studying the teleology of action, we may gain a kind of insight into the nature of human agency that we cannot gain from a Davidsonian or otherwise causalist type of action theory. 2) It is not a good idea to treat ethics and the philosophy of action as quite separate disciplines. 3) It is a good idea to treat moral philosophy as an integral part of a comprehensive philosophical account of rationality. 4) A teleological account of judgement provides us with a helpful analogy for a sufficiently sophisticated conception of human action. 5) A satisfactory analysis of the notion of a good action needs to take account of the difference between material and formal goodness, and ought to recognize the primacy of the latter. Utilitarian theories seem implicitly to deny the existence of that difference. Kantian moral philosophy draws the line between material and formal in the wrong place, treating respect for the moral law as the one and only source of moral goodness. In the Aristotelian tradition, the materials for the distinction are present. But in Aristotle himself, there is no general, terminologically clear account of the distinction; and his followers do not seem to make much of it. I suggest that we should study it further, in the hope that it enhances our understanding of the most basic aspects of human action and of the nature of ethical evaluation. 6) If virtue is a firm disposition to act well (in the formal sense), and formally good action is a matter of doing the right thing for the right reasons, we may conclude that, perhaps, the rational core of any particular virtue is a particular pattern of practical inference. But it would take another occasion to spell this out in more detail.