For Aristotle, to be a living organism is to be capable of carrying out various life-functions, including nutrition, reproduction, perception, locomotion, and reasoning. For each living organism, however, Aristotle identifies one function as authoritative: such a function constitutes, in some sense, the final cause for the sake of which that organism’s other functions are organized. Further, Aristotle insists that living organisms “live by” this authoritative function. But what, for Aristotle, is it to “live by” an authoritative function? I argue that authoritative functions both manifest the organism’s particular kind of life-activity and serve as a useful means by which that organism maintains itself as such. On this basis, I consider a worry: Aristotle describes the contemplative life as happiest for a human being; he also describes the authoritative human function, the capacity for contemplation, as useless. So, in what sense is it possible for human beings to “live by” contemplation?

Speaker’s Bio

Dr. Matthew D Walker received his BA in Philosophy from Amherst College and his PhD in Philosophy from Yale University. Prior to joining Yale-NUS, Dr Walker was an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow in Philosophy at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, a post-doctoral fellow in the Ethics of Virtue at the University of Miami, and a participant in ‘Traditions into Dialogue: Confucianism and Contemporary Virtue Ethics,’ a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar. He was also a Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, Michaelmas term 2014.

As a graduate student at Yale, Dr Walker received Sterling P Lamprecht and Forris Jewett Moore Fellowships in Philosophy from Amherst College, and was a five-time recipient of Yale’s Jacob Cooper Prize in Greek philosophy.