Bernard Yack on Aristotle, Praise, and Blame

Bernard’s Yack’s Problem of Political Animal: Community Justice, and Conflict in Aristotle’s Political Thought has been an excellent part of my special study on Aristotle this summer. This book has so much to offer, it’s hard to know where to begin. And I’m meant to be working on the book, so I will be satisfied this morning with sharing a truly wise quote. Yack notes that there is a strong asymmetry to praise and blame, and while many contemporary commentators might note that much regarding praise and blame come down to moral luck, Yack notes that praise and blame have a hard asymmetry to them that further troubles those who would try to settle matters of desert. Aristotle has a key statement on these problems, which is honestly one of the most perceptive things I have ever read about politics: one is not a good judge of one’s own case. Not when it comes to contributions, and not when it comes to what one deserves.

From Yack:

It is not, in contrast, always in our power to do something that deserves praise. For that we need appropriate opportunities and abilities. Blame, as it were, comes looking for us; we have to strive constantly to avoid it. But praise is something that we have to seek, and may never find.