SCSU Summer A 2012 May 21, 2012 - Jun 24, 2012
Professor Pettigrew EN D212 x26778
PHI 120 01 Ethics
MTWR 10:15 AM-12:15 PM EN B210
Phase I Written Assignment
Due Thursday June 7, 2012
“Aristotle’s Ethics and Varian Fry’s Ethical Choice”
In your paper you will explore the extent to which Fry is an exemplar of Aristotelian virtue.
In the first content section of the paper discuss the essential elements (as addressed in class) of Aristotle's Ethics. Your articulation of these elements will provide the basis for your analysis of Fry as an exemplar of Aristotelian Ethics. In this first content section discuss:
1) Aristotle's definition of virtue (Book II vi 1107a);
2) The four 'causes' of ethics (Book II i-iv), with an identification and brief explication of each of the four 'causes';
and 3) Aristotle's description of the proper function of the soul. (Book I vii, 1098, 15).
Make direct reference to Aristotle (with quotes identified by Book chapter and line numbers).
Discuss these elements of Aristotle strategically so that they can be more seamlessly incorporated into your analyses in subsequent sections of the paper.
In the second content section discuss Fry's decision to go to Marseille to save Jewish intellectuals and artists from the concentration camps in the context of Aristotle's notion of habituation (Book II, i). In other words, what experiences have plausibly given form to Fry's character such that he was able to make the decision to travel to Marseille to undertake his dangerous mission? In this section you need to refer to three of his stated reasons for making the choice to go to Marseille (pages xi -xiii), including his "deep political convictions," his feeling of a "heavy debt of gratitude" for the artistic expressions of the Jewish artists and intellectuals who were trapped in Marseille, and finally his "first-hand experience" of witnessing the brutalization and dehumanization of the Jews in Germany in 1935 (as reported in his article in the New York Times, July 16, 1935.). His "political convictions" may have come from growing up in a democracy. He does refer to "democratic solidarity." His political convictions may well have come from his studies in classical political thought as a Classics major at Harvard. Referring to the artists and intellectuals targeted by Hitler, he says he "felt obliged to help them." This, again, was probably the result of his exposure to the work of such authors as Franz Werfel and artists as Marc Chagall, in high school and college. The direct exposure to the brutality of the pogrom in Berlin can also be seen as a uniquely formative experience.
For Aristotle, habituation is a necessary but insufficient cause of ethical behavior. In order to determine that Fry is an exemplar of Aristotelian virtue one would need to infer that his decision was made for its own sake and from a firm and unchanging character (Book II, iv). Hence, in the conclusion of the paper, discuss the extent to which the strength of Fry's character can be inferred from the difficult nature of the decision to go to Marseille. The decision to go to Marseille was difficult on its own terms because it involved leaving his home and family and entering into a dangerous situation in Vichy France. Further, the decision to go to Marseille became, in a sense, an additional or second decision to remain in Marseille for a considerable period of time beyond the initial assignment. The initial assignment was for one month, while eventually Fry remained in Marseille for thirteen months before being expelled. Finally, the strength of Fry's character can be inferred from the difficulty, or of the decision and the residual "pain." Fry tells us in the "Original Unpublished Foreword," of the difficulties and residual trauma of his efforts to save people from the Nazis. He says it was the "most intense experience of his life" (241). He also writes that he is haunted by the "ghosts," ghosts of the living whose story he is compelled to tell, and the ghosts of those he could not save. Aristotle's states in Book II iii, that virtue… "is constantly dealing with what is harder, since the harder the task the better the success" (Ethics, II, iii). The risks, difficulties and pain endured by Fry in pursuit of, and as a result of his decision, suggest that he indeed needed and had a firm and unchangeable character that allowed him to benefit from his habituation and to make the right ethical choice. Aristotle identifies the proper function of the human being as, "an activity of actions of the soul implying a rational principle…" In other words, through Fry's habituation he became aware of the intellectual, practical and poetic virtues of the human being. Hence, from the perspective of Aristotle's Ethics we could say that Fry found the Nazi's assault on democracy and art, and on human beings themselves simply because of their religion, to be dehumanizing and therefore morally unacceptable. We can infer that this realization would have led to his decision to go to Marseille and that his character had been formed in such a way that he was able to face the risks of that decision.
Your paper needs an introduction with a topic sentence (thesis statement/claim), sentences delineating the parts of the paper, and a sentence suggesting the conclusion. You need to make direct reference (passages/excerpts/extracts) to Aristotle's text (provide book and chapter and page number e.g. I, vii p. 33), the readings authored by Fry (page numbers in parentheses) ["FOREWORD," the "ORIGINAL UNPUBLISHED FOREWORD," and the New York Times article authored by Fry in 1935] as well as to the film to Varian's War with reasonably detailed reference to scenes and dialogue. Your paper needs to be typed and double spaced and a minimum of four pages in length.
Documenting your sources: Most students state that they prefer to use, or are accustomed to using MLA format for citing sources. Therefore, the philosophy department recommends the following web site for reference to MLA format. (When you arrive at that site, click on "Documenting Sources" on the left side of the screen.) Please let me know if you have trouble accessing the site or if you have any questions.