Title: "Aristotle and Alcoholism: Understanding the Nicomachean Ethics", Teaching Philosophy, 9/2, 1986, 97-102.
Author: George R. Carlson
Date: August 2002
Reviewer: John Sellars
 Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is central to any study of ethics. However, students often find it difficult to understand a number of Aristotle's claims, especially that the hedonist is both 'the victem of a disease' and yet 'acts voluntarily'. There is little modern literature on the psychology of self-indulgence that might help here, but there is a considerable body of literature on alcoholism.  The author has found this very useful.
Aristotle's own analysis of the vice of self-indulgence (akolasia) may well have been inspired by seeing alcoholics, and he often makes reference to drunkenness.  The alcoholic is an example of someone unaware of their own vice who thinks that they still act voluntarily. Here, Aristotle's remarks seem to prefigure modern research into alcoholism. The alcoholic, like Aristotle's self-indulgent man, cannot be cured because he does not acknowledge that he needs to be cured.  His appetites overcome the power of reason and the ideal of the median.
 In the light of the modern literature on alcoholism, the author concludes by emphasising three points:
This brief paper draws attention to one of those useful points of contact between an ancient philosophical argument and a topic already close to the heart of many a student. I imagine that this connection has often been made in passing during the course of a seminar on Aristotle's ethics, both by teachers and students. But what the author gives here is the foundations for a more detailed comparison between this part of Aristotle's account of human behaviour and the modern psychology of alcoholism. However, in order to develop this in any detail one would need to follow the author's example and read some of the literature on alcoholism itself. I suspect that few teachers will have either the time or the inclination to do so in any detail. Nevertheless, alcoholism forms a useful example with which to illustrate Aristotle's thoughts on self-indulgence.
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