Aristotle on Virtue Conclusion of the function argument and final answer to the question, What is happiness? “The human good turns out to be activity (energeia) of soul (psychēs) expressing (according to) virtue (kat’ aretēn), and if there turns out to be more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most perfect.” (1098a16-18). Obviously Aristotle owes us an account of what virtue is, and indeed an account of what the repertoire of virtues, if there is more than one of them. 1102a14
Nutrition and Growth Parts of the Soul 1102a15/1039b15 Non-rational • Emotions and Feelings • techne – craft/art • Episteme - science • phronesis – practical wisdom/intelligence • sophia – wisdom • nous understanding Rational
“We may remark that every virtue/excellence both brings into good condition the thing of which it is the excellence and makes the work of that thing done well. For of such a kind is the virtue/excellence of the eye as to make the eye and its function/work good.” 1106a16 “If this is true in every case, then the virtue of a human being will likewise be the sate that makes a human being good and makes him perform his function well.” What is the function of a human being?
What kind of thing is a virtue? There are three things which may come to be in the soul • Feelings - pathe • capacity/potentials – dynamis • state/dispositions – hexis Virtue is not 1. and 2. We are not in full voluntary control of our feelings. “We are angry and afraid without decision. But virtues are decisions of some kind or require decision. 1106a4 Hence virtue must be 3.
According to Aristotle there can be virtues (states) of action and virtues of feeling. 1106b25/1107a10/1109b30 • Dispositions to feel or be affected by something (else). • Dispositions to act (on that feeling). N.B. feelings and actions go together. Actions (prattein/praxis) and Passions (paschein, pathe), these are correlates, disposition to be affected by something else and the disposition to affect other things. Human beings are both agents and patients.
This is vital part of what a virtue or excellence of character is. For it is a disposition to be properly affected and to act appropriately on that disposition. Virtues are stable states of the should that govern so to speak the inputs of feeling and the outputs of decision and action. Character is organised desire, decision and action. J.Lear Three conditions of virtuous action. • The agent must have (correct) practical knowledge • The act must be chosen for its own sake. • The act must flow from a stable character.
Courage is required when, say, a soldier realises that, when under attack under certain circumstances he has to stand and fight. 1. He must correctly judge that this is required. (It is not foolhardy or reckless or avoidable.) 2. He must be doing it out of courageousness, not for other reasons, say in the anticipation of spoils or glory. 3. It must not be a one off. As it might be if someone fought hard and well because they have a very strong survival instinct, but would have run away if they could have.
“Actions then are called just and temperate when they are such as the just or temperate man would do; but it is not the man who does these that is just or temperate, but he man who also does them as just and temperate men do them. It is well said, then, that it is by doing just acts that the just man is produced, and by doing temperate acts that the temperate man is produced; without doing these no one would have even a prospect of becoming good.” 1105b5-11 Aristotle’s view is that character is not a stable repository of good deeds and words that exists independently of and antecedently one’s deeds and actions.
Example; Lloyd George. Cf Aristotle’s Rhetoric. “Character is“the most powerful form of persuasion”, but character is “constittued by the speech not by some pre-conceived idea of what the speaker is like.” 1, II, 1356A9 In other word one’s Actions and Words reveal and manifest character, whilst also shaping and reconstituting character at the same time. Character – settle disposition to feel and to decide and act accordingly - results from habituation, through repeated action. (This is why customs and laws are so important to the legislator in politics – for they shape actions and help form habits.)
Becoming virtuous (and thus being happy) is like learning how to do something – building a house or playing the harp. You can only learn by doing. By doing the acts that we do in our transaction with other human beings we become just or unjust. And by doing the acts that we do in presence of dange, and being habituated to feel fear and confidence, we become brave or cowardly. The same is true of appetittes and feelings of anger; some men become temperate and good-tempered, others self-indulgent and irascible, by behaving in one way or another in the appropriate circumstances. In a word, states/dispositions arise out of the same kind of activities (energeiōn). Hence we must do the right kind of activities…It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits (ethidzesthai) of one kind or another from our youth; it makes all the difference. 1103b14-25
You cannot learn to be virtuous by hearing lectures on morality or moral philosophy. Aristotle’s ethics is less a modern moral philosophy than a theory of socialisation through sentimental education – namely an education of the sentiments – to teach us how to be properly affected, and to appropriately decide and act on our feelings. Modern moral philosophy would give us either 1. a repertoire of rules rights and duties, governing our behavious, and or 2. a procedure of criterion for determining whether the rule is correct.
Compare the Kantian, faced with the situation on the battlefield. 1. • What should I do? The kind of answer he is looking for is a rule that can be applied to the present situation • You ought to stand and fight? How do we find that out? Apply the principle or procedure for determining whether the rule is the correct one. Apply the categorical imperative: act only on that maxim according to which your action can be willed as a universal law.
Aristotle’s theory we might ask that question, but the answer would be act courageously, and only someone who had developed a brave character (and who could in the circumstances reason correctly) would know what to do. No point in looking for rules. 2. For Kant what we need to do is to impose reason on our sentiments, by abstracting away from our desires and interests and doing what reason demands. For Aristotle acting virtuously is amatter of developing the appropriate feelings and the disposition to decide and to act appropiately on them.
3. Aristotle says it is good to come to love virtues and to enjoy acting virtuously for its own sake. Compare Kant on one popular (but ungenerous) reading. “Gladly I do my duty, But alas I do so with pleasure.” F. Schiller. A final problem. If acting virtuously is about developing character and dispositions to feel, and feelings are not under our full voluntary control, are we – can we be – responsible for our vicious actions.
Virtue is acquired by habit. Does that mean that virtue is not natural? Yes. If natural – automatically or under one’s own steam. No. If natural means according to one’s final end. Virtue = unnatural – artificial or acquired. Virtue is not unnatural in the sense of against nature para phusin kata phusin Virtues are aquired but in accordance with nature.
This is the answer to Aristotle’s puzzle over whether we can be responsible for vices – vicious actions, if the vicious man is not responsible for his nature. Book III