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Aristotle. Virtue Ethics. Aristotle. Born in 384. From the northwestern edge of the Greek Empire in Stagira. Father was physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia. Two Moral Perspectives. The Question of Action: What should I do? How ought I to act? The Question of Character

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Virtue Ethics

  • Born in 384.
  • From the northwestern edge of the Greek Empire in Stagira.
  • Father was physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia.
two moral perspectives
Two Moral Perspectives
  • The Question of Action:
    • What should I do? How ought I to act?
  • The Question of Character
    • What kind of person ought I to be?
  • Aristotle’s concern is with the question of character
aristotle s ethics
Aristotle’s Ethics
  • Good is that at which all things aim.
  • The proper function or excellence of a things is its arete (virtue).
  • The human arete or virtue is activity of the soul in accordance with virtue (over a lifetime).
human virtue arete
Human virtue (Arete)
  • It can not be simply living and growing—trees do that as well.
  • It can not be related to characteristics we share with animals.
  • The quality that seems distinctively human is the use of reason. “The function of man then is activity of soul [thinking well and doing well] in accordance with reason.”
human virtue arete6
Human virtue (arete)
  • Humans can have two kinds of virtue:
    • Intellectual virtues: these relate particularly to our professions, i.e., they will differ for a truck driver, cook, lawyer, farmer, doctor, etc.
    • Moral virtues: This virtue is common to all humans, but it may vary in degree according to our capacities. Moral virtue “is the outcome of habit; its name, ethike, is derived from ethos, habit. So the difference between one and another training in habits in our childhood is not a light manner, but important, or rather, all important.”
  • Both intellectual and moral virtues are needed for us to achieve happiness (eudaemonia)
happiness the self sufficient end
Happiness: The Self-sufficient End
  • Most of the ends (goals) we seek are instrumental steps toward some ultimate goal.
  • Aristotle identifies happiness (eudaemonia) as that which we seek as a goal that is an end in itself.
happiness the self sufficient end8
Happiness: The Self-sufficient End
  • Happiness comes from developing a good character.
  • A good character comes from the development of good habits.
good character


Good Character

Good Habits

Good Actions

Good thoughts

Good Character

People have a natural capacity for good character, but it must be developed through constant practice. Good leaders (parent and civic leaders) are necessary to guide us in the development of good habits.

good character10
Good Character
  • Virtuous thoughts lead to good acts
  • Virtuous acts (following the Mean) can lead to good habits
  • Good habits make for a good character
  • A good character can be happy
  • Business and Professional Ethics application: We should ask, “Will this act help lead me to be the person I should be? Will I be a person of good character”
virtue arete as the mean the correct balance
Virtue (arete) as the mean, the correct balance
  • The mean is the right balance between two extremes, the extreme of excess and the extreme of deficiency.
  • Examples:
    • DeficiencyMeanExcess
    • Cowardliness courage rashness
    • Humility pride vanity
    • Stingy giving spendthrift
virtue arete as the mean inbetween
Virtue (arete) as the mean (inbetween)
  • The mean varies according to individuals
  • The mean of courage is different for a marine, a college student, and an eight-year old child.
  • The mean of charitable giving is different for a billionaire, a college teacher, and a student.
actions emotions without a mean
Actions & Emotions Without a Mean
  • “There are some [actions/emotions] whose very name implies wickedness.”
  • For example: “malice, shamelessness, and envy among the emotions and adultery, theft, and murder among the actions.”
the difficulty of being good
The Difficulty of Being Good
  • “That is why it is so hard to be good; for it is always hard to find the mean in anything.”
  • “That is why goodness is rare and praiseworthy and noble.”