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  1. Aristotle

  2. The Dilemma We have been stuck with a bit of dilemma: • (Mill) If we morally judge actions based on their consequences we allow intuitively immoral acts to count as moral, so long as the good consequences swamp the bad. • (Kant) If we morally judge actions based on whether or not they follow some objective, immutable rules, then our account is to rigid and can’t account for plausible exceptions.

  3. The Dilemma One option is to dig into one of the two broad approaches we discussed (consequentialism vs. deontology) and try to hammer out a theory that avoids the problems we raised.

  4. Another Option But some have thought that what these considerations show is that the whole approach we have been using has been wrong.

  5. Another Option We have been focused on actions and trying to formulate principles that sort them into groups: “permissible” and “impermissible.”

  6. Another Option The thought behind virtue ethics is that this is a fundamentally mistaken approach to ethics. We should focus on agents rather than actions.

  7. Another Option On this approach, the primary purpose of an ethical theory is to tell us: • What is the good life? • What kind of person should I strive to be? • What character traits (virtues) make someone a good person? • How can one cultivate these virtues? • What is the relationship between being virtuous and being happy?

  8. Hierarchy of Goods Every action or craft is aimed towards some end. In other words it has a purpose: • The purpose of medicine is to promote health. • End is health • The purpose of boat building is to produce boats. • End is boats • The purpose of generalship is to win battles. • End is victory.

  9. Hierarchy of Goods It is natural to talk about these ends as goods relative to the craft in question: • A medicine is good if it promotes health. Medicine 1 is better than Medicine 2 insofar as M1 promotes health better.

  10. Hierarchy of Goods Sometimes crafts serve a larger purpose: • Saddle-making produces saddles, which allows people to better ride horses. • So saddle-making is subject to horsemanship. In such cases, the good of the “higher science” is more desirable. • The lower ends are only desirable insofar as they serve the higher purpose. • If people didn’t ride horses, then saddle-making would be useless!

  11. Hierarchy of Goods You will end up with a hierarchy of goods: Saddle-making Horsemanship Generalship Politics The results of saddle-making are only good insofar as they promote horsemanship, and so on.

  12. Hierarchy of Ends It is natural to ask if there is some highest good achievable in action. Aristotle thinks that there is: Happiness!

  13. Happiness We have to be a bit careful here. The Greek word translated as “happiness” is eudaimonia. • The meaning doesn’t line up perfectly with our English word “happiness.” • It certainly doesn’t line up with Mill’s use of the term to mean pleasure.

  14. Happiness For instance, Aristotle spends considerable time discussing whether we can correctly call someone “happy” before their life is over: • Doesn’t make sense for our ordinary concept. People are happy at one time, sad at another, etc. • It certainly doesn’t make sense if happiness is just “pleasure.”

  15. Happiness When Aristotle uses eudaimonia he means something more robust than a temporary feeling: • Well-being • A well-lived life • Human flourishing

  16. Happiness So, when Aristotle says that happiness is the ultimate good of action, he means that what all action ultimately aims for is

  17. Happiness What does it take for us to be happy in Aristotle’s sense? He thinks that if humans have a function then identifying it could help us figure out how to obtain happiness.

  18. Function Something has a function if it aims at an end or has some purpose. • A watch’s function is to tell time. • A musician’s function is to make music. • A nurse ant’s function is to care for the eggs. • The ozone layer’s function is to absorb UV rays. • A heart’s function is to pump blood.

  19. Function To be properly or fully functioning requires that one fulfill one’s function excellently: The function of a harpist is not just to play the harp, a child can do that. To fulfill her function, a harpist must play the harp expertly.

  20. Human Function Do humans have a distinctive function? It can’t simply be living, growing, reproducing, etc. (The non-rational part of the soul) • Plants and animals do these things as well. • So these are not special with regards to humans.

  21. Human Function It also can’t be any activity of the body: • Plants can’t move, but animals can. • Any activity of our body could, at least possibly, be duplicated by some animal or other.

  22. Human Function So if there is a human function it must be some kind of activity in the rational part of the soul: • The part of the soul that appreciates and is capable of being guided by reasons. • Aristotle recognizes that our rational capacities distinguish us from animals, plants, and non-living things.

  23. Human Function A virtue is some quality or feature that contributes to proper and excellent human functioning.

  24. Human Function Aristotle concludes: “So the human good proves to be activity of the soul in accord with virtue, and indeed with the best and most complete virtue, if there are more virtues than one.” (9) He calls this “a sketch of the good.” (9)

  25. Happiness and Virtue Happiness and human virtue will be closely tied together: • Living a virtuous life is the best and most sure means to obtain happiness. • In many cases, living virtuously is the same thing as living well. • So it will always be in your interests to cultivate a virtuous character.

  26. Happiness and Virtue Whether or not your life is a good one does not entirely depend on whether or not you are virtuous. The world can interfere either through good or bad fortune.

  27. Happiness and Virtue But Aristotle thinks that being virtuous will serve you well no matter your circumstances: “For a truly good and prudent person, we suppose, will bear strokes of fortune suitably, and from his resources at any time will do the finest actions, just as a good general will make the best use of his forces in war, and a good shoemaker will make the finest shoe from the hides given to him, and similarly for all other craftsmen.” (14)

  28. Happiness and Virtue This is a nice illustration of how Aristotle is thinking: • Being a good person is having cultivated a certain character. • Having cultivated a virtuous character, it follows that one will always act virtuously and prudently. • As such, one will always respond to one’s current fortunes in the appropriate way.

  29. Happiness and Virtue Cultivating a virtuous character is like learning a craft: the craft of living well.

  30. For Monday Read Book III of Nicomachean Ethics. Also take sampling of Aristotle’s discussion of the individual virtues in Book IV (one or two).

  31. What is a Virtue? Virtues are qualities of character that help us fulfill our function as humans and live well. Aristotle has given us examples throughout his discussion: • Temperance • Bravery • Generosity • Friendliness • Truthfulness

  32. What is Virtue? What do all of these have in common? Aristotle argues that these virtuous qualities are the mean, or occupy the intermediate point, on a scale between two vices.

  33. What is a Virtue? The mean is the point equidistant from two extremes. If 10 is the upper boundary, and 2 the lower, the meant is 6.

  34. What is a Virtue? Aristotle thinks that we have naturally opposed capacities for feeling: • Fear vs. Confidence • Pleasure vs. Pain • Honor vs. Dishonor • Desire to give or retain money

  35. What is a Virtue? These feelings can be taken to extremes, constituting two kinds of vices: • A vice of excess. • A vice of deficiency. The virtuewill be at the mean between these two vices.

  36. What is a Virtue? Take fear and confidence. • The vice of deficiencyis cowardice. You lack confidence and give in to your fear. • The vice of excess is rashness. You are overly confident, take unnecessary risks, endanger people, etc. But strike the right balance, and you possess the virtue of bravery or courage.

  37. The Golden Mean This intermediate point at which the virtue is located is often referred to as the golden mean. The example of bravery illustrates that the golden mean, need not always be at the exact center point. • Bravery seems farther removed from fear than from confidence.

  38. The Golden Mean Bravery Fear Confidence

  39. The Golden Mean Two reasons why the golden mean is not always at the center: • Sometimes the virtue is more similar to one extreme than another (e.g. bravery and rashness) • Sometimes there is something about our natures that makes the difference: • Fear exerts a great influence on us, so the virtue is farther towards the other extreme.

  40. The Golden Mean What counts as the intermediate point will also vary with context and circumstance. What is appropriate for a parent defending her child, may not be appropriate for an old man late at night in a dark alley.

  41. The Golden Mean Parent Bravery Fear Confidence Bravery Old Man Confidence Fear

  42. Other Examples of Virtue/Vice Groups Pleasure/Pain • The excess (pursuing pleasure to too great a degree) is intemperance. • The opposite (not seeking enough pleasure) Aristotle calls being insensible. • The virtue is temperance.

  43. Other Examples of Virtue/Vice Groups Matters of Money • Spending too much is wastefulness • Not spending enough is being miserlyor ungenerous. • The virtue is generosity. • Aristotle distinguishes another set pertaining to “large matters.” Excess is ostentation, deficiency stinginess and the virtue is magnificence.

  44. Other Examples of Virtue/Vice Groups Humor or pleasant conversation • The excess is buffoonery. • The deficiency is boorishness. • The golden mean is wit.

  45. Other Examples of Virtue/Vice Groups Relations to Others • The excess is flattery. • The deficiency is being unpleasant. • The mean is friendliness.

  46. How to Be Virtuous What is it to have acquired a virtue or to be virtuous? For instance, is acting in accord with the virtue enough for you to be acting virtuously? • E.g. is acting brave enough to be brave?

  47. How to Be Virtuous Aristotle argues that this is not enough. You can do the right thing by accident, but that doesn’t mean you are acting virtuously. • Consider a terrible general who lucks into a military victory. • They may have done many of the things a good general would have done. • However, this does not make them a good general.

  48. How to Be Virtuous To be truly virtuous you must: • Act knowing that the action is virtuous. • Do the action intentionally (it can’t be by accident or mistake) • You must act from a “firm and unchanging state.” (22)

  49. How to Be Virtuous To be truly virtuous you must: • Act knowing that the action is virtuous. • Do the action intentionally (it can’t be by accident or mistake) • You must act from a “firm and unchanging state.” (22)

  50. Virtue as Habit Aristotle thinks of having a virtuous character as being habituated to act a certain way. You acquire a virtue by repeatedly acting in a virtuous fashion. • This is analogous to other crafts.