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Aristotle (384-322 BCE): What is Virtue?. PHIL 1003 Semester I 2008-09. Tutorials. Tutor: Arthur Chin Week of: 1 st : Sept 29th - Oct 3rd 2 nd : Oct 20th - 24th 3 rd : Nov 10th - 14th 4 th : Nov 24 - 28th. “…the human good turns out to be….

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aristotle 384 322 bce what is virtue

Aristotle (384-322 BCE):What is Virtue?

PHIL 1003

Semester I 2008-09


Tutor: Arthur Chin

Week of:

  • 1st: Sept 29th - Oct 3rd
  • 2nd: Oct 20th - 24th
  • 3rd: Nov 10th - 14th
  • 4th: Nov 24 - 28th
the human good turns out to be

“…the human good turns out to be…

the soul’s activity that expresses virtue” (NE, 1098a20)

you are not born virtuous

You are not born virtuous;

You must become virtuous.

2 kinds of virtue ne 6 12
2 kinds of virtue (NE 6.12)
  • Virtues of character:
    • Action, application of the principle of the Mean
  • Virtues of thought—2 parts of rational soul:
    • Scientific: studies what is, what is eternal;
    • Rationally calculating/deliberative: studies what can be other than it is:
      • ‘deliberating is the same as rationally calculating, and no one deliberates about what cannot be otherwise’ (NE 1139a10-15).
  • Everything has a virtue
  • Virtue means acting well, in accordance with one’s nature;
    • Slaves,
    • plants,
    • animals,
    • humans all have virtues;
  • Man’s particular virtue = acting from reason, for his community (polis).
  • The end of man is to act virtuously;
  • Virtue is an activity;
  • It makes us happy
  • Virtue of character;
    • We can become habituated to it through repetition of fine actions;
  • Education in virtue is absolutely necessary (recall Plato’s bad philosopher).
the mean
The Mean
  • This is a concept of relation, not of absolutes;
  • A virtue = the mean between extremes:
    • Courage = mean b/w foolish risk-taking and cowardice;
    • Generosity = mean b/w avarice and profligacy;
    • Truthfulness = b/w boastfulness and self-depreciation;
    • Even-temperedness = b/w short temper and apathy.
can you think of any other examples

Can you think of any other examples?

Do you consider this an adequate definition?

the question is not

The question is not:

What is virtue?


How to become good (Bk 2.2)

what is ethics

What is ethics?

Moral virtue (ēthikē) derived from habits (ethos)

so what is really central

So what is really central:

How your habits are formed; do you have a good upbringing or a bad one, do you live in a city w/ good laws or bad ones? (Bk 2.1-2)

thought reason desire
Thought, Reason, Desire
  • ‘Now the origin of an action is decision… and the origin of decision is desire together with reason that aims at some goal’.
  • Hence decision requires understanding and thought, and also a state of character…’.
  • ‘Thought by itself, however, moves nothing; what moves us is thought aiming at some goal and concerned with action’ (NE 1139a30-9).
  • Concerned with action, community (polis)
  • But also with what concerns oneself:
    • Thales is not intelligent b/c ‘he is ignorant of what benefits himself’ (1141b5).
  • Human concerns, what is open to deliberation:
    • ‘Hence Pericles and such people are the ones whom we regard as intelligent, b/c they are able to study what is good for themselves and for human beings…’. (1140b10).
virtue intelligence connection
Virtue-Intelligence Connection
  • Virtue requires right decision
  • Intelligence requires virtue
  • Intelligence = ‘eye of the soul’ (1144a30)
    • ‘…some say that all the virtues are [instances of] intelligence, and why Socrates’ inquiries were in one way correct…in that he thought all the virtues are [instances of] intelligence, he was in error,; but in that he thought they all require intelligence, he was right’ (1144b20).
    • ‘…we cannot be fully good w/out intelligence, or intelligent w/out virtue of character’ (1144b30).
  • Concerns what is eternal, what cannot be changed
  • Scientific knowledge
  • Thales is therefore wise b/c he understands meteorology!
  • Choiceworthy in itself
  • Makes us happy (1144a5).
action vs production
Action vs Production
  • These virtues of thought are
    • concerned with action;
    • not production (craft-knowledge)
    • Producers (manual workers, slaves, women?) are therefore not exercising intelligence.
  • In Aristotle's opinion, happiness has conditions, e.g. the person should not be deformed or encounter any misfortune in later years, for then others will naturally not regard him as happy.
  • But what if the person himself can treat these things in a very serene way, even to make those luckier envy? Like Homer, who is so profound that despite his blindness, we believe he could deal with worldly things better than us and therefore be happier.
  • Can this serenity also be called happiness? Of course it is different from Aristotle's idea of happiness, which is perfection; is it inferior to it, or rather, not so "complete" as Aristotle's happiness, or do they just belong to two different sorts?
  • There's doubt that Aristotle's definition of Virtue is really true in the modern world. As we discussed in the last session, people feel good when they're virtuous, and the city affects people's thinking about being virtuous. There are cases of people merely wanting to appear virtuous, but are they really happy and feel good because they act in an apparently virtuous way?
  • Take the case of the Sichuan earthquake: society encouraged people to help Sichuan, and most people are being virtuous, but I certainly think that not ALL people feel good from being virtuous, as they're just being influenced by society and "acting" as if they are virtuous. This virtuous action is fake. Does virtue really exist now?