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Aristotle (384-322 BCE): What is Virtue?. PHIL 1003 Semester I 2009-10. Hierarchy. Central idea to ethics and politics of both Plato and Aristotle. Slaves vs Citizens: Plato and Aristotle. Low vs High music Application of idea of hierarchy Logocentrism of higher classes.

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aristotle 384 322 bce what is virtue

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

PHIL 1003

Semester I 2009-10



Central idea to ethics and politics of both Plato and Aristotle.

slaves vs citizens plato and aristotle

Slaves vs Citizens:Plato and Aristotle

Low vs High music

Application of idea of hierarchy

Logocentrism of higher classes

a word about democracy

A word about democracy



Modern (liberal)

question re democracy
Question re democracy
  • Should the interest of the minority be subject to the interest of the majority?
  • We know that for a society to function well, individuals have to sacrifice some of their interests
    • E.g. Aristotle’s polis [Dr Cook’s comment].
  • In democracy the minority is subject to the majority.
  • Is that right?
  • My answer to this question is a partly yes, and a partly no.
  • It depends on the situation. If it is always right to outweigh the minority, are we right to divide up Mr Li Ka Shing's property
  • [on what grounds—just because the majority wants to]?
reply to plato
Reply to Plato
  • The rulers in China are quite unscrupulous - they are corruptand take money from their people and then spendit having big feasts, having mistresses, etc.
  • I guess that's when the 'reason' part of our society goes wrong because there is no criterion or a standard on how to choose our leaders in Plato's way. And then the people just do not know what to do or do not have sufficient education to air their views on serious social issues.
  • In Chinese society, people are afraid of authority or power; it's inour nature because we were brought up this way and there would be no good in making objections to the upper class or even our fathers. But is [China’s?] communism similar to Plato's ideal Utopia? I think it only applies if the leaders are good enough--but again, there is no good enough.
what causes downfall of plato s best regime
What causes downfall of Plato’s best regime?
  • Inevitable degeneration of best regime (Rep., 546a-e);
  • Fault of imperfect matings: how can this happen?
    • Platonic numerology and astrology;
    • Calculate the ‘number’ for a human creature; no one understands it!
    • Matings out of sync with this number;
  • Result: children fall short of ideal;
  • Classes become mixed, no more pure golds;
  • Passionate pursue their ambitions, creating oligarchy
    • rule of the few in their own self-interest.
aristotle s contributions
Aristotle’s Contributions
  • Major ethical theorist;
  • Major political thinker;
    • theorist of democracy: qualified approval
    • Cf. Platonic critique of democracy = rule of the worst elements;
  • Biologist;
  • Used scientific method to analyze political institutions;
  • Logic = the ‘organon’, or tool.
aristotle s life
Aristotle’s life
  • 384 BCE born in Stagira (Macedonia)
    • therefore could not become an Athenian citizen;
  • Son of a court physician, Nicomachus;
  • 367-347 studied in Plato’s Academy, Athens
  • 347 Plato dies; Aristotle in Assos, Mytilene and Macedonia;
    • In Asia Minor studies marine organisms;
  • 342 tutors the Macedonian prince, Alexander;
    • little discernible influence
  • 335 returns to Athens, founds Lyceum;
  • 322 dies in Chalcis.
what this picture illustrates

What this picture illustrates

Plato pointing at sky,

Aristotle at earth.


aristotle s method
Aristotle’s Method
  • Empirical and concrete: based in biology
    • Make observations of phenomena
    • Draw conclusions on that basis
  • Social and ethical questions:
    • examine actual views on an issue or topic;
  • Find out what the telos, or goal of sth is;
    • That tells you its nature, and
    • What its good is: everything has its goal
    • This is empirical.
aristotle s idea of the good
Aristotle’s idea of The Good
  • No one good or Form of the Good (cf. Plato)
  • Many goods—the good of each thing, organism, person, e.g.
    • The good of cats
    • The good of trees
    • The good of society
    • The good of philosophers
  • The good of a thing is determined by examining its nature:
    • We understand the nature of a thing by looking at its goal or telos.
what plato and aristotle share soul society analogy

Soul: 3 pts:




Society: 3 pts:





Soul: 2 pts:



Society: 2 pts:

rulers (rotation among citizens)

ruled: citizens and others

What Plato and Aristotle share: soul-society analogy
aristotle s hierarchy of beings
Aristotle’s Hierarchy of Beings
  • 3 kinds of soul:
    • Vegetative: plants
    • Sensitive (having senses): animals
    • Rational and active: man

These ideas still used in the 17th century by Descartes.

What is unique to man is reasoning ability and his highest good/goal/telos is to exercise that ability in action.

Plants and animals have different goals than man because they have different natures/souls.

hierarchy of goods sciences
Hierarchy of goods, sciences
  • Critique of Plato’s Form of the Good (1096a15)
    • Not one good, but many
  • Good of city at top of ‘hierarchy of goods’
    • Good of individual subordinate (NE, 1.2)
    • Why?
  • Not one science of good, but many (1096a30)
  • Controlling science = political science
    • All other sciences subordinate—generalship, household mgmt, rhetoric
    • Why?
what is the good for man
What is the Good for man?
  • For sake of which we do things
  • Many of our activities are instrumental, only means to the end
  • Characteristics of the Good for man:
    • Self-sufficient
    • ‘Choiceworthy’ (having merit)
    • Active.
the good happiness what is happiness
The Good = happiness; what is happiness?
  • Is it freedom from pain?
  • Is it the opposite of whatever state in which one finds oneself?
  • Many believe it is gratification of desires:
    • Honor, being admired, respected
    • Wealth—’not the good we are seeking’ (1096a)
    • Health
    • Having fun.
  • Aristotle on wealth, health, intelligence, etc:
    • Only instruments we use to pursue the good
    • Not ends in themselves!
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.