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 • What kind of person ought I to be? • Aristotle’s concern is with the question of character.
Aristotle’s Ethics • Good is that at which all things aim. • The proper function or excellence of a thing is its arete (virtue). • The human arete or virtue is activity of the soul in accordance with virtue—over a lifetime. Aristotle says “one swallow does not make a Spring.”
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 (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)
What is the Good for Human Beings? • First, happiness is the only thing we aim at for its own sake—the only complete end or “telos,” the only self-sufficient good. • Second, we must aim at an activity of the soul in accordance with excellence; that is how humans fulfill their particular function or virtue well. • Therefore, happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.
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 End • Happiness comes from developing a good character. • A good character comes from the development of good habits. “Men become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”
Good Character Happiness Good Character Good Habits Good Acts Good Thoughts People have a natural capacity for good character, but only rarely is one “born good.” Virtue must be developed through constant practice. Good leaders (parents and civic leaders) and strict laws are vital in guiding us in the development of good habits. After being forced to do the right thing, we can learn to love being virtuous.
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 • We should ask, “Will this act help lead me to be the person I should be? Will I become a person of good character by thinking and acting in this way?”
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) • 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 • “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 mean should not suggest to our minds being mediocre or wishy-washy; it is the precise balance of qualities that strengthen our character. • “That is why it is so hard to be good; for it is always hard to find the mean in anything.” (Aristotle) • “That is why goodness is rare and praiseworthy and noble.” (Aristotle)