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Aristotle on virtue

Michael Lacewing
enquiries@alevelphilosophy.co.uk

Virtue
A virtue (arte) is a trait of mind or
character that helps us achieve a good
life (eudaimonia)
Intellectual virtues
Moral virtues (traits of character)

What is a moral virtue?


Aristotle: a moral virtue is a state of
character by which you stand well in
relation to your desires, emotions and
choices:
A character trait is a disposition relating to how
one feels, thinks, reacts etc. in different
situations, e.g. short-tempered, generous
A virtue is a disposition to feel, desire and choose
well

The doctrine of the mean


Virtues and virtuous actions lie between
intermediate between two vices of too much and
too little
Compare eating too much/little

Not arithmetical
to feel [desires and emotions] at the right times, with
reference to the right objects, towards the right people,
with the right motive, and in the right way

This is Aristotles doctrine of the mean


But this is not the same as moderation on all
occasions

Practical wisdom
Practical wisdom an intellectual virtue
helps us know what the right time, object,
person, motive and way is
To feel wrongly is to feel irrationally

A virtue, then, a state of character


concerned with choice, lying in the mean,
i.e. the mean relative to us, this being
determined by a rational principle, and by
that principle by which the person of
practical wisdom would determine it

Virtues and vices


Passion/concern Vice of
deficiency
Fear
Cowardly

Virtue

Vice of excess

Courageous

Rash

Pleasure/pain

Insensible

Temperate

Self-indulgent

Money

Mean

Liberal (free)

Prodigal

Important honour Unduly humble

Properly proud

Vain

Small honours

Unambitious

Overambitious

Anger

Unirascible

Properly
ambitious
Good-tempered

Pleasant to
others
Shame

Quarrelsome

Friendly

Obsequious

Shy

Modest

Shameless

Attitude to
others fortune

Spiteful

Righteously
indignant

Envious

Short-tempered

Acquiring virtues
We acquire virtues of character
through the habits we form during our
upbringing.
Virtues cant simply be taught there
are no moral child prodigies

We are not virtuous by nature, but


become virtuous by practising
Like learning to play a musical instrument
So we become just by doing just acts

Virtuous action
How can we do just acts unless we are
already just?
in accordance with justice vs. fully just acts

A fully virtuous action


know what you are doing
choose the act for its own sake
choose from a firm and unchangeable character

As we become just, we understand what


justice is and choose it because it is just

Two contrasts
Is strength of will virtuous?
Aristotle: No. A virtuous person doesnt
have to overcome temptation.

Is eudaimonia the moral life?


Aristotles idea is wider, e.g. we should
have proper pride and seek honour (vs.
Christian humility and self-sacrifice)