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

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

Aristotle (384-322 BCE):
What is Virtue?
PHIL 1003
Semester I 2009-10
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
• 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
• Logic = the ‘organon’, or tool.
Ancient Greece
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
– 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.
School of Athens by Raphael (16th cent.)
What this picture illustrates
Plato pointing at sky,
Aristotle at earth.
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.
An acorn’s telos
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:
– reason,
– passion
– desires
Society: 3 pts:
Soul: 2 pts:
Society: 2 pts:
rulers (rotation among
ruled: citizens and others
Aristotle’s view of the soul
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
• 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?
• 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?
• 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)
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 soul’s activity that expresses
virtue’ (NE, 1098a20)
You are not born virtuous;
You must become virtuous.