Aristotle (384-322 BCE): Virtue Ethics

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Transcript Aristotle (384-322 BCE): Virtue Ethics

Aristotle (384-322 BCE):
What is Virtue?
PHIL 1003
Semester I 2008-09
Tutor: Arthur Chin
[email protected]
Week of:
• 1st: Sept 29th - Oct 3rd
• 2nd: Oct 20th - 24th
• 3rd: Nov 10th - 14th
• 4th: Nov 24 - 28th
Answer to question:
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.
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.
Ancient Greece
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 will tell you its nature, and
• What its good is.
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….
• The good is determined by examining its nature
• We understand the nature of a thing by looking
at its goal or telos
Central idea to ethics and politics
of both Plato and Aristotle.
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:
– Complete
– Self-sufficient
– Choiceworthy (having merit)
– Active
The Good = happiness,
but what is happiness?
• Is it doing well or living well?
• Is it the opposite of whatever state in which one
finds oneself?
• Is it freedom from pain?
• Many believe it is gratification of desire, or
Honor, being admired, respected
Wealth—”not the good we are seeking” (1096a)
Having fun
• Many of these, e.g. wealth, health, are
instruments we use to pursue the good.
“…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.
• 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 necessary.
The Virtues
• Virtue entails action:
– Even philosophy is action, and therefore virtuous
• Mean between extremes of behavior:
• Examples:
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
The question is not:
What is virtue?
How to become good (Bk 2.2)
What is ethics?
Moral virtue (ēthikē) derived from
habits (ethos)
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)
Forming habits:
Music and Censorship
• Music: Phrygian
• Dorian for courage
• Censor poetry, b/c
poetry attributes
responsibility for evil
to god (Rep., 378a,
Aristotle (Pol., Bk 7)
• Music: Lydian
• Avoid performing
music b/c it is shared
with slaves or other
• Censor lewd dramas-bad for children.
Preferred instrument (children only):
the Kithara [lyre]
A base instrument:
the Auloi [Pipes]
Any contemporary examples?
How are children’s habits formed
Can you be virtuous under a
bad regime?
What do you think?
• In Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle argues that a
child can not be truly happy because "age
prevents him from doing [things acquired by
virtue]... and happiness requires both complete
virtue and a complete life" (1100a).
• During my childhood I can recall times where I
felt completely happy even though I was not
virtuous or of the age of complete life.
• Do you agree or disagree with Aristotle's views
on happiness for a child? Why/Why not?