Aristotle and Virtue Ethics:

From the Nicomachean Ethics

  1. Philosophical Background -

    1. Socrates - Virtue is knowledge of good and evil

    2. Plato - Virtue is the harmony between the parts of the soul -

      1. Appetite
      2. Spirit (Will)
      3. Reason

  2. Aristotle's Method: Teleology and the Hierarchy of Goods -

    Every activity or action aims at some end ['telos'] which is its good

    1. Two types of ends -

      1. Intermediate - that which is done for the sake of something else

      2. Final - that which is done for its own sake

    2. The social Sciences/Inquiries/Knowledges ['episteme'] are activities which aim at an end -

      1. economics - the orderly economy of the household and state

      2. strategy - victory in battle

      3. rhetoric - persuading people to believe you

      4. medicine - health of the body

    3. Politics incorporates all the social sciences - it is the greatest knowledge

  3. What is the goal of Politics? Happiness ['eudaemonia']

    Note: Aristotle, like most ancient Greeks, believes that all human activities aim at happiness which means to flourish or do well (lit. having a good demon). It must, therefore, be the Highest Good. The highest good will be self-sufficient, lacking nothing. If Happiness is the highest good we cannot seek it for the sake of something else.

    1. What is Happiness?

      1. pleasure - for the sake of happiness?

      2. wealth - for the sake of stuff?

      3. honor - for the sake of power?

      4. virtue - for the sake of happiness?

    2. What is a Human?

      1. Four types of souls -

        1. nutritive (i.e., biological life itself) - plants
        2. sensate - animals
        3. political - bees and ants
        4. rational - humans

      2. Humans are Rational Animals - To conduct one's life according to reason is what it is to be human

    3. What is Human Excellence?

      1. Intellectual Virtue - discipline of the mind acquired through education
      2. Moral Virtue - discipline of action acquired through habituated moral action

    4. Is acting morally the same as being moral? Is performing moral actions sufficient to be a moral person?


      1. One must have knowledge of what is moral - ignorance is amoral
      2. One must Will the moral action - no accidental morality
      3. One must act out of a consistent character - no occasional morality

    5. How do we learn to be virtuous?

      1. What is human virtue? - the soul-state which enables achievement of the human function -

        1. excess - vice
        2. deficiency - vice
        3. mean - virtue

        Definition: 'Virtue' is a state of deliberate moral purpose, consisting of a rational mean relative to ourselves.

      2. How do we achieve the golden mean? - aim at excess or deficiency depending upon the circumstances and our personality

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PHI 105 Page | Notes Index