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The story of the virtuous person in my life

  • Recall that Socrates had explained apparently incontinent behavior as the result of ignorance of what leads to the good;
  • This concept has largely been lost in the modern world;
  • They elected and removed their own managers.

At the beginning of Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle tells us that there are two different kinds of human excellences, excellences of thought and excellences of character.

When we speak of a moral virtue or an excellence of character, the emphasis is not on mere distinctiveness or individuality, but on the combination of qualities that make an individual the sort of ethically admirable person he is.

If someone lacks virtue, she may have any of several moral vices, or she may be characterized by a condition somewhere in between virtue and vice, such as continence or incontinence. Although these ancient moralists differed on some issues about virtue, it makes sense to begin with some points of similarity. These points of similarity will show why the Greek moralists thought it was important to discuss character. They often begin by having Socrates ask his interlocutors to explain what a particular virtue is.

In reply, the interlocutors usually offer behavioral accounts of the virtues. In the Charmides, Charmides suggests that temperance consists in acting quietly. In the Republic, Cephalus the story of the virtuous person in my life that justice consists in giving back what one has borrowed. In each of these cases, Plato has Socrates reply in the same way.

In the Republic Socrates explains that giving back what one has borrowed cannot be what justice is, for there are cases where giving back what one has borrowed would be foolish, and the just person recognizes that it is foolish.

If the person from whom you have borrowed a sword goes mad, it would be foolish for you to return the sword, for you are then putting yourself and others in danger. The implication is that the just person can recognize when it is reasonable to return what he has borrowed.

Similarly, as Socrates explains in the Laches, standing firm in battle cannot be courage, for sometimes standing firm in battle is simply a foolish endurance that puts oneself and others at needless risk. The trouble one encounters in trying to give a purely behavioral account of virtue explains why the Greek moralists turn to character to explain what virtue is.

It may be true that most of us can recognize that it would be foolish to risk our lives and the lives of others to secure a trivial benefit, and that most of us can see that it is unjust to harm others to secure power and wealth for our own comfort.

But the Greek moralists think it takes someone of good moral character to determine with regularity and reliability what actions are appropriate and reasonable in fearful situations and that it takes someone of good moral character to determine with regularity and reliability how and when to secure goods and resources for himself and others. Living well or happiness is our ultimate end in that a conception of happiness serves to organize our various subordinate ends, by indicating the relative importance of our ends and by indicating how they should fit together into some rational overall scheme.

When we are living well, our life is worthy of imitation and admiration. For, according to the Greek moralists, that we are happy says something about us and about what we have achieved, not simply about the fortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves. Whatever happiness is, it must take account of the fact that a happy life is one lived by rational agents who act and who are not simply victims of their circumstances.

The Greek moralists conclude that a happy life must give a prominent place to the exercise of virtue, for virtuous traits of character are stable and enduring and are not products of fortune, but of learning or cultivation. Moreover, the story of the virtuous person in my life traits of character are excellences of the human being in that they are the best exercise of reason, which is the activity characteristic of human beings. In this way, the Greek philosophers claim, virtuous activity completes or perfects human life.

As explained in Section 2. Bravery requires more than standing up against threats to oneself and others. This led the Greek moralists to conclude that virtuous traits of character have two aspects: The Greek philosophers disagree mostly about what b involves.

In particular, they differ about the role played in virtuous traits of character by cognitive states e. Socrates and the Stoics argued that only cognitive states were necessary for virtue, whereas Plato and Aristotle argued that both cognitive and affective states were necessary.

On this view later revived by Epicurus, 341—271 BCEhaving a virtuous character is purely a matter of being knowledgeable of what brings us more pleasure rather than less. In the Protagoras, Socrates recognizes that most people object to this view. Someone may be overcome by anger, fear, lust, and other desires, and act against what he believes will bring him more pleasure rather than less.

He can, in other words, be incontinent or weak-willed.

  • They assume that behavior is often sufficient to indicate the presence of a trait of character, and they ignore the other psychological aspects of character both cognitive and affective that, for most of the philosophers discussed in this entry, form a more or less consistent and integrated set of beliefs and desires;
  • Second, and again like Aristotle, Rawls argues that if citizens are fortunate to live in a community that provides the basic goods they need for realizing their powers and that offers them opportunities to develop and use their abilities in shared activities with others, then they will develop a stable sense of their own value that is based on their own accomplishments and their status as equal citizens, rather than on a position more advantaged relative to others.

Socrates replies that such cases should be understood differently. In other words, incontinence is not possible, according to Socrates. Both Plato and Aristotle argue that virtuous character requires a distinctive combination of cognitive and affective elements.

In the Republic, Plato divides the soul into three parts and gives to each a different kind of desire rational, appetitive, or spirited. As types of non-rational desire, appetitive and spirited desires can conflict with our rational desires about what contributes to our overall good, and they will sometimes move us to act in ways we recognize to be against our greater good.

When that happens, we are incontinent. To be virtuous, then, we must both understand what contributes to our overall good and have our spirited and appetitive desires educated properly, so that they agree with the guidance provided by the rational part of the soul.

A potentially virtuous person learns when young to love and take pleasure in virtuous actions, but must wait until late in life to develop the understanding that explains why what he loves is good. Once he has learned what the good is, his informed love of the good explains why he acts as he does and why his actions are virtuous. Of all the Greek moralists, Aristotle provides the most psychologically insightful account of virtuous character.

Excellence [of character], then, is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect.

Rather it is the settled condition we are in when we are well off in relation to feelings and actions. We are well off in relation to our feelings and actions when we are in a mean or intermediate state in regard to them.

  1. They can look for reasons to act or live one way rather than another. Once he has learned what the good is, his informed love of the good explains why he acts as he does and why his actions are virtuous.
  2. Aristotle thinks that, in addition to friendships, wider social relations are required for the full development of our rational powers.
  3. We are not called to love suffering, but to flee suffering can be among the worst choices in life.
  4. There is no agreement among scholars as to whether, and how, these types of reasoning can be distinguished.

If, on the other hand, we have a vicious character, we are badly off in relation to feelings and actions, and we fail to hit the mean in regard to them.

Virtue as a mean state Aristotle emphasizes that the mean state is not an arithmetic mean, but one relative to the situation. The different particular virtues provide illustrations of what Aristotle means. Each virtue is set over or concerned with specific feelings or actions.

  1. The wisdom of both the Stoics and the Christian fathers is that only a willingness to endure pain, at some level, is able to nurture virtue.
  2. In brief, men evidence the vices of the slave master, while women evidence the vices of the slave. Aristotle thinks that a mild person ought to be angry about some things e.
  3. The virtuous person becomes the sage sophos who has and acts on knowledge of the good.
  4. Aristotle seems to have this point in mind when he says of vicious people in Nicomachean Ethics IX.
  5. Philosophers influenced by the experimental tradition in social psychology conclude that people do not have the broadly based, stable, consistent traits of character that were of interest to the ancient and modern moralists, or to contemporary philosophers working with some version of those views. Virtue is the state that makes a human being good and makes him perform his function well.

The virtue of mildness or good temper, for example, is concerned with anger. Aristotle thinks that a mild person ought to be angry about some things e. It would also be inappropriate to take offense and get angry if there is nothing worth getting angry about.

That response would indicate the morally excessive character of the irascible person. Sometimes intense anger is appropriate; at other times calm detachment is. Aristotle seems to think that, at bottom, any non-virtuous person is plagued by inner doubt or conflict, even if on the surface she appears to be as psychologically unified as virtuous people.

Aristotle seems to have this point in mind when he says of vicious people in Nicomachean Ethics IX. Virtuous persons, on the other hand, enjoy who they are and take pleasure in acting virtuously.

Like the morally vicious person, the continent and incontinent persons are internally conflicted, but they are more aware of their inner turmoil than the morally vicious person. Continence is essentially a kind of self-mastery: The incontinent person also in some way knows what she should do, but she fails to do it because of recalcitrant feelings.

Recall that Socrates had explained apparently incontinent behavior as the result of ignorance of what leads to the good. Since, he thought, everyone desires the good and aims at it in his actions, no one would intentionally choose a course of action believed the story of the virtuous person in my life yield less good overall. Moral education and the human function Because Aristotle thinks that virtue is a unified, unconflicted state where emotional responses and rational assessments speak with the same voice, he, like Plato, thinks that the education of our emotional responses is crucial for the development of virtuous character.

If our emotional responses are educated properly, we will learn to take pleasure or pain in the right things. Virtue is the state that makes a human being good and makes him perform his function well.

His function his ergon or characteristic activityAristotle says in Nicomachean Ethics I. According to Aristotle, human beings can reason in ways that non-human animals cannot.

They can deliberate about what to do, about what kind of lives to live, about what sort of persons to be. They can look for reasons to act or live one way rather than another.

In other words, they can engage in practical reasoning. They can also think about the nature of the world and why it seems to behave as it does. They can consider scientific and metaphysical truths about the universe.

There is no agreement among scholars as to whether, and how, these types of reasoning can be distinguished. How do one realize these powers fully? Not by becoming adept at every kind of activity in which deliberating and judging on the basis of reason is called for. For then one would have to master every kind of cultural, scientific, and philosophical activity.

When that happens, his exercise of these abilities is a continuing source of self-esteem and enjoyment. He comes to like his life and himself and is now a genuine self-lover. In Nicomachean Ethics IX. Morally defective types love themselves in the sense that they love material goods and advantages.

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They desire to secure these things even at the expense of other people, and so they act in ways that are morally vicious. Genuine self-lovers, on the other hand, love most the exercise of their developed human activity, which is rational activity. When they enjoy and recognize the value of developing their rational powers, they can use this recognition to guide their decisions and to determine which actions are appropriate in which circumstances. Moreover, because they now take pleasure in the right things they enjoy most figuring things out rather than the accumulation of wealth or powerthey will avoid many of the actions, and will be unattracted to many of the pleasures, associated with the common vices.

In other words, they will act as a virtuous person would. The need for relationships and community According to Aristotle, the full realization of our rational powers is not something we can achieve or maintain on our own. It is hard, he says in Nicomachean Ethics IX.

A Virtuous Man

To realize our powers fully we need at least a group of companions who share our interests and with whom we can cooperate to achieve our mutually recognized goals. Examples listed by Aristotle include sailors on a ship, soldiers on an expedition, members of families, business relationships, religious associations, citizens of a political community, and colleagues engaged in contemplative activity.

  • Socrates replies that such cases should be understood differently;
  • Virtue is the state that makes a human being good and makes him perform his function well;
  • A potentially virtuous person learns when young to love and take pleasure in virtuous actions, but must wait until late in life to develop the understanding that explains why what he loves is good;
  • In particular, they differ about the role played in virtuous traits of character by cognitive states e;
  • For, according to the Greek moralists, that we are happy says something about us and about what we have achieved, not simply about the fortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves;
  • I wish he were a member of my parish.

As Aristotle explains in Rhetoric II. Although we may have initiated activity for self-interested reasons, the psychological result is that we come to like our cooperative partners and to develop a concern for their good for their own sakes. This change, Aristotle indicates, is caused to occur in us.

It is not chosen. Once bonds of friendship are formed, it is natural for us to exhibit the social virtues Aristotle describes in Nicomachean Ethics IV. Aristotle thinks that, in addition to friendships, wider social relations are required for the full development of our rational powers. He says we are by nature political beings, whose capacities are fully realized in a specific kind of political community a polis or city-state.