Aristotle's Interpretation Of Ethical Virtues Analysis

Better Essays
Ruchi Ahuja
IDS 385W
Professor Jeremy Bell

Aristotle’s Interpretation of Ethical Virtues
“An ethical virtue is a habit, disposed towards action, by deliberate choice, being at the mean relative to us, and defined by reason and as a prudent man would define it” (The Nicomachean Ethics, Book Beta, 1107a). Book Beta of The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle revolves around the central concept of virtue, in particular, ethical virtue. An ethical virtue is comprised of several components, the first of which is habit. He believes that ethical virtues are acquired by habituation; they can neither be taught, nor are they innate or existent by nature. For example, we have the ability to see because we possess the power of vision (sensation); on the other
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He claims that all ethical virtues are destroyed by excesses and deficiencies, and are preserved by moderation or the mean. To comprehend this concept, we must first understand the two kinds of means - objective and subjective means. Objectively, the mean of the numbers two and ten is six, and that is a universally accepted fact. Thus, the former type of mean – objective mean - is standard and independent of situational and personal differences. However, if an individual is speaking of a relatively distinctive subject such as the moderate quantity of food that he/she can consume, there exist several moderate amounts due to individual variations among people. The latter kind – subjective mean – is what Aristotle is concerned with when speaking of ethical virtues. For example, temperance and bravery are ethical virtues that can lucidly explain this concept. One who is incapable of facing any adverse situation is deemed to be a coward (deficiency), whereas one who mindlessly faces all dangers is labeled rash (excess). However, the mean between these two extremes, bravery, is an esteemed ethical virtue. Similarly, one who gives into the temptation of all pleasures becomes intemperate, but one who abstains …show more content…
In Book Beta, Aristotle states, “Again, since virtues are concerned with actions and passions, and since every action and every passion is accompanied by pleasure or pain, then for this reason too, virtues would be concerned with pleasures and pain” (The Nicomachean Ethics, Book Beta, 1104b). In other words, since pleasures and pains influence our actions, and actions lead to the formation of virtues (via habituation), pleasures and pains indirectly shape our virtues. According to Aristotle, we are often enticed by temptation into performing pleasurable activities that are bad for us, and we refrain from doing good for the sake of avoiding pain. These very pleasures and pains are indicative of our habits. “A habit becomes bad because of pleasures and pains, that is, by pursuing or avoiding pleasures or pains either when one should not, or at a time when he should not, or in the manner in which he should not, or in some other way contrary to that specified by [right] reason” (The Nicomachean Ethics, Book Beta, 1104b). As mentioned, it is crucial to guard against pleasures and pains. In addition to guarding against them, becoming truly virtuous involves molding oneself so that one takes pleasure in acting virtuously and feels pain while behaving viciously because the latter is inconsistent with one’s character. The concept of ethics involves

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