Is Being Virtuous Sufficient to Have a Flourishing Life? Why/Why Not?

Topics: Ethics, Virtue, Virtue ethics Pages: 6 (2188 words) Published: September 11, 2013
Is being virtuous sufficient to have a flourishing life? Why/why not?

Virtue theory mainly focuses on the question of how one ought to act. This involves analysing the character traits of individuals and the ethical actions preformed. This school of thought is largely found in Hellenistic philosophy, where it was theorised that the ethical life is needed and/or is enough for the idea of “eudaimonia” (Hursthouse, 2012). The translation of the word eudaimonia has been highly debated within virtue theory. Eudaimonia was commonly thought of as the idea of happiness. However, it can also be argued as the idea of “flourishing” as suggested by G.E.M Anscombe (1958, p18). Flourishing is a word that implies richness and fullness. Thus, for a flourishing life, according to classical theory, it must be rich in goods. These goods are the moral dispositions of how to behave and include external goods, such as wealth, health, status, and social relationships. Over centuries, the views and theories of eudaimonia and the idea of a virtuous life have been argued meticulously. I will begin this essay by outlining the Stoics reasoning to why virtues suffice for a flourishing life. I will then, outline Aristotle’s argument of how a virtuous life is necessary but not sufficient.

The ancient philosophy of Stoicism is a discipline that began in the third century BC. Many have contributed to this sophisticated theory, lasting for five centuries and influencing many ethical theories thereafter. As a theory, its Hellenistic influence suggests it is concerned with the idea of eudemonia, the idea of an end goal of happiness or flourishing in life (Baltzky, 2010). For the Stoics to endeavour for the ultimate end, as an individual you must fulfil the capability to rationalise your choices according to nature (ibid). By nature, humans develop the ability to reason when we mature as adults. This wisdom is essentially needed to rationalise and perfect one’s nature. To the Stoics the only true goodness is aretê which refers to a person’s excellence or virtue (Sandbach, 1975, p29). It is both sufficient and necessary for a flourishing life, as for a moral agent would be rich in the ownership of rational choice, which is appropriate to an individual and would involve having certain character traits.

Nature to the Stoics is complex; it involves the will of an impersonal God, and the preferences made by a moral agent are fated (Sandbach, 1975, p37). The Greek term ‘oikieosis’ refers to this idea of a natural connection to with what is appropriate. This term is translated as ‘appropriation’ (Inwood, 1999, p677). The theory of appropriation exercises the idea that by nature humans recognise what is one’s own and this involves an acknowledgment of the moral worth of all of the virtues (ibid). To the Stoics this would include wisdom, justice, courage and moderation, understandings that is united. For the Stoic, human nature consists of self-awareness and self-sufficiency that is a precondition of knowing what is external to us, and the needs for a flourishing life. These external factors are “indifferent”, such as health and wealth (Baltzky, 2010). In this instance, these goods are neither good nor bad but neutral, due to the fact they can be used either way. For example, money could be used to purchase alcohol that would harm an individual; it could also help a person pay towards a university degree. Such indifferences are argued to have no moral worth as the desire of these factors deters one away from understanding the true manner of being virtuous (Vogt, 2010). The preferences made should not always be the ones that benefit the possessor as what only benefits the individual is possession of virtues through rationality.

Virtues are seen to be knowledge that is developed through observation of others. That is to say imitating others that have such knowledge is the road to securing a virtuous way of life (Long, 1986, p200). Therefore, for the...

Bibliography: Anscombe, G.E.M., 1958, “Modern Moral Philosophy”, Philosophy, 33: 1–19. Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of Royal Institute of Philosophy
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Aristotle, translated by Thomson, J. A. K. (1955). The Ethics of Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics. Penguin Classics, Penguin Books Ltd, England. Re-issued 1976, revised by Hugh Tredennick and introduction by Barnes, J, (1976).
Baltzly, Dirk, "Stoicism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
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Inwood, B., 1999, Stoic Ethics, chapter 21, cited in Algra, K., and J. Barnes, J. Mansfeld and M. Schofield (eds.), 1999, The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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