Varian Fry's actions in Terms of Aristotelian Ethics

Topics: Aristotle, Causality, Ethics Pages: 8 (3182 words) Published: March 20, 2014

There have been many advances in the fields of science & technology in recent history that have allowed our civilizations to advance in terms of size and productivity, but it seems that this has been accompanied by an increase in immorality, segregation and deadly hostilities amongst populations of different ethnicities based on the belief that there is an inferior ethnicity that must be viewed as animals. These beliefs become ideals that the ruling race uses as a tool to sway the general public into treating the “inferior” as animals in order to prepare that nation for their final solution in committing a genocide on those people. However, there are some people in the world who will not stand by and watch their fellow man suffer and will do whatever in their power to insure their safety. One of those people was Varian Mackey Fry and he was educated from Harvard University and was New York Times editor. During the Holocaust, which took place from 1933 to1945, he made the noble choice of going to Marseilles, France in an effort to save as many Jewish intellectuals and artists that were on Hitler’s list for execution.

Aristotle defined the virtue as “a settled disposition of mind determining the choice of actions…consisting essentially in the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by principle, that is, as the prudent man would determine it.” (Ethics II, vi, 1107a – p. 95). The first cause of ethics that is described by Aristotle is the efficient cause of habituation and he states that “moral or ethical virtue is the product of habit…”(Ethics II, I – p. 71). “The virtues are engendered in us neither by nature nor yet in violation of nature; nature gives us the capacity to receive them and this capacity is brought to maturity by habit.” (Ethics II, I – p. 71) The second cause of ethics is formal cause, which is the forms actions take between excess and defect. “…moral qualities are so constituted as to be destroyed by excess and by deficiency…” (Ethics II, ii - p. 77). “Thus Temperance and Courage are destroyed by excess and deficiency and preserved by the observance of the mean.” (Ethics II, ii - p. 77) The third cause of ethics is material cause and involves the pleasure and pain that is followed by committing to acts, while negotiating between excess and defect. “An index of our dispositions is afforded by the pleasure of pain that accompanies our actions.” (Ethics II, iii p. 79). “In fact, pleasures and pains are the things with which moral virtue is concerned”. (Ethics II, iii p. 79). The final cause is the deliberate ethical choice that is made a firm character for its own sake. Aristotle described this as “…acts done in conformity with the virtues are not done justly or temperately if they themselves are of a certain sort, but only if the agent (the person, the actor) is in a certain state of mind when he does them: first he must choose with knowledge; secondly he must deliberately choose the act, and choose it for its own sake; and thirdly the act must spring from  a fixed and permanent disposition of character.” (Ethics II, 1v –p. 85) Aristotle described the proper function of the soul in that “we declare that the function of man is a certain form of life and define that form of life as the exercise of the soul’s faculties and activities in association with a rational principle, and say that the function of a good man is to perform these actions well and rightly, and if a function is well performed… with its own proper excellence…” (Ethics I, vii – p. 33). The most important component of making a ethical choice is the character-driven nature in the person making it, whom uses their belief in a sense of moral principle in order to make a morally correct decision for the sake of doing good. Aristotle states that in order to make a ethical choice, “first he must act with knowledge; secondly he must deliberately choose the act, and choose it for its own sake; and thirdly the act must spring...

Cited: Chetwynd , Lionel , dir. Varian 's War. Showtime Entertainment, 2001. DVD. 28 Jan 2014.
Fry, Varian. Surrender on Demand-"Foreword". Boulder: Johnson Books, 1945. xi-xiv. Print.
Fry, Varian. Surrender On Demand-"Unpublished Foreword". Boulder: Johnson Books, 1945. 241-244. Print.
The New York Times. "Editor Describes Rioting In Berlin." New York Times [New York City] 17 Jul 1935, n. pag. Print.
Rackham, H. Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics 1. Cambridge: Harvard UP, n.d. Print. Ethics II.
Rackham, H. Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics II. Cambridge: Harvard UP, n.d. Print. Ethics II.
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