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Brief Passage of the Week:


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384-322 BCE


Life and times

  • Father a physician to Phillip of Macedon
  • Philosophy studies in Athens under Plato
  • Tutor to Alexander the Great
  • Founder of the Lyceum
  • Unclear authorship of his written works (lecture notes? Student notes? Cicero?s testimony as to his abilities)
  • Invents Logic, systematic Biology, The philosopher of the middle ages


The teleological project in ethics

  • As opposed to Kant, who looks to intentions as the locus of an individual?s moral status, or Mill, who looks to the consequences of actions as the locus of an action?s goodness,
  • Aristotle looks at one?s character as the prime predictor of one?s ability to attain the good in life (which for him, is also happiness)



  • But although the focus is different between Aristotle and Mill, both are teleologists about morality–the goodness lies in the promotion of some goal
  • In both cases, the goal is happiness
  • Where they differ is in their conceptions of happiness


Different teleologies

  • For Mill, happiness is something of an occurent state identified with pleasure
  • For Aristotle, happiness is not an occurent state, but rather something achieved over a lifetime
  • For Aristotle, it is not completely divorced from pleasure, but its relationship to pleasure is somewhat complicated and definitely not one of identity


The good

  • Every pursuit and every art aims at some end or good (telos)
  • Cognate notions: goal, purpose
  • Interesting issue: thickness and thinness of conceptions of the good
  • For the ultimate in a thin (contentless) conception of the good, see Kant
  • For richer conceptions, see first Mill, then Aristotle


The test for the final end

  • The end for which everything else is a means must be the final good
  • I.e., intrinsically good
  • Hence, finding the final end must be the key to living the good life
  • Implied assumption: it?s unlikely that the final good and the good life are not closely related


What is the final end?

  • The final end for Aristotle, is the good life or happiness (eudaimonia)
  • This is by far the best candidate for the final end
  • Note that the ?the good? spoken of here is unlike Kant?s good
  • Although happiness is unconditionally good, becoming happy will require one to be good at living


So, what are the things one must be good at to become happy?

  • To answer this, we must first investigate the human function (ergon)
  • The reason being, that the good or end (telos) of a thing resides in its function
  • That is, if we can speak of something as a good X, then its goodness resides in the fact that it performs what X?s are supposed to do, and performs them well



  • If happiness is the good or end of humans, then we can discover it by discovering the human function
  • Note how radically immoral Kant would take even a discussion of the human function to be
  • What is a human that doesn?t fulfill the human function?
  • This would appear to open the door to treating humans as means–the main Kantian problem with teleology


Where to go from here?

  • The state (hexis) that enables anything to fulfill its function is its virtue (arete)
  • So, in order to find in order to find the human function, we must find and delimit human virtue


Where is human virtue?

  • In order to investigate human virtue, we must investigate the human soul (psuche) because it?s there that human virtue resides
  • That is, if the only options are the body and the soul, then it?s obvious that human virtue resides in the human soul
  • Why?
  • Because having a body, or even having a body of a certain type is no guarantee of happiness


The tie of virtue to soul

  • For Aristotle, original function, and, hence, original virtue, are completely owing and derived from the capacity of the soul whose activities gives rise to them

So what is the human soul?

  • In general (that is, independent of whether it?s a human or not), the characteristic activities that are essential to a living thing and that explain all of its features



Human soul





Human virtue within the Rational leader: Intellectual Virtues

Practical wisdom-phronesis

Theoretical virtue-theoria

Human virtue with the Rational follower

Ethical virtue: courage, temperance, etc.

How are these virtues generated?

  • Ethical virtue is generated and fostered by habit/training
  • Note Aristotle?s own semantic connection: the Greek word for ethics (ethikos) derives from the Greek word for habit (ethos)
  • Practical wisdom is acquired with the development of reason and its application to action and feeling
  • Theoretical virtue is generated and fostered by teaching

Focus, for the moment, at least, on ethical virtue and practical wisdom

  • Because the present topic is living well, we must investigate the generation of ethical virtue and practical wisdom, along with shortcomings of those two kinds of virtue

Ethical virtue

  • Starts with the raw material of actions and feelings and develops and builds them through training and habit and the development of rational faculties to further develop actions and feelings so that they are true manifestations of ethical virtue


  • That Aristotle includes both actions and feelings into the discussion of ethical virtue
  • Think of Kant?s reaction
  • To this, Aristotle adds another level of ethical concern:
  • The notion of character stability

What is stability of character?

  • Aristotle notes that through habit, training and intellectual development, one?s ethical character is developed as a sort of second nature
  • That is, an ethical center of gravity around which one actions and feelings tend to revolve, especially as these feelings tend to accord or be in discord with the deliverances of our intellectual virtues

The continence spectrum

  • For Aristotle, characters can be arrayed on a spectrum as to their stability, where stability is read as the absence of inner conflict between one?s feelings and one?s rational judgments
  • Virtue—continence—incontinence—vice

Virtuous character

  • Is stable; not given to internal conflict regarding their actions and feelings
  • Consonance between what they intellectually ascertain to be the proper action or felling and what their emotions and appetites drive them towards

Continent character

  • The continent (enkrates) is characterized by inner conflict which they manage to suppress
  • They intellectually perceive the proper action or feeling, but are driven away from it by appetite
  • Still, they manage to counteract the drive and keep their action in line with their rational perception

The incontinent character

  • The incontinent (akrates) is also characterized by inner conflict of intellectual perception and appetite
  • However, unlike the continent, the akratic cannot withstand their appetites and end up acting or feeling in a way that goes against their rational perception of the best course

The vicious character

  • The vicious (kakos) are characterized by a rational perception which does not conflict with base appetite
  • In this sense, they are not riddled with inner conflict
  • In another sense, Aristotle thinks they will be conflicted because their desire will become so overweening that it will be unsatisfiable and this will lead to self loathing

The doctrine of the mean

  • Virtuous actions/feelings lie in a mean between the extremes of excess and deficiency
  • Note his examples: courage
  • The mean also applies to feelings as well
  • The commitment to unnamed feelings and actions as defined by their status vis-?-vis excess or deficiency

The mean cont.

  • The relativity of the mean
  • The intellectual requirements
  • Hitting the center of a circle
  • The unity of the virtues
  • Question: which gets a name, the axis from excess to deficiency, or the place on the axis

The mean, cont.

  • The relativity of the mean
  • The objectivity of the relative mean


  • Ethical virtue is acting/feeling in a mean from a stable character state
  • Question for virtue theory: what about action guidance?
  • Is action guidance even the issue?
  • Can virtue theory provide sustantive ethical information?
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