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Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics

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1 Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics

2 The Ethics of Ethos (character)
Virtue Ethics The Ethics of Ethos (character) Peter Baron

3 Aims of this presentation
To understand what is meant by virtue (arete) To consider Aristotle’s goal, the supreme good of flourishing (eudaimonia) To discover the importance of practical wisdom (phronesis) for the good life To evaluate virtue ethics

4 Action Habit of character Action
Ethical Theories Teleological Virtue Deontological Ends Consequences Calculation Character Habits Living Rules Absolutes Obedience Action Habit of character Action

5 We grow into the good life
“The soul must first be conditioned by good habits, as land must be cultivated by good seed”. Nicomachean Ethics

6 What Is Virtue? What exactly can we define as virtue?
In this next exercise you will need to pick 5 of the possible characteristics of a virtuous person

7 Exercise 1: Pick 5 Friendship Justice Courage Temperance Loyalty
Fortitude (perseverance) Honesty Generosity Humour Ambition Wealth Humility Faithfulness Hope Agape (unconditional love) Anger Obedience

8 In the next few slides you will see some characters……..
What virtue or virtues would you associate with each? What does the variety of virtues tell us about virtue ethics?




12 Conclusion Virtue = skill or excellence
Rooney is a “virtuous” footballer Jesus perfected virtue eg “perfect love casts out fear”, “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 14:13) So we distinguish between moral virtues and intellectual (or other virtues, like footballing skills), developed by training to produce excellence. Different virtues apply in different cultures.

13 There are two categories of virtue
Intellectual Virtues Intellectual virtues are virtues of the mind. Such as the ability to understand, reason and make sound judgement Intellectual virtues may be taught, like logic and mathematics by teachers. Moral Virtues Not innate, rather they are acquired through repetition and practice, like learning a music instrument. It is through the practice and the doing that one becomes a type of person. Over a period of time virtues become second nature.

14 Virtue summary Habit of Character (arete in Greek)
Involving both Feeling and Action Seeks the mean between excess and deficiency Promotes human flourishing (eudaimonia in Greek) Intellectual and moral

15 Aristotle “Some people believe that nature makes people good, others believe that it is habit, and still others say that it is teaching. Experience shows that logical arguments and teaching are not effective in most cases. The soul of the students must have been conditioned by good habits just as land must be cultivated to nurture seed. For a person whose life is guided by emotion will not listen to a rational argument, nor will he understand it.”

16 Exercise 3: What is our end or telos?
How would Aristotle reply to the view that life was a pursuit of certain material and personal ends? (Clue: he would talk about building habits of character in order to flourish).

17 How To Achieve Eudaimonia
Aristotle defined Good as something that fulfils its ends purpose The Telos of humanity is to be rational The ergon (function) of practical reason (phronesis) is to identify virtue “The good for human beings is an activity of the soul in accordance with arete”

18 Aristotle: eudaimonia and the “complete life”
“We state the function of man to be a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions of the soul implying a rational principle, and the function of a good man to be the good and noble performance of these, and any action is well performed when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there is more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete. But we must add 'in a complete life.' For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.” Nicomachean Ethics Book 1 part 6

19 Person-centred The “ethics of dilemma” approach to morality forgets an essential part of ethics – THE PERSON’S CHARACTER and how personal moral growth is encouraged We are not concerned to know what goodness is but how to become good people, since otherwise our enquiry would be useless. Aristotle The ethical condition is not the condition of having a certain right theory; rather the ethical condition is having a certain character. Alasdair Macintyre

20 Golden Mean and eudaimonia
Golden Mean does not entail a denial of emotions. Rather what is at issue is how, and to what extent, reason permits the expression of emotions. Aristotle developed Plato’s three part teaching of the soul (reason, emotions, appetites) by attributing virtues to each feature. Reason = Phronesis (Wisdom) Emotions = Courage Appetite = Temperance (Self–control)

21 Phronesis or practical wisdom
A virtue of our rational selves It means judgement or prudence It is applied to our irrational appetites and desires to make them “good” Phronesis is vital to achieve eudaimonia (flourishing) or perfection of character over the whole of our lives

22 Aristotle’s argument Our emotions and desires are irrational and need to be controlled by reason. In order to control them, we need to apply the moral virtue of practical wisdom. We need to find the mid-point or mean between two vices.

23 The Golden Mean – a balance point
courage Cowardice Recklessness Deficiency Excess Mean One must find the right balance between Cowardice and Recklessness… Courage

24 Applying the mean To ourselves (see next slide)
To our family life (wider relationships) To our communal life (eg politics). Aristotle saw friendship as a key virtue to build the city state (the polis in Greek) What other virtues do you think would cause the polis (politics) to flourish?

25 Virtues and Spheres of Existence
Sphere of existence Deficiency Mean Excess Pride Self-respect Self-appreciation Servility Undervaluing Low self image Arrogance Egotism vanity Attitude to self Right anger Forgiveness Empathy Apathy Doormat Coldness Revenge Grudge Resentment Attitude Towards Others Indifference Betrayal Lies Friendship Loyalty Honesty Nosiness Captiveness Bluntness Attitude Towards Our Common Life

26 Phronesis builds character
“Virtue is concerned with emotions and actions, and here excess is an error and deficiency a fault, whereas the mean is commendable..determined as the prudent man (phronimos) would determine it”. Nicomachean Ethics

27 Aristotle's Concept Of Life And Death
Phronesis = practical wisdom Moral progress – by training 1 3 Eudaimonia Old Age Sophia = skills mastered Birth 4 2 Intellectual – by education

28 In other words….. We build character through experience of life (the blue line goes round in circles as we reflect on our choices) We also learn by EMULATION (following our heroes) and EDUCATION (being taught).

29 Exercise 3: virtues and vices
On a piece of paper draw three columns. Write Aristotle’s list of virtues (next slide) in the middle column. Look up what they mean and decide on a vice of deficiency and a vice of excess for each.

30 Aristotle’s list of virtues
Courage Temperance = moderation eg in drinking Honesty Magnificence = choosing the best, in an appropriate way eg for your income and status Ambition Anger = right anger on the right issue with the right person eg injustice Magnanimity = large-mindedness, eg mercy to foes Wittiness Generosity Friendliness Modesty Patience

31 Key question: Would our list be the same?
Do any of Aristotle’s virtues surprise you? What does this list suggest about the relative nature of Virtue Ethics? Should courage really be a moral virtue?

32 Should courage be a moral virtue?
A recent programme on Kamikaze pilots suggest that courage shouldn’t be a moral virtue because you can have evil courage (as a suicide bomber). Similarly, temperance, modesty, ambition and magnificence might be termed “non-moral virtues”. So how might we define a moral virtue?

33 Three weaknesses of virtue ethics
Culturally captive The virtues reflect middle class Greek values. “Ethics appeals to the respectable middle-aged..and has been used to suppress the enthusiasm and ardour of the young”. Bertrand Russell

34 Three weaknesses contd
Aristotle’s virtues cannot explain weakness of will. Experiments like the Milgram experiment show that, under pressure, individuals behave in very unvirtuous ways (such as delivering deadly electric shocks).

35 Three weaknesses contd.
Virtues cannot be separated from ends and consequences. You can be a courageous Nazi, or a loyal Nazi, but if the end is evil then the virtue itself becomes evil.

36 Three strengths In stressing character and the end of the good life, virtue ethics goes behind the action and escapes the sterility of utilitarianism or Kantian ethics. Character lies behind action and so virtues are key in determining good actions.

37 Three strengths contd. Virtues have a social dimension.
The Greeks believed that it is impossible for the individual to flourish without the community. To the Greeks, friendship was a key virtue: they avoided the individualism inherent in (for example) utilitarianism.

38 Three strengths contd. Virtue ethics sees eudaimonia as the ultimate telos or end. Eudaimonia means flourishing, and is a much richer idea than happiness or pleasure. It is something you grow into over your life as you exercise the skill of phronesis (practical wisdom).

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