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Aristotle and Virtue Ethics. Everything aims at some end—has some purpose Ethics requires that we discover what the purpose or end of human life is. There are lots of things that people pursue, but most of these are pursued for the sake of something else.
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Everything aims at some end—has some purpose • Ethics requires that we discover what the purpose or end of human life is.
There are lots of things that people pursue, but most of these are pursued for the sake of something else. • We need to discover the ultimate goal or end of human life. • Ethics then will tell us how best to achieve this ultimate end.
Everyone admits what the goal is: Happiness. Happiness is pursued for its own sake, not just for the sake of something else • But what is happiness? • Some say its honor,others pleasure, others money
Why pleasure is not happiness • Whatever the human good is, it should capture what is distinctive about human beings • But pleasure is shared with other animals • Therefore, pleasure is not the human good (it is “too brutish”)
Honor is not happiness • Honor is dependent on what others think of us. It is thus too superficial. • People pursue honors to reassure themselves that they are good—so honor is not pursued for its own sake. • Wealth also is not happiness for the same reason—we pursue wealth for the sake of something else
Do human beings have a function? Aristotle argues by analogy: We allow that professions have functions (coblers, blacksmiths etc) and also that parts of the human body have a function (eyes, heart, ears etc) So if human beings are like these things, we should assume that human beings also have a function
What is our function? • The function of a human being should be something particular to human beings. • It cannot be just life, because all other living things have that. It cannot be sensation, because that it shared by animals • It must be reason, because the ability to reason distinguishes human beings from other things.
Two senses of rationality • (1) rationality is a state or disposition. • Rationality as an activity • Activities are superior to the power to engage in them One can perform their rational function well, or not so so well. To perform something well is to be virtuous
Therefore, Happiness is an activity of the soul in accord with the soul’s proper excellence or virtue. • But we need to include other things. You cannot be happy while being poor, or if you suffer greatly in life. • But Aristotle insists the virtuous person will be best able to deal with adversity.
Two kinds of virtue • Intellectual virtue: the virtue of knowledge or understandig • Practical virtue: the virtue of action and feeling. Intellectual virtue is had by the philosopher, who lives a life of contemplation
Practical virtue • Virtues are not innate. They are habits • To become courageous, one must act as a courageous person does—this will help one develop the habit of being courageous
Virtue is a mean • It is the extremes that damage people. A person who eats too much or eats to little will not be healthy. • Similiarly for the soul, a person who acts in an extreme manner will not be virtuous
Examples • Courage is the mean between recklessness and cowardice • Self-control is the mean between self-indulgence and being “insensible” • Generosity is the mean between extravagance and stinginess • Wittiness is the mean between bufoonery and boorishnes. (see table p. 48)
The mean is relative to us • The mean is not the same for everyone. • Some people get drunk on two beers, for others two beers would be the mean • For some people going into a burning building would be reckless, for others it would be courageous. • The mean is the appropriate way of acting given our individual nature and situation