Nicomachean Ethics on Moral Virtue Aristotle believes that virtue, or excellence, can be distinguished into two different types. One being intellectual virtue, and the other being moral virtue. Aristotle encompasses intellectual virtue as being philosophical wisdom, understanding and practical wisdom. He considers moral virtue to be of liberality and temperance. Aristotle distinguishes between the two types using his previous argument about the irrational element. Aristotle shows that the irrational element is comprised of a vegetative element as well as a desiring element, while the rational is separate from the vegetative.
The point that Aristotle makes is that the irrational can be composed of subdivisions and each could have an impact on the other. The same idea is carried into his argument about virtue being distinguished into two types. Intellectual virtue comes from a sense, logical reasoning, or rational thought. The ability to understand and act in accordance with that which is held to be virtuous. Aristotle defines the split between intellectual and moral virtue in its perception of how it is obtained. Intellectual virtue is obtained through teaching requiring time and experience.
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This goes hand in hand with his definition for logical reasoning and rational thought. How can one distinguish between that which is considered virtuous? Since it is the person who must decide what is virtuous and that which is not, they must rely on life teachings to understand the difference. Aristotle claims moral virtue becomes a result of habit. Aristotle relates moral virtue with nature. Nature has a certain course of action, which must be followed. Anything contradicting the course of nature would be classified as non-uniform. Using the examples of throwing a ball.
Its natural state is to come down and no matter how much you throw the ball up, it will never go against its nature to come down. Moral virtue arises in us from nature, it does not need to be taught externally, it is born with us, and it is through habit that we are able to perfect our moral virtue. Moral virtue becomes a trait that is acquired through activity. In practice it becomes perfect, and by nature we are all accessible to it. Aristotle uses the analogy of builders having to build to become good builders. The same concept applies to the development of moral virtue. Moral virtue can then be stated to apply through action.
It is action, which will then define how well we display levels of moral virtue. Aristotle uses this point to lead way into his next argument about the development of states of character. As stated earlier, moral virtue is a way of nature. Nature implies that actions must be of a certain kind or characteristic. In application to the states of character, Aristotle claims that it is the differences, which define the states of character. Therefore measurement of a person’s state of character lies on the ability to see the differences between a person’s action and how far that action is from a natural course of action.
The natural course of action becomes the next argument, for how does one measure the natural state of character or the norm? Aristotle begins by tackling this argument by defining what is considered not the normal. With this Aristotle gives rise to moral vices. Moral vices become defined as the extremes of moral action. In order to re-enforce this Aristotle uses examples of health and eating. If a person is hungry, they can choose how much to eat, but what is considered a healthy amount to eat? There are now two extremes present, to eat nothing, or to overeat.
In the case of eating nothing this would constitute as bad for the health, for there are no nutrients to fuel the body. Conversely in the argument, if one were to eat too much, this may lead to obesity which then gives high rise to a greater number of cardiovascular issues leading to a downfall in health. The point of this argument is to define that there are extremes and that these extremes can have adverse affects toward the goal in question. Vices therefore have adverse affects towards goals. In order to build up moral virtue they must not follow vices.
Aristotle points out that it becomes the mean, which becomes that which one should follow. Relating back to moral virtues being that of habit, it can be said that as actions are carried out, character is being built based on these actions. As character builds, they become more and more likely to do the same actions over and over, because it is defined in that characteristic state. For example if I were to run 2 miles every single day, for the first few days I would feel sore and unacquainted with running, but as time goes on, my muscles will naturally become adapt to the running environment, and will not cause me much pain.
However if I were to stop running all in all after months of habitually running then I would begin to find myself feeling out of shape and un-fit and my muscles would once again to begin to adapt to my laziness. In order to build character, one must stay away from vices, and stick to preservation of the mean, and during this process, they must stay with the mean, and not deviate, for its these deviations away from the mean, in which a character would begin to follow a building of unmoral virtue. Therefore it is the mean action that will define what constitutes as a moral virtuous action.
Aristotle begins to further his argument over moral virtue by explaining virtue in terms of actions. Though there has to be some underlying constitution, which states that these actions are of valid in terms of building moral virtue. Aristotle claims that a person who lacks virtue may perform a virtuous action. Their actions will hold no sustenance if they do not comply with the three things which Aristotle points out must be held true in order to perform a virtuous action. A virtuous action consists of three things: they must have knowledge, choice of the action, and must do so from an unchangeable character.
Actions, which will arise from a person who follows these, are indicative of a person who is in character and have developed a state of character. In order to differentiate between a person who is virtuous and a person is non-virtuous, they must meet the criteria above. For an action is simply an action, and it may be a good action, however if the person does not know what they are doing, and it does not follow in a state of accordance with their character then that person is not doing the virtuous action for the sake of being virtuous.
A person who does a virtuous action will perform actions that they view as being virtuous and having knowledge of the actions themselves as being virtuous and it is because that person is doing this action in character that they are virtuous. They have habitually grown into a virtuous character because their state of character had already been previously built from previous virtuous actions. Aristotle’s arguments over the debate of virtue is that it becomes a slight paradox.
For a character to become virtuous they must first perform virtuous actions. The paradox comes in that if a character were to become virtuous, that means that they are starting from a state of un-virtue. If this is the case, then it would contradict Aristotle’s third point of performing a virtuous action. Virtuous action being built upon a character that is un-virtuous would therefore contradict the third requirement for an action to virtuous. The third requirement being that it must come from a firm and unchangeable character.
If a character is unchangeable then the question remains, how does a person become virtuous? For now it can be agreed upon that it is over the course of time and nature that a person is virtuous, they must perfect it through habit, and doing what is virtuous. In other words, if a person so desires to be virtuous they must habitually work towards performing virtuous actions. Therefore a state of character can be changed as time progresses based on actions that are performed.