Source Material www.mnstate.edu/.../AristotleVirtueAsMean.htm Aristotle virtue as the mean
Aristotle384-322 BCE Aristotle was the prized student of Socrates and his works are considered valuable by many philosophers.
Some philosophers think a study of philosophy is incomplete without the works of Aristotle and that his contribution is huge and some of his views need to be studied today by the students of philosophical ethics.
Aristotle's theory of a good life is based on certain actions and virtues which fall in the realm of philosophical ethics. One should possess all moral and intellectual virtues in order to qualify as someone with a good life. Moral virtues to him were prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. All these virtues are based on reason and it was the Aristotelian view that reason and logic should be given precedence over passion.
Intellectual virtues are based on pure theoretical contemplation and they arise from logic and a Stoic philosophy. Virtuous people do not act purely on impulse or passion but should think carefully before acting.
Every activity has a final cause, the good at which it aims, and Aristotle argued that since there cannot be an infinite extrinsic good, there must be a highest good at which all human activity ultimately aims. (Nic. Ethics I 2) The end of human life is the ultimate good called happiness (or living well) but what is it and how is it attained?
According to Aristotle, things have a natural form and function or purpose that they are properly used to perform. The “good” for human beings: Necessarily and essentially involve the entire proper function of human life as a whole, and this must be an activity of the soul that expresses genuine virtue or excellence. (Nic. Ethics I 7)
Human beings should aim at a life in full conformity with their rational natures, not the satisfaction of desires and the acquisition of material goods are less important than the achievement of virtues. A happy person will exhibit a personality appropriately balanced between reasons and desires, with moderation.In this sense, "virtue is its own reward." True happiness can therefore be attained only through the cultivation of the virtues that make a human life complete.
Justice: One of four pivotal virtues The term justice can apply both to a general disposition in a person as well as to questions concerning exchanges and illegal infractions. Justice is a distinct kind of virtue because it encompasses all the other virtues and because it treats the interactions between people rather than just the dispositions of an individual person. Disposition is a virtuous way of thinking and virtuous activity is the good life…happiness
The Greek word generally translated as “happiness” is eudaimonia, and it can equally be rendered as “success” or “flourishing.” People who are eudaimon are not in a particular emotional state so much as they are living successfully. While happiness is the activity of living well, virtue represents the potential to live well. Excelling in all the moral virtues is fine and good, but it doesn’t ensure our happiness unless we exercise those virtues. Courageous people who never test their courage by facing down fear have virtue, but they are not happy.
Aristotle illustrates this distinction between happiness and virtue by saying that the best athletes only win at the Olympic Games if they compete. A virtuous person who does not exercise virtue is like an athlete who sits on the sideline and watches. Aristotle has a proactive conception of the good life: happiness waits only for those who go out and seize it.
Justice continued Distributive justice deals with the distribution of goods among members of a community. Distributive justice accords goods and honor proportionately, giving most to those who deserve most. Rectificatory justice deals with unjust gains or losses between two people, through trade, theft, or assault. Rectificatory justice aims to restore imbalances. Make things fair, not necessarily equal. While laws are a good guideline, they do not cover every particular case. On occasion, agreed-upon equity must settle cases that the laws do not.
Temperance: One of four pivotal virtues Temperanceis control over excess, so that it has many such classes, such as abstinence, chastity, modesty, humility, prudence, self-regulation, and forgiveness and mercy; each of these involves restraining some impulse, such as sexual desire, vanity, or anger.
Courage(bravery, fortitude, or intrepidity) is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk, uncertainty. "Physical courage" is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, death, or threat of death, while "moral courage" is the ability to act rightly in the face of opposition, shame, or discouragement.
Prudenceis the ability to judge between virtuous and vicious actions, not only in a general sense, but with regard to appropriate actions at a given time and place. Although prudence itself does not perform any actions, and is concerned solely with knowledge, all virtues had to be regulated by it. Distinguishing when acts are courageous (based in contemplation), as opposed to reckless (impulsive) or cowardly (forced), for instance, is an act of prudence, and for this reason it is classified as a cardinal (pivotal) virtue.
The Mean True happiness is the result of good conduct which arises from habits that are acquired by repeated action and correction of those habits. Ethics becomes habituated as an everyday discipline. According to Aristotle, the virtuous habit of action is always an intermediate state between the opposed vices of excess and deficiency: too much and too little are always wrong; the right kind of action always lies in the mean and the courageous person has the balance. (Nic. Ethics II 6)
Genuine happiness lies in habituated action that leads to virtue, since this alone provides a state of being and not just occasional “good” acts or virtuous thinking.
Analysis and Evaluation In intellectual activity, human beings most nearly approach divine blessedness, while realizing all of the genuine human virtues as well. Contemplation develops the virtuous soul, and leads to virtuous behavior.
Analysis and Evaluation What is “good” for an oak is determined by the kind of thing that an oak is by nature and what is “good” for a dog is determined by the kind of thing that a dog is by nature and what is “good” for a human depends on what is determined by the kind of thing a human is by nature.
Analysis and Evaluation The philosophical question is: who “determines” the definition of nature? A carpenter thinks/images/defines an oak as the “necessary” for furniture A person needing heat thinks/images/defines an oak as the “necessary” warmth An ecologist thinks/images/defines an oak as a source of the life process
Analysis and Evaluation Aristotle's ethics is an ethics built on naturalism and self-realization and condoned natural slavery. Aristotle's theory of slavery is found in Book I, Chapters iii through vii of the Politics. and in Book VII of the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle raises the question of whether slavery is natural or conventional. He asserts that the former is the case. Aristotle's theory of slavery holds that some people are naturally slaves and others are naturally masters.
Analysis and Evaluation Thus Aristotle says: But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.
This suggests that anyone who is ruled must (by nature) be a slave. Still, given that this is so he states what characteristics a natural slave must have -- so that he/she can be recognized as such a being. Those whose nature is marked for subjugation, and for rule?
Analysis and Evaluation This is where the concept of "barbarian" shows up in Aristotle's account. Aristotle says: But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female….So men rule naturally over women, and Greeks over barbarians!
Analysis and Evaluation The theory is that natural slaves should have powerful bodies but be unable to rule themselves. Thus, they become very much like beasts of burden, except that unlike these beasts human slaves recognize that they need to be ruled. Aristotle realizes there is a problem with nature and states that the right kind of souls and bodies do not always go together! One could have the soul of a slave and the body of a freeman, and vice versa!
Analysis and Evaluation Some in whom the body and soul are appropriate to natural slavery, that is a strong body and a weak soul. Aristotle holds that there are people who should naturally be slaves. It also seems that men naturally rule women and that barbarians are naturally more servile than Greeks.
Yin and Yanganother philosophy Yin and Yang is one of the most fundamental concepts in Traditional Chinese Medicine, as it is the foundation of diagnosis and treatment. The earliest reference to Yin and Yang is in the IChing(Book of Changes) in approximately in 700 BC. In this work, all phenomena are said to be reduced to yin yang. The yin yang meaning and symbol date back to ancient China and represent the belief that everything in the universe consists of two forces that are opposing but complementary.
According to Ying Yang philosophy the universe, and everything in it, is both constant and cyclical. One force dominates and then it is replaced by the opposing force. This activity continues constantly and repeats itself over time. Examples illustrating the philosophy of yin yang include:
Four main aspects of yin yang Yin-Yang are oppositesThey are either on the opposite ends of a cycle, like the seasons of the year, or, opposites on a continuum of energy or matter. This opposition is relative, and can only be spoken of in relationships. For example: Water is Yin relative to steam but Yang relative to ice. Yin and Yang are never static but in a constantly changing balance.
Interdependent: Can not exist without each otherThe Tai Ji (Supreme Ultimate) diagram shows the relationship of Yin & Yang and illustrates interdependence on Yin & Yang. Nothing is totally Yin or totally Yang. Just as a state of total Yin is reached, Yang begins to grow. Yin contains seed of Yang and vise versa. They constantly transform into each other. For Example: no energy without matter, no day without night.The classics state: "Yin creates Yang and Yang activates Yin".
Mutual consumption of Yin and YangRelative levels of Yin Yang are continuously changing. Normally this is a harmonious change, but when Yin or Yang are out of balance they affect each other, and too much of one can eventually weaken (consume) the other.Four (4) possible states of imbalance: Preponderance (Excess) of Yin Preponderance (Excess) of Yang Weakness (Deficiency) of Yin Weakness (Deficiency) of Yang
. Inter-transformation of Yin and Yang.One can change into the other, but it is not a random event, happening only when the time is right. For example: Spring only comes when winter is finished.
The symbol of the yin yang consists of a circle equally divided into black and white sections by a reverse S-like shape. Within the black section is a small circle of white. Within the white section is a small circle of black. Each of the individual aspects of the yin yang symbol has a significant meaning, as does the entire yin yang.
The outer circle represents "everything" The black and white shapes within the circle represent the interaction of two energies, called "yin“ (black) and "yang" (white), which cause everything to happen. The white spot in the black swirl and the black spot in the white swirl symbolize that all things in life are not completely black or white. Like all opposing forces, they cannot exist without each other.
The Tiger and Dragon: Celestial Companions Infusing these celestial creatures into the traditional Yin Yang serves to articulate some of the basic meanings expressed in the T'ai Chi. The tiger and dragon are extraordinarily complimentary companions according to Chinese astrology. These celestial creatures are fairly opposite in character with the dragon boldly leading the offensive charge and the tiger expressing a more defensive nature. However, they make a well-rounded whole when they come together. To better understand this concept, it's important to consider their characteristics separately before bringing them together.
Discussion Questions Is the nature of something determined by form and/or function? Is a person’s mean relative to their positional needs? Is it a matter of choice or determination? Is Aristotle’s Ethics positional, i.e., determined by his time, place, culture, religion, need, sexual orientation, socio-economics, gender, natural pattern? What aspects of Aristotle’s theory do you accept and what don’t you accept.