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Phi 180 Sec. 80
Exam #1 Aristotle
March 12, 2009
According to Aristotle, all of our actions and choices seem to be aimed at end, which we consider good. Most activities are a means to a higher end. However, there is a different in the end at which we aim. In some cases, the action, the good we pursue is the end (e.g. singing), in others, the end is the product beyond the action (e.g. getting a good grade on an exam after studying for weeks). While there are many goods that we pursue, some goods are pursued for their own sake (e.g. security), others are pursued for the sake of something else (e.g. money). If money is pursued for the sake of security, then security is a higher good than money. While everything we do is aimed at achieving good in itself; however, they can be done in a way that compromises the accomplishment of the highest human good. There is only one good that Aristotle claims can be pursued solely for itself and not for the gain of anything else. That ultimate good, is eudaimonia (happiness).
Everyone agrees that the highest human good is happiness; however, human's can not agree upon what exactly makes up happiness. Most find pleasure, honor, and wealth as the means of happiness, which Aristotle rejects: for happiness can not be achieved with any of this, even though they can be part of having a happy life. Common people equivalent happiness with sensual pleasure and are satisfied with a life of enjoyment. Pleasure is found in satisfying desires, however we can never satisfy our desires, since they are never up to us (e.g. a drug addict can never satisfy their drug craving, they are always seeking that ultimate high). If human happiness were nothing more than pleasure, then the attainment of the highest human happiness wouldn't be up to us, we would all be in prisoners of our desires. However that isn't enough: for human life has a higher purpose/end. Cultivated people view receiving honor as the greatest good, but clearly this is too superficial as the answer to true happiness, since honor depends on those who bestow it rather than those that receive it. It can be easily taken away as it is give. The good should be a man's possession, which can not be easily taken away. "Furthermore, men seem to be pursuing honor to assure themselves of their own worth...they want to be honored on the basis of their own virtue or excellence. Obviously, then, excellence, as far as they are concerned, is better than honor" (1095b25). If excellence then is better than honor, nobody can call the life of such a man happy, because when we aim at happiness, we do so for its own sake not because happiness helps us realize another end. Arostle tries to determine how best one can achieve true happiness; however this is not precise since a lot of things depend on various circumstances. As for people ruled by money, wealth is merely a means to their ultimate end...it is not sought for itself but for what it can be used to achieve.
Aristotle stated that we see the good of something in relation to how well they fulfill their function. For instance, a person who plays the flute well is a good flutist. Playing the flute is the flutist's function, being that this is their distinctive function. Aristotle believes that human beings have three parts to their psychologies, which he calls the three souls: the rational soul, which thinks, and forms belief; the animal soul, which is conscious and feels desires and emotions; the vegetative soul that is unconscious and control involuntary functions. When the rational soul is doing its job well, it attains wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. The habits of thought and intellectual skills that help it to do this job are called intellectual virtues. These are the virtues that are acquired through the kind of training one receives in school. But someone can have great book smarts and still be very irrational in how they conduct their lives, they can be led by irrational desires, and uncontrolled emotions. Their animal soul is not subject to the guidance of reason; such a person will lack what Aristotle calls moral virtue. For every emotion, every desire or appetite, every behavioral disposition, there is a corresponding moral virtue, as well as moral vices, which are states of character. According to Aristotle, emotions and desires have purposes with respect to the whole person, but they fulfill these purposes only if they are felt at the right time, in the right way, to the right degree. The way you feel and respond to life situations is your character. This “right amount” of an emotion or desire is said to be the magnanimity between the extremes of excess and deficiency. Thus, for every feeling you have, you can be virtuous (if your character is such that you feel it in the appropriate way), or you can exhibit the vice of excess (too much of the feeling) or the vice of deficiency (too little). With respect to fear, there is the vice of being extremely rash (excess), the vice of cowardly (deficiency) and the virtue of being brave.
There is also a golden mean with respect to the disposition to perform certain kinds of actions. A generous person has the virtue of being disposed to give away money in a fitting way (neither too much nor too little). Our rational soul, when it is operating effectively, can tell us through experience what is fitting, but until our feeling and dispositions are aligned with what reason determine, we are not excellently rational. So how can one achieve this, Aristotle stated that our state of character are cultivated through like activities, our feelings and behaviors are habits. “Moral virtue, is formed by habits...none of the moral virtue is implanted in us by nature" (1102b15). If we continuously lie in a given situation, we'll develop a habit of lying in that same situation; however, if we are honest in the situation, we will develop the habit of being honest when that situation arises. Hence, if one wants to develop a virtuous state of character, it can be accomplished through repeatedly acting in the corresponding ways until it is incorporated in one's self: for virtues are really nothing more than good habits we develop.
Justice in a sense encompasses all the other virtues, since being just consists of exhibiting virtue generally. In human affairs, there are two primary forms of justice: distributive and rectificatory. Distributive justice deals with the distribution of wealth or honors among a group of people and should be given according to merit. Rectificatory justice deals with exchanges between two or more people and should always aim at restoring a sense of balance and equality between the people concerned. It is impossible to treat oneself unjustly or to suffer injustice willingly. While the laws are a good guideline, they do not cover every particular case, because not all laws are just. On occasion, agreed-upon equity must settle cases that the laws do not. While the moral virtues dispose us to behave in the correct manner, it is necessary also to have the right intellectual virtues in order to reason properly about how to behave. There are five intellectual virtues; three of them consist of contemplated reasoning (intuition, scientific knowledge, and wisdom). Intuition helps us to grasp first principles from which we derive scientific truths, scientific knowledge arrives at eternal truths by means of deduction or induction, and wisdom is a combination of scientific knowledge and intuition, which helps us arrive at the highest truths of all. The other two consist of calculative reasoning (technical skills and prudence), the intellectual virtues help us to know what is just and admirable, and the moral virtues help us to do just and admirable deeds. Intellectual virtues lead to happiness, and so are ends in themselves. They also help us determine the best means to the ends at which the moral virtues told us to aim. Without prudence and ingenuity, a well-disposed person can never be truly virtuous, because these intellectual virtues help us grasp the right principles of action. No one knowingly does wrong, any wrongdoing results from ignorance of one kind or another.
The goal of moral education, then, is to ensure that everyone knows what is good and why it is good so that no one will be susceptible to the sorts of ignorance that lead to wrongdoing. Aristotle identifies three major sources of wrongdoing: vice, incontinence, and brutishness. Vice is the opposite of virtue. Like virtue, it is developed from a young age through habit and practice. Also like virtue, vice is a disposition to behave in a certain way. A person with the virtue of temperance is disposed to behave temperately and will think of temperance as the correct form of behavior. By contrast, a person with the vice of licentiousness is deposed to behave licentiously, and will think of this licentiousness as the correct form of behavior. Vice is therefore the worst of the three sources of wrongdoing, since a person who acts out of vice acts voluntarily and deliberately: having thought about a particular act, this person has decided that it is the right thing to do. Incontinence is a peculiar form of badness. Unlike vice, incontinence does not involve willing bad behavior. Rather, it consists of knowing what is good but lacking the self-control to do well. Incontinence is not as bad as vice, since it is partially involuntary. Brutishness is an extreme form of irrational wrongdoing. A brute lacks the capacity for rational thought altogether and so has no sense of what is right or wrong.
Friendship is very necessary in having a happy life; however, people disagree on its precise nature. Friendship consists of a mutual feeling of goodwill between two people. Aristotle stated that there are three types of friendship: friendship based on utility, where both parties gain from each other, friendship based on pleasure, where both parties a drawn the each others pleasurable attributes and friendship based on goodness of character, where both parties admire the other's goodness and help one another achieve goodness. The first two kinds of friendship are based on superficial qualities, so these sorts of friendship are not generally long lasting. Friendship based on goodness of character is the best kind of friendship, because these friends love one another for who they are and not for what they stand to gain from one another. Friendship generally exists between equals, though there are cases, like the ruler-subject relationship, which rely on unequal exchanges. When there is too great a gap between people, friendship is difficult, and often friends will grow apart if one becomes far more virtuous than the other. Most humans usually prefer to be loved than loving, since their desire a stroke of their ego. True friendship though consists of giving love rather than receiving it. Friendship prolongs and strengthens when both friends love each other according to the worth.
Political institutions rely on friendly feelings within their community, so friendship and justice are closely connected. Since justice, friendship, and community are closely connected, it is greater to abuse a close friend or family than to abuse a stranger. There are three forms of constitution based on different kinds of relationships, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Of the three, monarchy is preferable to aristocracy or democracy. Our feelings for our friends should reflect our feelings for ourselves. Self-love is more important than friendship, since only people who treat themselves with appropriate care and respect can achieve proper virtue and happiness. “Between friends there is no need for justice, but people who are just still need the quality of friendship; and indeed friendliness is considered to be justice in the fullest sense. It is not only a necessary thing but a splendid one.” (1160a 10).Though a happy person is ideally self-sufficient; however, friendship is one of the greatest goods in life, so a good person cannot achieve perfect happiness without friends.
Pleasure accompanies and perfects our activities. A good person will feel pleasure in doing good things. The highest good of all is rational contemplation. A life that consists exclusively of contemplation is obviously impossible, but we should aim to approximate this ideal as closely as possible. The practical sciences, then, help us find the right path toward this highest good and help us deal with the practical matters of everyday life that inevitably occupy a great deal of our time and attention. Contemplation is both the highest form of activity (since the intellect is the highest thing in us, and the objects that it apprehends are the highest things that can be known), and also it is the most continuous, because we are more capable of continuous contemplation than we are of any practical activity (1178b25). Words alone cannot convince people to be good: this requires practice and habituation, and can take form in a person of good character.
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