Aristotle asks good human beings to be self-lovers, devoting special attention to virtue’s most fundamental groundwork. With all individual actions, it is the intellect which must determine the course of proper morality and strength of character; the path of right action elucidated in Nicomachean Ethics thus grounds itself in that personal aim for moral excellence. Given that the basic esteem one has for oneself inevitably precludes any concern for another, ideal friendship (friendship in its most perfect form) exhibits the larger activation of self-love’s most notable qualities. Friendship on these grounds then provides a fine arena for just action and good works. Aristotle’s analysis of this seemingly ill-united pair – the love for the self and the love for another – rather substantiates the intrinsic alliance of these two functions, posing further the impossibility of extrapolating friendship from self-love or self-love from friendship. Through an extensive survey of self-love’s capacity to cultivate a just civilization, Aristotle discloses the fundamentally private origin of civil justice and social concern.In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that “friends enhance our ability to think and to act” (Book VIII, 1155a). As friends provide a motivation and a receiving end for good works, they are, in this sense, “indispensable for life” (VIII, 1155a). Yet, although Aristotle claims friendship to be ideal for the practice of habitual virtue, the allure of comradeship inevitably beckons the wicked along with the good. Aristotle in turn prescribes neither friendship nor self-love for the wicked individual, lest that degenerate should use friends merely to escape the burden of his own corruption – an act that would threaten to “harm both himself and his neighbors in following his base emotions” (IX, 1169a). Ethics therefore puts forth that only the good man deserves the guidance of self-love, for only he deliberates respectably (with rightly-ordered desires) and discerns his environment through the scope of his own intelligence – a being’s most sovereign faculty. A wicked man’s unbridled self-love readily becomes clout, fueling his depravity and jeopardizing civil society’s moral stature in one fell swoop.According to Aristotelian ethics, although self-love and love for another complement each other in making a habit of virtue, self-love must be of primary concern in light of its expansive benefits. In section four of Book IX, Aristotle dictates self-love to be “the basis of friendship” (1166a), and expands on this in section eight, stating that “all friendly feelings toward others are an extension of the friendly feelings one has for oneself” (1168b). In this way, friendship and self-love are complementary though not equivalent; perfect friendship must expand upon and realize the incomparable friendliness that an individual feels toward himself. Aristotle designates the self-love of the virtuous person as one quintessential departure point for any society that seeks to be just. The good man operates from such a mold of customary concern and care for the soul – it is within the workings of this solitary yet amiable fellow that Aristotle finds the seed from which perfect friendships, and thus, a justly-ordered society, can be borne.While it is of concern that Aristotle’s virtuous self-lovers might dwarf in the shadows of society’s loftier figures – the spontaneously just, the noble in virtue, the perfect friends with their binary selflessness – what must be retained is self-love’s enduring indispensability despite its lack of broad, public recognition. Intent love of oneself, Aristotle supposes, is the veritable lifeblood for a just individual. In other words, the best way to learn to want good for another person – and for their own sake – is to consider the rational measures taken in an individual setting to cultivate one’s own goodness. However, while Aristotle emphasizes the positive nature of friendship and other grand-scale expressions of the noble at heart, he favors still the individual pursuit of excellence and virtuous self-love above all. Such “activities of the soul” in the private domain, albeit contained and secluded from the public forum, surpass (in their greatness) the reach of common social goings-on and most powerfully affect all planes of life. Closing section eight of Book IX, Aristotle concludes that “in everything praiseworthy a man of high moral standards assigns himself the larger share of what is noble” (1168b), and so grants the individual permission to act out of self-interest at times, assumedly in instances where the priority of personal well-being must be recaptured. Aristotle recognizes the ways in which individual actions affect the good of all; all society’s needs could only be met if each person’s deliberation was guided by intellect and the goal of far-reaching happiness.In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle enumerates the ways in which virtuous action and characteristic morality provide the means for achieving life’s ultimate goal. As happiness proves to be this good at which all earthly things aim, Aristotle devotes Books VIII and IX to the ways in which self-love makes up the foremost ingredient for fostering virtuosity and grasping true happiness. Importantly, Aristotle emphasizes humanity’s disposition toward friendship of all sorts, due to what he supposed is the natural interconnectedness in our physical existence. However, humanity’s greater task is to acquire friends for reasons higher than pleasure or utility, recognizing that the practice of willing good for another, for the sake of the other, embodies the greatest virtuous opportunity. Each participant of a perfect friendship enters that arena with the footing of self-love; as such, it is only through the self-love of a virtuous man that widespread good works can prevail.
For Aristotle, the doctrine of the mean is a moral frame of reference by which each manÃ¢ÂÂs character can be better understood. When applied to specific virtues such as courage, it illuminates what Aristotle believes to be the complex relationship among the agent of virtue, his judgment, and his character. However, the worth of the theory of the mean is its recognition of manÃ¢ÂÂs moral autonomy, an independence that is made necessary by the incomplete and inconclusive nature of AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs doctrine.AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs account of virtue in the Ethics is given structure through its organizing principle, the doctrine of the mean. He first develops virtue as a mean through the analogy of art. He writes, Ã¢ÂÂA master of any art avoids excess and defect, but seeks the intermediate and chooses this Ã¢Â” the intermediate not in the object but relatively to usÃ¢Â? (1106b5). Thus, the standard by which every art does its work well and by which the good artist is judged is by looking toward the intermediate. For Aristotle, virtue is Ã¢ÂÂmore exact and better than any art.Ã¢Â? Thus, as an art, virtue too Ã¢ÂÂmust have the quality of aiming at the intermediateÃ¢Â? (1106b10). He states that he is here concerned with Ã¢ÂÂmoral virtue,Ã¢Â? the body of virtue that encompasses passions and actions and their inherent excesses, deficiencies, and intermediates. What is this intermediacy at which the master artist of the good life aims? Aristotle writes that what is intermediate is to feel the right pleasures and pains Ã¢ÂÂat the right times, with the right motive, and in the right way;Ã¢Â? and this applies Ã¢ÂÂsimilarly with regard to actionsÃ¢Â? (1106b20). Thus, we find that there are four components of mean within each mean of virtue itself: the mean with respect to emotions, pleasures and pains, attitude and intention, and action. Both excess and deficiency in any of these components of mean are forms of failure, but the intermediate is a form of success at which virtue aims. Finally, from this Aristotle concludes that it is possible to fail in many ways, but to succeed is possible in only one way.Aristotle summarizes this account of virtue as a mean and introduces the secondary element of choice at 1107a: Ã¢ÂÂVirtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean . . . relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.Ã¢Â? Furthermore, virtue is a mean between two vices, one which falls short of and one which exceeds what is right in passions and actions. How is the doctrine of the mean developed for the specific virtue of courage? Aristotle begins by characterizing courage as a mean through an evaluation beginning at 3.6, using as measuring rods the elements of fear and confidence. He first asks, What do men fear? Because he defines fear as Ã¢ÂÂexpectation of evil,Ã¢Â? he concludes that the things that are feared are Ã¢ÂÂterrible things,Ã¢Â? Ã¢ÂÂevilsÃ¢Â? such as disgrace, poverty, and disease (1115a10). Yet there is a distinction among men as regards fear. The brave man fears only what is right and noble to fear, and would be base if he did not fear them. The brave man fears the greatest thing, death, in the noblest circumstances of danger: he is Ã¢ÂÂbrave who is fearless in face of a noble deathÃ¢Â? (1115a30). All terrible things are not terrible to the same magnitude and degree; some are terrible beyond human strength. Though the brave man fears even things that are within human strength, Ã¢ÂÂhe will face them as he ought and as the rule directs, for honorÃ¢ÂÂs sake; for this is the end of virtueÃ¢Â? (1115a30). Not only are the objects of fear characterized by variation, but fear, as an emotion, is also subject to degrees and variance: one can fear more or less. The courageous man faces and fears the right things and from the right motive, in the right way and at the right time. He feels and acts according to the merits of each case as the rule directs Ã¢Â” thus achieving the mean in action, emotion, and intention Ã¢Â” with the end or goal of conformity to the state of the courageous character. Because courage is noble and each thing is defined by its end, the end of courage is noble. Thus, the Ã¢ÂÂbrave man endures and acts as courage directsÃ¢Â? for a noble end (1115b20).Aristotle analyzes the state of courage and its opposite states through a dissection of the magnitudes of fear and confidence. Aristotle calls he who exceeds in fearlessness Ã¢ÂÂinsensible,Ã¢Â? and he who exceeds in confidence Ã¢ÂÂrashÃ¢Â? (1115b25). The rash man is a pretender to and imitator of courage: Ã¢ÂÂas the brave man is with regard to what is terrible, so the rash man wishes to appearÃ¢Â? (1115b30). In his analysis, Aristotle overlaps the genres of rashness and cowardliness by claiming that the rash man acts in both ways: by nature rash, the rash man does not persevere against what is truly terrible, showing himself cowardly as well. It seems, then, that the rash man diverges from the mean of courage in both directions, though foremost characterized by his excess of confidence. Contrarily, the coward exceeds in fear, fearing both what he should and what he should not, and is deficient in confidence. In summary:The coward, the rash man, and the brave man, then, are concerned with the same objects but are differently opposed to them; for the first two exceed and fall short, while the third holds the middle, which is the right position. (1116a5)For Aristotle, courage is the mean with respect to the objects that inspire emotions of confidence or fear, choosing and enduring these objects because of the nobility or the baseness of doing so. Fear and confidence play the configuring roles around which the account of courage is articulated. They unite the four components of mean (emotion, pleasure/pain, intention, and action). Fear and confidence are the emotions that drive one to act and give the action its accompanying intention or attitude, and they arise through manÃ¢ÂÂs sensitivity to pleasure and pain Ã¢Â” the pleasure of doing ignoble deeds, and the pain involved in doing noble deeds. Aristotle writes, Ã¢ÂÂif virtues are concerned with actions and passions, and every passion and every action is accompanied by pleasure and pain, for this reason also virtue will be concerned with pleasures and painsÃ¢Â? (1104b15). Yet, paradoxically, although courage comes through facing what is painful, it has a pleasant and noble end that is concealed by the attending circumstances. This is central to the conflict within the courageous man: he must reconcile his feeling of fear (aversion to pain and desire for safety) and the uncertainty that lies in his feeling of confidence with the desire for good that is the end. Here there is a conflict between the external goal and the internal feelings attached. The courageous man assigns the correct value to these dangers, goods, and goals, and controls himself accordingly.AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs theory of the mean makes possible two models for identifying the mean. The first entails fixing the two extremes (state of excess and deficiency) in relation to each other, and consequently fixing the optimum mean in relation to these two points. The second model entails beginning with an independent optimum and identifying the two directions of extremity. With respect to courage, Aristotle proposes and takes the second approach by identifying the mean based on manÃ¢ÂÂs feelings of fear and confidence. His methodology is fear-centric. Aristotle first takes the things that are feared by men and identifies which are to be feared rightly and which are not to be feared. The brave man achieves the mean of courage by fearing what is to be feared, facing this if necessary, and, in addition, by facing what is not to be feared. After finding this mean, Aristotle characterizes the insensible, rash, and cowardly man by the magnitude and correctness of his fears and by his actions in enduring or abstaining from the objects of his fear.The doctrine of the mean, with its structural analysis of virtue and its opposition, raises the question as to who will be able to identify the mean. Is right judgment about right and wrong a necessary precursor to identifying the mean? Aristotle implies that it is. At 1143a20 he defines judgment as Ã¢ÂÂthe right discrimination of the equitable.Ã¢Â? Being a man of good and right judgment consists in Ã¢ÂÂbeing able to judge about the things with which practical wisdom is concernedÃ¢Â? (1143a30). Thus, right judgment reconciles the understanding and discrimination of the equitable with practical wisdom. Identification of a virtue, already defined as the Ã¢ÂÂmean determined by the rational principle by which a man of practical wisdom follows,Ã¢Â? requires right judgment on the part of the agent concerning what is right and wrong (1107a). To support this position, Aristotle distinguishes states of character that he considers false types of courage. Among these is the Ã¢ÂÂcourageÃ¢Â? of the citizen-soldier: because he is compelled to act as he does, he has no right judgment of his own about what is noble. The passionate person is also not truly courageous because he lacks the choice and motive that follow from correct judgment: he is like a wild beast, acting not for honorÃ¢ÂÂs sake but from the strength of his passions. Finally, the ignorant person acting bravely is excluded from having true courage: he is without awareness and self-reliance, and therefore is without right judgment. For Aristotle, judgment can be mistaken, but right judgment implies that one has judged correctly about right and wrong, and insomuch as the virtue of courage has as its end what is noble and right, right judgment predates the identification of the mean.The critical point to consider in concluding this is whether or not identification of the mean necessarily is followed by virtuous action. Do human beings sometimes err in acting virtuously even when they have knowledge of the virtuous mean state? Plato asserts that if the good is known, men will choose this good, because no one willingly chooses what is harmful. Aristotle echoes this position by claiming that Ã¢ÂÂevery action . . . aim[s] at some goodÃ¢Â? (1094a). Though action is connected to intention and emotion, each is given a separate and independent existence. By extension, is right judgment divorced from choice? For Aristotle, virtue is Ã¢ÂÂa state of character concerned with choice, lying in a meanÃ¢Â? (1107a). He asserts that right judgment cannot be severed from the choice that manifests itself in the correct and virtuous character, the one that is chosen for its intermediacy. Therefore, right judgment is a necessary condition for the agentÃ¢ÂÂs identification of the mean.AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs doctrine of the mean provides a moral framework that is not morally based but rather based on the elements of our functioning as humans Ã¢Â” emotion, action, intention, and pleasure and pain. However, this moral framework is foremost a technical description of the range of possibility within manÃ¢ÂÂs moral autonomy rather than a guide. He seems merely to make clearer what we should already know. In AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs grasp of the variable, he seems to have mastered the craft or art of virtue. Yet for the ordinary citizen or reader of the Ethics, Ã¢ÂÂmaking and acting are differentÃ¢Â? (1140a). Aristotle has painted for us the art of virtue: he derives the means of virtues by elucidation and description through identifying the emotions, attitudes, and intentions that accompany our actions. But he leaves the individual to act for himself in ways that are uncompelled, aware, autonomous, and free. How is man to acquire right judgment? How is he to discover the means and achieve them through his actions? To answer this, we must explore the notion of practical wisdom as it relates to AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs theory of the mean. He defines practical wisdom as Ã¢ÂÂthe true and reasoned state of capacity to act with regard to the things that are good or bad for man;Ã¢Â? the worth of practical wisdom is that it helps us Ã¢ÂÂtake the right meansÃ¢Â? to achieve the Ã¢ÂÂright markÃ¢Â? which is the end of moral virtue (1144a5). Through his account of the mean, Aristotle gives structure to moral virtue, but acquiring practical wisdom is largely our own task. The well-functioning and excellent man has both, for Ã¢ÂÂthe work of man is achieved only in accordance with practical wisdom as well as with moral virtueÃ¢Â? (1144a5). The doctrine of the mean is only half of the answer when grappling with the questions of what one ought to do, questions that arise from the moral autonomy in which Aristotle firmly believes. Man must develop, for himself, Ã¢ÂÂthe eye of the soulÃ¢Â? which involves acquiring practical wisdom to live oneÃ¢ÂÂs life (1144a30).
Aristotle devotes the first six books of his Nicomachean Ethics to a discussion of virtue. In doing so he divides virtue into two different categories: moral virtue and intellectual virtue and discusses them individually. However, in our approach to the question of the highest moral virtue, we will examine moral and intellectual virtue together (rather than separately) for the purpose of not only discerning what Aristotle deems this virtue to be, but also examine whether or not there is a connection between the two different types of virtue. Although Aristotle believes moral virtues to be of extreme importance, we will find that even the highest of the moral virtues would be unable to exist if it were not for the intellectual virtues.According to Aristotle, intellectual virtues are developed by teaching and instruction while moral virtues are developed by practice or force of habit. Moral virtues are not naturally instilled in us; the soul is designed to receive moral virtues, but in order to develop into guiding forces they must be nurtured by habit. The soul acquires moral virtue by exercising it, just as the harpist learns to play the harp by playing it and men become builders by building homes (1103a14-1103b2). A morally virtuous character is not brought about by thought, but rather, through action.The next thing Aristotle believes we must understand about virtue is the concept of moderation. He first notes that the nature of moral qualities is destroyed by both defect and excess (1104a12-13). As examples of this, Aristotle notes that both too much and too little food and drink will destroy our health, while the proportionate amount increases and preserves it. Applying these doctrines to virtue, Aristotle finds that the man who shuns everything becomes a coward while the man who knows no fear becomes reckless. In all things, virtue represents a middle ground between too much and too little (1104a15-27).Aristotle ends Book Two with a warning about referring to the virtuous mean as being the opposite of one of the extremes rather than the middle ground between them. If we were to take a few examples from Book Three, we may be inclined to say that courage is the opposite of cowardice and that temperance is the opposite of licentiousness. This, according to Aristotle, is an incorrect assertion, as can be demonstrated from the diagram below:Recklessness ——- Courage ——- CowardiceIn drawing a Ã¢ÂÂlineÃ¢Â? diagram such as the one we see above, it is actually recklessness, rather than courage that is the opposite of cowardice. Courage, rather, is the Ã¢ÂÂmeanÃ¢Â? or the virtue between the two vices. Although we may be inclined to make statements to the contrary, virtue in all things is that which seeks the mean.The next thing we must understand about virtue comes from Book Three, which deals with what Aristotle calls voluntary and involuntary actions. All morally virtuous conduct is rooted in voluntary action. Aristotle writes that an involuntary action is one that is performed under constraint or through ignorance, while a voluntary action, is one in which the initiative lies with the agent who knows the particular circumstances in which the action is performed (1111a21-4). An act is completely involuntary only when its sole cause is not the person performing it, but an external force or person (for example, a person pushes you from behind into another person) (1110a1-5). Other forms of involuntary action are acts performed through ignorance (when the person is ignorant of the particular situation) or in ignorance (when an action is performed due to drunkenness or immorality) (1110b15-35).Voluntary action, on the other hand, implies choice. Aristotle carefully distinguishes choice from opinion and argues that true choice implies that the person choosing can determine that one action is preferable to another (1112a2-15). Therefore, the concept of choice also implies deliberation when we are put into a situation where the most preferable action is unclear. According to Aristotle we never deliberate about ends, but rather, we take the ends for granted and deliberate about how to achieve the best ends (1112b32-35). Because the object of deliberation and the object of choice are the same for Aristotle (1113a3), and because we can only deliberate between options that are within our power (1112a32), a choice must be considered review of things that lie in our power (1113a10-14).In choosing, those of good character will always aim for the good. However, those who are not of good character may understand things incorrectly, and may only wish for what they believe to be good. Both good and vice, therefore, lie within human power, and it is very possible for people to voluntarily choose vice. If we were to deny this, we would also have to deny that man is the source of his own actions (1113b8-21). Aristotle supports this explanation through an examination of how lawgivers reward those who act nobly and punish those who do evil (except evil that is done under some constraint or due to ignorance that exists through no fault of their own). Just as people are responsible for their own bad actions, they are also responsible for their moral states. If someone falls into a bad moral condition, it is his own fault for leading a bad life (1113b21-9).Knowing AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs requirements for obtaining moral virtue are extremely important because they have a direct bearing on the relationship between moral and intellectual virtue. The relationship between moral and intellectual virtue is discussed at length in Book Six. He begins Book Six by returning to his fundamental premise that virtue is distinguished from vice by voluntary action that involves some level of reasoning. Reasoning occurs through deliberation and choice as described above.There are five intellectual virtues according to Aristotle: science, art, practical wisdom , intellect, and theoretical wisdom. Of these five virtues, he gives the most attention to practical wisdom. He argues that practical wisdom is the intellectual virtue of the same part of the soul that forms opinions and that unlike art (which is concerned with production and results in an object distinct from the process of making it) practical wisdom concerns the realm of action where Ã¢ÂÂdoing goodÃ¢Â? is in itself an end. Therefore, practical wisdom is an intellectual virtue that enables one to grasp the truth about human action.The mark of a prudent person is that they deliberate well Ã¢Â” not just about what is good and advantageous in a particular situation, but also, about what is conductive to the good life in general (1140a25-28). He who deliberates well, according to Aristotle, deliberates correctly, and this correctness is restricts deliberation to activities that enable one to arrive at a good (1142b8-22). Earlier, we found that Aristotle established this kind of Ã¢ÂÂcorrectÃ¢Â? deliberation as a pre-requisite to arriving at moral virtue, so it logically follows that for a person to be truly good they must be able to deliberate well, and thus, have practical wisdom.However, a problem would necessarily arise if a wicked man were to use practical wisdom and the power to deliberate to arrive at something evil. Aristotle responds to this objection by citing a difference between practical wisdom and what he refers to as Ã¢ÂÂknavishnessÃ¢Â?. Both practical wisdom and knavishness are the power to perform those steps that are conductive to a goal we have set for ourselves. The crucial difference is that practical wisdom involves some vision of good as it appears to the virtuous person whereas knavishness does not necessarily result in a good end (1144a29-37).Based on AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs definition as to what would be required to arrive at moral virtue, it would appear as if one would not be able to arrive at moral virtue if one did not first possess the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom. Moral virtue is learned through the voluntary performance of morally virtuous activities, and for an action to be voluntary, it necessarily involves deliberation. However, AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs arguments on practical wisdom appear to suggest that the imprudent man would be incapable of such deliberation, because deliberative excellence is the mark of practical wisdom. Therefore, one would need to be taught the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom before one could practice any of the moral virtues. On the other hand, the only difference between Ã¢ÂÂpractical wisdomÃ¢Â? and Ã¢ÂÂknavishnessÃ¢Â? is the goal each seeks to attain. Practical wisdom involves deliberation towards goals that are said to be Ã¢ÂÂgoodÃ¢Â? while knavishness is deliberation towards goals that are deemed to be Ã¢ÂÂbadÃ¢Â?. However, it would seem that for a person would need some amount of moral virtue to distinguish between which goal is Ã¢ÂÂgoodÃ¢Â? and Ã¢ÂÂbadÃ¢Â?. This forces us to conclude that practical wisdom requires moral virtue and we are left with a circular argument.Aristotle responds to this objection by showing that just as practical wisdom and knavishness are similar, that there is a similarity in what he calls Ã¢ÂÂnatural virtueÃ¢Â? and Ã¢ÂÂvirtue in the full senseÃ¢Â? (1144b3-4). He notes that from the time of our birth we all tend to possess some level of virtue, however, we tend to seek something in addition to what we are born with. The virtue we seek is what he calls Ã¢ÂÂvirtue in the full senseÃ¢Â?, and argues that it is not possible to attain this virtue without practical wisdom. Aristotle asserts that if we were to attempt to attain moral virtue without practical wisdom, the action would be similar to Ã¢ÂÂa mighty body that, moving without vision, comes to a mighty fallÃ¢Â? (1144b10-20).Aristotle concludes Book Six by arguing that virtue in the full sense cannot be obtained without practical wisdom, and he argues that this definition has led some people to believe that all virtues are forms of practical wisdom. Most important in this re-examination of practical wisdom and moral virtue is his assertion that virtue is a characteristic guided by Ã¢ÂÂright reasonÃ¢Â?, which is determined by practical wisdom (1144b16-24). However, Aristotle finds it necessary to go beyond this simple redefinition, and goes on to argue that right reason in moral matters is practical wisdom. Therefore, right reason is what makes us virtuous and we can logically conclude that once we possess the single intellectual virtue of practical wisdom, we will possess all of the moral virtues (1145a2-4).Now that we have a solid understanding of virtue, we are able to return to the question of moral virtue. Aristotle spends part of Book Three and all of Book Four describing the different moral virtues through application of his concept of the mean. However, none of these virtues receive the same amoun of attention as the virtue of justice, which is discussed throughout the entire text of Book Five. It is not surprising that he gives this amount of space to his discussion of justice, because for Aristotle, justice is the highest of the moral virtues.For Aristotle, there are two different kinds of justice: universal justice and particular justice. For our purposes, AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs definition of universal justice is, by far, the most important. Aristotle looks at the definition of its opposite, or what it means to be unjust. His begins this discussion with an examination of the unjust man. He writes Ã¢ÂÂwe regard as unjust both a lawbreaker and also a man who takes more than his share, so that obviously a law-abiding and a fair man will be just. Consequently, Ã¢ÂÂjustÃ¢Â? is what is lawful and fair, and unjust is what is unlawful and unfairÃ¢Â? (1129a32-1129b1). Aristotle also notes in defining the unjust man that Ã¢ÂÂunfairnessÃ¢Â? does not necessarily have to do with those things that are larger in size. For example, when presented with a choice of bad things the unjust man will take the smallest share. Therefore, unfairness includes both taking more than ones share of those things deemed to be Ã¢ÂÂgoodÃ¢Â? and less than ones share of those things deemed to be Ã¢ÂÂbadÃ¢Â? (1129b7-10).Universal justice then, for Aristotle, is manifest in obedience to law. With regard to these laws, Aristotle makes two assertions. The first assertion is that they aim at producing or preserving happiness or Ã¢ÂÂthe common interest either of all or of the best or of those who hold powerÃ¢Â? (129b14-19). The second assertion is that they prescribe conduct in accordance with the virtues and forbid conduct that is vicious. Therefore, men living in a political order are compelled to be virtuous by the force of the law. However, it is also worth noting that only a correctly framed law will accomplish this rightly while a more hastily conceived law will not (1129b19-25).Aristotle concludes his discussion of complete justice by referring to it as Ã¢ÂÂcomplete virtue or excellenceÃ¢Â? and claims that, in justice, Ã¢ÂÂevery virtue is summed upÃ¢Â?. The reasoning Aristotle gives for this is that a just man not only makes use of this virtue in his own affairs, but also in affairs with fellow men. In short, Justice is the only virtue that considers the good of others as well as the good of oneself. The worst man for Aristotle is the man who does wickedness to both himself and others while the best man is he that practices virtue towards himself and others. Aristotle would not agree that virtue is the same as justice and that vice is the same as injustice. He concludes instead by saying that universal justice coincides with the whole of ethical virtue and universal injustice with the whole of ethical vice. As states and dispositions, justice and injustice are the same, but they also convey a relationship between man and his neighbors, which the terms virtue and vice do not (1130a8-13) .In recapitulation, we have discovered that the highest of the moral virtues is universal justice. The distinguishing factor that sets justice apart from the other moral virtues is the fact that it is the only moral virtue that takes into consideration the good for ones neighbors, rather than only the good of the practitioner of the virtue. Finally, we have concluded that there is a connection between moral and intellectual virtue because one can only become morally virtuous through the practice of morally virtuous actions. However, moral virtue in the full sense cannot exist without right reason, which is determined by the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom. Therefore, we can conclude our examination of virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics with the assertion that moral virtue cannot exist without intellectual virtue.Works CitedAristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (translated by Martin Ostwald). Pentice Hall.New Jersey. 1999.Hardie, W.F.R. AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs Ethical Theory. Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1980.
In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle examines happiness, which is the good towards which every human action is directed. Entangled in this pursuit is Aristotle’s discussion of such ideas as virtue, magnanimity, justice and friendship, as well as the relationships between all of these. Before he can address these relationships, however, Aristotle must unpack each of the ideas so that they may exist outside mere relation to others. Having done this, he may then build upon each: from virtue, Aristotle builds to magnanimity; from magnanimity he builds to justice; and from justice he builds to friendship. I will thus take a similar approach in this essay, which aims to condense these relationships, and identify any themes that reoccurparticularly the theme of equality. When he has neared the end of his text, Aristotle also begins to discuss the political implications of his work, which originated in a pursuit of what was “the highest good.” These implications thus serve as an important and clarifying application of Aristotle’s ideas, and I will thus similarly conclude with analysis of these implications. But, as Aristotle does, I must begin with the elementary block which is all human’s common pursuit, namely happiness.Aristotle, who is speaking to “competent students of what is right and just,” or in other words those who “have received a proper upbringing in moral conduct,” is therefore talking to a different audience that Plato does in The Republic (Ostwald, 7). He thus can jump right into his discussion of happiness, which he assimilates with people who “always or to the highest degree both do and contemplate what is in conformity with virtue” (25). Aristotle defines virtues then as a mean between excess and deficiency in each case, later stating that humans must apply their unique function of rationality and reason to settle upon this mean. Thus, for example, the mean between small-mindedness and vanity is magnanimity, or high-mindedness. Virtue, which is divided into intellectual and moral virtues, may then be realized by a virtuous man who acts consciously, chooses the specific manner in which he acts, and chooses this action for its own sakemaking his action one that is “just and self-controlled” (39).Within his discussion of virtue, Aristotle identifies multiple means that exist between excesses. The chief virtue, however, and the one that essentially builds upon the other virtues discussed, is magnanimity, or high-mindedness. As does magnificence, magnanimity operates on a great, even grand scale: but whereas magnificence outshines meager generosity, magnanimity outshines small honors. Thus, it is then “in matters of honor and dishonor that a high-minded man has the right attitude,” in fact, “they regard themselves as worthy of honor above all else” (94). The magnanimous, however, deserves what is greatest because he is greatest, and “High-mindedness is thus the crown, as it were, of the virtues: it magnifies them and it cannot exist without them” (95). What is responsible for this position of magnanimity with respect to the other virtues is its relationship with nobility, which “is common to all the virtues” (90). As Aristotle writes, it is impossible to be truly high-minded “without goodness and nobility” (95). Thus nobility is what allows the magnanimous to embody all of the virtues, and build upon them.Building then upon his discussion of the virtues, and in particular “high-mindedness,” Aristotle moves on to justice. Like high-mindedness, justice is a virtue, and thus a mean between two extremes. As, Aristotle writes, the “‘just’ is what is lawful and fair, and the ‘unjust’ is what is unlawful and unfair,” and thus the just man takes not too much, nor too little of what is his share (112). In this sense, the just man is additionally choiceworthy, as his actions prove to be virtuous. In fact, as Aristotle argues, “justice is regarded as the highest of all virtuesand, as the proverb has it, ‘In justice every virtue is summed up'” (114). At face value then, immediate connections can be drawn between high-mindednessfrom which Aristotle built to justiceand justice, which both are umbrellas for the other virtues. This parallel does not last long, however, as Aristotle distinguishes justice as “complete virtue,” “because he who possesses it can make use of his virtue not only by himself, but also in his relations with his fellow men” (114). Thus, whereas high-mindedness enabled the individual to know what he deserved, justice allows the individual to know what others, including himself, deserve. Justice then takes the skill of the high-minded, and applies it on a community level with interpersonal relationships.Aristotle then offsets his characterization of complete justice with what he calls partial justice, a term which begins to consider issues of equality and fairness in what is “just.” The topic of equality was first evoked, however, in his discussion of high-minded individuals, who were more fortunate than the small-minded and vain individuals. That is, “Gifts of fortune, it is believed, also contribute to high-mindedness” since “men of noble birth, of power, or of wealth are regarded as worthy of honor” (96). Aristotle thus considers this reality of inequality in what he terms “merit,” as he begins his discussion of partial justice. Partial justice itself has two forms: one being “what is justin the distribution of honors,” among other things, and the other being what is just in “a rectifying function,” and each takes an unique stance on equality and fairness (117).Aristotle first discusses distributive justice, which stems from a characterization of justice as both fair and equal. Here Aristotle’s argument follows the reality of high-mindedness, that not everyone possesses equal merit, and thus in receiving what each deserves, the distribution of honor, material goods, and “anything else that can be divided among those who have a share in the political system” should be done proportionally to their merit (117). Thus, as Aristotle writes, “If the persons are not equal, their (just) shares will not be equal,” and “consequently, the just is something proportionate” (118, 119). There is, nonetheless, equality in the sense that “proportion is equality of ratios,” and thus the just in this sense dictates that equality be enforced only in ratios, the proportions of which are unequal (119).Justice by rectification, on the other hand applies a new sense of equality, seeking to maintain the status quo, or equilibrium, through the transactions that citizens make. Whereas the just in the distributive sense sought to distribute common funds according to “geometric” proportions, as Aristotle terms it, the just in the rectifying sense seeks to perform transactions according to “arithmetical” proportions. Here justice then takes the form of a sort of blind justice, “it treats parties as equals and asks only whether one has done and the other has suffered wrong” (121). Such justice is eventually performed by a judge, who seeks to restore equilibrium by locating the median between gain and loss in the conflictirrelevant of the merits of the parties involved.Aristotle closes his examination of justice by returning to its meaning in a broader sense, and particularly how it is found in political matters. As Aristotle writes, “The just in political matters is found among men who share a common life in order that their association bring them self-sufficiency, and who are free and equal, either proportionally or arithmetically” (129). From here, Aristotle can then build to friendship, which will necessarily involve virtues such as high-mindedness, but again on a community level.As Aristotle argues, “justice, alone of all the virtues is thought to be the good of another, because it is a relation to our fellow men in that it does what is of advantage to others” (114). In this sense, as justice built upon high-mindedness, so does friendship, which Aristotle argues is the mean between obsequiousness and flattery, build upon justice. Friendship nonetheless shares similarities with high-mindednessthe crown of the virtuesas it exists in its best form as between similar, or like individuals. Thus, according to Aristotle, a high-minded man will “utterly despise honors conferred by ordinary people and on trivial grounds, for that is not what he deserves” (95). Similarly, friendships are not disposed towards like-unlike associations as they are likewise less rewarding in associations of unequals. Aristotle therefore declares that “The perfect form of friendship is that between good men who are alike in excellence and virtue” (219).Friendship then plays a significant role in the relationships of the community. This beneficial role is a result of the mutual care that friends provide one another where, as Aristotle writes, a friend “will put up withand likewise refuse to put up withthe right things in the right manner” (103). Similarly, “friends help young men avoid error; to older people they give the care and help needed to supplement the failing powers of action which infirmity brings in its train; and to those in their prime they give the opportunity to perform noble actions” (215). Friends then essentially provide those who are not high-minded the guidance to choose the right actions and to live virtuously. Of course, such genuine friendships as are described above are most frequently between individuals of good virtue already, but considering friendship in terms of the capabilities of the high-minded shows the thread that connects virtue on an individual level with virtue that exists on the community level, or where justice and friendship are concerned. It is also helpful to think of friendship here as the accumulation of a second self, or soul. That is, since the soul is the origin of the contemplative life of reason and rationale, as well as the origin of choice making, a friend is the soul or the self’s complement as it too serves these functions.Aristotle also discusses friendship in terms of equality. As Aristotle thus summarizes, “Friendship is equality and likeness, and especially the likeness of those who are similar in virtue” (230). But as equality took on varying meanings in justice, so does it in friendship where it can exist in a quantitative sense (rectifying) and a proportional sense (distributive). To illustrate this difference, Aristotle first discusses friendships among equals versus among unequals. After discussing equals, Aristotle concludes, “In sum, the friendships we have so far discussed are based on equality; both partners receive and wish the same thing from and for one another” (226). Shortly thereafter, Aristotle presents the other version of equality found in friendships between unequals. Here Aristotle concludes, “In all friendships which involve the superiority of one of the partners, the affection, too, must be proportionate: the better and more useful partner should receive more affection than he gives” (227). Thus, as in justice, equality in friendships can take the form of quantitative, as well as proportionate, exchange; however there is one final difference which Aristotle identifies. That is, in justice, proportionate equality outnumbers quantitative occurrences while in friendship the opposite is true.Friendship nonetheless takes an elevated position in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, which leads to several implications. Most significant of these, however, is the implication that Aristotle’s emphasis on friendship constructs regarding justice and the role of lawmakers. That is, as he notes at the beginning of his discussion of friendship in book eight, “Friendship also seems to hold states together, and lawgivers apparently devote more attention to it than to justice” (215). Aristotle’s text thus contributes to this political trend which emphasizes friendship over justice, especially in his discussion of the three true forms of constitutions and their perversions. As Aristotle notes, there are three such governments: kingship, aristocracy, and timocracy, of which kingship is the best and timocracy the worst. Such uncorrupted forms of government then achieve their success largely due to the benefits of friendship which they enjoy in the form of increased justice (231). These governments are perverted, however, when their friendships are perverted, and, in the case of kingship for example, a king becomes a tyrant who “looks out for his own advantage” instead of “the advantage of his subjects” (233). Similar occurrences lead to the perversions of the two other constitutions since “In the perverted constitutions, the role of friendship decreases to the same extent as the part played by the just” (236).Aristotle even argues that, in the presence of friendships, justice is no longer needed. To understand this argument, however, requires us to return to Aristotle’s initial and fundamental building blocksthe blocks from which he built to high-mindedness, then justice, and then friendship. In fact, portions of these initial blocks, which include the pursuit of the highest good, which is happiness, can still be noticed in the much larger structure which Aristotle has built by the end of his text. That is, what is common to all political communities is an initial pursuit of what is to their common advantage or good, and it is this initial and fundamental pursuit that is finally carried out in the friendships that are stimulated in governments.
Aristotle dedicates the first book of Politics to discuss households, and argues that to study the larger political community of a city-state, we need to first examine households as its building blocks (Politics, 5). The three major household relations Aristotle defines in Politics are master-slave, husband-wife and father-son, and they are all essentially ruler-ruled relations, as Aristotle lists that “free rules slaves, male rules female, and man rules child” (23). Aristotle believes that the natural inclination to rule or to be ruled is predetermined at birth, and there exists the natural inequality between the ruler and ruled (7). Moreover, Aristotle draws the analogy between domestic relationships and the larger political community because both households and city-states share similar ruler-ruled power dynamics. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle maps different household relations to different constitutions: “the association of a father with his sons bears the form of monarchy, …., The association of man and wife seems to be aristocratic,…, The association of brothers is like timocracy” (The Nicomachean Ethics, 115). While Aristotle assumes that all three domestic relations share the ruler-ruled power dynamics, examining Aristotle’s logic gap in proving men’s inherent superiority, loopholes in his theory of structure of souls, and his use of metaphors and parables all reveals that Aristotle fails to justify men’s superiority as natural rulers over females. This logical inconsistency in Politics invalidates the analogies between the marital relation and aristocracy/oligarchy in Ethics, ultimately compromising Aristotle’s overall analogy between households and city-states in both works.
Aristotle leaves logical gap in his reasoning when trying to argue that men are naturally more suited to rule than women, as he fails to provide explicit explanations for what specific nature makes men superior. After justifying the slave-master relationship by arguing slaves are naturally better at physical labor while the masters are naturally better at deliberative reasoning, Aristotle continues to justify the husband-wife and father-child relations. By arguing that “For a male, unless he is somehow constituted contrary to nature, is naturally more fitted to lead than a female, and someone older and completely developed is naturally more fitted to lead than someone younger and incompletely developed” (Politics, 21). Here Aristotle arbitrarily asserts that “nature” makes males better rulers than females. Nevertheless, while the words “nature” and “naturally” occur twice in description of marital relation, Aristotle does not explain what specific natural characteristic of men makes them superior than women. Compared to the ambiguous assertion in the marital relation, Aristotle explicitly points out that the slaves are naturally ruled because their bodies are stronger, and fathers are natural ruler because they are older and more experienced. Hence Aristotle’s justification for men’s superior status over women is insufficient compared to other two relations. The fact that Aristotle skips the crucial step in reasoning suggests that he is not able to directly justify his assumption of natural inequality in marital relation.
Other than the logical gap in his reasoning, Aristotle’s choice of words in describing the structure of souls also reflects the existence of external forces in determining women’s and men’s unequal ability to rule, therefore contradicting the assumption of natural inequality. When discussing different structures of souls to further justify the inherent inequality between the ruler and the ruled, Aristotle claims that “the deliberative part of the soul is entirely missing from a slave; a woman has it but it lacks authority; a child has it but it is incompletely developed” (23). According to Aristotle’s previous arguments about nature, slaves lack the deliberative part of soul because their body is naturally more fitted to labor, and children’s deliberative part is naturally underdeveloped because of their age. However, why women have incomplete deliberative part of the soul remains ambiguous, because it is unclear what the “authority” refers to and why women lack this authority. “Authority” is different from “nature”, as the former is associated with rights or privileges given by the external environment such as social norms and conventions, while the latter is associated with internal characteristics that one is born with. If women need authority to exercise the deliberative part, then the incompleteness of deliberative part of their souls should not be due to nature, but is imposed by external forces. Therefore, Aristotle is unable to contribute the different deliberative powers of male and female solely to nature, as his choice of expression implies the existence of external influences in shaping the structure of souls.
Moreover, the metaphor of statesman’s ruling in Aristotle’s description of the marital relationship also conflicts with the overall assumption of natural inequality by implying equal political status between men and women. To distinguish the husband-wife relation and the father-child relation, Aristotle compares the husband-wife relation to the “rule of a statesman” and father-child relation to “the rule of a king” (21-22). Aristotle describes the statesman’s rule as the following: “people take turns at ruling and being ruled, because they tend by nature to be on an equal footing and to differ in nothing“ (21). Here Aristotle is referring to the Athenian democratic system where aristocratic, male citizens with similar political interests decide by random lots who rules and represents the common interests temporarily. This analogy between men’s ruling over their wives and statesman’s ruling over other citizens is problematic because the rule of the statesman assumes the equal social status between the ruler and rest of the citizens, while Aristotle is trying to prove the natural inequality between male and female. Comparing women to citizens also contradicts the existing social conventions in ancient Greek, where women were mostly not considered to be citizens. Moreover, Aristotle concludes that “male is permanently related to female in this way” (22), which suggests that men’s ruling status is eternally fixed. However, as just defined in the rule of the statesman, citizens take turns to rule and to be ruled. This contradiction between the arbitrary, fixed designation in the rule of male and the fluid, temporary assignment of leadership in the rule of the statesman makes it questionable whether it is truly legitimate to assign men as the permanent rulers. Having recognized this discrepancy in the statesman metaphor suggests that men and women are naturally equal like the statesmen and his citizens, and the superior political status of men over women should not be permanently fixed.
While the statesman metaphor implies the potentially equal political status between male and female, the parable of Amasis and footbath suggests that women and men share the same inherent characters and are therefore inherently equal. When comparing the rule of husband over wife to the rule of the statesman, Aristotle states that while the ruler is equal with the other citizens, he needs to “distinguish himself in demeanor, title, or rank from the ruled”, just like Amasis and his footbath (22). The parable states that Amasis, who is from humble origin, becomes the king of Egypt. In order to earn respect from Egyptians, he makes his gold footbath into a statue of god to show that inferior status doesn’t mean inferior nature, because the same material could be arbitrarily made into objects with different utilities and receive different levels of respect. Similarly, while the ruler is superior in rank, demeanor and title, he is naturally equal with other citizens, just like the nobel statue and humble footbath are both made of gold. Applying this parable to the male-female relationship, though male rules over female, their natural characters are the same while they are shaped differently by social conventions and assigned to unequal social statuses. Moreover, the parable further illuminates why women lack the authority to exercise the deliberative part of the soul: women’s incomplete deliberative power is imposed by external authority, just as the gold is shaped into a lowly footbath by external forces. In both cases the appearances and results are independent of the inherent nature.
As a result, while Aristotle claims that natural inequality between the ruler and the ruled exists among all three household relationships, such inequality is untenable in the marital relationship. Aristotle’s difficulty in proving males’ superior nature implies that male and female should have equal political status and intellectual ability. Applying Aristotle’s logical fallacies in Politics to his analogy between households and city-states leads to further contradictions, mainly reflected in his problematic mappings from the rule of man to aristocracy and the rule of women to oligarchy in Ethics. Aristotle defines aristocracy to be the rule of the best, and aristocracy degenerates into oligarchy when the rulers disregard common good and rule by their power and wealth, no longer being the most virtuous. (The Nicomachean Ethics, 155) Therefore the major difference between aristocracy and oligarchy is the virtue and legitimacy of the rulers. Aristotle argues that the rule of men within households resembles aristocracy because“man rules in accordance with his worth” (155). The underlying assumption here is that men naturally have more virtue and deliberative power to be good rulers, and therefore have the “worth” to rule, just like the rule of the best in aristocracy. However, acording to previous analysis, Aristotle fails to prove this assumption in Politics, and without this assumption he is unable to conclude that the rule of men is the rule of the best, and therefore his analogy between rule of men and aristocracy is invalid.
Similarly, the mapping from the rule of women to oligarchy is also problematic given logical fallacies in marital relation. To illustrate aristocracy’s superiority over oligarchy, Aristotle introduces the situation when women rule in the household. Aristotle argues that “Sometimes, however, women rule, because they are heiresses; so their rule is not in virtue of excellence but due to wealth and power, as in oligarchies” (155). According to this analogy, when heiresses rule the household, the rule by virtue degenerates into the rule by wealth and power, just like aristocracy degenerates into oligarchy. However, according to previous analysis of the structure of soul, the metaphor of statesman’s rule and the parable of Amasis, women and men possess the same inherent quality and potential to be the ruler. Therefore, it is problematic to compare the rule of women in households to oligarchy and to argue that women rule by power and wealth but not by virtue. As a result, Aristotle’s logical fallacies in proving the natural inequality in the marital relation invalidates the analogies between household relations to aristocracy and oligarchy, which makes his overall comparison between households and city-states an oversimplified framework that overlooks the internal complexity in the elements that he is comparing.
In conclusion, understanding the logical inconsistency in the marital relationship in Politics illuminates the gap in Aristotle’s mapping from households to constitutions in Ethics. In his logical reasoning Aristotle arbitrarily asserts the husband’s natural ruling authority in the household, while his choices of words, use of metaphors and parables all imply that the inequality between male and female is not inherent but imposed by external forces. The difficulty to justify the natural inequality between male and female suggests that husband-wife relationship has more complexity than the slave-master and father-child relationships, and it’s problematic for Aristotle to oversimplify their commonalities. However, limited by his times and society, it would also be unlikely for Aristotle to acknowledge the idea of gender equality. While his logical reasoning is taking him away from proving the natural inequality, Aristotle still such inequality and maintains the analogy between households and city-states. Indeed, using the more familiar and concrete notion of households helps to reveal the internal power dynamics within the relatively abstract city-states, and as Aristotle’s justification of the slave-master and the father-children relation is rigorous and intuitive, readers tend to believe the same rule also applies in the marital relation. However, the danger of using extended analogies and parallels in philosophical reasoning is that the logical fallacy of one element would undermine the overarching argument and whole framework. Therefore, as readers we should be very cautious about the oversimplification of frameworks and analogies in philosophical texts, and always bear in mind to examine the logical consistencies across the author’s arguments.
Aristotle. Politics. Translated by C D. C. Reeve, Indianapolis, Ind: Hackett Pub, 1998. Print.
Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by W D. Ross, and Lesley Brown, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
Aristotle, Kant, Mill, and Plato: All influential philosophers with differing opinions on what it means to be marked by morality. One situation in which the opinions of these philosophers could be used to evaluate the morality of a person is in the movie Groundhog Day, specifically looking at the actions of the character Phil. At the beginning of Groundhog Day, Phil is sarcastic and selfish. However, throughout the film, we see his character develop to be more wholesome. In this paper, I argue that Aristotle and Plato view Phil’s character as increasingly moral throughout the film, and Mill and Kant also see his actions to be gaining morality throughout the film.
Aristotle has ten virtues that he sees as morally good, and an excess or deficiency of any is a vice (Aristotle 1108b11). At the beginning of the film, Phil is at the vice for a few of these: generosity, friendliness, and appropriate anger. Phil shows that he is lacking generosity when he refuses to give money to the bigger on the street (Aristotle 1107b10). He shows a lack of friendliness when he is rude to his old classmate, Ned (Aristotle 1108a28). Lastly, Phil shows an access of anger on numerous occasions, namely when he kidnaps the groundhog (Aristotle 1108a5). Aristotle claims in order for one to re-balance a virtue, one must aim to do the opposite corresponding vice (Aristotle 1108b25). Phil does just this by giving all of his money to the homeless man, embracing Ned in a long, uncomfortable hug, and giving a heartfelt report on the groundhog to Punxsutawney. By aiming for the opposite vice, Phil is able to re-balance his character to Aristotle’s virtues of character.
Furthermore, the situation in which Phil is placed is similar to the Ring of Gyges that Glaucon challenges Socrates with (Plato 359d1). At the beginning of the movie, Phil uses his “opportunity” exactly how Glaucon predicts he will: by using immoral methods to benefit himself due to lack of consequences (Plato 361d1). As the film progresses, Phil gets worse in this regard before he gets better. Towards the end of the film, he begins to act more justly, despite having no ulterior motive because of the repetitive day. This shows that he is resisting the temptation to act unjustly without consequences, and thus his character is more just in the end of the movie than at the beginning from Plato’s perspective (Plato 358a).
In regard to Phil’s actions, Mill sees his actions as increasingly morally valuable throughout the film. The most obvious characteristic of Phil’s actions throughout the movie that the utilitarian lens sees as increasingly moral is the quality of the pleasures in which Phil is engaging (Mill 8). For example, at the beginning of the film, Phil uses his “opportunity” to engage in lower pleasures such as stuffing his face with pastries and persuading random women to sleep with him (Mill 9). Later in the film, we see Phil shift his focus to becoming a better, more wholesome man. This is when we see a shift in his actions to resulting in higher pleasures, such as helping old women fix their flat tire, learning to play piano, and getting to know the locals (Mill 10). These actions result in more happiness for a greater number of people, and the direct pleasure that Phil receives is more valuable (Mill 10). Because of the increase in the quality of pleasure that Phil is striving for towards the end of the film, Mill sees Phil’s actions as increasingly moral.
Similar to Mill, Kant sees Phil’s actions to be increasing in moral valuable throughout Groundhog Day. One specific aspect of Kant’s philosophy that can be related to Phil’s actions is his idea of universality (Kant 4:402). At the beginning of the film when Phil is attempting to seduce random women by memorizing odd details about them and gaining intel on delivery men in order to steal money, it would be impossible to universalize these actions. If everyone did these things given the same opportunity, our world would be far from just (4:402). Yet, at the end of the film, when Phil catches children as they fall out of trees and saves men from choking, his actions become more universal for the world. Because of this increase in universality, Kant sees Phil’s actions as increasingly moral.
Kant, Mill, Aristotle, and Plato all see Phil’s actions and character as increasing in moral standing throughout Groundhog Day. The most feasible real-world application would be to reflect on one’s own life in regard to Aristotle’s virtues, and see where they may need to re-calibrate their virtues. This is a way that humans can learn from Phil and apply these Aristotelian teachings.
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes virtues in two types, one of character and another of thought. Virtues of character include things like bravery, temperance, and generosity, while virtues of thought include wisdom and prudence. In this paper, I will focus on the virtues of character and give a careful account of Aristotle’s views based on the reading of the Nicomachean Ethics.
According to Aristotle, the possession and exercise of the virtues of character are necessary for happiness. In other words, one can achieve happiness by being and doing good. By happiness, Aristotle is talking about the highest end and the best good for humanity. Aristotle believes that all human activities are directed towards certain ends or results, which we consider good. For example, we practice medicine to achieve health and generalship to achieve victory. Among the ends, some are instrumental ends which people attain for the sake of further ends. The further ends are therefore considered ruling and superior relative to the instrumental ends. Aristotle states that there is one end that is pursued not for any further end but for its own sake. This end is superior to any other end and is complete and perfect in itself. It is considered as the best good for humanity. Aristotle indicates that this highest end and best good is agreed to be happiness.
After establishing happiness as the highest end for humanity, Aristotle explains that the virtues of character are necessary for happiness because happiness depends on the possession and the exercise of them. Aristotle demonstrates this relationship between virtues and happiness by using the function argument. Aristotle believes that everything has a function and virtues are what cause the thing to perform its function well. For example, the function of eyes is seeing. Then, the virtue of eyes enables us to see well. According to Aristotle, the special function of human beings consists in the activity of the part of the soul that expresses reason. In other words, human function is living a life of rational activities. Human virtues are therefore what allow human beings to exercise our soul well. They enable us to do well and live well. Therefore, happiness, which implies living well and doing well, is an activity in accord with virtues. In this way, virtues of character promote or consist part of human happiness. For example, temperance is a virtue of character that enables us to eat and drink at an appropriate amount. This promotes our health, which is instrumental to achieving happiness.
Also, Aristotle emphasizes that happiness is an activity and therefore consists in not only the possession but also the exercise of virtues. Aristotle argues that the mere possession of something implies a state, which sometimes may achieve no good. For example, people can never achieve happiness when being asleep or inactive. Therefore, happiness is achieved not by the mere possession of virtues but by both the possession and exercise of them, just as Olympic prizes are not for the strongest but for the strongest contestants. People attain happiness not only by having the virtues of character but also by practicing the activities proper to these virtues. For example, we should not only have the virtue of temperance but also constantly do activities such as eating and drinking appropriately and healthily. In addition, Aristotle admits that some external goods, like sufficient wealth and a good birth, are still necessary preconditions for attaining happiness because they offer resources for the exercise of virtues of character.
In addition to a means to achieve happiness, virtues of character, according to Aristotle, are involved in the part of human soul that has feelings. As it is mentioned before, Aristotle thinks there are two types of virtues, virtues of character and virtues of thought. They are different because they belong to different parts of the human soul. Aristotle divides human soul into rational and irrational parts. The part of the soul that has reason in itself is called rational and it is where the virtues of thought, such as prudence and wisdom, occupy. For the irrational parts, there is one part of the soul that is described as vegetative or plantlike. This part is the cause of growth and nutrition, involving with no reason at all. Another part in the soul, which seems irrational but still shares in reason, is known as feelings and appetites. Although feelings are not equivalent to reason, they listen to and obey reason. The virtues of character, such as bravery, temperance, and generosity, are involved in this part of soul that has feelings and obeys reason. People with virtues of character show correct feelings, act correctly and follow what reason prescribes. Since reason is obeyed by feelings, virtues of thought are considered ruling and controlling of the virtues of character. To be more specific, Aristotle thinks prudence, the virtue of thought that involves in actions, is closely related to and inseparable from virtues of character. Virtues of character listen to prudence, and they are about having the right feelings and actions in accord with prudence through good deliberation. Wisdom, the virtue of thought that involves in study or philosophical contemplation, is considered superior to virtues of character. Actually, according to Aristotle, wisdom is the best virtue and the activity of philosophical contemplation is happiness itself. Therefore, virtues of character are subordinate to virtues of thought and serve as the means to achieve happiness.
Then, Aristotle discusses how virtues of character are acquired. He believes that they are results of habits. People attain the virtues of character by practicing and becoming habituated to them. Aristotle thinks virtues of character cannot be innate for the following reasons. First, if something is by nature, habituation will never bring it from one condition to another condition. For example, a stone is by nature falling downwards due to gravity. If one throws it upwards for many times to habituate it, it would still fall downwards, without changing the original condition. In this way, if virtues of character are by nature, people will not become more virtuous by habituation, and apparently Aristotle does not think that is the case. Therefore, virtues of character are not attained by nature. Second, if something is innate, people first have the capacity for it before performing the activity. For example, senses are innate because we already have senses before exercising them. We do not acquire our senses by seeing or hearing. However, for virtues of character, we first practice them before we acquire them. In other words, we become just by doing just actions and temperate by doing temperate actions. For this reason, virtues of character cannot be innate. Given that they are not innate, Aristotle argues that virtues of character are gained by the repetition of virtuous activities, which is achieved through correct habituation. On the contrary, vices are gained by the repetition of vicious activities. Aristotle also points out that the legislators’ correct habituation of citizens to make them good offers evidence for this argument. Therefore, for Aristotle, it is very important that people always perform the right activities in order to obtain the virtues of character.
Next, Aristotle claims that virtues and vices of character are related to pleasures and pains. For example, if a person finds it enjoyable to stand firm against terrifying situation in battlefields, he demonstrates the virtue of bravery, but if he finds it painful, he demonstrates the vice of cowardice. Also, a person who finds pleasure in abstinence is temperate, and a person who finds pain is intemperate. Aristotle gives two reasons why virtues of character are related to pleasures and pains. First, as he concludes before, virtues are about feelings and actions. Feelings and actions always imply pleasures or pains. In this way, virtues are about pleasures and pains. Second, corrective treatments employ pleasures and pains to punish vices and restore virtues. For example, to punish a vicious action, legislators associate pain with this action through sentence or imprisonment and therefore correct this vice. These corrective treatments of manipulating pleasures and pains indicate that virtues and vices are related to pleasures and pains. Given that, Aristotle concludes that people with virtues of character seek pleasures and endure pains in a right way and to a right extent, and vices are the opposites.
Finally, Aristotle gives a definition of the virtues of character by identifying the genus and differentia. First, Aristotle lists three possible candidates for the genus of virtues of character. Aristotle claims that they must belong to one of the three conditions in the human soul: feelings, capacities and states. Aristotle offers explanations for these three conditions. Feelings are the indicator of pleasures and pains, for example, appetite, anger, fear, etc. Capacities are the capabilities of having those feelings. States are what people have when they are better or worse off due to the feelings of pleasures and pains. For example, when feeling is either too intense or too deficient, people are worse off, and when feeling is intermediate and appropriate, people are better off. Aristotle performs a process of elimination to find the genus of the virtues of character. Aristotle states that virtues and vices of character cannot be feelings, and he gives three reasons for that. First, people are never praised or blamed for having certain feelings. However, they are praised or blamed for having certain virtues or vices. Second, feelings are generated without decisions. For example, people do not decide to feel angry or afraid. However, it does require decisions to perform certain actions proper to the virtues of character. Finally, people are said to be moved by feelings but never moved by virtues or vices. Therefore, virtues are not feelings, though they are relevant to feelings. Aristotle also indicates that they are not capacities either. Similar to feelings, capacities are neither praised nor blamed, but virtues and vices are. Moreover, capacities are gained by nature, but virtues are acquired not by nature but by habituation, as Aristotle discusses before. Therefore, virtues are not capacities. Then, there is only one possibility left: virtues are states.
After identifying the genus of virtues of character as states, Aristotle tries to find the differentia, which describes the essence of virtues of character and distinguishes them from other species in the genus of states. In other word, Aristotle is going to answer what kind of states they are. Aristotle introduces the concept of intermediate or the mean between extremes. According to Aristotle, there are two types of intermediate: one is in the object and one is relative to us. Intermediate in the object is the thing exactly equidistant to two extremes. For example, six is objectively intermediate between two and ten because it exceeds two by four and is exceeded by ten by the same amount. However, Aristotle emphasizes that the intermediate concerned in sciences is not objective but relative to us; that is to say, what individuals consider as neither excessive nor deficient for their sake. For example, for the science of prescribing food, six pounds might be the intermediate amount for professional athletes. However, for amateurs, six pounds would be too much, and something less is the intermediate for his sake. Therefore, one acquires a mean state according to what is intermediate for him.
Aristotle indicates that, in craft, people consider a good product as intermediate because they think nothing can be added to or reduced from it. If added or reduced, they think it is ruined by being excessive or deficient. According to Aristotle, since craft aims at the intermediate, virtues of character, as something superior to craft, should also aim at the intermediate condition. As he concludes before, virtues of character are about feelings and actions, and feelings and actions admit being excessive, deficient and intermediate. People can have too much or too little of pain and pleasure in particular circumstances that makes them vicious, and intermediate level of pain and pleasure that makes them virtuous. In this way, the intermediate feelings of pleasure and pain are proper to virtues of character. Then, Aristotle gives another reason to show that virtue is a mean between extremes. He states that people can be wrong in many ways but correct in only one way, which explains why being wrong is easy and correct is difficult. Therefore, people obtain virtues of character only when they reach the mean, but they demonstrate vices in various ways by being excessive or deficient. Finally, Aristotle concludes that what differentiates virtues of character from other states is that they aim at the intermediate, and they are the mean between two extremes. For example, bravery is a virtue of character. It is a mean in feelings of fear and confidence. Excessive confidence and deficient fear can be called rash, while deficient confidence and excessive fear can be called cowardly. Generosity is the mean in donating and receiving money. The excess is wastefulness, and the deficiency is ungenerosity. After considering the genus and differentia, Aristotle defines virtues of character as the states of a mean between extremes. This mean is relative to us, about feelings and in accord with reason and prudence.
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle views the possession and practice of virtues of character as what promote and consist happiness. Virtues of character are involved in the part of human soul that has feelings, and they are about having correct feelings in accord with reason. They are related to virtues of thought in that they listen to what prudence prescribes and are subordinate to wisdom. They are acquired not by nature but by repetition of virtuous actions through habituation, and they are related to pleasures and pains. Finally, based on genus and differentia, Aristotle offers the definition of virtues of character: they are mean states relative to us between two extremes of excess and deficiency.
Several of the most famous stories told to young children were Aesop’s fables, creative stories designed to teach valuable life lessons. One of the most memorable to me was the fable about the lion that spared a mouse’s life and was later rescued by the mouse. Skeptical that this miniscule creature would ever be able to do something for him, the lion’s pride in his size and strength almost blinded him from displaying kindness. This tale particularly resonates in my mind because it teaches the moral that kindness and virtue are never wasted. Machiavelli’s controversial treatise, The Prince, offers a method of rule through fear. His cynical perspective of human nature causes him to lose faith and trust in others. He fails to acknowledge humans as relational beings, so his methods prove to be only temporarily effective. In contrast, understanding and exemplifying Aristotle’s definition of true virtue in his Nicomachean Ethics will bring reverence, love, and happiness to a leader. Therefore, the community will thrive when that individual believes in the common good and genuinely cares for others. Because love ultimately surpasses fear, in comparison to Machiavelli’s cynicism and skepticism, Aristotle’s beliefs about virtue would provide a better guide for achieving long term success. Firstly, I will discuss Machiavelli’s and Aristotle’s contrasting views of human nature and virtue. Next, I will argue for the effectiveness of Aristotle’s advice in comparison to Machiavelli’s fear tactics and provide hypothetical examples. Lastly, I will argue for how virtue brings long term success for both individuals and communities.
“If you have to destroy those who can or might hurt you, revamp old laws with new measures, be severe and indulgent, magnanimous and liberal, disband old armies and replace them with new, meanwhile managing your relations with other princes and kings in such a way that they will be glad to help you and cautious about harming you.” Throughout the treatise, Machiavelli demonstrates his cynicism and little faith in human nature. Because he believes that everyone possesses evil intentions, he distrusts and dislikes other, merely forming relationships that promote personal gain. Cynicism causes individuals to constantly feel insecure and anxious, possibly leading them to make rash decisions based on emotion. Because there is a constant fear of failure, people may act on every minor suspicion or doubt about a person’s loyalty. These types of people essentially cannot form meaningful relationships with others besides friendships of utility that are lost when services are no longer being provided. Obsession with power can consume the individual so that his or her most important goal is to maintain power instead of caring for those he or she is ruling over. Showing little control, these individuals may act on anger, causing something that may actually leads to their downfall. If people are willing to provide assistance to their neighbors out of pure selflessness instead of obligation, a well-functioning society can develop. This is because everyone can contribute their efforts to enhancing the standard of living. The polar opposite of Machiavelli, Aristotle believes humans can achieve true virtue as long as they possess a willing and open heart. Rather than believing that people always intend to commit evil, he views virtue is a cycle and “by abstaining from pleasures, we become self-controlled, and once we are self-controlled, we are best able to abstain from pleasures.” (36) One of the most key factors to a successful leader according to Machiavelli is cunningness, or the ability to deliberate well and choose best the means to what is evil but humanly attainable. Demonstrating his complete lack of sympathy for others, this informs leaders that methods are negligible as long as the end goal is achieved. However, Aristotle emphasizes the art of prudence, or deliberating well and choosing best the means to what is good and is humanly attainable. The people striving to do as much good as possible can become a source of light and hope for those who may never have experienced virtuous love or friendship. Spreading goodwill can induce gratuity in people so that a domino effect occurs and they become driven to help others. Additionally, people are not as inherently evil as Machiavelli believes, although they may sometimes lean towards evil because of temptations. By believing that people are and will always continue to be sinful and malevolent demonstrates a lack of hope in society. In contrast, if there is faith in human nature, communities can strive to better themselves and aid others. If people are willing to provide assistance to their neighbors out of pure selflessness instead of obligation, a well-functioning society can develop. This is because everyone can contribute their efforts to enhancing the standard of living.
“People are less concerned with offending a man who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared: the reason is that love is a link of obligation which men, because they are rotten, will break any time they think doing so serves their advantage; but fear involves dread of punishment, from which they can never escape.” One of the most notable arguments in The Prince is Machiavelli’s discussion of utilizing cruelty and fear tactics to rule. Completely disregarding the long-term effects of deception and harm, he possesses a narrow-minded perspective about maintaining power. He only realizes the immediate effects of fear and does not consider any of the consequences of his suggestions. He is absolutely concerned with how people are instantly affected and disregards the important fact that fear breeds hatred. While his treatise may set an individual up for immediate success, that success will be interim and eventually there will be a loss of power. Fear seems effective at first because initially, no one possesses the courage to act. However, after people realize that everyone else bears the same sentiment, confidence becomes restored through numbers. This mutual defiance is extremely dangerous because those who are supposedly loyal may conspire against their leader and formulate plans for an uprising. Revolts are damaging to the state or whatever is being protested and the reputation of the leader is permanently stained. Punishing an individual with extreme cruelty is also ineffective because it only breeds more fear rather than loyalty. For example, consider a situation in which an employee in a large company fails to fulfill his or her duties or responsibilities to that company. Firing that employee to demonstrate that there is a “zero-tolerance” policy will only breed more resentment among the other employees and create an increasingly hostile environment. There is no admiration for the boss, and the employees are apathetic about their responsibilities. This means neither the company nor the boss is benefitted. The workers will be reluctant to work for the individual in charge or do anything that could benefit the company outside their immediate jobs. Only concerned for their own security, they would be willing to overthrow their boss if the opportunity is presented. Fear constantly needs to be renewed because the effects are temporary, but when a leader is loved, that love can grow with time. In complete contrast to deception and fear, love causes people to serve their leaders out of admiration. Becoming a figure of reverence, those around that individual will possess a willing heart for service and may genuinely desire to act in a way that benefits their leader. For example, good parenting requires teaching young children to exhibit virtue instead of deceit and cruel punishment through fear. It is crucial that evil is not ignored because children must be exposed to both sin and goodness. Additionally, it is the parents’ responsibility to emphasize virtue so the children will choose to do good. Parents must demonstrate love to their children so that they strive to please rather than disappoint their parents. Fear merely breeds resentment in the children so that they grow older to develop a rebellious nature. Teaching and instilling virtue into young minds also creates new generations of compassionate, cooperative, and effective communicators. Without this virtue, no one would believe in morality and the world would be chaotic due to self-indulgence. Hope for moral progress in society would be lost, thus increasing cynicism, which is never favorable.
“For fortune does not determine whether we fare well or ill, but is, as we said, merely an accessory to human life…the higher the virtuous activities, the more durable they are, because men who are supremely happy spend their lives in these activities most intensely and most continuously, and this seems to be the reason why such activities cannot be forgotten.” Machiavelli’s thirst for power is evident through his idea that power guarantees happiness. Claiming that a person’s innermost desires can be achieved through the acquisition of power, he believes love is overvalued and “men are quicker to forget the death of a father than the loss of a patrimony.” Believing that the effects of confiscating property exceeds those of losing a loved one, Machiavelli portrays his own sentiments towards relationships. He does not realize that people are capable of loving others for reasons other than the fortune or profit they may receive. This is the exact reason why he advocates the exploitation of men. Machiavelli emphasizes materialistic fulfillment that ultimately does not satisfy the void that is filled by human companionship. However, Aristotle’s advice can bring a genuine happiness, as his views lead to a life with much less regret. When an individual strives to do good for the community, he or she is more self-content. A life of hatred and deceit can cause a bitterness and constant dissatisfaction that ultimately can never be solved by any amount of material wealth. In contrast, virtue increases an individual’s capacity to love and spread this love to others. Virtue can induce an individual to serve the community because happiness, friendship, and kindness generates generosity and compassion. Similar to the cycle that leads to self-control, this, in turn, causes the community to feel a sense of adornment towards that individual. When the community demonstrates its appreciation towards that person, he or she becomes increasingly virtuous and content, so the cycle repeats. In the long run, people who are content will continue to be satisfied and possibly become increasingly happy as time passes. In addition, this virtue creates a sense of responsibility instead of an obsession with maintaining personal power. Individuals will feel that it is their duty to serve the interests of those they are ruling over and ensure that they are informed of everything that is occurring. This leads to active involvement in public events, which assures citizens of the considerate nature of their leader. When the people are aware that their problems are being attended to, trust is established and there is no desire for an uprising.
An extremely important aspect that Machiavelli failed to recognize in The Prince was that humans are relational beings that require love and companionship to thrive. The bonds we form with others establish a sense of belonging and acceptance. Sometimes sharing valuable memories and moments with others can help us discover our own identity and purpose in life. Humans are meant to live as a community instead of merely coexisting, so every encounter is valuable. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics provides meaningful and insightful advice that can help us establish virtuous relationships with others. It is important that the friendships we create are those that allow the participants in the relationship to grow and mature. Strive to accomplish goals that serve the common good and be a bright light to a world that is noticeably forgetting the true meaning of virtue.
 Machiavelli, Niccolò, The Prince 2nd ed. Norton Critical Editions, translated and edited by Robert M. Adams (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1992), 23.
 Harrington, Barbara, “Aristotle on Friendship” presented at the HON 101 lecture (Azusa, CA, Azusa Pacific University, October 10, 2016).
 Weeks, David, “The Art of Imprudence,” presented at the HON 101 lecture (Azusa, CA, Azusa Pacific University, October 3, 2016).
 Machiavelli, 46.
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, translated with an Introduction and Notes by Martin Oswald, Library of Liberal Arts (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1962), 25.
 Machiavelli, 46.
The rationale of the Dalai Lama has been a concept passed down from many generations. Being a line of reincarnations, very rarely have the morals deviated from the original Dalai Lama. Said to embody compassion, the Dalai Lama defined his duty to serve humanity. In Ethics for the New Millennium, by the most current Dalai Lama, compassion is not the only thing stressed— it also highlights the ethics of every other virtue. Focusing in compassion, however, the Dalai Lama believed that the best way to achieve it was by connecting with those who suffer. His main argument is that by doing so, an individual is more likely to feel the obligation to help those in need. The Dalai Lama’s ultimate goal throughout his position is to achieve nying je chenmo or great compassion, which includes accentuating the aspiration of developing nying he chenmo in order to act as inspiration throughout life and making it a common goal.
The Dalai Lama states that he does not expect each individual to attain the highest spiritual development, which he has dedicated his life to accomplishing, in order to live a meaningful and virtuous life. As stated previously, the Dalai Lama preaches that he wishes individuals to gain inspiration through learning how to “develop nying je chenmo…as an ideal” which will “naturally have a significant impact on our outlook” (Dalai Lama 124). By making this a choice of lifestyle, he believes that people will find a greater purpose to their lives, and in return, evoke to same choice onto others and spreading the same principles. Although it is most likely impossible to achieve the spiritual development that the Dalai Lama has been divinely righted, it is fair that he admits insurmountable boundary. He provides a practical concept, which motivates individual to engage in virtuous acts and spread their morale to other people. When choosing a virtuous lifestyle, a virtuous person is said to be spiritually strong and possess “patience” and the “ability to withstand.” Known as so pa, which develops through the practice of spiritual and moralistic discipline, they are “provided with the strength to resist suffering and are protected from losing compassion even for those who would harm us” (Dalai Lama 102). With that in mind, a virtuous person is able to respond to hardships with a meditative response rather than an impulsive one. This deliberate action entails the benefits and consequences of each situation and its effects on the wrong doer and the victim, thus invoking compassion response.
The nature of reality, which the Dalai Lama argues, relates to the connection between how we perceive ourselves and responsive behavior (Dalai lama 36). Deemed as crucially significant, the danger of misunderstanding leads to harming others as well as ourselves. The Dalai Lama describes an ethical act “one where we refrain from causing harm to others’ experience or expectation of happiness” (Dalai Lama 61). Compassion is once again brought forward. Trying not to cause harm to others, most spiritual acts including but not limited to “love, compassion, patience, forgiveness, humility, tolerance presume some level of concern for others’ well-being.” Invoking strong feelings of empathy, “the spiritual actions we undertake which are motivated not by narrow self-interest but out of concern for other actually benefit ourselves” (Dalai Lama 61) and bring us close to a more meaningful life. The concern for others entails that inner discipline must be exercised. The lack of inner restraint is the basis, which inhibits a compassionate life and is identified as the “source of all unethical conduct” (Dalai Lama 81). When we alter our old habits and dispositions, it makes it much easier to create an over all state of kun long, or overall state of heart and mind, which generate our actions. The Dalai Lama stresses how crucial it is not to let emotions be at the heart of our actions. For example, when we swamp ourselves in outrage, it is very likely for us to lash out at people and cause external as well as internal suffering (Dalai Lama 85). He says that “negative thoughts and emotions are what obstruct our most basic aspiration—to be happy and to avoid suffering” (Dalai Lama 87), which prove that inner restraint is an important factor in leading a compassionate life and vital to his argument of suffering and the importance of compassion. By learning how to deal with suffering and the destructive properties of afflicted emotions, we are able to “discriminate between temporary and long-term benefit… and the degree of ethical fitness of the different courses of action open to use…and to access the likely outcome of our actions, which sets aside lesser goals in order to achieve greater ones” (Dalai Lama 149). These skills highlight the need for discernment and enable us to partake in ethical practice. Compassionate response leads to a meaningful life.
While reading Ethics for the New Millennium, the most appropriate text, which reminded me much of his holiness the Dalai Lama’s ideals, was Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Their views toward happiness and fulfilling a meaningful life were very similar, especially in the area of compassion and the ethics of virtue. They both preach the importance of compassion in order to live a peaceful life of happiness—an agreeable theory. Being from different time periods and different parts of the world, it is interesting to see how these two philosophical figures can hold the same ideals despite the distance in time period and geographical location. As I mentioned before, the Dalai Lama succession has been around for many generations, which explains why the importance of virtue has been around for so long. Another philosophical figure that comes to mind is Mahatma Gandhi and his Selected Political Writings. Gandhi stresses his support for restraint and self-discipline, which is an ethic that the Dalai Lama dedicates a whole chapter toward. Referring back to Ethics for the New Millennium, Nicomachean Ethics, and Mahatma Gandhi’s Selected Political Writings, I will emphasize the similarities in their arguments and explain why they are most agreeable.
The Dalai Lama starts off Ethics for the New Millennium with “the quest for human happiness.” He analyzes how modern society finds happiness and why relying on religion is just not enough. Our society is “devoted to material progress” because it offers “immediate satisfaction” (Dalai Lama 9). Seeing results from religion and prayer can often be a long progress, and the Dalai Lama even mentions, “the results for the most part are invisible” (Dalai Lama 10). Religion is slowly losing its influence amongst our society because it is believed that science has “disproven religion”; the Dalai Lama does recognize this occurrence and stresses that this is the time for “morality itself to be a matter of individual preference” (Dalai Lama 10). Gandhi mentions in his Selected Political Writings “only God is ever the same through all time” (Gandhi 36). Religion never changes, while technology grows at an exponential rate and constantly improves itself. Similar to Aristotle, the Dalai Lama believes that modern technology cannot be the source of happiness; instead, he believes in self-conviction and practicing the ethics of virtue. Differing in religion, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama being Buddhist, and Aristotle influenced by western Christianity, the similarity in their views show that the ideals of religion is very similar despite the differences in the way it is practiced. Religion has been around for many years before so I believe religion to be the one thing that stays the same in this ever-changing world. Religion is a great practice to fallback on because it offers familiarity and consistency. Prayer offers an immediate peace of mind, especially for myself, preventing me from acting through emotion alone.
Speaking of acting through emotion, Aristotle was a firm believer in immersing one’s self in life and its surroundings. This immersion, known as compassion, is the heart of the Dalai Lama’s morals. Aristotle believed that in order to be called virtuous, you must not only study their principles, but you must practice virtuous actions as well (Aristotle 1095b20-30). The Dalai Lama defines compassion as “sharing others’ suffering” (Dalai Lama 123). With that in mind, the two philosophers validate the idea that in order to lead a fulfilling life, the common phrase “walking in another person’s shoes” is necessary. By feeling the pain and discomfort that people suffer, this offers a greater reason to offer assistance and make the world a better place. People who have constantly lived their lives oppressed or less fortunate, it is hard to believe that they will not lash out and have only “goodwill towards all life” (Gandhi 41), which is why it is important to feel their discomfort and do something to help their situation. By helping one less person suffer, that offers a feeling of satisfaction that nothing else can replicate. Participating in virtuous acts such as helping those in need, so pa is accomplished. Individuals are “provided with the strength to resist suffering and are protected from losing compassion even for those who would harm us” (Dalai Lama 102), and are capable of making decisions that benefit as a whole rather than one-sidedly. Gandhi claims that “[God] as endowed our soul with such strength that sheer brute force is of no avail against it” (Gandhi 38), proving the strength of strong religious convictions. The strength that choosing a compassionate lifestyle yields is to an extent that nothing can overcome it.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, and Aristotle are three philosophers that have made a great impact on spiritual development. They may have had many differences, but their fundamentals were very much the same. Their reasoning was practical and it’s very easy to see that religion and divinity played a big part in shaping their philosophical morals. Given the information provided, it is easy to see that while religion served as glue to string their theories together, a general meaning of life was compiled. Religion is key, compassion is the lifestyle, and ethical practice is the goal.
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was written in 1953 in conjunction with the anti-communist hysteria that had swept not only American society, but also the American justice system during the second Red Scare. Not contemporaneous to the time it was written, Miller’s play was intended to bring to light the parallels between McCarthyism in America and the gruesome higher stakes of the Salem Witch Trials; thereby challenging the rationality of congressional actions and the people’s response, but also, on a certain level, sympathizing with them. The Crucible demonstrates, above all, that doing the right thing is hard, and often requires a degree of bravery or personal sacrifice, which is exemplified in protagonist John Proctor. Proctor’s purpose in the context of the play, then, is to be in a state of development in terms of his conscience, character, and virtue, and to be able to ultimately triumph (despite the corporeal setbacks which ensue) over his personal struggles in the name of protecting justice. When considered in conversation with the thinkings of Richard Gula, Stanley Hauerwas, Aristotle and James Keenan, it becomes evident by The Crucible’s final scene that John Proctor has become a man of conscience, character, and virtue.
Richard Gula’s chapter on “Conscience” from his book Reason Informed By Faith defines the mature, moral conscience as “… the ability to make up one’s mind for oneself about what ought to be done” (124). This functions in contrast with the superego, which Gula describes as a “weapon of guilt”; a person acting out of superego is making their decisions based solely upon societal and authoritative influences for fear that they will be made to feel bad otherwise (125). The actions of the young women of Salem, led by the jealous Abigail Williams, best exemplify this kind of decision-making. Before the play begins, the girls are described as having gone to the forest to dance naked and toy with black magic; actions obviously born not out of conscience or superego, but purely for rebellion’s sake. When the authorities in the town find out about their heathenly actions, the girls feel that they must create lies in order to reallocate the blame. This makes sense for young girls (ages range amongst them, but Abby is portrayed as the oldest at seventeen) because they are morally immature. Gula describes: “As we develop through childhood, the need to be loved and approved is the basic need and drive. We fear punishment as children not for its physical pain only, but more because it represents a withdrawal of love” (125). John Proctor is seemingly one of the few people in Salem who understand the true motivations behind the girls’ actions – he never worships them like Parris, Hale, and the Judges do – as he consistently, clearly does act out of conscience (from the three – conscience, character, and virtue – Proctor seems to struggle with this the least). He, for example, attends church considerably little for a Puritan (he has gone twenty six times in seventeen months) because he doesn’t believe the way Reverend Parris runs the church is satisfactory according to his Christian values. He tells Reverend Hale in Act I, scene ii, “Since we built the church there were pewter candlesticks upon the altar… but Parris came, and for twenty week he preach nothing but golden candlesticks until he had them… when I look to heaven and see my money glaring at his elbows – it hurt my prayer…”. There is also something to be said for Proctor’s refusal in the second act tell Judge Danforth the names of anyone who may have consorted with the Devil, although this is not an immediate success for him. Gula writes, “So many confessions… are more clearly expressions of an overactive superego producing unhealthy guilt than they are the witness of an adult moral conscience renewing itself so that the moral person can serve God more lovingly and faithfully” (124). This holds true to John’s confession in the final scene that he did see the Devil. However, his refusal to name names and subsequent decision to die a good man are expressions of conscience. John Proctor’s struggle with conscience mostly pertains to the final scene of the play, and arise from the Roman Catholic tradition’s first two dimensions of conscience – synderesis (ability to identify “the good”) and moral science (discovering the good to be done and the evil to be avoided) (Gula 131). He simply cannot identify the good that he ought to do in this situation – should he save his own life so that he can continue to provide for his wife and three sons? Or should he sacrifice himself so he can continue to have a name weighted with honor? Ultimately, he does win through and make the correct moral decision, though only by the penultimate page of the play.
Stanley Hauerwas’ chapter, “Towards an Ethics of Character” from Volume 33, Issue 4 of Theological Studies, explains the concept of character as “the very reality of who we are as self-determining agents,” who consistently make distinctive and deliberate choices in order to live our lives a certain way, or according to certain values (154, 155). This is also one of John Proctor’s stronger points, because it is clearly demonstrated throughout the play that he has a reputation in Salem for being a man of honesty and integrity. References are made to his good name in the two scenes where it comes under immediate threat: in Act II, scene ii, when Proctor is telling Judge Danforth of his affair with Abigail Williams, he says of himself, “A man will not cast away his good name.” In Act II, scene iii, whilst Proctor refuses to incriminate others for interacting with the Devil, Parris says, of Proctor, “… it is a weighty name, it will strike the village that he confesses.” It is clear that his honesty is deliberate, as he establishes his belief that, “God damns all liars,” when trying to warn Mary Warren against being swayed to the immorality of Abigail’s power-hungry crusade (Act II, scene ii). All that being said, his actions do consistently reflect that he is an honorable man, as he often tells the truth when it seems particularly difficult to tell. For example, he admits blatantly to Reverend Parris that he does not respect his authority in the church. When Parris demands that there is a faction in the church conspiring against him, Proctor says: “Why, then I must find it and join it.” (Act I, scene i). In a society where the church is central to their daily life (there is no separation of church and state in Puritan culture), this is a particularly daring move, but all the same Proctor is not interested in giving Parris false praise. There are also a couple examples of Proctor’s unwavering honesty in the context of his affair with Abigail. Before the play begins, he has already told his wife, Elizabeth, about the affair, as evidenced by their conversation over supper in which he berates his wife’s apparent judgement of him, when he has only been good to her and confessed his sins otherwise (Act II, scene i). He must then again confess his infidelity to Judge Danforth, and thereby the general public, when he is attempting to discredit Abigail in court as a thoughtless young girl, motivated by her jealousy of his wife and nothing more. Of course, the most significant indicator of John Proctor’s unchanging honesty comes in the final scene of the play, when he makes the decision to rescind his insincere confession. He is aware that confessing that he truly has not seen the Devil will cost him his life, but he is also aware that if he maintains the lie, it will cost him his honor, something which he would not wish to live without.
James Keenan outlines the established cardinal virtues as well as offers a couple of his own in his “Cultivating the Cardinal Virtues.” In this text as well as in Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics”, the term “virtue” is treated as being synonymous with “excellence” (Aristotle 33). The four most excellent attributes of the human person are then, according to Keenan’s summary of Aquinas: justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence, where “prudence orders our practical reason; justice orders the will…; temperance and fortitude order the passions,” (149). Keenan’s personal contributions to the list of principal virtues are “fidelity” and “self-care”, in which we are called to act with these values as specific and unique relational beings (we are called to an original cardinal virtue – justice – as general relational beings) (150). I understand John Proctor as having specific relationships to the virtues of temperance, fortitude, fidelity, and self-care, whether those relationships are positive or negative (or developing). Firstly, it becomes extremely apparent that Proctor struggles with his temper. Through the duration of the play, he gets into fits with his wife, Abigail, Parris, Mary Warren, and the Judges. It is, of course, valid for Proctor to feel passionately about the lives of his neighbors and friends being put at stake for no discernable reason, however he also utterly fails at being proactive. As Keenan describes in his text, “Thomas [Aquinas] argued that each person ought to establish a proactive agenda. If we become what we do, then we should intend ways of acting that can shape us better into being the type of people we think we should become.” (147). While John knows in the very beginning of the play that the girls are only grasping for attention and power and have not actually seen the Devil (When he mentions that there are rumors in the town about witchcraft in Act I, scene i, Abby responds, “Oh, posh! – We were dancin’ in the woods last night, and my uncle leaped in on us. She [Betty] took fright, is all.”), he is consistently ignorant of the trials and arrests of his friends, too busy with his own marital matters; when his matters become entangled with those of the town, it’s then that he attempts to fight, but it is too late.
Contrastingly, if we are broadly defining temperance as one’s control of their irrational passions, Proctor does exercise temperance in light of his affair with Abby – he cuts her off, as he knows the rational thing to do is be patient and abide by his marital promises to his wife. This example obviously highlights John’s troubles with the virtue of fidelity as well; he has claimed that, outside of physical infidelity, he has remained emotionally faithful, but he comes to realize that he made an emotional “promise” to Abigail in their sexual relationship (Act II, scene ii). On the complete opposite hand, there is something to be said for John’s capacity for self-care in this context. At the point that he does engage in sexual acts with Abigail, his wife has been cold to him for many months on end. By fulfilling his physical needs, however contradictory to the virtue of fidelity or even his long-term emotional self-care, he is caring for himself in the short-term. The way he exercises self-care at the end of the novel is also contradictory; by turning himself over to die, he is abandoning all care of his physical self, but he knows that if he carries on living under the circumstances assigned to him, he will live only in a perpetual state of disgrace and self-contempt. Thereby, killing himself is the only way he can care for himself. Self-love is defined by Bernard of Clairvaux as, “the first step in a long process of returning to the love… of God.” (qtd. in Keenan, 140). If not a touch literal, the action Proctor takes in this moment accomplishes exactly that. Finally, much like Proctor and conscience, Proctor ultimately shows that he is fortitudinous in the play’s final scene, when he must resist his urges of self-preservation. Aristotle outlines in Nicomachean Ethics the characteristics of virtuous activity. He says, “First of all, [the agent] must know what he is doing; secondly, he must choose to act the way he does, and he must choose it for its own sake; and in the third place, the act must spring from a firm and unchangeable character.” (39). John Proctor fulfills each of these requirements in his final scene; first, Proctor very clearly grasps what he is doing – we as the audience know this because the process of him coming to his decision is written in monologue. Secondly, he is obviously choosing the act for its own sake because acting is not at all in his self-interest as a man with a desire to live, and, third, the moments of the final scene are what concretize John Proctor as an honest, honorable man; where his character is set in stone.
Elizabeth Proctor closes The Crucible with the line: “He has his goodness now”, in reference to her husband, who has made the ultimate sacrifice and has thereby absolved himself of his earlier sins in her eyes (Act II, scene iii). This line is staggeringly accurate when considered within the context of conscience, character, and virtue. While Proctor certainly struggles with all three throughout the play, it is in his final moment of sacrifice that he more clearly becomes a man who possesses all of these qualities in abundance.