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An Introduction to Aristotelian Virtue Theory


Moral education may initially seek to control unruly desires through rules, the ... Ultimately, moral education aims at forming rightly-ordered desires, that is, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: An Introduction to Aristotelian Virtue Theory

An Introduction toAristotelian Virtue Theory
  • Concern for character has flourished in the West
    since the time of Plato, whose early dialogues
    explored such virtues as courage and piety.

  • The Structure of Virtue
  • Particular Virtues
  • Courage
  • Compassion
  • Self-love
  • Friendship
  • Forgiveness
  • Concluding Evaluation

Part One.The Structure of Virtue
Two Moral Questions
  • The Question of Action
  • How ought I to act?
  • The Question of Character
  • What kind of person ought I to be?
  • Our concern here is with the question of character

An Analogy from the Criminal Justice System
  • As a country, we place our trust for just
    decisions in the legal arena in two places
  • Laws, which provide the necessary rules
  • People, who (as judge and jury) apply rules
  • Similarly, ethics places its trust in
  • Theories, which provide rules for conduct
  • Virtue, which provides the wisdom necessary for
    applying rules in particular instances

  • Strength of character (habit)
  • Involving both feeling and action
  • Seeks the mean between excess and deficiency
    relative to us
  • Promotes human flourishing

Virtues and Spheres of Existence
Spheres of Existence--2
Two Conceptions of Morality
  • We can contrast two approaches to the moral
  • The childhood conception of morality
  • Comes from outside (usually parents).
  • Is negative (dont touch that stove burner!).
  • Rules and habit formation are central.
  • The adult conception of morality.
  • Comes from within (self-directed).
  • Is positive (this is the kind of person I want
    to be.).
  • Virtue-centered,often modeled on ideals.

The Purpose of Morality
  • Both of these conceptions of morality are
    appropriate at different times in life.
  • Adolescence and early adulthood is the time when
    some people make the transition from the
    adolescent conception of morality to the adult

Cleverness and Wisdom
  • The clever person knows the best means to any
    possible end.
  • The wise person knows which ends are worth
    striving for.

Rightly-ordered Desires
  • Aristotle draws an interesting contrast between
  • Continent people, who have unruly desires but
    manage to control them.
  • Temperate people, whose desires are naturallyor
    through habit, second-naturedirected toward that
    which is good for them.
  • Weakness of will (akrasia) occurs when
    individuals cannot keep their desires under

Rightly-ordered Desires and the Goals of Moral
  • Moral education may initially seek to control
    unruly desires through rules, the formation of
    habits, etc.
  • Ultimately, moral education aims at forming
    rightly-ordered desires, that is, teaching people
    to desire what is genuinely good for them.

Virtue As the Golden Mean
  • Strength of character (virtue), Aristotle
    suggests, involves finding the proper balance
    between two extremes.
  • Excess having too much of something.
  • Deficiency having too little of something.
  • Not mediocrity, but harmony and balance.
  • See examples below.

Virtue and Habit
  • For Aristotle, virtue is something that is
    practiced and thereby learnedit is habit
  • This has clear implications for moral education,
    for Aristotle obviously thinks that you can teach
    people to be virtuous.

Part Two.Particular Virtues
  • Courage
  • Compassion
  • Self-love
  • Friendship
  • Forgiveness

Courage and the Unity of the Virtues
  • To have any single strength of character in full
    measure, a person must have the other ones as
  • Courage without good judgment is blind, risking
    without knowing what is worth the risk.
  • Courage without perseverance is short-lived,
  • Courage without a clear sense of your own
    abilities is foolhardy.

Compassion and Pity
  • Pity looks down on the other.
  • Consequently, no one wants to be the object of
  • Compassion sees the suffering of the other we
    something that could have happened to us.
  • Consequently, we welcome the compassion of others
    when we are suffering.

  • Etymology to feel or suffer with
  • Both cognitive and emotional
  • Leads to action
  • Excess the bleeding heart
  • Deficiency moral callousness
  • Contrast with pity

Compassion as an Emotion
  • Emotion is often necessary
  • to recognize the suffering of others
  • emotional attunement
  • part of the response to that suffering
  • others often need to feel that you care

Compassion and Moral Imagination
  • Example from Le Chambon
  • Later in the week they captured an Austrian Jew
    named Stecklerhe had made the mistake of going
    to a pharmacy without all of his papers. The
    police put himtheir only prisonerin one of the
    big buses. As he sat there, the villagers
    started gathering around the periphery of the
    square. The son of Andre Trocmé the village
    pastor, Jean-Pierre, walked up to the window of
    the bus at which Steckler sat and gave him his
    last piece of rationed (imitation) chocolate.
    This started the closing of the circle of
    villagers. They brought their most precious
    foodstuffs and put them through the window into
    Stecklers arms. Soon the quiet little man had a
    pile of gifts around him about as high as he sat
    in the seat.
  • When the buses left with their one Jew the
    villagers sang a song of affection and farewell
    to him.

  • Involves feeling, knowing, and acting
  • Characteristics of loving another person
  • Feelings of tenderness, care, appreciation,
    respect toward that person
  • Knowing that person (infatuation usually does not
    involve knowledge)
  • Acting in ways that promote the flourishing of
    that person

Self-LovePrincipal Characteristics
  • Characteristics of self-love
  • Having feelings of care, appreciation, and
    respect for others
  • Valuing yourself--flows from feelings of
  • Knowing yourself--a long, often arduous, and
    never completed task
  • Acting in ways that promote your genuine

  • Deficiency
  • Too little feeling self-loathing
  • Too little self-valuing self-deprecating
  • Too little self-knowledge unwilling or unable to
    look at ones own motivations, feelings, etc.
  • Too little acting not taking steps to insure
    ones own well-being

  • Excesses of self-love take many forms arrogance,
    conceit, egoism, vanity, and narcissism are but a
    few of the ways in which we can err in this
  • Too much caring self-centeredness
  • Too much self-valuing arrogance, conceit
  • Too much self-knowledge narcissistic
  • Too much acting for self selfishness

  • For Aristotle, there is no necessary dichotomy
    between self-interest and concern for others.
  • Without friends, in Aristotles view, we cannot
    achieve happiness
  • without friends no one would choose to live,
    though he had all other goods even rich men and
    those in possession of office and of dominating
    power are thought to need friends most of all
    EN, VIII, 1.

What Is Friendship?
  • We may describe friendly feeling towards any one
    as wishing for him what you believe to be good
    things, not for your own sake but for his, and
    being inclined, so far as you can, to bring these
    things about. A friend is one who feels thus and
    excites these feelings in return those who think
    they feel thus towards each other think
    themselves friends. This being assumed, it
    follows that your friend is the sort of man who
    shares your pleasure in what is good and your
    pain in what is unpleasant, for your sake and for
    no other reason.
  • --Rhetoric, Book II, Chap. 4 1380b36-1381a5

Types of Friendship
  • Friendship may have three possible aims
  • Utility ends when the useful purpose is no
    longer present.
  • Pleasure ends when the pleasure disappears.
  • A shared commitment to the good Perfect
    friendship is the friendship of men who are good,
    and alike in virtue for these wish well alike to
    each other qua good, and they are good
    themselves. EN, VIII, 3.

Self-love and Altruism
  • It is true of the good man too that he does many
    acts for the sake of his friends and his country,
    and if necessary dies for them for he will throw
    away both wealth and honours and in general the
    goods that are objects of competition, gaining
    for himself nobility since he would prefer a
    short period of intense pleasure to a long one of
    mild enjoyment, a twelvemonth of noble life to
    many years of humdrum existence, and one great
    and noble action to many trivial ones. Now those
    who die for others doubtless attain this result
    it is therefore a great prize that they choose
    for themselves. They will throw away wealth too
    on condition that their friends will gain more
    for while a man's friend gains wealth he himself
    achieves nobility he is therefore assigning the
    greater good to himself.
  • EN, IX, 8 

Self-love and Altruism, 2
  • The same too is true of honour and office all
    these things he will sacrifice to his friend for
    this is noble and laudable for himself. Rightly
    then is he thought to be good, since he chooses
    nobility before all else. But he may even give up
    actions to his friend it may be nobler to become
    the cause of his friend's acting than to act
    himself. In all the actions, therefore, that men
    are praised for, the good man is seen to assign
    to himself the greater share in what is noble. In
    this sense, then, as has been said, a man should
    be a lover of self but in the sense in which
    most men are so, he ought not.
  • EN, IX, 8

  • This, too, is a virtue indispensable for human
  • In any long-term relationship (friendship,
    marriage, etc.), each party will do things that
    must be forgiven by the other.
  • Long term relationships are necessary to human
  • If we cannot forgive, we cannot have continuing
    long term relationships

ForgivenessExcess and Deficiency
  • Excess the person who forgives too easily and
    too quickly
  • may undervalue self
  • may underestimate offense
  • Deficiency the person who can never forgive
  • may overestimate his or her own importance
  • usually lives a life of bitterness and anger

Concluding Evaluation
  • Virtues are those strengths of character that
    enable us to flourish
  • The virtuous person has practical wisdom, the
    ability to know when and how best to apply these
    various moral perspectives.