Aristotle’s ethical theory
The topic of virtue ethics is one of Aristotle’s strongholds, and his contribution to the
same has had a profound effect on the philosophical world. From Aristotle’s perspective, virtue
refers to a trait belonging to the character or mind, which aids one in achieving a good and
flourishing life (Cahn & Markie, 2009). Virtue ethics stresses the role played by a person’s
character and virtues depicting their behavior. It forms the foundation for normative ethics, the
flip of deontology. Flourishing or a happy life can be denoted as a sufficient and complete good. It is undesirable for the sake of anything else but itself. It usually satisfies all desires and does not encompass any evil with it, and it is stable.
He references a life explicitly with gratification, philosophical growth, a life of money-
making, political life, and life of contemplation (Cahn & Markie, 2009). All these lives satisfy
Aristotle’s formal definition of virtue and how they relate to his notion of good. He does not
seem intrigued by the life of money-making or gratification, but he agrees with advocates that a
happy life is pleasant. Virtue, according to Aristotle, is of two types, namely; moral and
intellectual. In this path of reasoning, we are led to believe that the possession and application of
intellectual and moral virtue is the vital component in our living well.
Intellectual virtue emanates from teaching whereas moral virtue from habit, which means
that they are acquired in different ways. For instance, intellectual virtue can be acquired via
reading a novel, but the latter can only be acquired through practice. Various arguments support
the above statements; for instance, iniquities can result from habit, and nothing can develop a
pattern that is contrary to its nature (Cahn & Markie, 2009). Therefore, this denotes that man is
neither innately vicious or virtuous. The intellect is the rational part of an individual’s cognition, which can understand concepts and make decisions. Moral virtue is concerned with actions and
passions, and for these, there exist defects, excess, and intermediary. For instance, fear, boldness,
anger, appetite, empathy, and in general, pain and pleasure may be felt in both much and less
extent, and this is characteristic of virtue.
There is a thin line between virtue and character. His assertions seem to focus on
character and how virtue helps develop it.Aristotle’s contribution and inclination towards virtue
ethics show how individuals can choose who and what they want to be rather than depend solely
on cultural beliefs. Hence virtue ethics falls under the three key approaches of normative ethics,
which delves into moral character rather than conformations and duties. Virtue ethics has been
found to encourage individuals to be more virtuous to the point that an ethical theory will not be
required for people to make decisions. Ethics put significant effort into the character while at the
same time, emphasizing emotion and pleasure (Cahn & Markie, 2009). This makes it suitable for
individuals to appreciate acting virtuously. Aristotle claims that anything that is part of the mind
is either a state of character or passion. He defines the character state as the things in virtue of
which people stand well or poorly with desires.
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Character encompasses an individual’s dispositions concerning what they feel, think,
react, choices they make, and activities they do in different circumstances. So an individual is
short-tempered if they are inclined to feel angry often and quickly. What people find pleasant
also serves to reveal their character. Longevity and sustainability are key features of character
traits. Its traits have a longer-lasting effect and are more rigid to change than many mind states
such as passions and moods.
Character, on the other hand, since it is developed by virtue, can change easily hence less
stable and short-lived than personal identity. Virtue can be denoted as a state of character, which causes an individual to choose the intermediate between extremes. Aristotle asserts that character
develops over time as an individual acquires behaviors from their parents and the society from
reward and punishment, respectively. Good character is acquired the same way one learns to play
a musical instrument. Initially, a person is pressured due to practicing, but eventually, one enjoys
playing with cognition and skill. Also, he also affirms that an individual is partly responsible for
their character and in turn, raises the query if one is at liberty of choosing their character.
A person of good character chooses freely and can precisely frame complex situations (Cahn &
Markie, 2009). Though, the full development of character necessitates rational consideration.
The good life notion can is clearly described as a moral concept, according to Aristotle. It
denotes maximum realization of what is unique to humankind or the life that an individual
dreams of living. According to Aristotle, a good life for humans is one that flourishes, and
individuals live well. A good life, he asserts that is one that is full of happiness resulting from a
fulfilling life. He equated the same to a good thing that tends to function accordingly hence
fulfilling the individual’s expectation using that particular thing (Cahn & Markie, 2009).
Aristotle believes that a good life encompasses ethical virtue. For one to live such a life, they
ought to portray certain wisdom or proficiency in life’s moral fabric.
We, as humans, value other things as they are a means to other things or an ultimate end.
For instance, we value cash because it gives us access to leisure, pleasure, and as a means to
pursue our desires. Happiness is something people value but not as a means to some end but for
its own sake hence having intrinsic rather than instrumental worth.
Aristotle maintains there are two kinds of ends, a complete and subordinate end. These
two translate to the two types of good lives, namely the meaningful and finished lives. An end in
itself, a complete one, is considered better than a subordinate. He also declares that the fullest life, all activity aims at happiness, although most individuals disagree on the exact definition of
happiness. For instance, having kids may not necessarily make all people happier hence, they
lack the sense that they are living meaningful lives. But there are other sources of meaning in
someone’s life, such as if they choose to pursue a particular kind of activity with great
People can devote themselves to a particular cause, such as charity or environmental
conservation. Cases of a finished life can exude a significant benefit of an objectivist rather than
a subjectivist notion of what it means to live well. One can be seen to live an exceptional life
with respect, friends, prosperity, and virtue but in the end, they are revealed to be living a
Cahn, S. M., & Markie, P. J. (2009). Ethics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues (5th ed.).
New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA.