Aristotle`s Virtue Theory According to Aristotle, virtue primarily involves rationality and the use of a person’s rationality. Rationality and happiness are activities of the soul, and virtue is the excellence of these activities. Humans are the only life forms that have a soul, the source of rationality. Thus, humans have a duty to always use their intellect. Three things are found in the soul: emotions, capacities, and characteristics. Emotions are things humans feel, like anguish or happiness, that are followed by pain or pleasure. Capacities are a persons ability or capacity to experience or express something.
Since people are not considered good or bad based on their emotions, virtue cannot be an emotion. Virtue is not a capacity either, because virtue involves choice, not abilities. Therefore, virtue is a characteristic of a person that “renders good the thing itself of which it is the excellence and causes it to perform its function well.” In other words, a person with a good character has virtue. The aim of all human action is for good, and any virtuous act is good. A virtuous act must be based on rationality and only acted on after careful deliberation by the individual. Therefore, a virtuous individual must be knowledgeable about what is good, must only make choices after careful deliberation, and must be a good judge of proper action.
These virtuous characteristics come from experience, training, an environment conducive to learning, a love of rationality, and good habits developed from constant practice. Aristotle reasoned that because humans base most of their decisions on the amount of happiness they bring, a moral principle must address the way pain and pleasure fits into our Reed 2 decision making process. Pleasure causes humans to do base actions. Pain keeps us from doing noble actions. Virtue involves maintaining a balance between pain and pleasure. Aristotle stressed that this moderation of pain and pleasure is an extremely important aspect of virtue.
The mean between excess vices and deficient vices must always be pursued. Vices cause us to not act virtuous in dealing with pleasure and pain. An illustration of this could be that if a person endures pain with courage, he or she is balancing pain and pleasure. This balance becomes an index of the person’s virtue. There are two different aspects of the soul: the irrational and the rational. The irrational is present in all living things and “responsible for nurture and growth”.
Two different parts of the irrational include the vegetative and the seat of appetites and desire. Anything vegetative, like basic survival methods, could be considered irrational. Since the vegetative does not involve reason, it does not have anything to do with virtue. However, the seat of appetites can be somewhat influenced by the rational part of the soul, in that our decisions can be made according to what seems most “reasonable”. The rational can also be divided up by what a person knows is intrinsically reasonable, and the ability of a person to listen to or be convinced by someone else’s reason. Two aspects of virtue, the intellectual and the moral, are divided very similarly to these different aspects of soul.
Intellectual virtues include theoretical wisdom, understanding, and practical wisdom. Practical wisdom involves making choices only after careful deliberation. Moral virtues are praiseworthy characteristics that include generosity and self-control. True virtue entails finding a mean or balance between the intellectual and moral aspects of virtue. This mean is applicable to not only the intellectual and moral aspects of virtue, but also Reed 3 pain and pleasure and the irrational and rational aspects of the soul.
Aristotle emphasizes that balance between each of these three different extremes is a vital part of being a virtuous person. Having too much of one characteristic becomes an excess or deficient vice and is very detrimental to a person. However, he also admits that it is impossible to be sure that every action is directly in balance and does not have more of one characteristic than another. For instance, a person cannot know the exact amount of pain or pleasure an action will bring, and it would be very difficult to only perform actions that would be in perfect balance between pain and pleasure. Therefore, the overall median of all actions performed is used. Humans should aim for a kind of average between pain and pleasure, the intellectual and moral, and the irrational and rational for all the actions they perform.
In order for an action to be virtuous, it must contain several different aspects of rationality, including knowledge, choice and, character. Knowledge is intellectual wisdom that is learned from experience and other people. The second characteristic, choice, involves a person choosing something for its own sake. A virtuous person will only make choices after careful deliberation. Thus, he or she will always choose the most logical action to bring the persons desired consequence. The third characteristic Aristotle mentions deals with a persons character. A virtuous person develops the habit of always performing good deeds.
Someone who practices virtue on regular basis will find that doing such deeds becomes easier and easier. These characteristics are vital in acquiring virtue.