Aristotle on the Good


How can anything be good?


Aristotle's answer:Only if there is something that is good in itself.


What is good in itself?Aristotle considers several proposals for what is good in itself.


(1) pleasure


(2) honor


(3) excellence


(4) money


All of these are incomplete goods.The only complete good is happiness.

What is happiness?


Aristotle's teleological answer:Every living thing has a function.The good for a living being is to perform its function well.


What is the function of a human being?Its function must distinguish it from other plants and animals.


"Human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtueĒ(408).









Thus, happiness includes:


(1) excellence (as activity, not as mere state)


(2) pleasure (but not as an "adventitious" addition).Pleasure from the love of justice and of excellence.[Aristotle holds that some pleasure (e.g., taking pleasure from ignoble actions) is not even good (409).]


(3) nobility:Not merely honor, but to be deserving of honor.


(4) external goods are needed to be able to do noble acts.Includes "good birth, godly children, beauty"(409).[Note that MacIntyre will make this notion more precise.]


Moral Excellence


Ethics derives from Greek term for character, which Aristotle identifies with habitual responses.


Virtue = excellence.


In addition to the excellence of the activity of a carpenter or a violinist, there is the excellence of the activity of a human being.This is moral excellence, or moral virtue.


Aristotle's key idea:There are no exceptionless principles for being morally virtuous (e.g., no necessary and sufficient principles for justice).Moral virtues require judgment or practical wisdom.


Moral training should be aimed at making us "feel delight and pain rightly"(414).What does this mean?



















†††† Does Aristotle identify a virtue with right action?


†††† No.It is "not the man who does [just and temperate acts] that is just and temperate, but the man who also does them as just and temperate men do them"(415).


†††† What does this mean?Isnít it hopelessly circular?











1.An Aristotelian Definition of Moral Virtue:A moral virtue is a stable disposition to respond (to act and feel) appropriately.


"Virtues are concerned with passions and actions"(414).



2.Virtues are developed by habituation.To develop a virtue, one must imitate the responses (acts and feelings) of a virtuous person.


"Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit"(413).






3.Aristotle's "Golden Mean" formula for moral virtues:Moral virtue "is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e., the 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"(416).



Why is the mean "relative to us"?


Moral virtue "is a mean because the vices respectively fall short of or exceed what is right in both passions and action "(416-417).


Is Aristotle's Golden Mean Formula a principle giving purely descriptive necessary and sufficient conditions for moral virtue?


4.Virtue is practical wisdom.It involves a rational principle, though not in the way that Socrates thought.





















"For all men think that each type of character belongs to its possessors in some sense by nature; for from the very moment of birth we are just or fitted for self-control or brave or have the other moral qualities; but yet we seek something else as that which is good in the strict senseówe seek for the presence of such qualities in another way.For both children and brutes have the natural dispositions to these qualities, but without reason these are evidently hurtful.Only we seem to see this much, that, while one may be led astray by them, as a strong body which moves without sight may stumble badly because of its lack of sight, still, if a man once acquires reason, that makes a difference in action; and his state, while still like what it was, will then be virtue in the strict sense.Therefore, as in the part of us which forms opinions there are two types, cleverness and practical wisdom, so too in the moral part there are two types, natural virtue and virtue in the strict sense, and of these the latter involves practical wisdom.



This is why some say that all the virtues are forms of practical wisdom, and why Socrates in one respect was on the right track while in another he went astray. . . . All men, then, seem somehow to divine that this kind of state is virtue, viz. that which is in accordance with practical wisdom. But we must go a little further.For it is not merely the state in accordance with the right rule, but the state that implies the presence of the right rule, that is virtue; and practical wisdom is a right rule about such matters.Socrates, then, thought the virtues were rules or rational principles (for he thought they were, all of them, forms of scientific knowledge), while we think they involve a rational principle."

(Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. VI, Ch. 13, 1144b13-29.)








MacIntyre on the Virtues



MacIntyre's core conception of virtue is built up out of the following elements:




2.narrative order of a single life


3.a moral tradition















What is a Practice?




†††††† "By a 'practice' I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended"(461-462).











Key concepts:


internal vs. external goods:external goods are rival (i.e., their desirability depends on their scarcity); internal goods are not.


standards of excellence:They cannot be written down.They are not immune to criticism, but only by those who have internalized them.


complex activity:no algorithm or recipe. The exercise of judgment, which involves internalizing the standards of excellence, is required.











MacIntyre's preliminary definition of a virtue:"A virtue is an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods"(464).



Three universal virtues:Justice, courage, and honesty.















Two Objections to MacIntyre's Account of Virtue:


(1) Practices can conflict with each other.How do we resolve conflicts?


Part of MacIntyre's reply:


Need to extend the account of virtue from practices to a "human life viewed as a whole" (470).


(2) Some practices are evil.


Practices must contribute to the good of society as a whole.


How do we resolve conflicts in practices or identify evil practices?


We need some standard for evaluating a life as a whole and as a member of a social whole.Is there an explicit standard that we can apply?



Aristotleís answer:No.We need practical wisdom to evaluate ways of life in a way that resolves individual and social conflicts.The virtuous person has practical wisdom.


Where does practical wisdom come from?


The part of MacIntyre's answer left out of the reading:


It requires a moral tradition.A moral tradition produces people who embody the standards for evaluating ways of life, persons of practical wisdom.We acquire practical wisdom not by applying explicit rules, but by imitating the person of practical wisdom.



The Historical Dimension:Standards of excellence evolve over time.This makes practices dynamic, not static, and requires that they be thought of as part of a tradition, not as simply an activity.



MacIntyreís Relativism


MacIntyre believes that the price of giving up Aristotleís teleological metaphysics is relativism about moral traditions.Their virtues are incommensurable.


Is this true?Is there a principled difference between virtue and vice?


How would Mill respond to MacIntyre?


Is there a collective action problem lurking here?


"The vicious and mean-spirited necessarily rely on the virtues of others for the practices in which they engage to flourish and also deny themselves the experience of achieving those internal goods which may reward even not very good chess-players and violinists"(465).


MacIntyre seems to be saying that the vicious and mean-spirited are free riders.



Another N-Person Collective Action Problem


†††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††† Everyone else†††



is virtuous



is vicious



I am virtuous









I am vicious (D)























EXPLICIT SENSITIVITY OF BELIEF AND EXPLICIT RESPONSIVENESS OF MOTIVATION:The EXPLICIT belief in and application of principle P: S's choice of act A conforms to principle P because S believes P, S explicitly applies P to determine what to do, and S's application of P is reliable.This is an example of explicit sensitivity of belief to principle P and explicit responsiveness of motivation to principle P.













Tracking.Test for whether Sís belief that act A is morally permissible tracks objective moral permissibility:If A were not morally permissible, S would not believe that A was.


Probabilistic Sensitivity.†† Test for whether Sís belief that act A is morally permissible is probabilistically sensitive to objective moral permissibility:If S believes herself to be in circumstances C and S believes act A to be morally permissible in those circumstances, act A probably is morally permissible in those circumstances.






Tracking.Test for whether the motivational state leading S to do act A tracks objective moral permissibility:If S's doing act A were not morally permissible, S would not be motivated to do A; S would be motivated to do something that was morally permissible.


Probabilistic Responsiveness.Test for whether the motivational state of S to do act A is probabilistically responsive to objective moral permissibility:If S believes herself to be in circumstances C and chooses to do act A, then A is probably morally permissible in those circumstances.








Let P be a principle of objective rightness.Let S be an agent in circumstances C trying to decide what is morally right (or wrong) in C.


We can distinguish various degrees of implicit sensitivity or responsiveness to principle P:
















(Sensitivity/Responsiveness) In circumstances C in which principle P implies that A is the right thing to do, Sís judgment that A is the right thing to do is implicitly sensitive to P and Sís doing A is implicitly responsive to P just in case:


(Tracking Sensitivity) If the circumstances were enough different that P did not imply that A was the right thing to do, S wouldnít believe that it was.


(Tracking Responsiveness) If the circumstances were enough different that P did not imply that A was the right thing to do, S would not be motivated to do X (S would be motivated to do whatever was the right thing to do).









(Probabilistic Sensitivity)

If the circumstances were enough different that principle P did not imply that A was the right thing to do, S would probably not believe that it was.


(Probabilistic Responsiveness)

If the circumstances were enough different that principle P did not determine that A was the right thing to do, S would probably not be motivated to do A (S would probably be motivated to do something morally permissible).














Schaller's Defense of Virtues as Fundamental



The Standard View


(1) Moral rules apply to acts.They can be followed by those who lack moral motivation.


(2) "Moral virtues are, fundamentally and essentially, dispositions to obey the moral rules"(451).


(3) "The moral virtues have only instrumental or derivative value"(451).


Schaller provides three counterexamples.










#1. The Duty of Beneficence


There is no rule for beneficence.The problem is that beneficence is an imperfect duty.




#2.The Virtue of Gratitude


"In order to perform an act of gratitude, one must be grateful"(454).


The duty of gratitude cannot be stated in terms of a moral duty for action.



#3.The Virtue of Self-Respect (if it is a virtue)


Self-respect cannot be captured in a rule, because it depends on attitude and belief.


Schaller seems to be arguing that the pursuit of virtue for its own sake has moral value.Which other philosopher emphasized the importance of pursuing virtue for its own sake?