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Aristotle's Theory of Ethics

What does Aristotle have to say about Ethics? How does his views about ethics and morality relate to his ideas about happiness, virtues, vices, etc.?

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Aristotle's ideas about Ethics...

1. Ethics, as viewed by Aristotle, is an attempt to find out our chief end or highest good: an end that he maintains is really final. Though many ends of life are only means to further ends, our aspirations and desires must have some final object or pursuit. Such a chief end is universally called happiness.

2. But people mean such different things by the expression that he finds it necessary to discuss the nature of it for himself. For starters, happiness must be based on human nature, and must begin from the facts of personal experience. Thus, happiness cannot be found in any abstract or ideal notion, like Plato's self-existing good. It must be something practical and human. It must then be found in the work and life that is unique to humans. But this is neither the vegetative life we share with plants nor the sensitive existence that we share with animals. It follows therefore that true happiness lies in the active life of a rational being or in a perfect realization and outworking of the true soul and self, continued throughout a lifetime.

3. Aristotle expands his notion of happiness through an analysis of the human soul that structures and animates a living human organism. The parts of the soul are divided as follows:
Calculative -- Intellectual Virtue
Appetitive -- Moral Virtue
Vegetative -- Nutritional Virtue

4. The human soul has an irrational element that is shared with the animals, and a rational element that is distinctly human. The most primitive irrational element is the vegetative faculty that is responsible for nutrition and growth. An organism that does this well may be said to have a nutritional virtue. The second tier of the soul is the appetitive faculty that is responsible for our emotions and desires (such as joy, grief, hope and fear). This faculty is both rational and irrational. It is irrational since even animals experience desires. However, it is also rational since humans have the distinct ability to control these desires with the help of reason. The human ability to properly control these desires is called moral virtue, and is the focus of morality. Aristotle notes that there is a purely rational part of the soul, the calculative, which is responsible for the human ability to contemplate, reason logically, and formulate scientific principles. The mastery of these abilities is called intellectual virtue.

5. Aristotle continues by making several general points about the nature of moral virtues (i.e. desire-regulating virtues). First, he argues that the ability to regulate our desires is not instinctive, but learned and is the outcome of both teaching and practice. Second, he notes that if we regulate our desires ...

Solution Summary

This solution details Aristotle's major tenets on ethics, and explains how these beliefs relate to morality, happiness, virtues, vices. Supplemented with a highly informative table listing the specific virtues and vices.