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Flashcards in Aristotle's Virtue Ethics Deck (18)
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What is eudaimonia?

-Often translated as ‘happiness’, but better understood as ‘living well and faring’. According to Aristotle, eudaimonia is not subjective and is not a psychological state, but an objective quality of someone’s life as a whole. It is the final end for human beings.


What is the function argument and the characteristics within it?

-Ergon means function.

-Virtues are what we need to fulfill our function which achieves a state of eudaimonia .e.g. a knife has the virtue of being sharp to achieve the function of cutting well. This is the ergon of the knife.

-Virtues- ‘Qualities of a person that help them to flourish or live well.’ These are called Arête.


What are the 4 cordinal virtues as suggested by Plato?

-Temperance (balancing emotions)
-Prudence (careful)


What is it to have virtue?

-‘Having virtue just means doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, in the right amount, toward the right people’-Aristotle


What are the 2 types of virtue? Explain.

-Virtues of intellect- Traits such as ‘quick thinking’ and ‘Practical wisdom’ the latter being Aristotle’s focus.

-Virtues of character- A trait that disposes us to feel desires and emotions ‘well’ rather than ‘badly’.


What is the doctrine of the mean?

-This is not doing anything too much or too little. There is vice deficiency and vice excess and the golden mean is the middle between the 2.

-So scared is a deficiency, arrogance is the excess and courage is the golden mean.


What is habituation/habitual tendency?

-We all have the potential to be virtuous, but only through habit and putting it into practise do we become a virtuous person.

-‘We have the capacity to tell the truth, but only through doing so would we develop the virtue of truthfulness’-Aristotle


What is the skill analogy?

-Aristotles argues that developing virtues is like developing a skill. You gain virtues through habituation.


What is Aristotle’s distinction between acting in accordance with virtues and acting out of our virtues?

-E.g. A child: they might be good or truthful because they are told to, but this does not hold any practical reasoning or wisdom, so are they being virtuous?

-You have to do something because you know it is the correct thing to benefit others, rather than just doing it to benefit yourself.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics?

-Realistic- appreciates the complexity of moral issues.
-Holistic- recognises emotions.
-Flexible- allows for the importance of cultural factors and historical differences.
-Acknowledges education and progress- it explains how we can make moral progress.

-Conflicting Virtues l- euthanasia, end pain or preserve life?
-What is human flourishing?- This keeps changing with time.
-There is no consensus on human nature.
-No necessary link between virtue and flourishing.
-Deontology- We need to know what our moral duties are.
-Utilitarianism- You have to look at consequences not just intentions


Outline and explain the 2 types of justice as fairness (narrow sense).

-1) Justice is the distribution of what is good and bad. Here we treat people as equal unless they have done something wrong or how well they do something. Then we should treat their differences proportionally. People should receive goods according to their merit.

-2) Justice in recitification. Here some injustice needs to be set right or corrected. The focus isn’t on the people involved; who are treated as equals, but on the injustice. What is unequal needs to be made equal.


Outline and explain the ‘wide’ sense of justice.

-Anything legal is just, and anything illegal is unjust. The law instructs us to be virtuous and prohibits us from being vicious. Justice is equivalent to virtue.


What is the response to the challenge ‘A temperate person avoids pleasure’?

-Not true. What the temperate person avoids is an excess of certain bodily pleasures.


What is the response to ‘The practically wide person doesn’t seek pleasure but only avoids pain’?

-The practically wise person does seek pleasure, but in accordance with reason. Furthermore, the fact they avoid pain means pleasure is good as pain is bad and to be avoided; and the contrary of pain, pleasure, is to be pursued.


What is the response to ‘Pleasure interferes with thought’?

-The pleasures of thinking don’t interfere with thinking, but assist it. It is other pleasures that might interfere with thinking.


What is the response to the criticism ‘Not all pleasures are good, for example bodily pleasures or taking pleasure in something bad or disgraceful is a clear example’?

-If we say bodily pleasures are not good, then how can we explain that their opposite, bodily pains, are bad.


What are the 5 types of actions (e.g. voluntary is one)?

-Voluntary- you’ve made the choice.
-Non-voluntary- no regret, it’s not your fault.
-Involuntary- regret, it’s not your fault.
-Ignorant- not aware of the consequences
-Forced- e.g. stepping on someone’s foot when a train lurches


What is the criticism of the possibility of circularity?

-A third issue relates to Aristotle’s accounts of virtuous action and the virtuous person. A simple reading, which causes the problem, is this:
-1. an act is virtuous if it is an act that would be done by a virtuous person in this situation;
-2. a virtuous person is a person who is disposed to do virtuous acts.

The difficulty with these definitions is that, taken together, we are no clearer on what a virtuous act is or what a virtuous person is. For instance, if we substitute
the definition of a virtuous person in (1), we get ‘an act is virtuous if it is an act that would be done by a person who is disposed to do virtuous acts in this situation’. The definition is circular, because we have used the term ‘virtuous act’ to define what a virtuous act is!

The problem is solved by paying closer attention to Aristotle’s definitions. A (fully) virtuous act is indeed an act that a virtuous person does, when they know what they are doing and choose the act for its own sake. However, a virtuous person is not simply someone who does virtuous actions. A virtuous person has the virtues, which are traits, including states of character and excellences of reason, that enable them to achieve eudaimonia. States of character relate to our choices and actions, but they are equally concerned with our passions and with what we find pleasure in. And eudaimonia is defined not in terms of virtuous actions, but in terms of many activities ‘of the soul’, including feeling, thinking, and choosing. So while (1) is correct, (2) is too simple.

-We could press the objection a different way. We can’t tell whether an act is virtuous without knowing whether a virtuous person would do it. And we can’t tell whether someone is virtuous without seeing whether they do virtuous acts.
-In reply, first, it is true that the criterion for an act being virtuous is that it is an act that a virtuous person would do. But we have a good idea of what a virtuous person is without being able to name particular individuals as virtuous or not. When considering ‘what the virtuous person would do’, we need not have any specific virtuous person in mind. So to judge whether an act is virtuous, we don’t need to first judge that person a is virtuous and then figure out what a would do.
-Second, it is true that we infer that someone is virtuous from what they do. But again, this is not the only evidence we have. Virtue is also expressed in emotional responses and pleasure, as well as the quality of someone’s thinking. So there is no circularity in establishing whether an act or a person is virtuous.