Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ethics - Aristotle

This is in regard to Book II and parts of Book III and VI.

These readings from Aristotle seem to be a direct answer to Plato's 'Meno' in the sense that Aristotle tackles the question of what virtue is.  He says that intellectual excellence is a product of teaching and moral excellence comes from custom.  He says that moral virtue doesn't come from nature and can't come to us by custom.  He argues:
'The Virtues then come to be in us neither by nature, nor in despite of nature, but we are furnished by nature with a capacity for receiving them and are perfected in them through custom.'
The seems exactly right to me.  We must be carefully taught virtue.  And that teaching should be backed up by constant example from the people around you.  He also says:
'For Moral Virtue has for its object-matter pleasures and pains, because by reason of pleasure we do what is bad, and by reason of pain decline doing what is right (for which cause, as Plato observes, men should have been trained straight from their childhood to receive pleasure and pain from proper objects, for this is the right education).'
Which seems to be an argument in favor of spanking.  I liked this bit here:
'Again, one may go wrong in many different ways (because as the Pythagoreans expressed it, evil is of the class of the infinite, good of the finite), but right only in one; and so the former is easy, the latter difficult; easy to miss the mark, but hard to hit it: and for these reasons, therefore, both the excess and defect belong to Vice, and the mean state to Virtue;'
This sets up a lengthy list of examples in which Virtue is the mean between two undesirable states.  For instance, Cowardice---Bravery---Reckless.  I'm not sure how much I agreed with this section.  To take this example, I don't have a problem with the idea that Cowardice and Bravery exist on opposite sides of a spectrum.  I just don't think that the if you continue along that spectrum you get to Recklessness.  It seems to me that Recklessness isn't a matter of being too Brave but of simple ignorance of possible dangers. 
There are also plenty of virtues that don't really fall into this set up.  For instance, Ignorance---Knowledge---???  Or False---Honest---???  Which isn't to say that overall idea of a golden mean isn't useful, I just wonder if Aristotle pushes it too far here. 

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