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Aristotle's Account Of Virtue In Book Ii Of Nicomachean Ethics

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In Book I of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that the ultimate human goal or end is happiness. Aristotle describes the steps required for humans to obtain happiness. Aristotle states that activity is an important requirement of happiness. He states that a happy person cannot be inactive. He then goes on to say that living a life of virtue is something pleasurable in itself. The virtuous person takes pleasure in doing virtuous things. The role of virtue is an important one for Aristotle. Without virtue, it seems one cannot obtain happiness. Virtue acts as a linking factor to happiness.

Aristotle states that the human function is the life activity of the part of the soul that has reason. He extends this further by stating that some sort of activity of the past of the soul that has reason has to be according to virtue. This will create a good man. For Aristotle, in order to be happy, humans must perform their function well in accordance with virtue.

In Book II, Aristotle makes a distinction between two types of virtues; those which are considered ethical and those which are considered intellectual. Ethical virtues deal with actions of courage, generosity, and moderation. Intellectual virtues deal with wisdom and contemplation. Ethical virtues are created through habitual actions. Aristotle says that humans are not born with a natural capacity for virtue. He believes that education and cultivation as youth by one's parents are pivotal in setting up humans' ability in making virtuous acts habitual. He feels that humans have to perform virtuous actions as much as possible and through this humans can make a step in becoming virtuous. Aristotle also states that ethical virtues have to be attended by pleasure. He believes that humans cannot be pained when committing a virtuous action. If a human is pained by an action then it is not considered virtuous.

Aristotle goes on to create a distinction between virtuous actions and virtuous character. In a sense, it is a relationship of seeming versus being. Seeming versus being where a virtuous act may seem to be virtuous when it in reality is not. Whereas, a virtuous character actually is virtuous and as a result, actions done by one of virtuous character result in those actions being considered virtuous. An act is not considered virtuous unless it is done by a virtuous person. Aristotle supports this assertion by stating three criteria for an action to be virtuous. First, one has to know the act is virtuous. Second, one has to intend to do it for its own sake. Therefore, one is not expecting anything in return as a result of the action. Thirdly, the action has to be done by one who, when he acts he does so in a certain and firm manner. Aristotle makes the conclusion that most humans do not actually act virtuously. They instead discuss and philosophize about these actions, but do not act on them. This, Aristotle said, is unacceptable because one will not actually accomplish anything by just talking about it.

Following the distinctions of what equates to a virtuous character, Aristotle describes what aspect of the soul results in virtue. Aristotle states that there main aspects of the soul. One being that involving feelings. Feelings are the raw human emotions which humans experience. The next aspect is being that which involves power. Power is humans' disposition to certain feelings and their ability to be affected by them. The last aspect is that which involves habit. Aristotle concludes that the first two aspects cannot result in or involve virtue because the nature of feelings and power are not subject to praise or blame. They cannot be considered good or bad, because they are beyond our control. They exist due to nature. The last aspect of habit is the one which results in virtue. Habits involve the way one responds to the previous two elements which are beyond human control. Habit is the aspect which does involve human control and responsibility. The way one responds to their feelings or power is habit. Habit allows for reason to influence human responses. Habit therefore results in humans' ability to be judged on performance, as whether good or bad. Virtue, as a result, is the habit that makes humans good people and makes humans perform their function well.

Aristotle in Chapter 5 of Book II began to discuss what the human virtue consists of. He concluded that human virtue consists of a mean. A mean is relative to humans because of humans' differences and the particular situations humans encounter. Aristotle states that hitting the mean is to have feelings at the right time, for the right things, towards the right people, and for the right purpose in the right manner. He states "this is the mean and the best, and it is precisely this which belongs to virtue" (Line 24, Chapter 5, Book II). Aristotle gives the example of bravery as an example of hitting the mean. He states that in relation to the feeling of fear, one extreme is having too much courage which results in rashness, while the other extreme is having too little courage which results in cowardliness. The mean therefore would be the right amount of courageousness, resulting in the virtue of bravery. Aristotle also states that the mean is not an exact

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