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Aristotle (384-322 BC) | ETHICS

Introduction | Aristotle (384-322 BC) | ETHICS

  • Aristotle was Plato’s best, most gifted & most famous student.
  • He wrote the book named ‘The Politics’ & ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’ (named after his son, Nicomachus).
  • Apart from values, ethics, politics, he also focused on many optional subjects like zoology, logic, psychology, botany, astronomy, physics, poetry, meteorology, economy, metaphysics, rhetoric etc.
  • invented technical terms such as – energy, dynamics, induction, demonstration, substance, attribute, essence, property, accident, category, topic, proposition and universal.
  • Even the title of the subject ‘Physics’ gets its name from Aristotle’s book with this title.
  • Aristotle rejected the idea of two worlds. He only gave recognition to this world. Anything beyond the possibility of experience was nothing for him
  • he denied carrying on empty talks about so called ‘Ideal Forms’.
  • Aristotle writes of the dissimilarities of two systems as a neutral but interested observer.
  • Aristotle said arts is complementary to soul. Arts makes people strong. For example
  • Greek Tragedies gave insight into life and were also a medium for catharsis (‘purgation’/’cleansing’) by pity & terror.
  • Aristotle also developed the art of a plot as having ‘a beginning, a middle, and an end’.
  • He wrote a zoology book “The History of Animals”- even Charles Darwin bowed to it.

Contribution Of Aristotle In The Field Of Virtue Ethics

  • In the West, virtue ethics’ founding fathers are Plato and Aristotle, and in the East it can be traced back to Mencius and Confucius. It persisted as the dominant approach in Western moral philosophy until at least the Enlightenment, suffered a momentary eclipse during the nineteenth century, but re-emerged in Anglo-American philosophy in the late 1950s.
  • It is not easy to get one’s emotions in harmony with one’s rational recognition of certain reasons for action. I may be honest enough to recognise that I must own up to a mistake because it would be dishonest not to do so without my acceptance being so wholehearted that I can own up easily, with no inner conflict. Following (and adapting) Aristotle, virtue ethicists draw a distinction between full or perfect virtue and “continence”, or strength of will. The fully virtuous do what they should without a struggle against contrary desires; the continent have to control a desire or temptation to do otherwise.
  • The ordinary usage, or the reliance on motivation by inclination, gives us what Aristotle calls “natural virtue”—a proto version of full virtue awaiting perfection by phronesis or practical wisdom.
  • Although all standard versions of virtue ethics insist on that conceptual link between virtue and eudaimonia, further links are matters of dispute and generate different versions. For Aristotle, virtue is necessary but not sufficient—what is also needed are external goods which are a matter of luck. For Plato and the Stoics, virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia (Annas 1993).

The Doctrine of the Mean (Golden mean)

  • Aristotle describes ethical virtue as a “hexis” (“state” “condition” “disposition”)—a tendency or disposition, induced by our habits, to have appropriate feelings (1105b25–6). Defective states of character are hexeis (plural of hexis) as well, but they are tendencies to have inappropriate feelings. The significance of Aristotle’s characterization of these states as hexeis is his decisive rejection of the thesis, found throughout Plato’s early dialogues, that virtue is nothing but a kind of knowledge and vice nothing but a lack of knowledge.
  • Furthermore, every ethical virtue is a condition intermediate (a “golden mean” as it is popularly known) between two other states, one involving excess, and the other deficiency (1106a26–b28). In this respect, Aristotle says, the virtues are no different from technical skills: every skilled worker knows how to avoid excess and deficiency, and is in a condition intermediate between two extremes.
  • The courageous person, for example, judges that some dangers are worth facing and others not, and experiences fear to a degree that is appropriate to his circumstances. He lies between the coward, who flees every danger and experiences excessive fear, and the rash person, who judges every danger worth facing and experiences little or no fear.
  • Aristotle holds that this same topography applies to every ethical virtue: all are located on a map that places the virtues between states of excess and deficiency. He is careful to add, however, that the mean is to be determined in a way that takes into account the particular circumstances of the individual (1106a36–b7). The arithmetic mean between 10 and 2 is 6, and this is so invariably, whatever is being counted. But the intermediate point that is chosen by an expert in any of the crafts will vary from one situation to another.

Summum Bonum | Aristotle (384-322 BC) | ETHICS

  • Ethics, in its most simple form, is just the theory and study of life’s greatest good and the choices that are in accordance with that greatest good. Morality, then, is the practice of achieving that greatest good, or summum bonum. Immoral actions pull one away from achieving the summum bonum. Once one has determined what the summum bonum is and the path to get there, then one can know the right choice or, in other words, what is moral.
  • There is one absolute summum bonum that should govern moral behavior for man. However, the path to reach that great good is relative to each individual.
  • Aristotle reasoned that the one goal man has always sought for, as his ultimate end, is happiness. In taking that process of understanding a step further, one comes to understand that humanity’s greatest good is, in fact, joy. All else should be a means to that end. Joy, being an emotional state, carries with it the feelings of lasting happiness, peace, contentment, selflessness, and other unique positive feelings. It is an inner feeling of rightness, transcending the happiness spoken of by Aristotle. Achieving the summum bonum, or life’s greatest good, is the result of turning one’s potentialities and purposes into actualities. Similar to Aristotle’s theory of self-realization, when one fails to follow the path to achieve the summum bonum it creates dissonance which produces the antithesis of joy: the emotional state of misery.
  • To realize the summum bonum, one takes the beliefs one has and acts on them. Potential, then, is the true ideology of an individual. It is the sum of beliefs and knowledge one has, the core essence of one’s true self. Turning that potential into actuality is acting in accordance to that ideology, therefore creating harmony between belief and action. This results in the achievement of the summum bonum.

Views of Aristotle on Politics

  • Aristotle is also considered as the first ‘Political Scientist’.
  • Aristotle applied the ‘Scientific Methods’ & rational analysis with politics.
  • He defined human to be a ‘Political Animal by nature’ apart from being a social one.
  • because humans alone have the power of speech which serves to signal useful & harmful – just & unjust apart.
  • Human alone have a perception of good & evil, just & unjust, etc.
  • ‘State is an association of persons whose aim is the best life possible’ – Aristotle – The Politics
  • a stateless person cannot practice virtue i.e. cannot live well, develop & flourish like a human. Thus, happiness is exercise of virtue and only within the context of state (polis) can one find happiness.

Aristotle on Revolution | Aristotle (384-322 BC) | ETHICS

  • Aristotle was deeply involved in examining the notion of revolution. According to Aristotle, “If any change occurs in the existing system or constitution of the state, it means the revolution. He thoroughly explained the theory of revolution. In his study of nearly 158 constitutions, he understood the implications of revolutions on a political system. In his work, Politics, he deliberated at length all about revolutions. Aristotle gave a scientific analysis and expert treatment to the subject of revolutions. He offered broad meaning to the term ‘revolution’ which meant two things to him. To explore stability through polity, Aristotle inspected the causes for instability, change and revolution and recommend remedies against unnecessary and continuous change.
  • Measure of revolution:
    • Aristotle indicated that there are different types of measure of revolution. These are
    • A revolution may take the form of a change of constitution of state.
    • The revolution may try to grasp political power without changing the constitution.
    • A revolution may be directed against not the inter system of government, but a particular institution or set of persons in the state.
  • Aristotle described that there are two categories of causes of revolution that include general and particular.
    • General Causes:
      • The general causes of revolutions were broadly categorised into three.
      • Psychological motives or the state of mind.
      • The objectives in mind.
      • The occasions that gave rise to political upheaval and mutual strife.
    • Particular Causes: Aristotle recognized certain specific causes in various types of states. For instance, in democracies, discontentment is raised by the manipulators who attack the rich either individually or collectively and build hatred among the people who become revengeful and violent and this situation leads to conflicts.

Aristotle on Vagueness of Practical Sciences

  • Aristotle considered practical sciences such as Ethics, Politics etc. much more vague & compartmentalized. I.e. Ethics & Politics are far less accurate in methods & procedures than ‘Logic’.
  • This is because these sciences deal with people. Now people are quite variable in their behaviour.
  • Thus Aristotle never laid down hard & fast rules in Ethics & Politics. He even didn’t declare any one type of Constitution as best.
  • This is developed from his view that ‘different forms of study requires different approaches’.

Aristotle on Unequal Society | Aristotle (384-322 BC) | ETHICS

  • Aristotle considered male superior than female citizen (elite) superior than slaves. He supported democracy over oligarchy because that was the better decision procedure for ruling group of citizens to a make.
  • Aristotle did not believe in modern ideas of Equality or Freedom for all. (But then again, we can’t expect such modern political correctness in a person living in ancient times.)

View point of Aristotle on Slavery | Aristotle (384-322 BC) | ETHICS

  • Aristotle was one strong defenders of the institution of slavery. But it has been criticised by many theorists. Aristotle rationalised slavery, which in fact was the order of the day. He wrote in the Politics that “For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, same are marked out for subjection other for rule”. Actually, Aristotle defended slavery on the basis of expediency. While conversing the origin of the state and family, Aristotle commented the institution of slavery. He found slavery is essential to a household and defends it as natural and, therefore, moral. A slave is a living ownership of his master and is an instrument of an action. A man cannot lead a good life without slaves any more than he can produce good music without instruments. Men differ from each other in their physical and intellectual fitness.
  • Aristotle justified the institution of slavery in following ways:
    • Natural: Slavery is a natural phenomenon. The superior would rule over the inferior just as the soul rules over the body and reason over appetite. In other words, people with superior reasoning powers would rule over those inferior in reasoning. The masters are stated to be physically and mentally strong than the slaves. So, this set-up naturally makes the former the master, and the latter the slave.
    • Necessary: Slaves are considered indispensable because they provide leisure that was most essential for the welfare of the state. Aristotle stated that slavery benefited the slaves as well. Because by being a slave, he would be able to share the virtues of the master and elevate himself.
    • Expediency: Aristotle had opinion that slaves have sustained the Greek social and economic system, and they assisted Greece against social disorder and chaos. He stated that slavery is a social requirement. It was balancing to the slaves as well as the masters and that it aids in precision.




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