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  • Aristotle was Plato’s pupil, but he was a critical disciple. Aristotle was born in Stagira. His father, Nicomachus was a doctor at the court of Macedonia.
  • At the age of 17, he went to Athens and studied at Plato’s Academy for 20 years, until the death of Plato in 347.
  • Plato was succeeded by his nephew Speusippus as head of the Academy. After this Aristotle left Athens. He was invited to Macedonia as tutor to the boy who was to become Alexander, the Great.
  • Aristotle returned to Athens in 335 BCE and founded his own school, the Lyceum. When Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE, there was strong feeling in Athens against Macedonia and Aristotle became the object of hostility because of his Macedonian connection.
  • He was indicted with impiety but remembering the fate of Socrates he left Athens in order to prevent the Athenians ‘sinning a second time against philosophy’. He died at the age of 62.
  • Aristotle published dialogues and other popular writings from an early period. His text Nicomachean Ethics is considered as one of the most famous treatises ever written.
  • One of the distinctive features of Aristotle’s view is his assumption that everything has a purpose or function. This kind of teleological thinking is central to Aristotle’s ethics since he assumes that human beings have a telos.
  • The purpose is to actualize one’s potentialities, to achieve self-realization by cultivating those qualities that we associate with human flourishing.
  • A person who regularly performs acts of kindness acquires the habit of being kind; one who practices temperance becomes temperate. Thus, practising the virtues is both a means to and a constitutive part of the good life for a human being.

Moral Philosophy

  • Aristotle maintains that the individual and society are inseparable and thus, ethics must apply to human beings as member of the community (city-state). Ethics, according to him, is primarily about the good end, which is identified as ‘eudemonia’ and is translated as `happiness’ or `Well-being’.
  • Well-being is an activity which is intrinsically valuable, that is, it is pursued for its own sake and never for the sake of something else.
  • It is complete and self-sufficient; it includes all forms of human goods, such as external goods, bodily goods, social goods and mental goods. According to Aristotle, Well-being can be acquired by living life in conformity with the moral virtues and the intellectual virtues.
  • Aristotle’s ethics is not about ‘obligation’ or `duty’, his ethics is naturalistic and teleological rather than deontological.
  • He does not tell us how we ought to behave so much as suggest that a certain kind of behaviour is conducive to our Well-being.

The Moral Virtues:    [ARISTOTLE (384-322BCE) LIFE]

  • According to Aristotle, moral virtue or `excellence of character’ is not in us by Nature, but Nature has given human beings the capability to develop virtue.
  • We are born with a capacity to acquire them, which can be encouraged by appropriate education, but education alone cannot make an agent virtuous. Virtue can be acquired through persistent performance; it develops as a result of habit. Thus, practice makes one virtuous.
  • He points out that an action is just if the agent performs it in the right frame of mind, that is, with the right motive.
  • He asserts that from early childhood the right behaviour patterns are to be imposed on us by parents or teachers. By acting rightly, we gradually develop the appropriate dispositions within ourselves to act justly.
  • Virtue is a deliberative choice of mean in actions and feelings. It is a middle path between two extremes of excess and deficiency.

Moral virtues concerned with feelings:

  1. Courage (feeling of confidence) is a mean between cowardiceness (deficiency) and recklessness (excess).
  2. Temperance (restrainment of bodily pleasure) is a mean between insensitiveness (deficiency) and self-indulgence (excess).

Moral virtues concerned with action:

  1. Justice (distribution of goods) is a mean between injustice towards oneself (deficiency) and injustice towards others (excess).  ARISTOTLE (384-322BCE) LIFE
  2. Thrifty (pursuit of money) is a mean between miserliness (deficiency) and prodigality/extravagance (excess).
  3. Truthfulness (action of conversation) is a mean between self-deprecation (deficiency) and boastfulness (excess).
  • However, there is no absolute mean, that is, there is no fixed mean in actions and feelings. The mean is relative to the agent, the mean must depend on the rightness of the occasion, time and motive (This form the basis of what has been called situation ethics).
  • Again, all actions and feelings do not have a mean. Some acts are wrong in themselves, e.g. theft, murder and adultery. Likewise, some feelings cannot have a mean such as malice and envy.


  • According to Aristotle, courageous person is one who is able to control his feelings of fear and confidence in the right proportion, in the right manner and in the right degree.
  • A courageous person may not be devoid of fear, one is able to control fear for a noble cause -in the right manner and right degree.
  • If someone performs a dangerous act for the sake of reward then it cannot be called a courageous act. Also, acts motivated by anger or performed in self-defence are not courage, according to Aristotle.


  • It is about moderation of bodily pleasure; it is concerned with the feeling of pleasure. The basic point of temperance is to attain control over certain bodily pleasures, pleasures obtained through sense of touch and taste, such as eating drinking and sex.
  • Mental pleasures are beyond the purview of temperance. A temperate person is self-controlled while a self-indulgent is immoderate, a temperate person enjoys bodily pleasures in right way, right degree, right manner and at the right time.

Justice: [ARISTOTLE (384-322BCE) LIFE]

  • Aristotle distinguishes between two senses of the term: 1. Universal Justice and 2. Particular Justice.
  • Universal Justice means obeying the law, the man who is not law abiding is unjust.
  • Particular Justice is subdivided into two kinds- distributive justice and corrective justice.
  • Both distributive justice and corrective justice are concerned with proportionality, the essential difference is that in distributive justice the proportion is geometrical, while in corrective justice it is arithmetical.

Distributive justice is concerned with fairness or equality of shares, such as honour, money, possessions etc. It is an equality and a mean between a greater and a lesser inequality.

Justice, according to Aristotle, depends upon the character of the two people and on their two shares. It is injustice when people who are equal have not got equal shares or vice versa.

It is for this reason that he calls distributive justice ‘geometrical’. It is a relative proportion, it is right in the circumstances. What is unjust is either too much or too little, it is a violation of proportion.

  • Corrective justice, on the other hand, is independent of character; the law treats the parties involved as equals. It arises from an equality which is the mean between loss and gain. In corrective justice the proportion is arithmetical.
  • Aristotle goes on to argue that justice (in either sense) is not reciprocity, that is, to have done to oneself what one has done to another. Reciprocity may involve justice but the ground of justice is to be found in proportion not in equality as such.
  • He argues that the goods of the state should be distributed on the basis of merit. In the case of corrective justice, merit is not relevant; the aim is to redress an injury by giving back to the injured party what he has lost so that he gains, while the transgressor loses what he had illicitly gained. Thus, justice is a mean between acting unjustly and suffering injustice.

The Intellectual Virtue:   [ARISTOTLE (384-322BCE) LIFE]

  • Aristotle maintains that humans must possess intellectual virtues as well, such as wisdom, which are centred in our rational capacity. He believes that it is in the nature of human being to wonder and think about the world and the human beings.  ARISTOTLE (384-322BCE) LIFE
  • In Aristotle’s view, the moral virtues support the intellectual ones. When the two sets of virtues are embodied together, the good life for humans is realized and we flourish as a human being.


  • Praise or blame, according to Aristotle, should be assigned only to voluntary actions. The actions of children and animals are voluntary but they do not have the capacity for deliberate choice. Choice is not to be identified with desire, passion, wish or opinion.
  • It presupposes prior reasoning and is therefore defined as ‘what has been decided on by previous deliberation’. Deliberation, argues Aristotle, is about means and not ends, and is confined to things that are in our power and can be done.  ARISTOTLE (384-322BCE) LIFE
  • Deliberation is appropriate only where there is uncertainty and where we are ourselves involved as agents. He says, ‘The end cannot be a subject of deliberation, but only what contributes to the ends. If we are to be always deliberating, we shall have to go on to infinity’.

Incontinence and continence:

  • An incontinent man is one who knows that what he does is bad but still does it as a result of passion. A continent man, on the other hand, knows that his appetites are bad, and does not follow them because of his reason. On this Aristotle differs from Socrates and Plato.
  • The incontinent man is unable to help himself; he is in the grip of his passions. Incontinence in the strict sense differs from intemperance.
  • Intemperance is incurable whereas the incontinent man can be encouraged to change his mode of behaviour and can feel remorse.  ARISTOTLE (384-322BCE) LIFE


  • Virtue ethics of Aristotle claims to bring the theoretical and the practical together. It argues that unethical behaviour is also unreasonable because it does not lead to a flourishing life.
  • Our values and our ideas about how human beings should behave can have objective validity because they are based on truths about human beings. Thus, it is better to throw The Invisible Ring’ and cultivate the virtues instead.
  • Emotivism recognizes that moral judgements express feeling, but it neglects the role of rational reflection. Relativism makes us aware of the importance of understanding moral norms in relation to the culture but is unable to suggest a critical perspective with regard to cultural norms and practices.
  • Kantian ethics reinstates reason but at the expense of feeling; it fails to see that morality needs to acknowledge legitimate desire for happiness.
  • The Utilitarians over emphasise on maximizing happiness and could not accommodate the notion of justice and individual right satisfactorily within the fold. Virtue ethics is perhaps the most balanced theory.
  • However, the complexity of moral life is such that while all the theories unravel some important aspects of morality, none offers an adequate account of the whole. This is because the whole is too big and irregular and complex to be captured by a single theory.


  • Stoic philosophy is named after the Porch (Stoa) in Athens where Zeno of Citium, the founder, lectured. Other important exponents are Cleanthes and chrysippus.  ARISTOTLE (384-322BCE) LIFE



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