The Moral Virtues
The Moral Virtues
- 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:
- Courage (feeling of confidence) is a mean between cowardiceness (deficiency) and recklessness (excess).
- Temperance (restrainment of bodily pleasure) is a mean between insensitiveness (deficiency) and self-indulgence (excess).
Moral virtues concerned with action:
- Justice (distribution of goods) is a mean between injustice towards oneself (deficiency) and injustice towards others (excess).
- Thrifty (pursuit of money) is a mean between miserliness (deficiency) and prodigality/extravagance (excess).
- 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. The Moral Virtues
- 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. The Moral Virtues
- 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.