Aristotle's theory has the advantage of considering the context of most of our moral decisions. Most famously, he gives us his view that acting ethically is always a mean between extremes. But he claims that some actions, like theft and murder, do not admit of a mean. Is Aristotle simply assuming that these acts are unethical, or does he have reason to make this claim?

Aristotle's view is not just a matter of assuming that some actions are always wrong; it is based on the fact that vices by their very nature are such that they cannot ever be followed by virtue.

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Aristotle has a very good reason to make the claim that some actions are always wrong—namely, that by their very nature, they are vices.

That is why, when we speak of theft or murder, we use normative language with regard to the relevant actions. In other words, moral disapproval is...

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Aristotle has a very good reason to make the claim that some actions are always wrong—namely, that by their very nature, they are vices.

That is why, when we speak of theft or murder, we use normative language with regard to the relevant actions. In other words, moral disapproval is built into the very language we use to describe stealing something or killing someone without good reason.

The same applies to adultery. Again, we use a word that is not just descriptive—adultery involves sexual relations between a married person and someone other than their spouse—but also normative; that is to say, it is a morally loaded term that expresses an attitude of disapproval toward an action that is regarded by most people in society as being wrong.

The examples that we've examined so far are not virtues for Aristotle, but vices. As such, they cannot admit of the observance of the mean. There is no way in which we can legitimately say that there is a mean of murder we can follow between an excess at one extreme and a deficiency at the other. One can never do right in regards to this, or any other vices.

When it comes to virtues, whether we act according to the mean largely depends on our ability to apply our skill to a precise situation. If we fail to do so, then we will be guilty of either an excess or a deficiency of the relevant virtue.

But as vices are by their very nature wrong at all times and in all places, circumstances are wholly irrelevant to them. As Aristotle says, there's no sense in which it can be possible to commit adultery with the right woman at the right time. Committing adultery is just wrong, period. And the same goes for all the other vices.

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