Are Biblical stories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses examples of Aristotle's ethical behavior? Discuss similarities or differences between Aristotle's idea of ethics and behavior of two of...

Are Biblical stories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses examples of Aristotle's ethical behavior? 

Discuss similarities or differences between Aristotle's idea of ethics and behavior of two of these Biblical characters.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In order to answer this question, it is important to clarify the meaning of ethics, a term often used with some lack of precision in popular discourse. Ethics, properly, is the part of philosophy that pertains to human behavior. It is theoretical and systematic. Thus when we talk of a person's ethics, we mean their beliefs about what is right or wrong, not their actions. From actions we can infer ethical beliefs, but not with any degree of certainty. For example, we might assume that someone who commits adultery does not have an ethical system which considers adultery wrong, but that is not actually the case -- this problem, of people being unable to refrain from behaving in a manner they might consider wrong is described by Aristotle as "akrasia" or "weakness of will."

We could apply systems of Biblical morality (e.g. Levitical codes of ritual purity) to characters in the Old Testament, or we could apply Aristotelian ethics, and judge acts of them as moral or immoral according to those ethical systems (note that examples can be good or bad). Given though, that Aristotle did not know Hebrew and was writing in Greece rather than Judaea, several centuries after the dramatic date of the events described in the Old Testament, it would be anachronistic to, for example, claim that Biblical characters do not behave in a manner that Aristotle would consider suitable for citizens in a democratic polis.

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