Discussion Topic

Understanding Aristotle's definition and acquisition of virtues


Aristotle defines virtues as traits or qualities that enable individuals to live in accordance with reason and achieve eudaimonia, or a flourishing life. Virtues are acquired through habituation and practice, requiring individuals to repeatedly perform virtuous actions until they become a stable part of their character.

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What is a virtue according to Aristotle, and how does one acquire and recognize it?

Aristotle defines two types of virtue. Moral virtue is an inclination to act in the right manner and is defined as having just enough. Intellectual virtue is acquired through benefaction and education. He believed that moral virtues are learned through our behaviors rather than something that can be taught. For example, a person can have virtue as a flautist. They are a rational person actively performing well in their behavior. The flautists' behavior is that of playing the flute. Another example is the virtue of courage. Only if we practice facing our fears can we become more courageous. Aristotle lists a table of virtues (mean) in par with vices (excess and deficiency). Once a person can achieve a middle ground between excess and deficiency, Aristotle believed that one could attain a type of excellence. A truly virtuous person would exhibit all the different aspects of his listed twelve virtues; courage, temperance, liberality, magnificence, pride, honor, good temper, friendliness, truthfulness, wit, friendship, and justice. Once a person has attained this true virtuosity, he believed a person will naturally be inclined to act appropriately and rules would not apply to them.

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What are virtues according to Aristotle and how are they obtained?

Aristotle addresses the concept of virtue in his written works, the “Nicomachean Ethics” and the “Eudemian Ethics.” For the ancient Greeks, virtue (called “arete”) meant excellence, and could be used to define the behavior of almost anything, say the excellence of a knife at cutting or the excellence of a person at athletics. A “virtuous” person as such, was one who strove to live life to his/her full potential.

In his works, Aristotle describes two types of virtue: moral and intellectual.

He explains moral virtue as a person’s ability to “behave in the right manner” and “a mean between extreme deficiency and extreme excess.” He describes it as the midpoint or the balance, or even compromise between extreme behaviors which are considered vices. For instance, modesty is the balance between being shy on one end and shameless on the other!

Moral virtues can be obtained by habitually exercising them, that is, through constant practice. Examples of moral virtue are courage, self discipline, modesty, friendliness and justice.

Intellectual virtues on the other hand refer to the methods used by people to reach truths. They include scientific methods or knowledge and calculative methods, such as wisdom. They can be obtained through instruction and practice.

I hope this helps.

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