Aristotle Answers: Main ideas

This page refers to the reading exercise on Aristotle.

Chapter 1
[1] The origin of morality lies in habit; it is not an innate quality of human beings.

[2] Our natural abilities exist because we are given, by nature, a certain faculty, which later we exercise. But morality is acquired through habituation, like a skill. Just as one becomes a master builder by building, one acquires skill at moral judgments by doing moral things.

[3] One proof of this lies in states and legislation. The aim of laws is to produce law-abiding citizens by habituating them to behaving according to the law.

[4] It is our actions that make us good or bad; if we do good things we will become good people; if we do bad things we will become bad people. Thus, it is important what kind of habits we from from an early age.

Chapter 2
[5] It is necessary to consider the nature of actions, since this inquiry is a practical not a theoretical one: we want to know how to be good, not what ‘good’ is. However, both the general nature of the subject and the particular nature of actions are somewhat inexact. They cannot be brought under general rules. Rather like medicine, one must decide each case individually.

[6] Some general truths may still be possible. Consider that ‘virtues’ (in the wider Greek sense of ‘excellence’, not the restricted modern moral sense of ‘moral qualities’) must be proportionate: too much or too little of something makes it less than ideal. The ideal is a mean between excess and defect (A. seems to think this is an empirical fact, but it looks more like an apriori truth by definition.)

[7] There is a kind of ‘positive feedback’ relationship between the causes of the virtues and one’s ability to perform them. In other words, one becomes more virtuous by doing good things, and one is better able to do good things as one’s ‘skill’ increases. One can do something both more easily and more powerfully (to a greater extent) the more one does it.

Chapter 3
[8] Virtue is concerned with pleasures and pains. How one feels about an action is part of its moral character. If one resents doing good things, one is not virtuous. If one enjoys doing bad things, one is not virtuous. A virtuous person enjoys doing things that are good and despises things that are bad.

[9] If actions and passions are accompanied by pleasure and pain, so too is virtue (virtuous actions). One supporting reason [premise] is that punishment (the inflicting of pain) is one way to cure people from being/doing bad.

[10] Aristotle says that people do good or bad things as a result of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

[11] Three objects of choice are noble/base, advantageous/injurious and pleasurable/painful. The first two are also accompanied by pleasure and pain, since what is noble and advantageous will be pleasant and what is base and injurious will be painful.

[12] Pleasure and pain have accompanied us with everything from birth. How we feel pleasure and pain in particular circumstances has a great effect on our actions.

[13] To fight with pleasure is difficult – i.e, to train the body/mind to accept something as pleasurable when it is not? – but what is harder is better. The implication here seems to be that we will have to learn to think of somethings as pleasurable because we want to call them good, and A. has defined good things as pleasurable, but this may be counter to our natural instinct, so it will be hard. But hard things are good. For it by striving that we grow and learn.

[14] Aristotle concludes that virtue is concerned with pleasure and pain, and that doing virtuous things increases pleasure and doing vile things increases pain.

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