Critically Evaluate Aristotle’s Doctrine of Virtue as a Mean Essay

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Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics corresponds to a practical branch of philosophy.   It is a work of ‘practical philosophy, practical in the sense that its purpose or aim is not merely to purvey truth but also to affect action’   .   It is within Book II of Nicomachean Ethics that Aristotle’s doctrine of virtue as a mean is proposed. This essay will endeavour to give a detailed explanation and evaluation of Aristotle’s doctrine of virtue as a mean.

Book II commences with a discussion of moral virtues.   What are virtues?   The Greek term for ‘virtue’ is traditionally rendered as arete, which means something analogous to ‘goodness’ or ‘excellence’.   Aristotle distinguishes between two descriptions of excellences, intellectual and moral.   Intellectual virtues concern only what Aristotle describes as the rational part of the soul, whilst moral virtues involve both the rational and desiring part of the soul.   Moral virtues are excellences of character, acts and feelings.   Moral virtues encompass retaining passions under rational control.   One is taught intellectual virtue however one is habituated to moral virtue.   Accordingly, one is not born with moral virtues; however it is natural for one to acquire moral virtues by repetition of the corresponding acts.   For example, a person can become brave by performing brave acts.   Both excess and deficiency in the practice of a virtue can destroy it; the mean between them preserves it.   Self-discipline and self-control are perfected by the practice of virtues.   Good habits facilitate good actions and good actions reinforce good habits.   For example, it is by refraining from pleasure that one becomes temperate, and it is when we have become temperate that we are most able to refrain from pleasures.

Aristotle asserts that moral excellence is concerned with pleasure and pains.   ‘It is on account of the pleasure that we do bad things and on account of pain that we abstain from noble ones’   .   The virtuous person chooses correctly...

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