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Does Aristotle Tell Us In His Ethics To Be Vicious In Order To Be Virtuous?

2081 words - 8 pages

After Aristotle instructs us about how to become virtuous in Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics he concludes that "we should lean sometimes in the direction of excess and sometimes in the direction of deficiency, for by doing so we shall most easily attain the mean and goodness." Some would interpret by this that Aristotle believes that the training or effort by which one is brought to the mean, which is virtue, involves doing what is bad. But to think that Aristotle would hold that one would have to do evil in order to be good is absurd, as is clear from his own words, "...and no one who is to become good will become good unless he does good things." Thus a different and more fitting interpretation must be set forth. By looking into what virtue is and in what ways it is a mean, and also by expounding upon Aristotle's "process" of becoming virtuous it will be shown that what we do or aim at is not bad, but is rather "good" in a sense or only appears to us to be bad because of our viciousness.We should first define virtue because it is the topic of our discussion. Aristotle's formal definition of virtue is "a habit, disposed toward action by deliberate choice, being at the mean relative to us, and defined by reason as a prudent man would define it." The last two clauses of the definition are the most important to our argument, but in order to be thorough in our investigation we shall briefly examine the first two clauses as well.Aristotle shows that virtue is a habit through a process of elimination. He knows that virtue must be in the soul so he looks at the three things in it, namely powers, habits, and feelings. He rules out feelings because those are not willed by us nor are they always followed by actions, as virtues are. Therefore virtues are not feelings. He then examines if virtues are powers, but he throws this idea out because "by being simply capable of feeling we are not said to be either good or bad, nor are we praised or blamed." Thus he can conclude that, because they are neither powers nor feelings, virtues must be habits.Aristotle gives four reasons for the second clause, that is "disposed toward action by deliberate choice," but we will only look at one of them in order to spend more time exploring the more important clauses. Aristotle states, "It is from the same actions and because of the same actions that every virtue comes into being or is destroyed." He lends support to this argument by giving an example from art. He says that it is because of playing the lyre well or badly that men become good or bad lyre players. He then concludes from his arguments, "So in acquiring a habit it makes no small difference whether we are acting in on way or in the contrary way from our youth; it makes a great difference, or rather all the difference." It is evident, in addition, that we must will the action and not be forced into it by another person.Now we must examine how and why virtue "is a mean relative to us." Aristotle distinguishes it...

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