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According to Aristotle, virtue primarily involves rationality and the use of aperson’s rationality.
Rationality and happiness are activities of the soul, andvirtue is the excellence of these activities. Humans are the only life formsthat have a soul, the source of rationality. Thus, humans have a duty to alwaysuse their intellect. Three things are found in the soul: emotions, capacities,and characteristics.
Emotions are things humans feel, like anguish or happiness,that are followed by pain or pleasure. Capacities are a persons ability orcapacity to experience or express something. Since people are not consideredgood or bad based on their emotions, virtue cannot be an emotion. Virtue is nota capacity either, because virtue involves choice, not abilities. Therefore,virtue is a characteristic of a person that “renders good the thing itselfof which it is the excellence and causes it to perform its function well.”In other words, a person with a good character has virtue. The aim of all humanaction is for good, and any virtuous act is good.
A virtuous act must be basedon rationality and only acted on after careful deliberation by the individual.Therefore, a virtuous individual must be knowledgeable about what is good, mustonly make choices after careful deliberation, and must be a good judge of properaction. These virtuous characteristics come from experience, training, anenvironment conducive to learning, a love of rationality, and good habitsdeveloped from constant practice. Aristotle reasoned that because humans basemost of their decisions on the amount of happiness they bring, a moral principlemust address the way pain and pleasure fits into our Reed 2 decision makingprocess. Pleasure causes humans to do base actions. Pain keeps us from doingnoble actions. Virtue involves maintaining a balance between pain and pleasure.
Aristotle stressed that this moderation of pain and pleasure is an extremelyimportant aspect of virtue. The mean between excess vices and deficient vicesmust always be pursued. Vices cause us to not act virtuous in dealing withpleasure and pain.
An illustration of this could be that if a person endurespain with courage, he or she is balancing pain and pleasure. This balancebecomes an index of the person’s virtue. There are two different aspects of thesoul: the irrational and the rational. The irrational is present in all livingthings and “responsible for nurture and growth”. Two different partsof the irrational include the vegetative and the seat of appetites and desire.
Anything vegetative, like basic survival methods, could be consideredirrational. Since the vegetative does not involve reason, it does not haveanything to do with virtue. However, the seat of appetites can be somewhatinfluenced by the rational part of the soul, in that our decisions can be madeaccording to what seems most “reasonable”. The rational can also bedivided up by what a person knows is intrinsically reasonable, and the abilityof a person to listen to or be convinced by someone else’s reason. Two aspectsof virtue, the intellectual and the moral, are divided very similarly to thesedifferent aspects of soul. Intellectual virtues include theoretical wisdom,understanding, and practical wisdom. Practical wisdom involves making choicesonly after careful deliberation.
Moral virtues are praiseworthy characteristicsthat include generosity and self-control. True virtue entails finding a mean orbalance between the intellectual and moral aspects of virtue. This mean isapplicable to not only the intellectual and moral aspects of virtue, but alsoReed 3 pain and pleasure and the irrational and rational aspects of the soul.Aristotle emphasizes that balance between each of these three different extremesis a vital part of being a virtuous person. Having too much of onecharacteristic becomes an excess or deficient vice and is very detrimental to aperson. However, he also admits that it is impossible to be sure that everyaction is directly in balance and does not have more of one characteristic thananother.
For instance, a person cannot know the exact amount of pain or pleasurean action will bring, and it would be very difficult to only perform actionsthat would be in perfect balance between pain and pleasure. Therefore, theoverall median of all actions performed is used. Humans should aim for a kind ofaverage between pain and pleasure, the intellectual and moral, and theirrational and rational for all the actions they perform. In order for an actionto be virtuous, it must contain several different aspects of rationality,including knowledge, choice and, character. Knowledge is intellectual wisdomthat is learned from experience and other people. The second characteristic,choice, involves a person choosing something for its own sake.
A virtuous personwill only make choices after careful deliberation. Thus, he or she will alwayschoose the most logical action to bring the persons desired consequence. Thethird characteristic Aristotle mentions deals with a persons character.
Avirtuous person develops the habit of always performing good deeds. Someone whopractices virtue on regular basis will find that doing such deeds becomes easierand easier. These characteristics are vital in acquiring virtue.