The Virtue of Aristotle's Ethics

The Virtue of Aristotle's Ethics

Paula Gottlieb

Language: English

Pages: 262

ISBN: 0521369991

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

While Aristotle's account of the happy life continues to receive attention, many of his claims about virtue of character seem so puzzling that modern philosophers have often discarded them, or have reworked them to fit more familiar theories that do not make virtue of character central. In this book, Paula Gottlieb takes a fresh look at Aristotle's claims, particularly the much-maligned doctrine of the mean. She shows how they form a thought-provoking ethic of virtue, one that deserves to be developed and refined. The first part of the book addresses the nature of virtue and the virtues, illuminated by the doctrine of the mean. Building on the conclusions of this analysis, the second part explains the mentality of the good person and the type of society that will allow such a person to flourish.

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and to someone he knows better than to someone he knows less well, and so on. Presumably, the point is not that one should be less pleasant to those one knows less well, or to those who have a lesser reputation for worth, but that different actions are appropriate in order to be pleasant to each. Virtue, then, appears also to be relative to individuals other than the agent, and characteristics that would be irrelevant in the agent become relevant if they belong to other people .  There is one

2000, xvii–xviii. The charge is an old one. See, e.g.,  Stewart 1892, 352. None of the above-mentioned authors discuss Aristotle’s nameless virtues. Ackrill does not translate Nicomachean Ethics IV in which they appear. 2 It might be objected that the nameless virtues are inherent in ancient Greek life but are unimportant and therefore nameless. My answer to this objection has two parts. First, I do not mean to claim that, once articulated, the nameless virtues look unfamiliar. If that were so,

of virtue, sight. The blind person lacks the function of seeing. It is a small step to think of ethical vices as lacks of function, and the ethical virtues as correctives. Aristotle’s account of function in his Nicomachean Ethics is subtly different from the Thrasymachean view, and also marks an advance on his discussion in the Eudemian Ethics. There, he implies that the function of a human being and of an excellent human being is to function well, not merely to function (EE II 6 1106a16–25).

Curzer 2005 on different grounds from those discussed below, but his and  Drefcinski’s 1996 arguments are refuted by  Roche, unpublished. 2 True, Aristotle does say at one point that the truth should trump piety, but piety is not listed as a particular ethical virtue (EN I 6). I discussed Aristotle’s view of piety in Ch. 4. 115 116 Ethical Reasoning and that will shatter her fragile goodness.3 It is also argued that there are situations where the good person is faced with conflicting

wrong depends on the particular circumstances. In saying that the shamefulness should attach to the action and hence to the agent’s character, Aristotle’s opponents are not making allowance for the very specific context. Those who believe in tragic dilemmas and the like are often also struck by the fact that human life is saturated with luck. We are lucky 28  Hursthouse 1999 is excluded from this group. 132 Ethical Reasoning where we are born, our gender, who our parents are, the society

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