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Aristotle: Ethics and the Virtues

Aristotle (384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, polymath logician, and scientist who lived in Ancient Greece during the Classical phase. Along with his teacher Plato, he has been dubbed the "Father of Western Philosophy." Among the subjects on which he has written are physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, and governance. Aristotle's philosophy had a profound influence on practically every branch of knowledge in Western culture, and it is still a topic of contemporary philosophical debate.
He regarded political science as the master science, examined humans in a political society, and proposed that a human being can only live an articulate life as a member of the state. Politics is a "practical science," according to Aristotle because it deals with keeping citizens satisfied. His philosophy aims to discover the ultimate goal of life or virtue as he calls it. However, one of the most crucial duties of a politician is to create laws or constitutions. This responsibility is thought to have been assigned by Aristotle for the citizen's well-being and livelihood to be considered before any laws were made permanent. After the laws are enacted, the politician's role is to ensure that they are followed. Aristotle believes that citizens will remain the same over time provided the constitution remains unchanged, but if the constitution changes, so will the citizens.

Aristotle's early life

Aristotle was born in the Greek city-state of Athens. Aristotle's father, Nicomachus, died when he was a youngster. At the age of seventeen or eighteen, he enrolled in Plato's Academy in Athens, where he remained until the age of thirty-seven (c. 347 BC). Beginning in 343 BC, Aristotle educated Alexander the Great.

The Goal of Ethics

Aristotle examined moral philosophy in a patient, careful, and descriptive manner. He explored the conditions under which individual actors can be assigned moral responsibility, the nature of the virtues and vices involved in the oral appraisal, and the ways for achieving satisfaction in life. For Aristotle, the primary issue is the topic of character or personality – what it takes for an individual human being to be a decent person.
Every activity has a final cause, the good it seeks, and Aristotle maintained that because there cannot be an infinite regress of just extrinsic goods, there must be a supreme good toward which all human activity ultimately strive to be. This stage of human life could be referred to as happiness.
Neither the conventional concepts of pleasure, money, and honor nor the philosophical theory of forms, provide an adequate account of this ultimate objective, because even those who obtain material possessions or achieve intellectual understanding may not be happy.

Virtue Ethics

  • As a philosophy, Aristotle and other ancient Greeks developed virtue ethics. It is the pursuit of understanding and living a moral life.
  • According to this character-based approach to morality, goodness is learned through practise. A person develops an honourable and moral character by practising being honest, brave, just, and generous, among other qualities. Aristotle believed that through cultivating virtuous habits, people would be more likely to make the right decision when presented with ethical quandaries.
  • To demonstrate the distinction between three major moral systems, ethicists Mark White and Robert Arp uses the scene from the film The Dark Knight in which Batman has the choice to murder the Joker. White and Arp argue that killing the Joker is utilitarian. By taking just one life, Batman could save a lot of people. Deontologists, on the other hand, would oppose killing the Joker merely because killing is bad. In contrast, a virtue ethicist "would highlight the character of the person who kills the Joker." "Does Batman want to be the type of person who kills his enemies?" He doesn't have any.
As a result, virtue ethics contributes to our knowledge of what it means to be a virtuous person. Furthermore, it provides us with a direction for conducting our lives without providing us with particular guidelines for resolving ethical quandaries.

Aristotle on Teleology

Aristotle is widely regarded as the originator of teleology. However, if teleology refers to the application of ends or purposes in natural inquiry, Aristotle was a key developer of teleological explanation. Although teleological ideas were common among Aristotle's predecessors, he rejected their view of exogenous causes such as intellect or deity as the primary cause of natural things. Instead, he sees nature as an inherent principle of change and an end in itself, and his teleological explanations center on what is essentially desirable for natural substances.
Aristotle's theory was later merged with the teleological proof for god's existence, the anthropic cosmological principle, creationism, intelligent design, vitalism, animism, anthropocentrism, and resistance to materialism, evolution, and mechanism.
However, an examination of both his explicit methodology and the explanations offered in his scientific works (on physics, cosmology, theology, psychology, biology, and anthropology) reveals that Aristotle's aporetic approach to teleology steers a middle course through traditional oppositions such as causation and explanation, mechanism and materialism, naturalism and anthropocentrism, realism and instrumentalism.


Voluntary Action is defined as an act "initiated by the doer with understanding of the specific circumstances of the act."
Compulsion Is Associated With Voluntary though its put in its own category of "mixed," but more voluntary than involuntary - asked and chosen at the time done - involuntary in and of itself, but voluntary in preference to an option supplied A tyrant, for example, orders you to do something dishonourable while holding your family hostage and threatens to kill them if you do not obey.


Through ignorance, but not for which one is afterward remorseful. (Perhaps an independent category on the level above) done as a result of (or as a result of) rage or want (appetite), behaviors that Aristotle claims are not properly referred to as involuntary. (Irrational passions are as human as rationality.) "Acting in ignorance" - "When a man is inebriated or enraged, he is not thought to act in ignorance, but in intoxication or wrath, and yet not intentionally, but in ignorance."

Involuntary Actions -

Refers to any act that is done-

Under Compulsion

The cause of compulsion is usually external to the agent, and the agent doesn’t contribute to the activity.
For example, it was hard to resist being dragged away by a whirlwind or kidnappers - the compulsion was terrible, not joyful or noble.

Through ignorance

A lack of understanding of fundamental laws of good and wrong When the agent is afflicted and upset because he or she does not understand the exact conditions involved.
For example, talking about a taboo subject, accidentally discharging a catapult, mistaking a son for an adversary or a sharp spear for a blunt one, and killing a man with a medication intended to rescue him.

Deliberate Choice

Although virtues are habits of action or dispositions to act in certain ways, Aristotle thought that these habits are created through participating in incorrect behavior on specific occasions and that doing so necessitates thinking about what one does in a particular method. Morality does not require demonstrative knowledge of the kind used in science or aesthetic judgment of the type used in crafts.
According to Aristotle, there is a particular form of thinking that fully provides for morality: practical wisdom or prudence. This faculty alone comprehends the true nature of individual and group well-being and applies its findings to the direction of human behavior. Acting correctly, then, is combining our desires with correct thinking about the proper aims or ends.
This is the function of deliberative reasoning: to consider each of the many actions within one's power to perform, weighing the extent to which each would contribute to the achievement of the appropriate goal or end, making a conscious decision to act in the method that best serves that objective, and then freely carrying out that action. Although virtue is distinct from intelligence, the acquisition of virtue is highly reliant on the application of that intelligence.

Weakness of the Will

But doing the right thing isn't always easy, even if few individuals seek to create bad habits on purpose. Aristotle was vehemently opposed to Socrates' notion that understanding what is right inevitably leads to doing it. According to Aristotle, the greatest opponent of moral conduct is precisely the failure to behave appropriately even when one's contemplation has resulted in a clear understanding of what is right.
Incontinent agents suffer from a type of will weakness that hinders them from acting by their reasoning.
Aristotle noted that this may appear to be a mere lack of intelligence because the akratic individual appears to fail to make the required connection between the general moral rule and the specific circumstance to which it applies to. Somehow, the allure of immense pleasure appears to cloud one's view of what is excellent. But, according to Aristotle, this obstacle does not have to be fatal to achieving virtue.


Aristotle addressed the significance of human connections in general, and friendship in particular, as an essential component of the ideal life in a particularly significant portion of ethics. Even if he had everything else, no one would choose to live if he didn't have friends. He distinguished three forms of human friendships by discriminating between their goals or ambitions.
  • When two people discover that they share a mutual interest in an activity that they can pursue together, they form a friendship for pleasure. Their dual engagement in that activity provides more pleasure to both than either might get acting alone.
  • A friendship based on utility, on the other hand, develops when two people may profit in some way from participating in the coordinated activity. In this scenario, the emphasis is on how the two can benefit from one other rather than on any fun they may have.
  • A friendship for the good, on the other hand, develops when two people engage in similar activities purely to enhance the other's total goodness.
  • In this case, neither pleasure nor utility is important, but good is.

Achieving Happiness

Aristotle concluded his explanation of ethical life by providing a more complete account of achieving true happiness. Pleasure, he claimed, is not good in and of itself since it is inherently imperfect. However, worthwhile tasks are frequently associated with their specific delights. As a result, we are correctly steered in life by our natural inclination for engaging in enjoyable rather than painful activities.
Genuine happiness is found inaction that leads to virtue because this alone brings true value rather than mere amusement. As a result, Aristotle considered contemplation to be the best type of moral activity because it is continuous, agreeable, self-sufficient, and complete. Human people come closest to heavenly blessedness through intellectual activity, while also realizing all of the authentic human attributes.

Aristotle on Politics

Aristotle was drawn to studying the nature of politics and was highly normative in his approach to politics. He used a more empirical and scientific technique, producing treatises rather than conversations and often handling his sources with great detachment. The outcome in Politics is a broad and frequently incisive examination of political life, ranging from the origins and purpose of the state to the intricacies of institutional arrangements. While Aristotle's views on slavery, women, and laborers are often unsettling to modern readers, his examination of government types (and the causes of their preservation and demise) is always fascinating. His concept of "polity," a synthesis of oligarchy and democracy, has had a particularly large impact on the history of popular rule. Finally, his claim that a constitution is more than just a set of political institutions has proven beneficial for subsequent philosophers such as Alexis de Tocqueville.
Politics is Aristotle's most important work in political philosophy. However, reading Nicomachean Ethics is also necessary ay to fully appreciate Aristotle's political goal and vision. Aristotle felt that ethics and politics were inextricably linked and that the ethical and virtuous life is only possible to those who participate in politics, whereas moral education is the primary goal of the political society.
“The major concern of politics is to induce a specific character in the citizens and to make them excellent and prepared to undertake noble actions", he said in Nicomachean Ethics. Most people in today's Western societies, including the United States, Canada, Germany, and Australia, would disagree with that statement. We are more likely to see politics (and politicians) as pursuing immoral, selfish ends such as wealth and power rather than the "best end," and many people see the idea that politics is or should be primarily concerned with instilling a particular moral character in citizens as a dangerous impediment to individual liberty because we disagree on what the "best end" is. People in Western countries frequently expect politics and the government to keep them safe from other people (through police and armed forces) so that they can choose and pursue their own goals, whatever they may be. This has been true in Western political philosophy since at least John Locke. Person character development is left to the individual, with assistance from family, religion, and other non-governmental groups.


Aristotle was a staunch supporter of the system of slavery. Many theorists, however, have criticized it. Slavery, which was the norm at the time, was rationalized by Aristotle. "For that, some should govern and others are ruled is a matter not only essential but expedient; from the hour of their birth, same are set out for subjugation, other for the rule," he stated in Politics. Aristotle favored slavery for practical reasons. Aristotle spoke on the institution of slavery when discussing the origins of the state and family. He discovered that slavery is necessary for a household and justifies it as natural and thus moral. A slave is a live property of his master and an actionable instrument. A man cannot live a pleasant life without slaves, just as he cannot make excellent music without instruments. Men differ in terms of their physical and mental condition. Slavery was justified by Aristotle based on the natural disparity between mankind. Aristotle assumed that the superior and inferior are universally regulated by the contrast of the superior and inferior. Man is superior to animals, male to female, soul to the body, and reason to passion. In all of these categories, the superior rule over the lesser, and this is to the benefit of both. There are guys whose profession it is to utilize their bodies and who can do no better, and they are by nature slaves. Slavery is not only natural but also necessary. Slavery benefits both the master and the slave if the owners do not oppress the slave. Slavery is necessary for the master of the household because, without slaves, he is forced to do manual labor, which prevents him from performing public tasks.
Aristotle was honest enough to recognize that many were slaves by law rather than nature, particularly those who were forced to slavery through conquest, a process common in antiquity's wars. He granted slaves the mental ability to comprehend their master's rational actions and directives but denied them the ability to act rationally on their initiative.