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Aristotle Philosophical Perspective Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 2nd, 2021

Introduction

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argued that a good life is the one driven by reason. To substantiate this assertion, the philosopher introduces the concept of virtues as placed between two extremes, comparable to a popular notion of moderation. The following paper analyzes the concepts above to determine the applicability of Aristotelian ethics to the real-life situations of the contemporary world.

Philosophical Perspective

To understand the connection established by Aristotle between a good life and a rational one, it is first necessary to discuss the concept of good used in the Nicomachean Ethics. The first important point is the concept of the highest good as viewed from the individual perspective. Aristotle started by criticizing the most common approach, which presumed that the highest good was related to the pursuit of material pleasures, accumulation of material wealth, or obtaining an honorable status in society.

Despite the popularity of these categories, each of them is deficient in a certain way. For instance, honorable status is not determined by the traits of an individual – instead, it is based on the perceived qualities and characteristics. In the same manner, material wealth is considered an intermediary for obtaining other goods or services, and the pursuit of bodily pleasures is common for the majority of living beings, devaluating them as feasible determinants of human life.

The latter is especially important since it contains a key determinant of the concept of the good life, namely the consistency with the process of self-improvement. Specifically, life can be considered good when the individual actively increases his or her faculties pertinent to human beings. In other words, a good life should be lived by human virtues. Also, the actions responsible for the improvement in question need to have a conscious origin, which can be defined as the ability to act based on the predicted value of the outcome. The important distinction to mention here is the difference between human beings and animals, which, according to the philosopher, can be defined as the reason or the capacity for conscious decision-making.

Based on these arguments, Aristotle concluded that to live a good life, human beings should be able to identify the reasons behind their actions. By extension, reason can be identified through the conscious learning process, acquisition of new knowledge, or intellectual virtues. In the broadest sense, the said virtues are consistent with what is currently defined as scientific knowledge and are obtained mostly in the same manner. The virtues can be grouped into two categories: virtues obtained by contemplating fundamental natural laws and principles, and those acquired through inference, or application of these principles to physical reality, and observation.

However, it is necessary to specify that the described process is insufficient for the development of the virtues. Thus, a person needs to act by the concepts of the highest good and engage in a relentless process of self-improvement. As a result of these actions, the person is expected to develop the character traits necessary for performing these actions regularly. In contrast to intellectual virtues, which can be obtained through the process of learning, the character traits can only be developed through habituation and derived from life experience.

These virtues include temperance, courage, and generosity, among others. Understandably, the development of these traits requires considerable time and effort. Aristotle pointed out that despite the necessity to develop the traits, they can be easily recognized by the untrained individuals, or those less proficient in the matters. Thus, he concluded that there is a certain capacity for improvement pertinent to humans. However, he also specified that the predisposition to being more or less moral is unlikely and, therefore, the capacity for virtues is universal. By extension, all humans have certain moral responsibilities that should be upheld through conscious action.

The attainment of intellectual and character virtues allows the individual to reach the state of eudaimonia, which was used by Aristotle to denote good life and can be roughly translated as happiness. Eudaimonia is viewed as a fulfilling state that is desirable regardless of the individual preferences and allows for flourishing existence. Therefore, it is possible to assume that it can be both comprehended and sought after by any rational individual. Simply put, the desire for eudaimonia is rational. By extension, all of the virtues that serve as its prerequisites and are thus necessary for achieving it are to be viewed as rational as well.

The idea of the existence of a single Good as the ultimate goal is derived from Aristotle’s statement that every kind of inquiry and, by extension, every purposeful act aims at some good goal. To validate the connection between these statements, it is necessary to determine the meaning of the word “good” as used in the text. In the broadest sense, an action is considered good when it satisfies a certain benevolent need.

By extension, the fact of satisfaction can also be viewed as good when it is beneficial for a more encompassing purpose, or a greater good. This chain of reasoning can be extended to include a certain number of links. However, due to the finite nature of human actions, it would be unreasonable to suggest that it can be extended indefinitely. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that at some point the sequence will reach a state where the goal in question does not lead to the next level but is the final purpose of the initial act. This highest purpose can be considered the ultimate goal at which everything aims.

This conclusion confirms the possibility of a finite amount of goals. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily disprove the existence of several paths, which can be pursued simultaneously and lead to different kinds of ultimate goals.

To eliminate this possibility, it would be necessary to imagine such a scenario. For instance, it is possible to imagine a situation where a person considers healthy living and philanthropy two equally desirable goals. In this case, the actions of the individual will be driven by the necessity to comply with two sets of values. It is probable that in some cases, the actions may satisfy both sets. However, it is far more likely that they will only be relevant to one of the perspectives.

As a result, the individual will have to decide which of the actions to prioritize at the expense of the other. Alternatively, some actions will oppose one of the principles, in which case a decision would be required to either proceed with the action or abandon it. Understandably, these considerations will require considerable effort to conclude. However, if such a conclusion can be made on a rational basis, it is then possible to assume that one of the pathways was unnecessary in the first place.

Also, the dispersion of time and effort required for prioritizing cannot be considered a reasonable action. Such a line of behavior is unacceptable for a rational individual, and since it has been established that reason is a necessary component of happiness or good life, it would be logical to dismiss this argument and accept a single goal as the most plausible concept. Interestingly, such a line of thinking also offers an ethical advantage of streamlining the decision-making process by dismissing the options that are incompatible with the concept of a single universal good.

An important point in understanding the concept of virtue is the observance of the mean. According to Aristotle, human actions can be measured for consistency using certain criteria of order and proportion. In the case of virtues, these characteristics can be understood as placed the axis. For a person to achieve excellence in a certain virtue, it has to be placed in its center. On one side of the axis is what Aristotle termed a deficiency – the inability to demonstrate or exercise the desired trait.

On the other side of the spectrum is the excess of the same virtue, which supposedly negates its positive effect. In this sense, the ability to maintain middle ground between insufficient and excessive-performance characterizes the behavior in question as virtuous, whereas the deviation in any direction can be characterized as vicious. For example, a person is considered courageous when he or she can tolerate the risk associated with a certain action.

When the said person avoids such situations, the behavior indicates the deficiency of courage, which can be interpreted as consistent with the vice of cowardliness. On the other hand, someone who jumps into action without considering the possible consequences demonstrates an excess of courage or rashness. From this standpoint, it is reasonable to compare the notion of mean between the extremes to the one of moderation. Both concepts involve the axis that contains the most favorable outcome in the middle and treat the deviations as undesirable.

A good example of contemporary virtues would be temperance or a mean between pleasure and pain. The deficiency, in this case, would be an overindulgence in bodily pleasures, such as overeating. On the other hand, overly strict diets, as well as a deliberate avoidance of tasty food, will constitute excess. Finally, a healthy and reasonably balanced diet, which limits but does not exclude sugar-rich products would be the mean between these extremes.

In this case, the motive would be the satisfaction of bodily pleasures. Another example would be attention to physical appearance. In this case, someone who focuses on it at the expense of personal integrity engages in vanity, which is the vice of excess. On the other hand, a person who neglects it to the extent where it contradicts accepted social norms engages in vulgarity or the deficiency of the virtue. In this case, the desire to have an appealing look is the motive behind the extremes.

Conclusion

As can be seen, the ethical concepts laid out by Aristotle are relevant in the contemporary world. First, they offer an accessible approach based on a recognizable arithmetical model of the bi-directional axis, which can be used to communicate them to the audience and apply to real-world situations. In this regard, they are compatible with the popular and widely used concept of moderation. Also, they combine simplicity with flexibility, leaving space for decision-making in complex ethical and moral situations.

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