The subject ‘Ethics’ owes its origin to the work of Aristotle. The original emphasis was on the question of virtue of personality. According to Aristotle the acquisition of virtue led to a good life (Aristotle 12-14). Generally, Ethics is a topic that chronologically exposes how people should live satisfactory lives.
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Initially, the study was principally associated with the study of politics particularly the issue of law making which looks at how people were brought up. The study looked at this question by studying the community from which the individuals hailed from. Aristotle’s initial response to the question on how best one can live a good life was through a life of philosophy and self-reflection. He looked at the issue of ethics by looking at virtue, the good life, friendship, and political science.
Aristotle is of the view that a virtue makes it possible for a thing to function well. Its function is seen as what it can do or what it emerges best in doing. He uses a sharp knife to explain this idea; a good knife is one that cuts with ease and a sharp knife is most appropriate for that definition. A man’s virtue is his personality that makes him good and which enables his to perform tasks well.
For a man to function well, there are many virtues that have to be in place. These virtues may be physical or intellectual (Aristotle 45-47). His arguments are agreeable since the when it comes to the issue of talent; those who are talented in some aspects of life are best suited to their areas of interest. However much a doctor or an engineer is learned, he or she cannot perform the work of a sculptor. It is accurate that specific persons have special abilities to perform functions best than others.
That is why we find that doctors who were trained in the same institutions over the same period of time differ in their professionalism. There is therefore someone somewhere who can undertake a certain task better than others. He divided this topic into three; moral virtue, continence, patience, and virtue, desert, and the intellectual values.
He differentiates moral virtue from natural virtue. Natural virtue is said to be innate while moral virtue is acquired in the course of one’s life. A person may be born brave or calm but moral virtues are necessary to ensure that such a person acts appropriately to arising situations. Moral standards cannot be easily defined hence they have to be determined by good judgment. A good judge should have practical wisdom and should be in a position to judge well in a range of cases.
Aristotle overemphasizes on moral virtue which is chiefly concerned with the correct amount of feeling. He overlooks other important factors such as the act of feeling them in the most appropriate time, with special reference to the right objects, to the right individuals, with the right intention, and in the correct way. He therefore fails to look at these factors in depth hence erroneous claims.
Virtuous people feel obliged to do good things and they take pleasure in undertaking such tasks without regrets or great effort, on the other hand vicious people take pleasure in doing the wrong things without uncertainty and regrets. In real life situations, to do what is right often calls for great struggle.
This is because people prefer using shortcuts when doing something. When one decides to do what is good, no shortcuts can be used in most cases hence more effort is needed. On the other hand, Aristotle is mistaken when he states that those who do wrong are not hesitant and bear no remorse. Human beings have been created in way that unless one’s conscience is dead, then one still has room for remorse during and after doing wrong.
He assumes that when studying the nature of virtue, one needs to have the knowledge to distinguish between the voluntary and involuntary situations (Aristotle 78-79).
He for instance states that acts that are compulsory make an act to be involuntary. This is agreeable, when students are forced to be in for preps till ten o’clock, they read involuntarily since if they were to be consulted they may prefer waking up early to study and retire to bed early. His view that ignorance or error cannot be excused at all times is true. Sometimes carelessness brings about these errors.
In dealing with intellectual virtues, Aristotle is of the view that moral virtues correct that part of the soul that reasons; this part can be controlled (Aristotle 123-134). When looking at the issue from a modern point of view, intellectual values do not reflect morals; the fact that one is a good mathematician does not imply that he or she is morally upright. On the other hand, excellence in mathematics can bring about a good life.
The modern sense of morals views practical wisdom as the intellectual virtue which happens to be a moral value. He is on point when he points out that practical wisdom enables people to plan well hence choosing avenues that lead to satisfactory outcomes. When one reasons creatively, it becomes possible to predict the outcomes of an incident; one is able to point out the possible threats hence coming up with viable solutions to solve them.
The Good Life
A good life is defined by considering the main components that define what it entails. These are; the good for man, happiness, production and action, action and contemplation (Aristotle 178-179). The well being of human beings is determined by one’s ability to actively take part in activities in accordance to human virtues.
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This means that for a human being to exist well, he or she should undertake tasks well with special reference to the specifications of individual tasks. This is what he covers in the good for man. Each job category has its own rules and for man to perfect his or her duties, the rules that are specified in such jobs have to be followed. Failure to follow these rules can result in unexpected outcomes.
A happy life is one that a sensible judge can consider fortunate, it takes more than a happy state of mind to attain a good life. He hits the nail on the head by stating that factors that bring about a happy life are both external and internal, an internal factor such as courage is necessary when it comes to taking risks while an internal factor such as thinking enables one to make wise decisions. A happy person is evidently one who acts in accordance to the set rules in any task being undertaken.
Under production and action Aristotle states that it is impossible to spend the entire time in undertaking actions that suit one’s needs only. At some point one is involved in producing products that will be of use to the community.
For instance, industries that produce farming tools do so to make sales and get profits, farmers buying such tools will use them to produce crops which will in turn be sold and consumed. Three subjects will have gained from this, the industry, the farmers and the consumers. Action and contemplation emphasizes that a good life is as a result of intellectual activity.
Clearly, happiness is attained following a combination of many factors. Intellectual activity leads to production and not necessarily happiness. Research has shown that leisure can be termed as the activity that brings about happiness; it however calls for hard work which can only be attained through intellectual capacity. With proper reasoning, one is able to put knowledge into practice hence bringing about satisfying results. One’s intellectual capability indirectly leads to happiness through the chain of events involved.
His main argument here is that friendship is an essential ingredient to good life. It is defined as a virtue that is necessary for livelihood. The presence of friends makes one to make the right choices and to act right. It is seen as a bond that holds states together and with it, justice prevails (Aristotle 260-262).
Aristotle chiefly discusses friendship between men since he fails to mention women. Basing arguments on his definition of friendship as the outcome of an impulse of respect and welfare, then his arguments are agreeable. The fact that he specifies what kind of friendship he discusses in his arguments, then one can confidently second him. His definition can be used to mean true friends who can go an extra mile to protect their friends. Although such kinds of friends are rare, the few that one may have can fit well in Aristotle’s definition.
A good life propels a state to survive. By this, he means that ethics are superior to political science and not the other way round. For one to determine the most appropriate form of a state, he or she should first define a good life. He sees citizens as a team of friends. He argues that the outcome of a political activity has nothing to do with the production of external goods or military supremacy (Aristotle 166-167).
To some extent, his argument is agreeable; the most important function of a state is to unite people in the entire region. When there is turmoil in a given state, it is the work of the state to bring about calm. Political, social, and economical prosperity are the elements that make up a good life.
Aristotle’s central idea is ethics and a good life. Ethics is seen as a main determinant of a good life. The absence of ethics indicates a bad life. Is this always the case? The answer is a big NO. It is important to note that provided that one has peace of mind, it does not matter how the person acquired the good life.
The issue of abortion has been a contentious issue that has given rise to debates, whether one decides to undergo the operation depends on how one sees the life after. If one feels that she is not economically or psychologically prepared to bring forth a baby, then opting to undergo the operation would lead to a good life than if the child was born and suffer due to lack of enough money for upbringing.
The subject matter of metaphysics bears various definitions according to Aristotle. The definitions include the study of being qua being, wisdom, or theology.
He proposes that men expect to use wisdom to deal with causes and principles of issues affecting them. Wisdom is evidently necessary when it comes to dealing with life’s issues since wise people always dwell on facts rather than what they assume to be true. They do not experiment with the truth since it is already established. With wisdom, one can make the right choices hence it becomes easy to deal with issues.
He carefully studies these causes and principles in his work. He believes that the best thing to do before dealing with a situation is to inquire other people’s opinions (Aristotle 204). The idea of assessing previous opinions by others is logical since in most cases people build their conclusion from original work. This enables one to point out the strengths and the weaknesses of those opinions hence excluding the latter from the newly formulated ideas. He uses the word ‘qua’ to mean roughly in this subject (Aristotle 26-30).
He makes a clear distinction between things that are familiar to us from those that are familiar to themselves. Here, emphasis is on the importance of having a clear understanding of things that are familiar to us and later attempt to study those that seem unfamiliar (Aristotle 98-102). This holds true for most of the subjects studied in schools. It is customary to start from the known to the unknown. Detectives start by uncovering the evident facts before uncovering the culprits.
It would be hard to try and solve a mathematic problem without basics such as the formula and the steps that have to be followed in solving the problem; this is made easier if one is aware of the relationships between the different variables. Researchers need to have a good understanding of the problem before setting out to conduct their research work. Generally, the starting point of anything has to be effected by what is already known to the people.
Philosophy is seen as one among many fields that studies beings. Mathematics and natural sciences also study the same but using different approaches. For a natural scientist, beings are studied as things that are controlled by nature. A mathematician will study beings in measurable and countable terms (Aristotle 201-206).
Most of the subjects that are studied at school indeed study beings. Most of the topics will focus on the effect that a factor has on people, or how people affect a certain factor. His claims can therefore be confirmed since most studies revolve around human beings and the immediate environment. Philosophy therefore studies the causes and principles of substances just like other fields. One thing that comes out clear is that the study of beings is done in different degrees in individual fields.
Substances are regarded as unique and independent things that can stand on their own. Items that form other categories are seen to depend on substances when it comes to giving an account of certain aspects in them. This, he says makes the non-substances to exist thanks to the presence of the substances (Aristotle 221-223). A unit measure of quantity such as a kilogram owes its origin to the existence of a measurable substance like sugar or salt.
That is why we say ‘a kilogram of sugar or salt’ the ‘of’ in this case acts as a determinant that brings out the relationship between the two variables indicating that sugar is the independent variable. A house is also an independent variable. People depend on it for shelter; the house does not depend on people since it can survive without people. People on the other hand need houses to shelter them from bad weather; they may contract diseases if they are exposed to the harsh weather. Items like color are found in bodies and not vice versa.
Items within a given category are also seen to have a relationship. He uses the term ‘said of’ to show that there is a relationship that exists between items in a single category. Man is seen to depend on animals and at the same time animals depend on man for existence. Both man and animal depend on a particular substance for their existence.
This can hold true for some instances in life, man will depend on cow for milk and at the same time the cow will depend on man for food. Both man and the cow will depend on the weather. When it is rainy, man will provide the food adequately but when the weather is bad, then food will be less hence the cow may not provide as much milk.
The fundamental nature of a thing is how it is defined with respect to itself. He holds that when it comes to definitions, one should define the subject not words. By this he means that when it comes to defining a tiger, we should not go ahead and define the word, we should bring out the main characteristics of a tiger. The definition of any object should therefore present the essence or the characteristics that have to be in place for an animal to be regarded as a tiger.
This notion is justified since when giving definitions the main characteristics of an object have to stand out for the definition to be comprehensive. When defining an insect for instance, qualities like the number of body parts and compound eyes have to be considered. The complexity of the words used in defining an object are not as important as the contents which are expected to comprehensively bring out the main characteristics of the object in question.
If definitions can be given for items regardless of their category then these items have essence (Aristotle 27). In giving definition about an item, its function is also brought out. In the same way that there is an essence of man, there is also an essence of color white. Each part of a machine is an item that performs certain functions.
Its presence plays a role in ensuring that the machine functions well. It is important to note that however small some things may look, they are part and parcel of the whole and it would be impossible to function without them. Despite the fact that there is a large variety of colors, some colors simply fit in some places than others.
According to him, when it comes to discussing primary things as a topic on its own, then we are indirectly touching on its essence. This is because the main ideas that are likely to stem out here are its function and its main components. The in depth discussion focuses on the ‘something’ as a whole.
When tackling the issue of food, the definition will definitely bring out the function that food plays in our day to day life, further; looking at the different types of food and their function further exposes the essence of the parts that make the whole. Although, the precise implication of this claim has brought about controversy, it is evident that Aristotle’s arguments are agreeable in as far as the essence of a substance is concerned.
The main ideas presented by Aristotle in this argument are valid. This argument is brought out well when he tackles the issue off substance and definition. If we have a definable substance X having a part Y as a component, then the definition of X will include a certain quality of X say Z, Z in this case is an indirect definition of Y.
The proposition of using a method of division in definitions where one begins by considering the genus from which the species to be defined is found is justifiable. If one was to define a butterfly for instance, the first thing would be to look the characteristics that are common to all insects, as one moves from the broadest division, the characteristics of the butterfly are brought out hence contributing to the overall definition. In each of the divisions, there are certain qualities that differentiate the species.
Aristotle’s arguments on ethics are not fully justified. Some of the arguments leave unanswered questions to which answers have not been provided yet. The arguments mainly focus on the role that ethics play in as far as a good life is concerned. To live a good life, one needs to follow the specifications of a given tasks so as to attain the desired results. He overemphasizes on the role that ethics play in politics and other sectors of life.
The subject of metaphysics brings out reality and arguments that are valid. Aristotle’s arguments about substances and essence are justifiable and one can easily relate them to everyday experiences, this does not however disregard his arguments concerning ethics. The latter is also applicable but some of the issues that he presents are controversial. In metaphysics, Aristotle presents his arguments in a chronological and a comprehensive manner hence the arguments can be easily understood.
He can therefore be credited for his standpoints and his intellectual capacity to bring out logical definitions at a time when the resources were scarce. In comparison, the subject of metaphysics appears to have been tacked well and in a professional manner than that of ethics. The main reason for this is because most of the ideas presented in metaphysics are applicable in the modern world.
Aristotle. The Nicomachean ethics of Aristotle. New York: Taylor & Francis, 1954. Pp. 12-262.
Aristotle. Aristotle’s Metaphysics. New Jersey: Clarendon Press, 1958. Pp. 26-223