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Moral virtue was defined by Aristotle as an individual’s disposition to make the right decisions as a mediating action targeted to balance excess and deficiencies, which were considered vices. People can learn moral virtue through establishing different habits as well as practicing reasonable actions. Thus, virtue can be described as a matter of establishing appropriate attitudes toward both pleasure and unpleasant moments. When discussing his theory of moral virtue, Aristotle made a point to suggest that the central goal is to achieve a balance between virtue and vice – a mean between extremes that exist in one’s actions, thoughts, behaviors. Within the moral virtue theory, Aristotle stated that people must do the right thing because it is considered right and not because there is a personal gain that can be achieved from it. Thus, moral virtue is something that people should understand intellectually and apply their knowledge to practice.
In contrast to virtue, vice is defined as a disposition to make wrong decisions as a means to respond to the outside factors; put simply, vice is the absence of virtue and therefore cannot allow an individual to become truly happy. While vices can be viewed from the perspective of being opposite to virtues, Aristotle made a different distinction. For each virtue, there are two vices, one of deficiency and one of excess, which aligns with the idea that virtue is needed to achieve balance. When discussing different spheres of action, a distinction between vices of excess and vices of deficiency can be made. For example, in the ‘wealth’ sphere of action, charity is considered a virtue while greed is a vice of excess and stinginess is a vice of deficiency.
Notions of virtue and vice directly relate to Aristotle’s ideas of character education, which he considered to reference the solid foundation of the philosophy of life, especially when it comes to educating oneself in politics and ethics. It is evident that character education for Aristotle lied in the “cultivation of the mind” as a “major concern in education” (p. 70). Both virtue and vice build one’s character and therefore can contribute to the view of happiness. Happy people are those who managed to cultivate their character and mind to high degrees and maintain the acquisition of goods within limits that they can manage. Therefore, character education leads to happiness that is equal to the amount of wisdom and virtue. The latter can be divided into two kinds: intellectual and moral. While intellectual virtue is improved and increased through instruction, moral virtue is the end product of habit.
In a general educational system, character education can be associated with teaching people how to exercise their virtue to contribute to the lives of others while also enriching their own lives. This can be done through charitable and community work, which is sometimes included in extra-curriculum work. However, such work is rarely the focus of educational programs because theoretical knowledge and other skills such as reading or writing are unfortunately considered more important than character education. Teaching students moral and civic virtues is an essential component of education because it will prepare them for future lives in a ‘grown-up’ world. Since moral virtue implies finding a balance between vices, character education will contribute to building interpersonal and societal skills, without which striking a balance between vices will be near to impossible.
Ladikos, A. (2010). Aristotle on intellectual and character education. Phronimon, 11(2), 69-83.