virtue ethics - Aristotle and Plato

OCR a2 ethics

Plato and Aristotle's views on virtue ethics

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Plato and Aristotle on Virtue Ethics
Arête (virtue, excellence) ­ the quality that makes something a good example of its king, e.g. the
sharpness of a knife. For humans, arête represents the excellences that are needed for a human
being to be a good human being.
Eudaimonia (well-being) ­ the state of being content, or satisfied. This satisfaction comes about
through the fulfilment of human potential, or self-realisation. Modern concepts would include
material well-being (prosperity or possessions). Ancient Greek ideas were more spiritual, though
bodily needs played a part.
Plato (428-347)
Plato believed that virtue was an inner state rising from a harmony of health, beauty and strength of
Actions are good when they enhance this inner state.
Three characteristics have to be in harmony:
Wisdom ­ good judgement, based on the use of reason
Courage ­ taking risks calculated to be for the benefit of the self and others
Self-control ­ will power, the ability to resist temptation
When these aspects of the personality are in balance, actions are just and good. Plato assumed that a
person would only act badly (or unjustly) through ignorance ­ no-one would willingly behave badly.
Aristotle (384-322)
Plato's student divided virtues into two groups:
Moral virtues
o These are characteristics of behaviour and attitude that contribute to appropriate
o E.g. courage, patience, friendliness, truthfulness, a sense of justice
Intellectual virtues
o These are characteristics of thought and reason that contribute to the state of mind
that leads to appropriate behaviour
o E.g. practical wisdom (balancing self-interest with that of others), technical skills,
scientific skills, intelligence
These virtues combine to allow a person to live a happy and satisfying life. Some virtues are
developed through habit (such as courage and temperance), others through learning and experience
(such as wisdom and judgement). These virtues combine to enable the person to contribute to
The virtues contribute to this, the final goal of all human activity, experienced in three ways
(according to Aristotle).
Pleasure ­ a spiritual sense of well-being
Honour ­ living and working for others
Reflection ­ the pursuit of knowledge


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