Plato and Aristotle were the pioneers of virtue theory.
Their views have much in common with one another, including:
1. The rejection of the view that our self-interests are best served by seeking pleasure, power or injustice
2. The belief that in order to know what the best life is for us, we need to understand our soul
3. The claim that developing our virtues (in each part of the soul) enables us to live the best possible life
4. The claim that the best possible life is determined by the ultimate ‘good’
Virtue Ethics vs. Hedonism
Virtue theory is critical of hedonism.
An analogy which illustrates this criticism involves two jars: one sound, and one which leaks. A temperate person has a sound jar, which can be easily filled. A hedonist can never fill their jar – all the water keeps leaking out. In other words, those who control their desires can be satisfied, but hedonists are constantly craving something more, because they are only interested in short-term pleasures.
According to Aristotle, humans have the potential for more than just satisfying our needs: we have the potential to excel.
Furthermore, hedonism can be dangerous: drinking too much alcohol, for example, can seriously damage a person’s health.
Plato’s Tripartite Soul
According to both Plato and Aristotle, in order to work out what is in our self-interest, we must work out our purpose in life
To do this, we need to understand our soul
Plato believed that our soul has two powerful impulses: desire and spirit
The impulses can be controlled with the third element of our soul: reason
We can only perform our function well as human beings, when all parts of the soul work at their optimum level. Once the elements of our soul work harmoniously, we are able to reach the ultimate goal for human beings: eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is a state of complete happiness and fulfilment; it is the state of human…