In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposes that in order to discover happiness, we must we must first seek to understand virtue. Not only this, but we must acknowledge ethical virtue, which is expressed through activity of the soul according to reason. Aristotle claims that virtue is not simply an action, but a “purposive disposition”; a capacity for which we are all born with. I believe that Aristotle’s account of virtue is sufficiently persuasive because he acknowledges that virtue is achieved through training and repeated behaviors, is an act of the soul for the sake of goodness, and is learned by modeling virtuous people.Order now
Aristotle claims that the highest good one can achieve is happiness. Yet, there is some discrepancy over what constitutes happiness. Some believe happiness lies in sensual pleasure, others equate it with receiving rewards of honor. Aristotle, on the other hand, recognizes happiness as an activity rather than a state of being. Aristotle contrasts happiness with virtue because he believes that possessing the right virtues assists a person in choosing to live well. In Book 1 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states, “Since happiness is an activity of the soul expressing complete virtue, we must examine virtue; for that will perhaps also be a way to study happiness better” (1102a5).
In addition to this, Aristotle distinguishes the existence of two types of virtue: virtue of thought and virtue of character. Virtue of thought is deduced through reasoning, thinking, and deciding, yet, virtue of character is achieved by the formation of habits. Virtue of character represents ethical virtue, which must be trained and habitually formed in order to perform moral actions, thus, aiding us along the path to happiness. I believe this to be true of virtue. Virtue is found in a deliberate choice to do something good. Therefore, in order to emulate virtue, one must make a deliberate choice to do something for the good of others and turn that decision into a repeated action.
In support of this, Aristotle indicates that, “…virtue is a purposive disposition, lying in a mean that is relative to us and determined by a rational principle, by that which a prudent man would use to determine it” (1107a1-5). This seems to be the best measure of moral goodness. Unlike blind, random actions, voluntary choices to do what is right and good for humanity form the backbone of virtue. As a result, the good that comes from making voluntary choices influences us to continue making them. From this continuous pattern of making moral choices shapes habit, through which we become virtuous individuals.
However, in order to learn virtue, and make moral choices, we must first be able to identify those who are virtuous. By identifying those who are virtuous, we have a template for the way we, too, may act. According to Aristotle, virtuous people must know they are behaving the right way, must choose to behave in the right way for the sake of being virtuous, and their behavior must manifest itself as part of a constant, virtuous disposition (1105a30). By following those who fulfill these three components, we are able to gain perspective and insight into what a moral life looks like. As Aristotle points out, actions are subsequently called just or temperate when they are the sort that a just or temperate person would do (1105b5). By watching and learning virtuous people, we also learn how to display virtue. Those who model virtuous actions often go beyond what is asked of them or what duty they might have. Rather, their desire stems from an inward commitment to live out a good and virtuous life. They become attractive individuals to others as they appear to have their act together and rally support from others. These are the people that provide concrete examples of values that we may recognize as important and maintain that these values may be made tangible through daily practice.
Additionally, Aristotle asserts that in order to form these habituations, we must understand that virtuous action resides between an extreme deficiency and an extreme excess. After analyzing virtue in the abstract, Aristotle examines each individual virtue, beginning with bravery. According to Aristotle, bravery does not mean fearlessness, rather involves confidence when confronted with fear. In order to be brave, one must stand firm against the right things while also fearing the right things, “…in the right way, at the right time, and is correspondingly confident” (1115b15). It is important to note that some dispositions may appear brave at face value, but are not actually brave. In this way, an excess of fearfulness constitutes cowardice, whereas a deficiency constitutes rashness. Bravery is only made possible by means of a learned moral action. Once we have learned to accomplish bravery through instinct, we are better equipped to emulate moral goodness, subsequently achieving true happiness.
Aristotle’s account is a sufficient explanation of virtue. It not only teaches us how to possess the right virtues, but also enables us to choose to live virtuous lives to discover the supreme good; happiness. For instance, in his first point, Aristotle asserts that in order to perform moral actions, we must make a deliberate, voluntary choice to do good for others. By doing this, we are able to tap into our potential for virtue. By choosing to act justly and humbly for the sake of maintaining ethical virtue, we preserve some moral dignity of humanity and become models for those around us. Thus, by leading by example, we are encouraged to continue living out a life full of consciously choosing good from evil or immorality. As we become models for society through our ethical actions, we are conditioned to habitually perform these actions. For the sake of bravery, I believe that brave individuals choose to remain headstrong in the fight for virtue.
Brave individuals are conditioned to act courageously throughout the course of their lives. These individuals may witness another’s virtuous bravery, and willingly choose to demonstrate similar examples in their own relevant situations. For example, by studying and living out a life imitating Jesus Christ, who bravely faced his own gruesome death, St. Maximilian Kolbe also lived out a spirit of bravery throughout his life. St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1941. Toward the end of his second month in camp, several men were chosen randomly to face death by starvation posing as an example for men who tried to escape. Kolbe was not chosen as one of the men, but selflessly volunteered to take the place of a man with a family. Kolbe was the last of the group to remain alive after two weeks of dehydration and starvation. To end his life, the guards administered a lethal injection of carbolic acid directly into his heart. St. Maximilian Kolbe demonstrates that by deliberately choosing to do what is right, virtue is often the result.
Secondly, Aristotle claims that we may only learn virtue by seeing and acknowledging virtuous people. By doing so, these people form our role models and encourage us to also act with moral goodness. I believe this to be an accurate starting point for achieving virtue. There are many examples of virtuous individuals throughout society for others to look up to. These moral people encompass these three requirements, thus encouraging others to act virtuously and contribute selflessly to society by means of achieving ultimate fulfillment. As an example, thousands of people have recognized St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta as both a moral and virtuous role model. Mother Teresa encompasses the three components Aristotle lists for being able to identify a virtuous person. First, Mother Teresa was marvelously habituated to helping others, that it came to her as naturally as breathing. Never failing to take care of the sick and dying, she knew that her actions allowed her the ability to care for the unwanted and unloved.
Second, committing moral actions for the sake of goodness is something she continuously conveyed. She consistently expressed the necessity for morality to take over one’s life, so that one can act immediately, without hesitation, and with perfect freedom to do what is needed. Lastly, unlike so many of us who labor to do what is right and good, Mother Teresa not only behaved in the right way for the sake of being virtuous, but also let her behavior manifest itself as a constant moral temperament. As a direct result of her example, the Missionaries of Charity were established to carry on her work of caring for the blind, elderly, those with leprosy, and the dying. Since its foundation, the order now comprises 4,500 nuns working in more than 600 missions across 133 countries. Her leadership model supports Aristotle’s argument that virtuous habituation is made possible by our innate ability to identify virtuous people.
Lastly, Aristotle articulates how virtues such as bravery lie between an extreme deficiency and excess. Aristotle tells us that voluntary choices are virtuous because they serve as a noble means to an end. In the matter of bravery, we do not simply become brave by learning why bravery is preferred over cowardice, rather by being trained to make conscious moral choices to be brave. Excellent examples for virtuous bravery are found in many individuals who have been persecuted or even killed whilst pursuing moral goodness. Several examples of individuals who have confronted fear with confidence can be found in Jesus Christ, Rv. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malala, Nelson Mandela, St. Joan of Arc, and many others. In the case of Rosa Parks, her humble, yet confident response of “No” to the bus driver who asked her to give up her seat for a white man essentially changed the course of history.
Her courageous response to fear and segregation was to bravely stand (or sit) firmly for all those who were denied equal rights and treatment. Rather than giving up her seat out of cowardice, or becoming aggressive towards the discriminator out of rashness, Parks demonstrated the mean between the two. In fact, after Parks refused to move, the driver responded, ‘Well, I’m going to have you arrested.’ And Parks, still sitting, replied, ‘You may do that.’ As a result, the chain of events that followed this exchange, and her arrest, impacted the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement. In Aristotle’s account of bravery he makes the point that, “Habituation in disdaining what is fearful and in standing firm against it makes us become brave, and when we have become brave we shall be most able to stand firm” (1104b35). In each of the individuals listed above, their habitual actions support the argument that bravery, along with other virtues, lies between an excess and deficiency and is successfully executed by living out the mean of the two.
Aristotle’s theory for virtue is sufficiently persuasive due to keen description and example of what constitutes ethical virtue. Aristotle makes the case that virtue is found in a deliberate choice to do good and act out of moral goodness. Throughout history, we have looked up to millions of virtuous people made by their selfless choices to do what is right. By their example, and by discovering the mean between extreme deficiencies and excesses, we may finally discover the truth to acquiring happiness.