Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Aristotle on Virtue

I've been studying a portion of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in The Great Books Reader.  The selection mainly focuses on virtue, and its meaning.  Here's a portion that stuck out to me.

"Both fear and confidence and appetite and anger and pity and in general pleasure and pain may be felt both too much and too little, and in both cases not well; but to feel them at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way, is what is both intermediate and best, and this is characteristic of virtue.  Similarly with regard to actions also there is excess, defect, and the intermediate.  Now virtue is concerned with passions and actions, in which excess is a form of failure, and so is defect, while the intermediate is praised and is a form of success; and being praised and being successful are both characteristics of virtue.  Therefore virtue is a kind of mean, since, as we have seen, it aims at what is intermediate."

He goes on to say this a little further:

"But not every action nor every passion admits of a mean; for some have names that already imply badness, e.g. spite, shamelessness, envy, and in the case of actions adultery, theft, murder; for all of these and suchlike things imply by their names that they are themselves bad, and not the excesses or deficiencies of them.  It is not possible, then, ever to be right with regard to them; one must always be wrong." --Both translated by W.D. Ross, 1908

I think Aristotle touched on something significant in these passages.  What do you think?  Is it right?  Is it Biblical?  Please share your thoughts.  Don't just be a passive reader.  Take time to think and let's generate some discussion.


  1. I wouldn't say that it's completely Biblical. I believe that Solomon said something like, "there is a time to kill."; a statement which is often debated in light of the New Covenant. Is there ever a time to kill in the days since Christ? How about capital punishment? What if killing one person could save the lives of millions of others? How about Hitler? If killing him could have saved us from WWII, would it have been better?

  2. Is killing and murder the same thing? God often told the Israelites to go to war and kill, but gave the command not to murder. Jesus however obviously didn't seem to approve of violence. Peter cut off a guy's ear and he told him to put his sword away and healed the guy. And may be interesting to note that Aristotle wrote this before the time of Christ.