Aristotle - 2

The prominent virtue of this list is high-mindedness, which, as being a kind of ideal self-respect, is regarded as the crown of all the other virtues, depending on them for its existence, and itself in turn tending to intensify their force.

The list seems to be more a deduction from the formula than a statement of the facts on which the formula itself depends, and Aristotle accordingly finds language frequently inadequate to express the states of excess or defect which his theory involves (for example in dealing with the virtue of ambition).

Throughout the list he insists on the "autonomy of will" as indispensable to virtue: courage for instance is only really worthy of the name when done from a love of honor and duty: munificence again becomes vulgarity when it is not exercised from a love of what is right and beautiful, but for displaying wealth.

Justice is used both in a general and in a special sense. In its general sense it is equivalent to the observance of law. As such it is the same thing as virtue, differing only insofar as virtue exercises the disposition simply in the abstract, and justice applies it in dealings with people. Particular justice displays itself in two forms.

First, distributive justice hands out honors and rewards according to the merits of the recipients.

Second, corrective justice takes no account of the position of the parties concerned, but simply secures equality between the two by taking away from the advantage of the one and adding it to the disadvantage of the other.

Strictly speaking, distributive and corrective justice are more than mere retaliation and reciprocity.

However, in concrete situations of civil life, retaliation and reciprocity is an adequate formula since such circumstances involve money, depending on a relation between producer and consumer.

Since absolute justice is abstract in nature, in the real world it must be supplemented with equity, which corrects and modifies the laws of justice where it falls short.

Thus, morality requires a standard which will not only regulate the inadequacies of absolute justice but be also an idea of moral progress.

This idea of morality is given by the faculty of moral insight.

The truly good person is at the same time a person of perfect insight, and a person of perfect insight is also perfectly good. Our idea of the ultimate end of moral action is developed through habitual experience, and this gradually frames itself out of particular perceptions.

It is the job of reason to apprehend and organize these particular perceptions.

However, moral action is never the result of a mere act of the understanding, nor is it the result of a simple desire which views objects merely as things which produce pain or pleasure.

We start with a rational conception of what is advantageous, but this conception is in itself powerless without the natural impulse which will give it strength.

The will or purpose implied by morality is thus either reason stimulated to act by desire, or desire guided and controlled by understanding.

These factors then motivate the willful action.

Freedom of the will is a factor with both virtuous choices and vicious choices.

Actions are involuntary only when another person forces our action, or if we are ignorant of important details in actions.

Actions are voluntary when the originating cause of action (either virtuous or vicious) lies in ourselves.

Moral weakness of the will results in someone does what is wrong, knowing that it is right, and yet follows his desire against reason.

For Aristotle, this condition is not a myth, as Socrates supposed it was. The problem is a matter of conflicting moral principles.

Moral action may be represented as a syllogism in which a general principle of morality forms the first (i.e. major) premise, while the particular application is the second (i.e. minor) premise.

The conclusion, though, which is arrived at through speculation, is not always carried out in practice. The moral syllogism is not simply a matter of logic, but involves psychological drives and desires.

Desires can lead to a minor premise being applied to one rather than another of two major premises existing in the agent's mind.

Animals, on the other hand, cannot be called weak willed or incontinent since such a conflict of principles is not possible with them.

Pleasure is not to be identified with Good. Pleasure is found in the consciousness of free spontaneous action.

It is an invisible experience, like vision, and is always present when a perfect organ acts upon a perfect object. Pleasures accordingly differ in kind, varying along with the different value of the functions of which they are the expression.

They are determined ultimately by the judgment of "the good person." Our chief end is the perfect development of our true nature; it thus must be particularly found in the realization of our highest faculty, that is, reason.

It is this in fact which constitutes our personality, and we would not be pursuing our own life, but the life of some lower being, if we followed any other aim.

Self-love accordingly may be said to be the highest law of morals, because while such self-love may be understood as the selfishness which gratifies a person's lower nature, it may also be, and is rightly, the love of that higher and rational nature which constitutes each person's true self.

Such a life of thought is further recommended as that which is most pleasant, most self-sufficient, most continuous, and most consonant with our purpose. It is also that which is most akin to the life of God: for God cannot be conceived as practising the ordinary moral virtues and must therefore find his happiness in contemplation.

Friendship is an indispensable aid in framing for ourselves the higher moral life; if not itself a virtue, it is at least associated with virtue, and it proves itself of service in almost all conditions of our existence.

Such results, however, are to be derived not from the worldly friendships of utility or pleasure, but only from those which are founded on virtue.

The true friend is in fact a second self, and the true moral value of friendship lies in the fact that the friend presents to us a mirror of good actions, and so intensifies our consciousness and our appreciation of life.


Aristotle does not regard politics as a separate science from ethics, but as the completion, and almost a verification of it.

The moral ideal in political administration is only a different aspect of that which also applies to individual happiness.

Humans are by nature social beings, and the possession of rational speech (logos) in itself leads us to social union.

The state is a development from the family through the village community, an offshoot of the family.

Formed originally for the satisfaction of natural wants, it exists afterwards for moral ends and for the promotion of the higher life.

The state in fact is no mere local union for the prevention of wrong doing, and the convenience of exchange. It is also no mere institution for the protection of goods and property.

It is a genuine moral organization for advancing the development of humans.

The family, which is chronologically prior to the state, involves a series of relations between husband and wife, parent and child, master and slave. Aristotle regards the slave as a piece of live property having no existence except in relation to his master.

Slavery is a natural institution because there is a ruling and a subject class among people related to each other as soul to body; however, we must distinguish between those who are slaves by nature, and those who have become slaves merely by war and conquest.

Household management involves the acquisition of riches, but must be distinguished from money-making for its own sake.

Wealth is everything whose value can be measured by money; but it is the use rather than the possession of commodities which constitutes riches.

Financial exchange first involved bartering.

However, with the difficulties of transmission between countries widely separated from each other, money as a currency arose.

At first it was merely a specific amount of weighted or measured metal. Afterwards it received a stamp to mark the amount.

Demand is the real standard of value.

Currency, therefore, is merely a convention which represents the demand; it stands between the producer and the recipient and secures fairness.

Usury is an unnatural and reprehensible use of money.

The communal ownership of wives and property as sketched by Plato in the Republic rests on a false conception of political society.

For, the state is not a homogeneous unity, as Plato believed, but rather is made up of dissimilar elements.

The classification of constitutions is based on the fact that government may be exercised either for the good of the governed or of the governing, and may be either concentrated in one person or shared by a few or by the many.

There are thus three true forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and constitutional republic. The perverted forms of these are tyranny, oligarchy and democracy.

The difference between the last two is not that democracy is a government of the many, and oligarchy of the few; instead, democracy is the state of the poor, and oligarchy of the rich. Considered in the abstract, these six states stand in the following order of preference: monarchy, aristocracy, constitutional republic, democracy, oligarchy, tyranny.

But though with a perfect person monarchy would be the highest form of government, the absence of such people puts it practically out of consideration.

Similarly, true aristocracy is hardly ever found in its uncorrupted form. It is in the constitution that the good person and the good citizen coincide.

Ideal preferences aside, then, the constitutional republic is regarded as the best attainable form of government, especially as it secures that predominance of a large middle class, which is the chief basis of permanence in any state.

With the spread of population, democracy is likely to become the general form of government.

Which is the best state is a question that cannot be directly answered.

Different races are suited for different forms of government, and the question which meets the politician is not so much what is abstractly the best state, but what is the best state under existing circumstances.

Generally, however, the best state will enable anyone to act in the best and live in the happiest manner. To serve this end the ideal state should be neither too great nor too small, but simply self-sufficient. It should occupy a favorable position towards land and sea and consist of citizens gifted with the spirit of the northern nations, and the intelligence of the Asiatic nations.

It should further take particular care to exclude from government all those engaged in trade and commerce; "the best state will not make the "working man" a citizen; it should provide support religious worship; it should secure morality through the educational influences of law and early training.

Law, for Aristotle, is the outward expression of the moral ideal without the bias of human feeling. It is thus no mere agreement or convention, but a moral force coextensive with all virtue. Since it is universal in its character, it requires modification and adaptation to particular circumstances through equity.

Education should be guided by legislation to make it correspond with the results of psychological analysis, and follow the gradual development of the bodily and mental faculties.

Children should during their earliest years be carefully protected from all injurious associations, and be introduced to such amusements as will prepare them for the serious duties of life.

Their literary education should begin in their seventh year, and continue to their twenty-first year. This period is divided into two courses of training, one from age seven to puberty, and the other from puberty to age twenty-one. Such education should not be left to private enterprise, but should be undertaken by the state.

There are four main branches of education: reading and writing, Gymnastics, music, and painting.

They should not be studied to achieve a specific aim, but in the liberal spirit which creates true freemen.

Thus, for example, gymnastics should not be pursued by itself exclusively, or it will result in a harsh savage type of character. Painting must not be studied merely to prevent people from being cheated in pictures, but to make them attend to physical beauty.

Music must not be studied merely for amusement, but for the moral influence which it exerts on the feelings. Indeed all true education is, as Plato saw, a training of our sympathies so that we may love and hate in a right manner.


Art is defined by Aristotle as the realization in external form of a true idea, and is traced back to that natural love of imitation which characterizes humans, and to the pleasure which we feel in recognizing likenesses. Art however is not limited to mere copying.

It idealizes nature and completes its deficiencies: it seeks to grasp the universal type in the individual phenomenon.

The distinction therefore between poetic art and history is not that the one uses meter, and the other does not.

The distinction is that while history is limited to what has actually happened, poetry depicts things in their universal character. And, therefore, "poetry is more philosophical and more elevated than history."

Such imitation may represent people either as better or as worse than people usually are, or it may neither go beyond nor fall below the average standard.

Comedy is the imitation of the worse examples of humanity, understood however not in the sense of absolute badness, but only in so far as what is low and ignoble enters into what is laughable and comic.

Tragedy, on the other hand, is the representation of a serious or meaningful, rounded or finished, and more or less extended or far-reaching action -- a representation which is effected by action and not mere narration.

It is fitted by portraying events which excite fear and pity in the mind of the observer to purify or purge these feelings and extend and regulate their sympathy. It is thus a homeopathic curing of the passions.

Insofar as art in general universalizes particular events, tragedy, in depicting passionate and critical situations, takes the observer outside the selfish and individual standpoint, and views them in connection with the general lot of human beings.

This is similar to Aristotle's explanation of the use of orgiastic music in the worship of Bacchas and other deities: it affords an outlet for religious fervor and thus steadies one's religious sentiments.

- The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy