“Ethics Book 2” by Aristotle (349 BC)

“Ethics Book 2” by Aristotle (349 BC)

Ch. 1

  • Virtue has 2 kinds: intellectual & moral
    • Intellectual – created & increased by instructed which requires time & experience
    • Moral & Ethical – product of habit [ethos]
      • no moral virtues are given at birth by nature – no natural property can be altered by habit
      • gravity pulls a stone down & can’t be trained to move it upwards no matter how many times you throw it upwards
  • Virtues aren’t engendered in us by nature or by violation of nature
    • Nature gives us the capacity to receive them & it’s brought to maturity by habit
  • Faculties are given to us by nature in potential form
    • Exhibit their actual exercise afterwards
    • We don’t acquire faculty of sight or hearing by practice
    • Virtues acquired by practicing them, just like the arts
    • We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts & brave by doing brave acts
  • Legislation has lawgivers making citizens good by training them in habits of right action
  • Good form of being vs. bad form of being
    • Actions from which any virtue is produced are the same as those that are destroyed
    • You become a good builder by practicing building well & a bad one by practicing building badly
    • By acting in dangerous situations & forming a habit of fear or confidence, we become either cowardly or courageous
  • Some men become temperate & gently, others profligates & irascible
    • Moral dispositions are formed as result of corresponding activities
    • Must control the character of our activities because our dispositions depend on it
    • Important to be trained from childhood in our habits

Ch. 2

  • This book has a more practical purpose than most branches of Philosophy – conduct & how to act rightly
    • Important because it determines our dispositions
  • Probably not an exact science – more of an outline
    • Conduct & expediency have nothing fixed or invariable about them – suited toward circumstances – inexact
  • Moral qualities destroyed by excess & deficiency
    • Strength is destroyed by too much or too little exercise
    • Health is destroyed by too much or too little food & drink
      • Also true with temperance, courage & other virtues
  • Running away from everything in hear never makes a man brave but cowardly & fearing nothing whatever makes a man rash.
  • Indulging in every pleasure turns a man profligate & shunning all pleasure makes a man insensible
    • Preservation by observance of the mean
  • Strength produced by eating food & undergoing exertion
    • Strong men can eat & exert a lot
  • Temperance built by abstaining & courage built by enduring terrors

Ch. 3

  • Signs of dispositions come from pleasure & pain from our actions
    • Those who abstain find abstinence pleasurable
    • A profligate finds abstinence irksome
    • A brave man faces danger with pleasure & all events without pain
    • A coward faces danger with pain
  • 1 – Pleasure causes us to do base actions & pains causes us to abstain from doing noble actions. Must be trained from childhood to like & dislike proper things (education)
  • 2 – If virtues are about actions & feelings, everything & every action is potent with pleasure & pain. Virtue is about pleasure & pain
  • 3 – Pain is the medium of punishment & is a sort of medicine that has the tendency to work through opposites
  • 4 – Every formed disposition of the soul realizes its full nature in relation to & in dealing with it, it can be corrupted or improved – pleasures & pains – pursuing & avoiding them at the wrong times, in wrong manner or by some other error.
    • Moral virtue is quality of acting in its best way with respect to pleasures & pains & vice is opposite
  • 5 – 3 things to choose: the noble, the expedient & the pleasant. 3 things to avoid: the base, the harmful, the painful.
    • A good man is likely to go for the right & a bad man is likely to go for the wrong, especially with pleasure
    • Pleasure is common to man & lower animals & it’s a concomitant of all objects of choice because the noble & the expedient are pleasant to us.
  • 6 – Susceptibility to pleasure comes from infancy & is hard to eradicate & is ingrained in our lives
  • 7 – We regulate our actions by pleasure & pain. They’re our main concern is feeling pleasure & avoiding pain affect our conduct
  • 8 – Harder to fight against pleasure than anger. Virtue is dealing with the harder is better & leads to success
    • Pleasure & pain are subjects of virtues & political science
      • He who behaves well toward them is good & he who doesn’t is bad

Ch. 4

  • Difficulty in saying just men do just acts because then they’re just or temperate already – do thing well all the time
    • You can be good at something & make mistakes, but your excellence stops when that happens.
  • Art is a bad analogy because it’s done well with excellence but acts done in conformity with virtues aren’t of a certain domain
    • More of a state of mind when doing them
  • Must act with knowledge, deliberately choosing the act & for its own sake & must come from a permanent disposition of the character
    • Art doesn’t do any of these – it’s just knowledge
      • Only thing in common is that repeated action improves the skill or virtue
  • Actions are called just & temperate when just & temperate men do them or would do them. The agent is just & temperate not when he does them but when he does them in a way that just & temperate man do them
    • You don’t have a chance of being just & temperate if you don’t do them but if you’re acting to become known as just without reasons just men do them, you’re still not just

Ch. 5

  • What is virtue?
    • Definition: something to do with the state of the soul. One of these 3:
      • 1 – an emotion
      • 2 – a capacity
      • 3 – a disposition
    • Emotion – desire, anger, fear, confidence, envy, joy, friendship, hatred, longing, jealousy & pity – state of consciousness accompanied by pleasure & pain
    • Capacity – capacity or ability to feel emotions
    • Disposition – formed state of character where we are ill- or well-disposed to emotion. Badly disposed to emotion. Badly disposed if we get angry with regularity & violence. Well-disposed if we get angry with moderation.
    • Virtues & vices – aren’t emotions because we don’t say a man is “good” or “bad” based on his emotions, only according to virtues & vices.
      • We aren’t blamed for them, only if we get angry in a certain way
      • We’re praised or blamed for our virtues & vices
      • We don’t get angry or afraid out of choice but we are moved by our emotions or are “disposed”
    • Virtues & vices aren’t capacities because we aren’t called “good” or “bad” based on our capacity for emotions
      • We have capacities by nature but aren’t good or bad by nature
    • If virtues & vices aren’t emotions or capacities, they must be dispositions

Ch. 6

  • Defining virtue as a disposition isn’t enough
    • Must say what kind of disposition
    • All excellence has 2 qualities
      • Makes a thing good itself
      • Causes it to perform its function well
      • e.g. Excellence in a horse makes it a good horse, good at carrying its rider, good at galloping & facing the enemy
      • With men, excellence makes him a good man & makes him perform his function well
  • Take the halfway between excess & defect – the 2 extremes
    • Too much food for one person might be too little food for another
    • An expert avoids excess & defect
  • With moral excellence, e.g. courage
    • You can at extremes be frightened or be bold, too much or too little – both are wrong
    • But these feelings felt at the right time, right occasion, towards the right people & in the right matter
    • Excess & defect are errors to be avoided
  • Virtue is a mean state & being able to hit the mean
    • It’s easy to miss the target in many ways & difficult to hit it
      • Badness is manifold & goodness is simple
    • A settled disposition of the mind determining the choice of actions & emotions, mostly observing the mean – a principle a prudent man would choose
      • Mean of vices of excess & defect
  • Some acts can’t be mean & can only be evil: malice, shamelessness, envy, adultery, theft & murder
    • Can’t murder the right person at the right time & in the right place or commit adultery with the right woman at the right time & in the right place
    • Commission of any of these is wrong
      • No excess or deficiency in justice & temperance because the mean is the extreme & not to be extreme in them is bad

Ch. 7

  • Enough of talking in generalities, let’s apply them to specific virtues
    • Courage – the mean of fear & confidence
      • Excess is rashness & defect is cowardice
    • Temperance – the mean of enjoyment of pleasures
      • Excess is profligacy & defect is insensibility
    • Giving & getting money – the mean is liberality
      • Excess is being prodigal & defect is meanness
    • Magnificence
      • Excess is tastelessness & vulgarity & defect is paltriness
    • Honor & Dishonor – mean is honorable
      • Excess is vanity & defect is smallness of soul
    • Aspirations – no word for mean
      • Excess is ambition & defect is lack of ambition
    • Telling the truth about oneself – mean is being truthful
      • Excess is boasting & exaggeration & defect is self-deprication
    • Being socially pleasant – mean is being witty
      • Excess is being buffoonish & defect is being boorish
    • Friendliness – mean is friendly
      • Excess is obsequiousness & flattery, & defect is being quarrelsome or surly
    • Righteous indignation – mean between envy & malice with respect to the neighbors’ success
      • Righteous indignant man is pained by undeserved good fortunes of others
      • Jealous man pained by all good fortune of others
      • Malicious man pleased by others’ bad fortunes

Ch. 8

  • Justice is observing the mean
    • 2 vices (excess & defect) & 1 virtue (the mean)
    • A brave man looks rash compared to a coward & cowardly compared to a rash man
    • Temperate man looks insensible compared to a profligate & profligate compared to an insensible man
      • Each vicious man tries to push the virtuous man to the other extreme
    • Some extremes are worse than others
      • Courage – cowardice is more against the mean than rashness
      • Temperance – profligacy is more against the mean than insensibility
    • The vice less against the mean (virtue) is less likely to be our natural indignation
      • We’re inclined toward pleasure & away from pain & our tendencies reflected that

Ch. 9

  • We’ve showed moral virtue is a mean between 2 vices (excess & defect)
    • We should hit the middle point in feelings & actions
    • But it’s difficult enough to find the middle point
      • Where’s the middle of a circle? Can you actually find it?
      • What’s the right amount of anger or amount of money to spend
    • 1 – must sail between Scylla & Charybdis (both are bad!)
      • Middle way is best but the 2nd best way is the lesser of evils
    • 2 – Recognize the errors you’re prone to & drag yourself in the opposite direction – more likely to find middle path
    • 3 – Be guarded against what’s pleasant & painful because we aren’t impartial judges
      • It won’t be easy to do – a little divergence is OK
      • You are only blamed for diverging widely