Essay: Aristotle to Answer

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To answer the question of "what does Aristotle understand by ethics and how important is his view of humanity to ethics," let us first consider some definitions and concepts around ethics and ponder on some details regarding Aristotle himself. It is important to remember that the term "ethics" can be hard to pin down, as opinions often vary from one person to the other. That is to say, personally, I might correlate ethics with my sense of right or wrong whereas someone else might define it as the commonly accepted standards and values in a society.

In regards to the latter opinion, the issue of morality is at stake because being moral implies actions that first take into consideration the well being of other people, and only secondly your own. In Ancient times, ethics had mostly to do with one's personal happiness and development as opposed to what morality is today when the concept implies certain constraints and thus happiness is not always obtained. This is why definitions on ethics have been the subject of change along the years, but that of course is not unusual considering the changes humanity itself has been through.

Aristotle is believed to have written about 150 philosophical treatises, but only thirty can we credit him for, as these are the only ones that survived. His areas of expertise ranged from sciences such as biology and physics to others more delicate like poetry, specifically tragedy, and ethics. He gave ethics two of his treatises: the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics. The titles were only added later but Aristotle himself acknowledged these works as a philosophy about "character." Both of them start by introducing eudaimonia, in translation, happiness, and follow leads on the virtues of human nature which Aristotle thought are imminently necessary to have an accomplished life.

As is today, ethics was considered by the philosopher a field of work, thus something that needs to be constantly analyzed and updated according to the developments in society and one's own behaviour. Happiness, to Aristotle, was to "live well" by "doing well." Because happiness is, again, something perceived different by people then, other issues were to be taken into consideration, according to him. As we know as well, to someone who is sick, happiness is health, to someone poor, happiness is being wealthy and so on. Of course, that is not to say that everyone who is sick or poor visualizes their idealistic happiness as being healthy, respectively financial satisfied, but these examples were merely to illustrate on how does happiness mean different things to people.

Aristotle had been influenced by Plato's most famous academia, as the later based his initial theories on Socrate's visions of morality. To Socrate's, doing well meant to act according to one's understanding of virtue, where virtue represented the embodiment of knowing what is righteous and the human existence, taken together as a science, that is, something to discover and continuously develop. He believed that no one was truly capable of doing harm intentionally, but that harming someone was merely the result of an insufficient knowledge of the right and wrong.

Plato took over Socrate's statements and developed his idea that the true purpose of one's life is the discovery of one's true self, the essence in human beings that resemble God. Plato considered this journey as the foundation and the peak of moral life. The ethics thus, is the ability to master man's inferior needs and look for what is transcendent, as Plato considered.

But Aristotle took things more realistic and developed his own idea that ethics is no longer to be looked at as the everlasting ideal, never changing, never transforming, but as something that can be obtained on earth, by anyone, regardless of gender, social status, education. Aristotle understood that ethics applies the same to anyone. Therefore, ethics was not just to be understood theoretically, but had to be practiced so that human beings could attain virtuousness. And being virtuous was not just limited to a handful of people, but it did require initiative, that is, someone had to want to be virtuous and that particular someone had to work on his character. Aristotle maintained Plato's idea that giving in to inferior pleasure was of the animals, and not of man and considered that man should lead a moral life because he owns the capacity to distinguish right from wrong. Human rationality itself had to incite people to live in virtuousness and Aristotle believed that human virtue consisted not in wealth or honor or nobility, but was exclusively reserved to people's own coordination of the self. Thus virtue is not something one is born with, but something one gains through work and personal insight. To Aristotle, the human being had to possess always the capacity to act rationally or, as he put it, to choose "the golden mean," the middle between two extremes. Thus, three important features are attached to virtue, according to Aristotle and they are:

1. Virtue is an act of free will, premeditated.

2. Virtue consists in following "the golden mean," that is to say, that which is between too much and nothing at all.

3. Virtue is preceded by a good judgement before doing a virtuous deed. For example, bravery is "the golden mean" virtue between being overly bold and too lazy.

These virtues are what Aristotle named ethical virtues or practical virtues and which are directed by the same intellect that masters the activities that come from outside of us, that are exterior to us. Above these, there are the virtues that exist within themselves and those are of art and science. So, to Aristotle, virtues were the means that justified the ends and the ends, in this particular case, was happiness.

Aristotle argued his beliefs on the account that all of creation has a meaning, a goal (telos) and that the good (tagathon) and the accomplishment (?u) that accompany the goal are strictly related to the relationships of these. But Aristotle, in his understanding of the higher purpose as happiness, doens't provide a final answer as to what happiness really is. As I've already pointed out, happiness means different things to different people. Therefore, to understand human nature we are required a comprehensive knowledge in regards to human behavioural pattern and its mechanisms.

And so, each human being has to be correlated with his purpose and the functions of his soul. But some functions of the soul may be representative for a larger group of being whereas other apply only to a few and vice versa. Aristotle divided the soul in two parts: the irrational (alogon) and the rational (logon echon). Each of these parts he also divided into subsequent parts. The irrational part includes a vegetative one (nutrition and growth) and epithym-tikon or desideratum (to desire). The rational part is attributed the thinking process, a characteristic which is specifically human and that allows human nature to look at things in perspective and to formulate different opinions. This, then, is the primordial thing separating us from animals.

Aristotle believed each human being functions differently so I will put his definition into the context of a specific function of the human body for a more general perspective. Let us consider the definition of the right eye as the organ of the body having the ability to see. There is also a second part of the definition which is given by this organ's function. That is to say, the eye has the ability to see, meaning the activity has already been designated. But the eye cannot function unless it had a dynamis to allow it to function. And that dynamis is the capacity. Thus, the activity that constitutes the functioning of something resides in that something's capacity. This is how functions correspond the human soul.

But, just because some functions are both of man and of animals (the nutrition and growth, for example) and only one pertains solely to human beings did not mean the later could have existed without the others, as Aristotle believed. To him, the human being was a functional machine taken as a whole and, if the machine lacked something, it meant it had a defect. And yes, the handicap reflected on the physical body but it was considered a consequence of the soul, as well because man had both body and soul. and, at the level of the soul, something was broken as well, something part of the irrational composition of the soul. Demonstrated then, the human being had several functions that were applied better or worse. The existing difference between them was the virtue or the manner in which the human being was capable to enact the activity or the function.

What Aristotle had intended then was to offer a perspective or a definition of understanding of how the human body works so that, having the required education, we would know the mechanism of our own choices and what do they depend on. To Aristotle, a man… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Aristotle to Answer."  May 2, 2013.  Accessed June 18, 2019.