Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520) Scuola di Atene, (1509-1510) Stanza della Segnatura (Vaticano)

Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520) Scuola di Atene, (1509-1510) Stanza della Segnatura (Vaticano)

We arrive at book 2 of the Nicomachean Ethics.*

There are two virtues spoken of in chapter 1 of book 2:  thinking and character. the first has to do with appeals to reason and instruction (education) and the other has to deal with habit.

Human beings, then, become virtuous through both reason and habit. Once again, we have wonder over how habit can be a part of our virtuous development because it becomes something like a unreasoned act if developed fully.  But we jump ahead of ourselves, and must dispense with this impasse.

One theme of the entire book is that virtue is a sort of being-at-work [1103b].  One of the most important passages in this regard comes from the opening pages of chapter 2:

Now since our present occupation is not for the sake of contemplation, as in other kids of study (for we are investigating mot in order that we might know what virtue is, but in order that we might become good, since otherwise there would be no benefit from it)…

This does not mean he rejects the mind in the pursuit of virtue, but that the mind is used for right action.  This comes from “right reason.”  Once we know what action to take, we must take it!

We must note that virtue consists in a type of mean between extremes:  both deficiency and excess.  We might put it this way:  drinking alcohol is not bad in itself, but a person lives an extreme life who rejects all drink as does the one who is a drunkard. However, appropriate amounts are good for individuals.  Aristotle understands that for each person that amount (of say drinking) will differ.  The point is the mean not the extremes.  Science is behind the times in finding the positives of certain moderate drinking of adult beverages (wine and beer are noted as being healthy in moderation).

The moderation of things of the body, though, is not the deepest point of this chapter.  Aristotle is more importantly talking about virtue–hence his discussion of temperance and courage [1104a20].

Humans have certain proclivities that, for whatever reason, are a strength and a weakness.  In terms of virtue, the person who refrains from excess pleasures, and likes to refrain from those excesses, is a temperate person.  But the person who finds it painful to refrain, is not temperate.  Virtue is concerned with actions and feelings in some way.  Therefore, the concern with pleasure and pain is also a concern with virtue.  The ultimate goal is that we ought to do what we ought.  We ought to act the right way, and, really, to feel the right way while we are acting rightly. And so, virtue is an “aptitude” os the “best actions” that concern pleasure and pain; vice is the opposite.

how we act in terms of virtue ir vice as been with us since birth.  And, Aristotle notes, is in part learned by us.  If we have inclinations to vice, that is because we learned it, nurtured it, and practiced it in some way as we were growing up.  To retrain ourselves to be virtuous, then, is no small feat.  The disordered soul will fight against the mind’s goal to bring us to heal.

*There will be 2 posts this week on Book 2 in lieu of class.