Families that Discuss together, stay together

Families that Discuss together, stay together
Families that Discuss together, stay together

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Study on Virtue

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What is virtue?
According to Aristotle virtue or arête is doing what we were created to do and doing it beautifully. Virtue is found in a well-balanced person with all parts of the soul in harmony with one another. Virtue can be divided into two sorts: that pertaining to thinking and that pertaining to character. Excellence of thinking and excellence of character constitute virtue.

Aristotle taught that virtue can be destroyed by excess or deficiency, and yet can be preserved by the mean between them. Says he, “I am speaking of what holds a position equally apart from either of the extremes, which is one and the same thing for everyone, but the mean in relation to us is what neither goes too far nor falls short, and this is not one thing nor the same thing for everyone.” Think of the sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Lydia and Kitty are deficient in virtue; Mary is excessive; Jane seem to be in the mean of their extremes and Lizzy is on her way to join Jane after some lessons in tolerance toward Darcy.

Should it be a means or an end?
Virtue is not an end, but should be a means to an end with the end being happiness. What is happiness? Is it living well and doing well? The reader of Aristotle’s Nicomachian Ethics arrives at the idea that it is more than this. He shall find that the classical writer intended for man to live beautifully well and to do things beautifully well. Said Aristotle, “Happiness is a being-at-work of the soul.” A student in the Lyceum Gardens in Greece learned that moral virtue was an active state or hexes. As each situation arose, he must decide how he would think and act. Deciding constantly whether he would act in a virtuous manner while in the mental, intellectual, spiritual and physical state created character, according to Aristotle. Thus character was composed of an active or a “being-at-work” condition.

Virtue is not a habit or ethos, according to Aristotle. While habits are a prerequisite to practicing virtue, it is more like a process of repeating habits. But ultimately virtue is a state of active thought and action; it is an effort of concentrating and paying attention and being teachable. “Then this must be our notion of the just man,” taught Aristotle, “that even when he is in poverty or sickness, or any other seeming misfortune, all things will in the end work together for good to him in life and death: for the gods have a care of any one whose desire is to become just and to be like God, as far as man can attain the divine likeness, by the pursuit of virtue.”

Socrates final counsel in his Republic may have set the precedent for Aristotle’s belief, “Wherefore my counsel is that we hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil.”

How does virtue relate to government?
Plato taught that a just being would create a just society. Thus virtue was directly linked to freedom and liberty according to the classical school of thought. From Aristotle we know that “The highest good is the end of politics, while it takes the greatest part of its pains to produce citizens of a certain sort, namely, ones that are good and inclined to perform beautiful actions.” The classical writers knew that to maintain a just and noble government the people would need to be trained in virtue. They believed that moral virtue is learned just as a child learns his native language. It is not imposed upon him, but is taught and lived. In Physics, Aristotle said that virtues no more alter what we are than putting on its roof alters a house. In Politics, he wrote of the importance of education in the maintaining of the constitution, “For, inasmuch as every family is a part of a state, and these relationships are the parts of a family, and the virtue of the part must have regard to the virtue of the whole, women and children must be trained by education with an eye to the constitution, if the virtues of either of them are supposed to make any difference in the virtues of the state. And they must make a difference; for the children grow up to be citizens, and half the free persons in a state are women.”

What are the most important virtues? Why?
According to the Classical writers, virtue encompasses all good qualities that create a good and well-balanced character. Plato felt that the most important virtues were wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance. Aristotle agreed with Plato and added five others, prudence, courage, liberality, magnificence, and magnanimity, but he and possibly, Plato, felt that wisdom was the most important virtue. On wisdom, Plato taught in Republic that a whole education would teach a man about virtue as well as vice. That he need not feel the obligation to live a life of corruption to know vice—his virtuous education would inform him and give him wisdom. Said he, “A virtuous nature, educated by time, will acquire a knowledge both of virtue and vice: the virtuous, and not the vicious man has wisdom.”

This writer believes that honesty, faith, hope and charity are the most important virtues. Honesty demands the highest trust from anyone and with that trust one can teach all truths to the edifying of the human mind. Faith lends itself to trust in God and man in order to learn all truths. Hope is the optimism in obtaining truth. Finally, charity is the absence of all pride and the application of all the good found in life.

What is the ultimate virtue? Why?
In the Aristotelian society, the full measure of virtue was to think and act like God; it was the greatest aim. If charity is what they are describing then I will agree with them, for this writer believes that charity is the ultimate virtue. It was the virtue that Christ most emulated and is the subject of the two most important commandments in the law; that of loving God and loving our fellow man. Charity is considered the highest form of love and the pure love of Christ.

How has our concept of virtue changed since the days of Plato and Aristotle?
The general notion of virtue has not changed much, but there has been a deeper value lost over the centuries. It is almost as if the great philosophers believed that each individual was created for a specific purpose or mission and that as they developed the virtues within, they would essentially do what they were created to do in a beautiful manner. Today virtue means conforming to moral conduct and moral excellence. However fine that may be, it is missing the classical element of the who we are and the what we can become and how beautifully we can perform our actions.
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