Aristotelian Ethics

Aristotelian Ethics (Concepts & Beliefs)

Welcome to our in-depth exploration of Aristotelian Ethics, a branch of moral philosophy that delves into the concepts and beliefs proposed by the influential philosopher Aristotle. Understanding Aristotle’s ethical framework is essential to grasp his views on virtue, human flourishing, and the pursuit of a good life.

In Aristotelian Ethics, virtue ethics takes center stage. Aristotle, following in the footsteps of Socrates and Plato, considers virtues to be crucial for a well-lived life. These virtues, such as justice, courage, and temperance, are not merely individual traits but complex skills encompassing rational, emotional, and social dimensions.

Aristotle rejects the idea that complete virtue requires a deep understanding of goodness through scientific and philosophical training. Instead, he focuses on the interconnectedness of goods like friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor, and wealth, striving to provide a holistic perspective on human well-being.

Practical wisdom, an essential element of Aristotelian Ethics, cannot be acquired solely through theoretical knowledge. It also requires the cultivation of deliberative, emotional, and social skills to discern the best course of action in specific situations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Aristotelian Ethics is a branch of moral philosophy focused on virtue ethics and the pursuit of human well-being.
  • Aristotle sees virtues as essential for leading a good life, emphasizing skills like justice, courage, and temperance.
  • Practical wisdom plays a vital role in Aristotelian Ethics, enabling individuals to apply general knowledge of well-being to specific circumstances.
  • Aristotle rejects the idea that complete virtue requires an understanding of goodness through scientific and philosophical training.
  • By understanding Aristotelian Ethics, individuals can strive for human flourishing and lead morally virtuous lives.


Aristotle, one of the most influential figures in moral philosophy, wrote two significant ethical treatises: the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics. These works delve into the nature of well-being, also known as eudaimonia, and explore the virtues and character traits necessary for a good life. Both treatises discuss the appropriate times for praise or blame and delve into the role of pleasure and friendship in ethical considerations.

While the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics have subtle differences in organization and content, the former is commonly considered a later and improved version of the latter. These ethical treatises serve as the foundation for understanding the concept of well-being and the virtues that lead to a good and fulfilled life.

These treatises provide invaluable insights into the pursuit of well-being and the importance of cultivating virtuous behavior. By examining the principles outlined in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of the path to a morally good life.

The Human Good and the Function Argument

Aristotle, one of the greatest minds in ancient Greece, embarked on a profound inquiry into ethics to understand what constitutes a good life for human beings. In his exploration, he recognized that ethics is not merely a theoretical discipline but a practical one that aims to enhance and improve our lives by aligning them with the highest form of human well-being.

To determine the purpose of human beings and guide our ethical choices, Aristotle introduced the function argument. According to this argument, the ultimate purpose of human life is the activity of the rational part of the soul in accordance with virtue. Virtues are not passive habits but an active condition in which we hold ourselves, shaping our actions and choices.

Virtues manifest themselves as habits through repeated actions. Aristotle believed that virtue consists of holding oneself in a stable equilibrium of the soul, where one chooses actions knowingly and for their own sake. These virtues become ingrained in us, forming the very essence of our character.

Virtues as Habits

Aristotle saw virtues as more than abstract ideas or mere compliance with moral rules. They are ingrained habits of character that guide our behavior and contribute to our well-being. By cultivating virtues as habits, we are able to consistently make virtuous choices and lead a good life.

The development of virtues requires more than just intellectual understanding; it necessitates practice and repetition. Through consistent actions aligned with virtuous principles, we train ourselves to act rightly, not out of compulsion or to fulfill external expectations, but because it reflects our deepest essence and values.

These virtues, such as justice, courage, temperance, and wisdom, form the foundation of Aristotle’s ethical framework and provide us with the guiding principles to live a life of integrity, moral excellence, and fulfillment.

Virtues Description
Justice The virtue of fairness and treating others with equity and impartiality.
Courage The virtue of facing fear and hardship with determination and bravery.
Temperance The virtue of moderation and self-control in desires and pleasures.
Wisdom The virtue of practical wisdom and sound judgment in making choices.

By nurturing these virtues and integrating them into our daily lives, we can lead a meaningful and virtuous existence, guided by our deep connection to the highest form of human well-being.

Virtues and Deficiencies, Continence and Incontinence

Aristotle delves into the concept of virtues and their relationship to deficiencies, continence, and incontinence. Virtues are viewed as dispositions that enable individuals to act in a balanced and morally virtuous manner. By cultivating these virtues, individuals can navigate ethical dilemmas and make sound decisions.

In ethical theory, virtues serve as a starting point for practical reasoning, offering a framework for moral decision-making. They provide a guiding compass and help individuals align their actions with ethical principles. Virtues are not mere abstract concepts but practical skills that enable individuals to make ethical judgments in specific situations.

When discussing virtues, Aristotle distinguishes between intellectual virtues and moral virtues. Intellectual virtues involve the development of practical wisdom, also known as phronesis, which guides individuals in making ethical choices. Practical wisdom enables individuals to identify the virtuous path and act accordingly.

On the other hand, moral virtues pertain to character traits and behavioral dispositions that promote virtuous actions. By cultivating moral virtues such as courage, temperance, and justice, individuals can embody ethical conduct and contribute to the well-being of society.

Additionally, Aristotle examines the notion of incontinence, often referred to as weakness of will or akrasia. Incontinence occurs when individuals knowingly act against their better judgment. Aristotle contemplates the reasons behind such behavior and delves into the factors that contribute to the weakness of will.

To illustrate the interplay between virtues, deficiencies, and incontinence, let’s consider an example:

Virtue Deficiency Incontinence
Courage Cowardice Foolhardiness
Temperance Insensibility Intemperance
Justice Injustice Excess generosity

In this example, individuals who possess the virtue of courage demonstrate the right amount of valor in the face of danger. Those with the deficiency of cowardice lack the necessary courage, while those plagued by incontinence exhibit foolhardiness, recklessly taking risks without due consideration.

The same principle applies to the virtues of temperance and justice. Temperance strikes a balance between insensibility and intemperance, while justice is the midpoint between injustice and excess generosity.

Understanding the interplay between virtues, deficiencies, and incontinence allows individuals to reflect on their own actions and strive for moral growth. Through self-reflection and a dedication to cultivating virtues, individuals can make ethical decisions and contribute to a more just and virtuous society.

The Doctrine of the Mean

Aristotle introduces the Doctrine of the Mean, which suggests that ethical virtue lies between extremes and involves finding the right balance. Ethical virtue is seen as a disposition rather than a set of rules, and it requires moderation and avoiding extremes. Aristotle emphasizes that the mean is not a rigid point but varies based on individual circumstances and context. The golden mean is exemplified in virtues such as courage, temperance, and generosity, where the virtuous act is the one that lies between excess and deficiency.

For instance, let’s consider the virtue of courage. On one extreme, we have recklessness, where one acts without considering the consequences, while on the other extreme, we have cowardice, where one avoids taking any risks. The virtuous act of courage lies between these two extremes, finding the right balance of bravery and prudence.

Virtue Excess Deficiency Golden Mean
Courage Recklessness Cowardice Courage
Generosity Extravagance Stinginess Generosity
Temperance Excess Insensibility Temperance

This table illustrates how the golden mean applies to various virtues. By striving for moderation and avoiding extremes, individuals can cultivate ethical virtue and live a balanced, virtuous life.

Intellectual Virtues

In Aristotelian Ethics, intellectual virtues play a vital role in ethical reasoning. Aristotle emphasizes two essential intellectual virtues: practical wisdom and theoretical wisdom.

Practical wisdom, also known as phronesis, is the ability to make practical decisions and apply ethical principles in specific situations. It involves the practical application of knowledge and the ability to discern the best course of action. Practical wisdom allows individuals to navigate complex moral dilemmas and make decisions that align with their values and virtues.

Theoretical wisdom, or sophia, represents the highest form of intellectual virtue. It is concerned with understanding the nature of reality and ultimate truths. Theoretical wisdom goes beyond practical matters and delves into the realm of philosophy and metaphysics. It enables individuals to contemplate profound questions about the world and gain insights into the nature of existence.

Aristotle recognizes the significance of both practical wisdom and theoretical wisdom in leading a morally virtuous life. While practical wisdom helps individuals make ethical choices in everyday situations, theoretical wisdom allows for a deeper understanding of the world and one’s place in it.

Pleasure and Friendship

In Aristotelian Ethics, Aristotle explores the significant role that pleasure and friendship play in our pursuit of the good life. Pleasure, according to Aristotle, is not merely a fleeting sensation but an integral part of a virtuous and fulfilling life. He argues that the highest form of pleasure is derived from engaging in virtuous actions and living in accordance with moral principles.

Friendship, on the other hand, is considered essential for human well-being. Aristotle believes that friendship provides emotional support, companionship, and opportunities for virtuous action. True friendships are built on mutual respect, trust, and shared values. Aristotle identifies three types of friendship: friendships based on utility, pleasure, and virtue.

Table: Types of Friendship in Aristotelian Ethics

Type of Friendship Description
Friendship based on utility Formed for mutual benefits and interests
Friendship based on pleasure Arises from shared enjoyment of activities or experiences
Friendship based on virtue Rooted in mutual admiration, respect, and virtue

While friendships based on utility or pleasure can still provide satisfaction and contribute to a good life, Aristotle argues that friendships based on virtue are the most valuable. In virtuous friendships, individuals genuinely care for each other’s well-being and support one another in their pursuit of moral excellence.

Through these discussions on pleasure and friendship, Aristotle highlights the inherent connection between moral philosophy and the pursuit of a fulfilling and meaningful life. Pleasure and friendship not only contribute to individual happiness but also guide us in cultivating virtuous habits and fostering human flourishing.


In conclusion, Aristotelian Ethics, as developed by Aristotle, offers a unique and insightful perspective on ethics and morality. The focus on virtue ethics highlights the significance of cultivating virtuous character traits and leading a morally upright life. Aristotle’s ethical philosophy centers around the pursuit of well-being, known as Eudaimonia, which encompasses human flourishing and a sense of fulfillment.

A key concept in Aristotelian Ethics is the golden mean, which advocates for moderation and balance in one’s actions and behaviors. This approach recognizes that virtues lie between extremes and encourages individuals to find the right equilibrium in their moral choices. Additionally, Aristotle highlights the importance of practical wisdom, which enables individuals to apply ethical principles in specific situations.

By embracing Aristotle’s moral philosophy and incorporating these principles into their lives, individuals can strive for human flourishing and lead meaningful and fulfilling lives. Virtue ethics, as espoused by Aristotelian Ethics, provides a valuable framework for navigating ethical dilemmas and making morally sound decisions. It invites us to cultivate virtues, act virtuously, and contribute to the betterment of ourselves and society as a whole.


What is Aristotelian Ethics?

Aristotelian Ethics is a moral philosophy developed by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It emphasizes the development of virtuous character traits and the pursuit of human well-being.

What are virtue ethics?

Virtue ethics is a branch of moral philosophy that focuses on the development of good character traits and virtuous behavior as the basis for ethical decision-making.

What does Aristotle believe about human well-being?

Aristotle believes that human well-being is the ultimate goal of ethical theory. He argues that it is achieved through the cultivation of virtuous character traits and the pursuit of eudaimonia, or human flourishing.

What is the golden mean in Aristotelian Ethics?

The golden mean is the idea in Aristotelian Ethics that ethical virtue lies between extremes. It involves finding a balanced middle ground between excess and deficiency in order to lead a virtuous life.

What are the intellectual virtues in Aristotelian Ethics?

The intellectual virtues in Aristotelian Ethics include practical wisdom, the ability to make good practical decisions, and theoretical wisdom, which involves understanding the nature of reality and ultimate truths.

What role do pleasure and friendship play in Aristotelian Ethics?

In Aristotelian Ethics, pleasure is seen as an integral part of the good life and is closely related to virtuous actions. Friendship is also considered essential for human well-being, providing emotional support and the opportunity for virtuous action.

What is the significance of Aristotle’s ethical treatises?

Aristotle wrote two ethical treatises, the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics, which explore the nature of well-being and the virtues necessary for a good life. These treatises lay the groundwork for understanding Aristotelian Ethics.

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