An Ilustration of the Concept of Virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics Essay

An Ilustration of the Concept of Virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics Essay

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Virtue is a concept which cannot be explained easily: it embodies many different properties and depends on many variables, such as social context, historical period, religion. Aristotle has given is own account of virtue in his ethical system, describing it as the way to reach the best life possible. The aim of this essay is to give an illustration of the concept of virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics, but before two specifications are required.

The word used by Aristotle and generally translated as “virtue” is “arete”. Translating a text from a language to another is never easy, especially philosophical texts, especially from extinguished languages: in fact, some scholars, as Urmson1 or Meyer2, prefer to translate it as “excellence”. This different translation stresses an important gap between the 21th century AD and the 5th century BC: nowadays, in fact, the concept of virtue is heavily influenced by the Christian tradition, completely extraneous to Aristotle's view. For example, the magnanimous man, who is “worthy of the greatest things”, who “is the best person”3, is a “very different person from the Christian saint”4. Thus, this essay will adopt “excellence” instead of “virtue”.

Another key concept that requires particular attention in the translation is “eudaimonia”: traditionally, it has been read as “happiness”, but “flourishing” can be a translation more faithful to the original meaning attributed by Aristotle because it includes the fulfillment of human potentiality in every aspects. In fact, it is not just an inner condition, but it is also shown and expressed in relation with the world: it is obtained with bodily excellence, excellence of character and excellence of intelligence. Bodily excellences will not be discusse...


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...conditions required are present: activities subordinated to it, as the political ones, must not be impeded21.

However, the ethical system of Aristotle was not spared from criticisms22. With the appearing of new form of normative ethics, namely utilitarianism and deontology, the virtue ethics was accused to lack universality. Not only it does not provide, according to critics, universal codes, but it seems also unable to provide a useful guide to act rightly and it does not provide any satisfactory answer to any moral dilemma which put two virtues in contrast. Also, when virtues are considered in relation with the final end of eudaimonia, the risk is that they are reduced to a form of mere self-interest23. These objections have been refuted by modern virtue ethicists: the debate is still open, as the issues brought to light by Aristotle are still of vivid importance.

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