In Book I of his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states the final good of humanity is eudaimonia—best translated as ‘human flourishing’—and “the good of man is the active exercise of his soul 's faculties in conformity with excellence or virtue” (1098a.15). In other words, the point of being alive is to be the best person one possibly can be. The question remains is whether eudaimonia can be accomplished using a blanket notion of virtue which is displayed by each person in the same way, or whether a person needs the freedom to determine how best to handle a given situation due to contextual occurrences and personal potential capacity. While universal theories most certainly have their place and applications, I am of the opinion that when it comes to morality, an individual needs to have the ability to figure out the best course of action in a given moment. Comprehensive moral theory enables each person to be exactly as virtuous in each circumstance as those around them, rather than to have an opportunity to display their own strong suits. One person may be more generous than another, who in turn may be fairer. The target strength of different virtues varies by person, and it is this variance which enables each person to have something to contribute to a community’s overall success. There is nothing to be gained by having each person follow the same definition of what it is to practice a virtue.
Julia Annas outlines, but does not advocate, a technical manual model of morality in which there is a decision procedure which includes “giving specific instructions for how to act which are applicable to everyone in the same way” (63). Aristotle suggests instead we must have the knowledge of h...
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While the technical manual model does have its strong points, including its wide application and its possession of a clear method of action, moral learning which instead enables someone to decide the best way to act depending on the intricacies of the situation and the particular aspects of the actor’s personality has the best chance of giving people the opportunity to expand their moral growth. If virtue depends on actions which are deliberately chosen, for their own sake, and done for the right reasons then true, genuine virtue is simply not possible in a society which advocates the use of an all encompassing application of moral virtues. What is appropriately virtuous for one is not appropriately virtuous for all, and each individual must have the opportunity to determine what is appropriate and possible for their own set of circumstances and abilities.
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