Nichomachean Ethics

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Virtue is a word that is often associated with having the highest honor and integrity. Everyone has a slightly different definition of virtue. I would like to examine: how has the definition of virtue changed throughout the years? I will analyze Nichomachean Ethics, by Aristotle, and The Prince, by Machiavelli. Aristotle wrote Nichomachean Ethics around 350 BC, while The Prince was written in the early 1500’s. With a nearly 2,000 year time period between these two great works, how has the idea of virtue changed?
In Nichomachean Ethics, virtue is defined as achieving good. Virtue is a state of character, which Aristotle says is pointless to examine. All that matters is the achievement of good. He says that there are two kinds of virtue, intellectual and moral. Moral virtue is a disposition to behave in the correct manner. Virtue must be taught from a young age. It is striking a balance between deficiency and excess, which are vices.
Aristotle claims that there are two types of virtue: intellectual and moral. Intellectual virtues must be taught, so it requires experience and time. On the other hand, “none of the moral virtues arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature.” (Aristotle 23) He says that when we are born, we all have the potential to be morally virtuous; it just depends on our upbringing and habits that determine who actually becomes virtuous. He confirms this with a metaphor to government, when he says, “legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them.” (23) This is showing that on all levels, virtue is something that needs to be taught.
Aristotle says that there are three ways to tell if a person is truly virtuous. The person must “in the first place ...

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...more practical with his definition. He claims it is useless to define virtue in the metaphysical sense, because it will never apply to the real world. He defines virtue as actions that gain the praise of others. However, he does not encourage rulers to always strive for virtue. Sometimes, vices can be more beneficial to rule, and in these cases, it is okay to embrace these vices; however, vices should not be pursued for their own sake. Both authors agree that it is important to have a balance between extreme vices. It seems that back in Aristotle’s time, philosophy was much more idealized in determining what the greatest possible definition of virtue was. In Machiavelli’s time, thinking was more practical and oriented on the product than the ideal. Machiavelli gives much more functional advice on how to rule, and his definition of virtue is therefore more sensible.

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