The Ends of Action: The Moral Virtues in Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics"

Dissertation, Boston College (1994)

This study seeks to render a precise account of each of the eleven moral virtues in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and of the character constituted by the virtues as a whole. Despite Aristotle's observation that while general statements about virtue apply broadly, there is more truth to be found in an investigation of the particular virtues, the close study of his discussion of the particular virtues has been largely neglected. Moreover, treatments of Aristotle's account of moral virtue have generally presupposed the subordination of virtue to other principles or ends, in particular, happiness, whereas Aristotle clearly suggests that moral virtue is not strictly deducible from any principle outside of itself. ;By contrast, this study begins with the first virtue Aristotle discusses, courage, and then follows his account of the other virtues to its end in justice. In his discussion of courage, Aristotle suggests both that the virtuous human being longs to perform a truly noble deed, a deed which as noble is greater even than his greatest good, and that the virtuous person also seeks to perform such an action as good and choiceworthy for himself. Since the tension between these two concerns must be resolved and since the virtuous person desires to act in great matters more than in small ones, the virtues that Aristotle takes up after courage follow an ascent which finds its peak in magnanimity, one of two moral virtues described as complete. As a correction of certain defects in magnanimity, however, Aristotle then turns his attention to virtues that pertain to human relations and associations, both serious and leisurely. These virtues prove to point to justice, the other complete virtue, as the peak of moral virtue in political life, as well as to another peak for human beings outside of politics. Because this latter possibility appears to lie outside of the horizon of moral virtue, a full treatment of it properly belongs to another study
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