Being all deep and stuff: Nicomachean Ethics Books III, VI, and VII

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Friday, May 28, 2010

Book III discusses virtue as concerning feelings and actions. The actions are divided into voluntary, involuntary, and non-voluntary. Having established these definitions, Aristotle goes on to define decisions. Decisions are voluntary and typically are divided into the good and the bad unlike beliefs which are typically divided as either true or false. Decision is something that promotes a person’s wish. Since the process of deciding what action will best promote a particular end is deliberative all actions are voluntary for a human person. Therefore, achieving vice or virtue is freely decided by a person. 

            Since Book III establishes that there can be an ethic, Book VI discusses the soul and how it can work to achieve virtue. The soul is divided into two parts: the rational and irrational. There are also three capacities of the soul including perception, understanding, and desire. The end for each of the rational parts of the soul is truth and whatever end makes that part makes them grasp truth in the most effective way. To clarify, Aristotle explores intelligence (something that would best allow someone to grasp truth) and from this exploration he concludes that intelligence coupled with the good is a virtue. Furthermore, there are two types of virtue natural virtue and full virtue, and full virtue cannot be achieved without intelligence. Since the ethic requires a certain level of intelligence, this begs the question: what about all the stupid people in the world? Such an elitist, exclusive ethic seems misconstrued because it does not take into account all facets of humanity. The reader wonders how a person of lesser intelligence could achieve full virtue in Aristotle’s view. Maybe Aristotle would say that a person of lesser intelligence could be taught or shown the light (as in Plato’s allegory of the cave) in order to achieve full virtue. 

            In Book VII, Aristotle discusses the absence or deficiency of virtue namely encompassed in three ways: vice, incontinence, and beastliness. These explorations are difficult and Aristotle runs into many puzzles. Of particular concern is whether these people have knowledge of their wicked deeds or not. Incontinent people can act wickedly because they have an incompletely realized knowledge of their wickedness. These topics definitely need more development.

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