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PHL lecture, oct. 27.doc

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

NE 2: The Doctrine of the Mean  Aristotle concluded his discussion of human goodness in 1.13 by claiming that it is “a certain kind of activity of the soul in accordance wit virtue [excellence]” (1102a 7-8) o The rational part of the souls has its own distinctive „intellectual‟ virtues, o Whereas the non-rational part of the soul “does seem to partake of reason” and is able to be guided by it o When it is so guided there are the moral virtues o Latter that are the concern of Book 2  We can summarize Aristotle‟s main results regarding the moral virtues in a few related theses: o (M1) moral virtue is a state of character acquired by habituation  Corollary: Moral virtues are neither natural nor contrary to nature o (M2) Virtuous action springs from a “firm and unchangeable character” in the right way o (M3) Moral virtues is a relative mean between excess and deficiency in emotions and actions  Corollary: Moral virtue is determined objectively by a rational principle, such as someone with practical wisdom would determine it o Each calls for further explanation and comment  We can make (M1) and its corollary plausible by considering an analogy with what goes on in learning a language o There are three states:  (a) Having the ability to speak a language (i.e. the power to learn one) without yet being able to speak it  (b) Knowing a language but not at the moment speaking it  (c) Speaking a language, that is, uttering sentences in the language o Human beings are generally have (a), the ability to learn to speak a language, though we are not born speaking any particular language-in Aristotle‟s terms, a given language (such as English) is neither natural to us nor contrary to nature. o Aristotle‟s great insight is to see that learning how to be virtuous is like learning a language a move from (a) to (c) to (b). o Just as we become proficient at speaking some language by practicing the speaking of it, so too we become proficient at moral action by „practicing‟ it,  By habituating ourselves to act in the linguistically/morally correct ways  Actions are therefore not the primary bearers of moral evaluation-people are o Aristotle maintains in (M2), virtuous action strictly speaking is the manifestation of a fixed and settled disposition within the agent which is triggered in appropriate circumstances, namely when the agent (a) has knowledge, and thereby (b) chooses the act (c) for its own sake [2.4 1105a 30-b1] o The performance of the actio
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