What is virtue? 

 “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” —Aristotle 

What is virtue? Virtue by way of Aristotle is a philosophical approach to understanding the goodness and badness that entails a way of life towards righteousness or destruction and the intentional and unintentional pursuit of each. First one must understand the difference between the two so they may so chose which path they shall take in life. Nonetheless, virtue must be defined and comprehended in full context so as to explore the many options towards building one’s capacity to endure both the good and the bad. It is imperative that our understanding be built upon a foundation of accepting that good may come with bad or that without one, the existence of the other will neither be accepted nor embraced. The following is an attempt to understand how virtue plays a major role in all that influences our lives on a daily basis, that is, with a heavy reliance on the words of Aristotle.

​For the most part, virtue entails the pursuit of all that is good, of course with the dependence of one’s character and endurance. So as to say, one’s passions and emotions are determining factors in the choices that they make that dispose upon the cause and effect of virtuous activities of the soul. Happiness, success, positivity, self-control and willingness to accept possessing one without the other promotes virtuous dispositions. However, one must also understand the bad and that deprivation of such is a good thing. Deficiency in the passion towards achieving positive virtue lies within the individual and the drive they possess in steering towards conducting good will. Aristotle knew best the characteristics that promoted such good faith. It is by reason of abstaining from sinful self-indulgence that creates behaviors that lead to pleasurable actions that one brings onto themselves and exert onto others. In a sense, one can conclude that pleasure by way of promoting good produces excellence and builds character to endure any bad that may come as a result or unexpectedly. Therefore, as explained in the latter, the bad must be accepted with the good in order to righteously embrace and respect the choices that one makes might not always be the best for others.

Virtue as a pleasure

​Aristotle explicates pleasure as being one of the three things found within one’s soul. The other two things found within the soul being faculties and state of character. So it is almost as if we are created and born with such characteristics by default, for lack of a better term. Undoubtedly although passion is instilled in us, it is our choice to make it righteous or self-destructive. Righteous passion is better described as a love of something grand or dear, a respect for all other virtues and an appreciation for good fortune.

​The cause and effect for committing just acts depends on the motivation behind being passionate about something. In Book II, Part 1 of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle cites, “Now goods have been divided into three classes, and some are described as external, others as relating to soul or to body; we call those that relate to soul most properly and truly goods, and psychical actions and activities we class as relating to soul.” This statement correlates with the inference that all good and bad (evil) comes from within one’s soul. Whether it be through physical actions or malicious intent motivated by the psyche, the soul is the core of and all causes effects put out into the world.

Virtue as a pain

​In looking to understand how pleasure plays into virtue and the choices that one makes, it is paramount to point out the relationship that pleasure has with pain. To understand this relationship is to come into an agreement, as previously stated, that pleasure does include pain sometimes, or that pleasure can cause pain at times as well. All be it by way of human behavior can one relate how pain is felt through emotion and physical contact. First we must acquire facts as to what pain exactly is.

​Virtue as a pain can be exerted through anger, hate, fear, envy, emulation as well as violence (upon another or self-inflicted). Nonetheless, all of these feelings tend to be driven by human behaviors brought on by human conditions and social context. On the other hand, one may even consider pain to be a passion brought on by an outer source so extreme that it becomes one’s primary concern or driving force towards performing an action. In support of this statement, Aristotle views pain can be controlled as he said so by stating, “With regard to feelings of fear and confidence courage is the mean; of the people who exceed, he who exceeds in fearlessness has no name (many of the states have no name), while the man who exceeds in confidence is rash, and he who exceeds in fear and falls short in confidence is a coward. With regard to pleasures and pains- not all of them, and not so much with regard to the pains- the mean is temperance, the excess self-indulgence.” In other words, something that may be good for you can be a pleasure. But, too much of something good can be bad and too much of a bad thing can cause pain.

Choices of virtue becoming a consequence

​Undeniably, as with anything else in life, there is a consequence to one’s actions. As with pain and pleasure, both entail an ideal end result as well as an unavoidable repercussion. Those that do bad must be able to accept bad things to be done onto them; those that do good allow for good to enter their realm of good fortune. One can either be praised or punished. Everything in life can be controlled by choices; all is voluntary as it pertains to pleasure and pain. Virtue serves only as a guide and it is up to the individual to know what to accept into their soul and take into consideration what things to put out into the world.

​In summation, ignorance to the concepts of virtue is no exception to the rule of righteousness. Doing a service to one’s self requires much understanding of life. Aristotle’s Book III, Part 1 states, “Now every wicked man is ignorant of what he ought to do and what he ought to abstain from, and it is by reason of error of this kind that men become unjust and in general bad; but the term ‘involuntary’ tends to be used not if a man is ignorant of what is to his advantage.” Clearly stated, one can see things differently from another, yet the meaning and the lesson that can be learned remains the same. It is ultimately up to the individual to determine what their virtue is to them and whether they would rather feel pleasure in happiness or pain in deliberate destruction.


3 thoughts on “What is virtue? 

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  1. Aristotle is borrowing from Socrates here: “. . . it is by reason of error of this kind that men become unjust and in general bad” The error of which he speaks is founded on ignorance. He would insist that if a man knows what is the right thing to do he will do it. But in the end, it depends on character, what sort of person the man or woman was raised to be. Knowing what is right will lead to right action only if a person is disposed to do the right thing. But when one is ignorant of what the right thing is, he doesn’t even take that first step. Good post!

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