How Did Aristotle View Morality How Did Aristotle View Morality

How Did Aristotle View Morality? 5 Highlights of the Wisdom of Philosophy Icon

Delving into the realm of Ancient Greek philosophy, we find a titan named Aristotle whose insights continue to influence and inspire our modern thinking. His philosophy is vast and complex, but one cornerstone persists – moral virtue.

But, how did Aristotle view morality? The aim of this blog post is to delve deeper into Aristotle’s insights on moral virtue. We will explore his definition of moral virtue, the role of habit in its development, its influence on effective action, and its application in real-life scenarios.

We will also examine the social implications of Aristotle’s moral virtue and how it contributes to societal harmony and well-being. Our journey through Aristotle’s philosophy aims not only to understand his profound thoughts but also to apply these insights in our daily lives.

How Did Aristotle View Morality?

Moral Values
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Aristotle posited that moral virtue is a disposition to behave in the right manner and as a mean between extremes of deficiency and excess, which are vices. We don’t just know these virtues; we must live them. They are not mere ideas floating in our minds but are active conditions or hexis that influence our actions.

The essence of Aristotle’s perspective on moral virtue lies in its practicality. He emphasized that virtue is practical and that the purpose of ethics is to become good, not merely to know.

To Aristotle, being virtuous isn’t about rigidly following a set of rules but about understanding and navigating the unique complexities of each situation. The right course of action, according to him, often depends on the intricate details of a specific circumstance.

As we embark on this enlightening exploration, let’s keep in mind Aristotle’s focus on the practical. Let’s not just learn about moral virtue; let’s strive to live it, for that’s the Aristotle way!


1. Understanding Moral Virtue According to Aristotle

Aristotle, one of the most influential philosophers in human history, had a unique perspective on moral virtue. He viewed moral virtue not as a mere matter of habit or behavior, but as a critical element of human character that influences our actions and decisions.

Aristotle defines moral virtue as a disposition to behave in the right manner, finding a balance – a ‘mean – between the extremes of deficiency and excess, which he considered vices. This concept of finding the middle ground is central to his understanding of moral virtue.

For example, the virtue of courage is flanked by the vices of foolhardiness (excess) and cowardice (deficiency). It’s about striking the right balance – not being too reckless, nor too fearful, but having just the right amount of courage.

Apart from this principle of the mean, Aristotle emphasized moral virtues as more than passive habits. To him, virtues were active conditions or ‘hexis.’

In other words, virtues are not something we passively possess but are states of character that we actively maintain and cultivate. They are not fixed or innate traits; they can be lost if neglected and need to be cultivated to be maintained.

Moral and Intellectual Virtue

Furthermore, Aristotle made a crucial distinction between moral virtues and intellectual virtues.

  • While intellectual virtues like wisdom and understanding govern ethical behavior and are expressed in scientific endeavor and contemplation,
  • Moral virtues deal with our dispositions and guide our actions. Understanding when to give money to a cause requires the intellectual virtue of wisdom, but actually giving money to a cause based on a natural disposition requires the moral virtue of generosity.

Moral virtues, according to Aristotle, manifest themselves in action. A virtuous person exhibits the joint excellence of reason and character, guiding their actions with wisdom and virtue.

These virtues aren’t just about performing the right actions, but about developing the traits of character that make performing the right action natural.

Finally, Aristotle identified four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. He believed that possessing these virtues makes a person good, happy, and flourishing.

In essence, it’s about nurturing a state of character where doing the right thing becomes second nature.


2. The Role of Habit in Developing Moral Virtue

Aristotle’s insights on moral virtue highlight the significant role of habit in shaping our conduct. According to him, moral virtue is not an innate quality but something we cultivate through repeated practice. One of Aristotle’s famous quotes captures this sentiment perfectly: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

However, it’s important to dispel a common misinterpretation that Aristotle’s ethics advocate for a mindless routine. Rather, his focus on habit transcends the monotonous repetition of actions.

It’s about cultivating a conscious and deliberate practice aimed at personal growth and ethical development. This underscores the importance of understanding the difference between mere repetition and purposeful habituation.

Need of Acquiring Good Habits

According to research, the Aristotelian view posits that acquired habits presuppose behavioral plasticity, allowing individuals to form new patterns of behavior that align with their goals and desired adaptations. Thus, forming good habits isn’t just about avoiding bad behaviors; it’s about fostering a predisposition towards virtuous actions.

Interestingly, Aristotle contends that virtues are learned more effectively through habit and practice than through reasoning and instruction.

To illustrate, consider a quote: “It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference or rather all the difference.”

This perspective emphasizes the profound impact of habit formation on our character and ethical conduct, underlining the importance of nurturing positive habits from an early age.

In essence, Aristotle’s perspective on habit and moral virtue encourages us to see virtue as a dynamic process that we actively participate in, rather than a static condition. By consciously cultivating positive habits, we steer ourselves towards becoming more virtuous individuals capable of effective action.


3. The Influence of Moral Virtue on Effective Action

Aristotle’s philosophy holds that moral virtue is the only practical road to effective action, a sentiment he echoed throughout his work. But why exactly did he believe so?

The answer lies in his nuanced understanding of virtue and its intricate relationship with human action. For Aristotle, virtues are not just individual traits or characteristics; they are indispensable guides that steer us toward our true potential and fulfillment.

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Moral virtues, according to Aristotle, play a pivotal role in guiding us toward the right desires and right reasons. They serve as a beacon, illuminating the path toward actions that are in harmony with our highest good.

We can think of virtues as our inner compass, guiding us through the complex maze of life. For example, the virtue of courage provides us the strength to face adversity head-on, while justice helps us navigate the often murky waters of fairness and equity.

Cardinal Virtues

Consider the cardinal virtues identified by Aristotle – prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. Each of these virtues provides a unique lens through which we can view and interact with the world.

Prudence equips us with the ability to make reasoned decisions, justice ensures our actions align with fairness, temperance helps us maintain balance, and courage enables us to face challenges with fortitude.

Thus, embodying these virtues allows us to act effectively, enhancing our overall well-being and happiness – or as Aristotle referred to it, eudaimonia, which is best understood as flourishing.

Role of Moral Virtue

The essential role of moral virtue in effective action also derives from its capacity to engender a stable equilibrium of the soul. This equilibrium, according to Aristotle, enables us to choose actions knowingly and for our own sake.

It’s more than mere knowledge or understanding; it’s about achieving a state of harmony within oneself. This harmony or equilibrium allows us to act not out of obligation or fear, but out of a deep-seated recognition of the intrinsic worth of virtuous action.

Take, for instance, Naomi, an accomplished pianist:

On some days, she plays simple tunes that make her happy. On others, she delves into complex pieces like the Chopin-Godowsky Études. While both kinds of performances bring her joy, she truly flourishes as a pianist when playing complex works. This mirrors Aristotle’s concept of moral virtue: it’s the complex, challenging actions – those guided by virtue – that lead to true fulfillment.

In sum, moral virtue, as per Aristotle, isn’t simply a set of rules to be followed. Instead, it’s a comprehensive framework for effective action, a roadmap to living a flourishing life.

By cultivating moral virtue, we don’t just become better individuals; we become effective agents, capable of making decisions and taking actions that enhance our wellbeing and contribute positively to our communities.


4. The Mean and Moral Virtue in Real-Life Scenarios

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for understanding Aristotle’s concept of moral virtue, it’s time to apply these insights to real-life scenarios.

To truly grasp the essence of Aristotle’s philosophy, we must move beyond theoretical concepts and dive into the practical aspects of life.

Applying Aristotle’s Theory of the Mean in Everyday Life

Let’s start with a simple, relatable example – consider the case of eating chocolate mousse. In this scenario, the mean represents a balance between overindulgence (excess) and complete avoidance (deficiency).

A virtuous individual, according to Aristotle, would not abstain entirely from this delicious dessert, nor would they indulge to the point of gluttony. Instead, they would find a middle ground where they can enjoy the dessert in moderation, without sacrificing their health or sense of self-control.

This example illustrates how Aristotle’s concept of the mean applies to everyday decisions and actions. It’s not about strictly adhering to rules or rigidly avoiding certain behaviors.

Rather, it’s about finding a balance that allows us to lead fulfilling lives while maintaining our moral integrity. This approach is flexible, adaptable, and deeply human, reflecting the complexities and nuances of real life.

Finding Balance in Life’s Pleasures and Responsibilities

According to Aristotle, finding the mean is not merely a strategy for decision-making but a pathway to achieving balance in all areas of life. When we apply the concept of the mean to our pleasures and responsibilities, we pave the way for a harmonious existence.

For instance, we might find a balance between work and leisure, discipline and spontaneity, or solitude and socialization. By steering clear of both deficiency and excess, we can cultivate moral virtues like temperance, prudence, and fortitude.

Remember, these virtues are not innate traits but qualities we must actively cultivate through continuous practice and reflection. They are persistent patterns of behavior and thought that guide our actions and intentions, shaping our character and influencing our interactions with the world around us.

Maintaining the Mean to Serve Good Ends

The true power of Aristotle’s mean lies in its ability to empower us to act on possibilities that serve good ends. By maintaining a mean, we can navigate life’s challenges with wisdom and discernment, making decisions that align with our values and contribute to our overall well-being.

Whether we’re choosing a career path, building relationships, or pursuing personal interests, the mean offers a reliable compass guiding us towards actions that serve the greater good.

Just like courage lies between recklessness and cowardice, or confidence exists between arrogance and self-deprecation, every virtue is a mean between two extremes.

And each virtue, when nurtured and practiced, equips us to take effective action in various aspects of life. As we strive to embody these virtues, we don’t just become better individuals – we also contribute to a more virtuous, harmonious society.


5. The Social Implications of Aristotle’s Moral Virtue

As we delve deeper into Aristotle’s perspectives on moral virtue, we find that his philosophy goes beyond individual ethics. It extends to the fabric of society, laying strong emphasis on social harmony. This becomes evident in Aristotle’s concept of homonoia, or like-mindedness for community concord.

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A Closer Look at Homonoia

Homonoia is a Greek term that means unity of mind or consensus. For Aristotle, this was more than just a state of agreement; it was about the shared pursuit of moral virtue that binds a community together.

The idea is that when every individual strives towards moral virtue, it results in collective good, fostering a sense of unity and concord within society.

It’s fascinating to understand how Aristotle’s insights into moral virtue can translate into a vision for societal harmony. His philosophy, thus, offers a pathway not just towards individual flourishing but also towards a thriving community.

The Role of Reward and Punishment

Another significant aspect of Aristotle’s perspective on moral virtue is the mechanism of reward and punishment. According to him, these serve as powerful tools in fostering moral virtue.

When virtuous actions are rewarded and vice-punished, it encourages individuals to make the right choices, thereby reinforcing the habit of moral virtue.

This aligns with his belief that our choices determine whether we live well. If we consistently make poor choices, it leads to an impoverished life. On the other hand, making the right choices guided by moral virtues leads to a fulfilling life.

Contributions to Friendship, Social Good, and Overall Community Wellness

Lastly, let’s delve into how Aristotle’s concept of moral virtue contributes to social elements such as friendship, social good, and overall community wellness . Aristotle believed that moral virtues were integral to forming meaningful friendships.

These virtues, such as honesty, kindness, and generosity, help in building trust and mutual respect, the cornerstone of any strong friendship. Furthermore, when an entire community pursues moral virtues, it promotes social good and enhances overall community wellness.

As individuals embrace virtues like justice, fairness, and empathy, it creates an environment where everyone can prosper.

In essence, Aristotle’s insights into moral virtue have profound social implications. They provide a roadmap for building a harmonious society, where each individual’s pursuit of moral virtue contributes to the collective good.


Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Aristotle?

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath who lived from 384 to 322 BC. He was a student of Plato and the teacher of Alexander the Great.

What is Aristotle’s view on morality?

Aristotle believed that morality is based on the concept of virtue. He emphasized the importance of living a virtuous and balanced life, with virtues such as courage, justice, and generosity.

What is Aristotle’s view on the role of pleasure in morality?

Aristotle believed that pleasure is an essential part of a virtuous life, but it should not be pursued as an end in itself. He argued that true pleasure comes from engaging in virtuous actions.

How did Aristotle influence Western Philosophy?

Aristotle’s works had a profound impact on Western philosophy, particularly in the fields of ethics, politics, logic, and metaphysics. His ideas and theories continue to be studied and debated by scholars to this day.



Moral virtue, according to Aristotle, is not merely about knowing what is right or wrong. It is a disposition to behave in the right manner and lies as a mean between extremes of deficiency and excess. These virtues are learned primarily through habit and practice rather than reasoning and instruction, and they guide us toward making the right choices when faced with ethical challenges.

Understanding and applying moral virtue is essential for effective action.

But why explore Aristotle’s insights on moral virtue? Uncovering this ancient wisdom provides us with a time-tested framework for effective action. Yes, it encourages us to reflect on our virtues, but more profoundly, it inspires us to strive for the mean in our daily lives.

Whether it’s finding the balance between courage and recklessness, generosity and prodigality, or confidence and vanity, Aristotle’s theory beckons us toward moderation and harmony.

In the words of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So, how will you habituate excellence in your life?