Deliberative Happiness: Part 7

November 01, 2016

Through the importance placed on moral education, virtue ethics remains a moral theory still prevalent in modern day discussions of ethics. Whilst faced with many dilemmas, it seems possible that that we all have the ability to reach the levels of reasoning phronesis requires, leading to eudaimonia. Whilst virtue ethics places much importance on characters, an individual's practice of virtues does not take place in a vacuum, but in response to the requirements of highly concrete practical situations. Understanding actions of virtue in this way enables individuals with the potential to escape bad character if it requires it: if the individual understands why she is acting virtuously, there is always potentiality to change ones character, that is not to say it is impossible. Similarly, the importance placed on moral education does not necessarily or explicitly refer to education within a family domain.

Through socialisation, by being disposed to other people's actions, we are capable of grasping what is right and what is wrong. We learn to understand virtues from almost any social environment; therefore Aristotle is capable of escaping problems arising from individuals with unfortunate upbringings. It is true such agents may exhibit bad character from being trained wrongly, however, by being disposed to further alternate, more virtuous actions of the others around them, they can reassess their understanding of what is right and wrong, rewriting their general knowledge which they derive from the specific examples of virtues witnessed.

Life of contemplation as a choice-worthy life, decision based arete, cannot be learned by reading or being taught in a classroom but requires steady practice first and theoretical study second; it can be taught therefore, but only after practice. Thinking of happiness as something capable of being taught from the offset is to conceive of the good life imperfectly; virtue is to behave in the right manner. With this in mind, we understand phronesis is concerned with particulars, focussing on how to act in specific situations. We can learn all we like in classrooms or through others, however it is only when we apply our action in the real world that we experience a working towards phronesis. We cannot foresee situations before they happen, as a result we learn from the situation we are forced into. At first, Aristotle notes it is likely we will all be liable to missing our target, however, through experience of varying circumstances, our aim gets more precise until we are able to always successfully reach our target, exemplifying practical reasoning.

This concentration on particulars plays an important part of questioning whether everyone can become phronetic and in turn, reach eudaimonia. We can only attain eudaimonia through conscious activity itself, with the realisation that eudaimonia is the good at which all other goods aim. Considering particulars further, Aristotle recognises the part fortune plays in our attainment of eudaimonia. Through our discussion of moral education we know individuals do require an element of good fortune in order  to obtain eudaimonia, as it is a constant activity and if it were to be hindered by misfortune the agent would deter from his attempts at achieving it. With this in mind, whilst Aristotle notes that eudaimonia requires sufficient good fortune, he does not recognise specifically what he means by fortune. Is it possible to create ones own fortune; through recognition of ones own well being?

Understanding fortune in this sense gives us a broader comprehension of those who can be deemed fortunate. For example, we may take for the final time, our example of the evil man. He determines his fate by his choice worthy action. There still remains potential for anyone to deter from what is to be regarded as their original character. Potentiality to realise ability to fulfil one's function as working towards the ultimate happiness is central to this understanding of fortune.

With more room for growth and the ability for the individual to branch off, discovering oneself through education and experience becomes possible. For the evil man or akratic man, both when faced with a situation, reason as if they're fighting with their emotions and immediate pleasures. Such conflict can be overcome, if one allies such feelings to reason. To lose sight of the distorting influence of pleasure, emotion and feeling is the starting point for acquiring a good reasoning faculty. Subsequently, considering potentiality and flexibility of character, whilst no easy task, I believe it to be possible for any individual to be able to lead a life of phronetic behaviour, leading to an attainment of Aristotle's final end of Eudaimonia.

Ackrill, John: Aristotle on Eudaimonia, in Essays in Aristotle's Ethics, Edited by Amelie Rorty, (University California Press, Los Angeles, California), 1980
Broadie, Sarah: Ethics with Aristotle, (Oxford University Press, Oxford), 1991
Cooper, John: Reason and Human Good in Aristotle, (Hackett Publishing Company, Indiana), 1986
Nussbaum, Martha: The Fragility of Goodness, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge), 1986
Sherman, Nancy: The Habituation of Character in Aristotle's Ethics: Critical Essays, Edited by Nancy Sherman, (Bowman and Littlefield Publishing, Maryland, United States) 1999

You Might Also Like


recent posts