Aristotle And Virtue

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are dedicated to eudaimonia, i.e. happiness in the “living well” or “flourishing” sense (terms I will be using synonymously). In this paper, I will present Aristotle’s view on the role of external goods and fortune for the achievement of happiness. I will argue that he considers them a prerequisite for virtue. Their contribution to happiness is indirect, via the way they affect how we can engage in rational activity according to the relevant virtues. I will then object that this view threatens to make his overall account of happiness incoherent. Fortunately, there is a way to reconcile the apparent tensions, in book III. Any account of human happiness is subject to certain criteria to assess its satisfactoriness. One of the things we might…show more content…
We regulate our actions in part via the pleasure and pain we experience when exercising them. Virtue involves feeling pleasure in doing the right thing, and pain when doing the opposite. To develop this, we need to have been brought up in a particular way, with the right education from our early days (1104b20). These are external goods which presence (or absence) does not depend on the child. Although it might not be impossible to become virtuous if one has been raised in the wrong environment, it will be extremely difficult, since these experiences are deeply engrained in us. In addition, external goods are required in order to acquire particular virtues. Since virtues, like skills, are acquired via exercising the activity in such-and-such way, it follows that we need the same sorts of things required for the exercising of the activity in order to acquire it. In conclusion, there are two ways in which some external goods are required for virtue: they are necessary for their acquisition, and also for engaging in rational activities well. However, happiness does not consist in having those external goods: virtuous rational activity is really the core constitutive element of happiness. We don’t live well just by having external goods: we need to act according to virtue. Virtuous activity is really what…show more content…
Fortunes (and misfortunes) are events that affect us significantly and are outside our control. Aristotle thinks that there’s some truth to “identify[ing] happiness with good fortune” (1099b5). This is because grave misfortunes seem to tip the balance and make the virtuous happy person unhappy: “[the blessed person] will … be shifted … from happiness … by many grave [misfortunes]” (1101a10). Aristotle considers that grave misfortunes affect us in two ways: first, by removing some of the external goods necessary for virtuous activity, second, by directly affecting the way we feel: “[grave misfortunes] will oppress and spoil what is blessed, since they bring distress with them and hinder many activities” (1100b30, emphasis added). This double impact of misfortunes coheres with the treatment of external goods as a pre-condition for the exercise of virtuous rational activity. Since misfortunes can jeopardize external goods, and those are a necessary condition for engaging in virtuous activity --which is what happiness consists in--, misfortunes can make us unhappy by taking away what it was, for us, to act virtuously. Moreover, misfortunes make us feel pain in relation to our acting in the new circumstances –as it takes some habituation to find enjoyment in doing the new right
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