Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics

Virtue in Aristotle's Ethics

Aristotle devotes the first six books of his Nicomachean Ethics to a discussion of virtue. In doing so he divides virtue into two different categories: moral virtue and intellectual virtue and discusses them individually. However, in our approach to the question of the highest moral virtue, we will examine moral and intellectual virtue together (rather than separately) for the purpose of not only discerning what Aristotle deems this virtue to be, but also examine whether or not there is a connection between the two different types of virtue. Although Aristotle believes moral virtues to be of extreme importance, we will find that even the highest of the moral virtues would be unable to exist if it were not for the intellectual virtues.

According to Aristotle, intellectual virtues are developed by teaching and instruction while moral virtues are developed by practice or force of habit. Moral virtues are not naturally instilled in us; the soul is designed to receive moral virtues, but in order to develop into guiding forces they must be nurtured by habit. The soul acquires moral virtue by exercising it, just as the harpist learns to play the harp by playing it and men become builders by building homes (1103a14-1103b2). A morally...

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