Department of Philosophy College of Liberal Arts
National Taiwan University Master Thesis
Aristotle on Our Responsibility for Moral Characters
Advisor: Hsei-Yung Hsu, Ph.D.
中華民國 108 年 6 月 June 2019
To Stephanie and Vivian
τοῦ καλοῦ ἕνεκα
This thesis shall explore Aristotle’s view on people’s responsibility for their moral characters. It shall interpret his Nicomachean Ethics and Politics as arguing that Ar- istotle views individuals as fully responsible for their characters. That is, one can be morally praised if she is morally good, and blamed when bad.
The thesis is divided into three main parts. The first part shall focus on Aristo- tle’s notion of virtue, where I argue that a virtue is best understood as a dynamic be- tween rational and non-rational part of the soul. The second part shall argue that Ar- istotle takes that people are fully responsible for the characters formed. In the last part I turn to the Politics, where Aristotle proposes a specific kind of education. I argue that while this musical education makes character formation an easier task, it does not lessen one’s responsibility for forming good characters. We are defined by the way we act and react to things, and we are responsible for how we define ourselves.
Keywords: Aristotle, Virtue, Moral Responsibility, Education, Virtue Ethics
這份論文主要聚焦於討論亞里斯多德如何看待我們是否該為自己所形塑的道德 性格負起道德責任。這份論文將透過詮釋《尼個馬各倫理學》與《政治學》兩部 著作來論證亞里斯多德主張人們必須為自己的道德性格負起全責。也就是：如果 一個人形塑了良好的道德性格，那麼她可以被我們讚揚；反之，如果形塑了不好 的道德性格，則可以被批評。
在那裡，我會論證一個好的理解亞里斯多德的德性觀是將德性看做是理性與非理 性部分靈魂之間的動態平衡。第二部分將會論證亞里斯多德認為人們對其所形塑 的德性負有完全責任。而在最後的第三部分，我將焦點轉至《政治學》，探討亞 里斯多德在那裡所提出的教育制度。我將論證亞里斯多德所提出的音樂教育雖然 讓形塑德性這件事情變得較為簡單，卻不會因此使人所需負的責任減輕。我們是 經由我們的行為、以及對事物的回應而被決定為怎樣的人；而對此，我們需要負 起完全的責任。
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION ... 6
CHAPTER 2: ARISTOTLE ON MORAL VIRTUES ... 12
CHAPTER 3: ARISTOTLE ON RESPONSIBILITY FOR
ONE’S OWN CHARACTER ... 39
CHAPTER 4: ARISTOTLE ON MORAL EDUCATION . 63
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION ... 92
REFERENCE ... 95
When Themistokles had left the Lacedaemonians and arrived back at Athens, an Athenian named Timodemos of the deme of Aphidna, who was an enemy of Themistokles but otherwise not a prominent man, rebuked him out of insane jealousy about his trip to Lacedaemon, asserting that he had been awarded all those honors because of Athens and not because of himself. Timodemos contin- ued to say this without cease until Themistokles retorted, “The fact is that if I were from Belbina, I would not have been honored this way by the Spartans, but neither would you, my friend, even though you are an Athenian. (Herodotus VIII, 125)
In November 8, 2016, Trump won the election. During campaign, we learnt that he was not a decent man: he groped women; he bullied others on the internet; he con- stantly lies, and yet he became the 45th president of the United States. Before him, Barak Obama was the 44th president. Obama was, as the public would agree, a decent man: he thinks before he talks; he makes deliberate decisions; he treats people with respect. They are as different as they can be. Not only the personality, they have the exact opposite childhood experiences. Trump was born in a rich family, went on to receive elite education, and started a business with his father’s help. On the other hand, Obama was born to an interracial family, grew up in deep south states, raised by his grandparents and his single mother. However, through his own diligence, he went
1 I would like to thank Professor Paula Gottlieb for her help during my time in UW-Madison. I am also grateful to my teacher Professor Hsu for teaching me almost everything that I now know about ancient philosophy. Having him as my instructor in my undergraduate and graduate studies makes my time in NTU worthwhile.
on to attend Harvard and then became a professor in Constitution, Senator, and finally the President of the United States.
These two presidents are so different that if there is a spectrum for the character where the one end is virtuous and the other is vicious, they seem to be the exact oppo- site to each other. But what makes this difference? Indeed, there are some commonal- ity between these two presidents. They are all Americans; they all receive American education. They are all highly educated, and they are all successful, in politics or in business. There must be something that makes these two presidents so different in personality. Is it because, just like the quote points out, the society in which they have grown up? But they both grew up in American society, though one in northern states and the other southern. Do the regional differences matter? Or is it because of their own actions and decisions? As the saying goes, ‘we are what we read.’ If I can just rewrite this saying a little: we are how we act. That is, one is defined by both the way he acts and reacts to different situations, and his decisions in different circumstances.
Is this the reason for the differences?
When we talk about one’s characters, one’s actions and one’s decisions, we often think about Aristotle. Aristotle has a full theory that accounts for one’s character, ac- tions and decisions. And in Aristotle’s theory, those three ideas are closely connected.
Facing this question regarding President Obama and President Trump, I wonder what will Aristotle say about that. Thus, starting from this observation and this question, I endeavor in this thesis to find the answer to it.
This thesis shall proceed with a close reading of the texts. The texts used here are Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics.2 The propose of this thesis is not pro- posing a pure exegesis of Aristotle’s view, since, perhaps, nearly all Aristotle’s views
2 Throughout the thesis, I shall mostly use EN when talking about Nicomachean Ethics.
are to some extent controversial for contemporary readers. In the following chapters, I shall first go through the texts, and then provide my own interpretations of the texts.
In order to properly understand what Aristotle has in mind, I will take Aristotle’s views seriously.
In EN VII 1145b4-6, Aristotle says that when dealing an issue, “we must set out the appearances, and first of all go through the puzzles.” And this is the way the follow- ing chapters shall proceed. For in this thesis as a whole and in each chapter respec- tively, there will be a leading question, which will be addressed by the end of that chapter.
The leading question for this thesis is: Who, or what, for Aristotle, is responsible for one’s moral character formed? To be more specific, is it us that are responsible, or is there something or someone else that can share the responsibility with us? Are we fully responsible for the characters formed? Intuitively, we might want to say no, since there can be too many things that affect our character formation. The education we receive, the society we are in, the family we are born to… etc. This is perhaps most scholars’ stance, most recently proposed by Susan Sauvé Meyers in her 2011 work Aristotle on Moral Responsibility. However, my answer to this question differs from them. With closer examination of Aristotle’s work in practical philosophy—both Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, I would answer otherwise. In this thesis, I will spell out my answer in more detail. I shall argue that Aristotle does think that we are fully responsible for the characters formed.
To that end, the thesis is divided into three main chapters. Each chapter answers one specific question. Ultimately, the thesis will form my answer to the abovemen- tioned question: who, or what, for Aristotle, is responsible for one’s moral character formed.
Firstly, in chapter 2 I shall consider the question about the origin of virtue. The question ‘What is virtue?’ will be the leading question in this chapter. Starting from EN I 13, I review Aristotle’s view on virtues. I argue that in EN I 13, Aristotle under- stands that it should be best understood as a dynamic between reason and emotions.
And if the dynamic is a harmony between reason and emotions, then it is the mean that virtue reaches. There is a huge literature on the question what is the mean. Some argued that it is the right amount of emotions,3 others argued that it is the correct reason,4 still others argued that it is a balance between reason and emotion.5 My in- terpretation is different from all these. In my interpretation, the mean is never a static thing; rather, as I have pointed out, it is a dynamic between reason and emotion, which, quite obviously, implies that there can never be a point or an amount where in which we find the mean. That is, the mean is always different for different people in different situations, and this view takes virtue as the combination of reason and emo- tion, so the mean is not simply to have the right reason or the correct amount of emo- tion; it is to have them both. This interpretation seems to be very much alike the third interpretation I mentioned above, but we are different on one important point: for the third interpretation, the mean is a balanced state between reason and emotion. As I shall consider in chapter two, the analogy of this third interpretation is that the mean is a balanced scale. While my interpretation takes the mean as the balancing, that is, the mean is constantly in the working. There is no balanced scale but a constant bal- ancing that is in the working. This interpretation echoes what Aristotle says in EN II 1106b20-25, where Aristotle says that virtue “having these feelings at the right times, about the right things, toward the right people, for the right end, and in the right way.”
3 For example, Urmson 1973 and Joachim 1951.
4 See Hursthouse 1980.
5 See, for example, Gottlieb 2009.
Next, in chapter 3, I would like to examine Aristotle’s view on moral responsi- bility in Nicomachean Ethics III, chapters 1-5. Since we have already seen Aristotle’s view on virtue, and virtue can only be shown through one’s action. And when it comes to action, the issue naturally leads to the responsibility for performing actions.
Therefore, I turn our attention to Aristotle’s remarks on responsibility. The question I consider here is ‘What is Aristotle’s view on moral responsibility?’ In that chapter, I first reconstruct Aristotle’s view on responsibility. Then, I consider Susan Sauvé Meyer’s view that Aristotle thinks people are only partially responsible for the char- acters they formed. She argues that Aristotle thinks our responsibility for the charac- ters formed is lessened by the fact that we receive education, and education plays a role in one’s process of forming characters. However I give a concise reason for this idea, I disagree with professor Meyer, and argue that Aristotle holds that people are fully responsible for their characters formed. The fact that we receive education does not lessen our responsibility for forming good characters. That is, even though we are affected by things that are not in our control, like our fortune, there is, in Aristotle’s view, at least one thing that is in our control: the way we act and react to things. We can control how to react in different situations, and we can control in what way should we act. The ability to control these things shows that we are agents, and that we are the author of actions. This much, at the very least, is “up to us.” And it is be- cause our actions and reactions to things are up to us that we are responsible for the outcomes of them. The outcomes of these actions and reactions are not just those im- mediate results that we experience; they are also the characters formed in us—the ha- bituated way of feeling and acting.
But, indeed, Aristotle in his practical philosophy, especially in Politics, mentions education, and he does devote a considerable amount of space on this topic. Therefore,
in chapter 4 I consider Aristotle’s view on education. The purpose of this chapter is to answer the question: Does education lessen our responsibility for the characters formed? First, I review Aristotle’s view on moral education in EN. I argue that in EN, Aristotle’s view is more like moral reformation than moral education. I suggest that what Aristotle lays out in EN is a view that the laws should change people’s usual way of action by nudging them into performing actions that have the appearance of virtuous actions. Then, I review Aristotle’s view in Politics, and argue that the musi- cal education Aristotle laying out in Politics does help the students in forming char- acters, but it does not determine which characters to form. That is, this education makes forming characters easier, though ideally students can finish this education with good characters being formed, this is not guaranteed. Whether the students form good or bad ones are mainly on student’s own.
Finally, this thesis ends with a clear answer to the question I posed at the outset:
Who, or what, is responsible for the characters formed? For Aristotle, I argue in this thesis, the answer is simply: me. I myself am responsible for the characters formed.
Good or bad; virtues or vices, we are fully responsible for who we become, and this responsibility is not lessened by anything. So, President Obama can be a decent per- son is of his own choices; likewise, Mr. Trump turns out to be this vile figure is the result of his own making. They themselves are the ones that we should praise/condemn.
A brief account of the texts used in this thesis. For Greek texts, I use Oxford Classical Texts for both Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. For translations, I mainly use Irwin’s translation for Nicomachean Ethics, but from time to time I also consult other translations such as Ross’s, Reeve’s and Rowe and Broadie’s. For Politics, I mainly use Lord’s translation, but I also find Reeve’s and Barker’s translation useful.
Chapter 2 Aristotle on Moral Virtues
In this chapter, I consider Aristotle’s discussion of moral virtue (or moral character) in Nicomachean Ethics book I and II. I provide an interpretation of the targeted text, and propose that a proper way to understand the idea of mean (τὸ µέσον) is to under- stood it as a dynamic between reason and emotion: the mean is not a static, balanced state, I shall argue, rather it is the constant balancing that we do.
The question asked in this chapter is this: what is Aristotle’s view on moral vir- tue, and how should we best understand it.
In what follows, I shall first present my interpretation of EN I 13, and argue against past interpretations which propose a rather Humean reading of Aristotle’s view on the relation between reason and emotion. Then, in sections II and III, I con- sider Aristotle’s claim that virtue is a state (hexis), and that virtue is the mean. Draw- ing on Paula Gottlieb’s analogy of a scale, I propose an interpretation that takes the mean as the balancing, rather than the balanced scale. That is, I argue, the mean is constantly in the working. Instead of being static; I suggest that this mean is a dynam- ic: a dynamic between reason and emotion, which would take other conditions into consideration to reach the harmonious state. And it is that harmonious state that is the mean, is the virtue. Finally, I shall give some examples to illustrate how my interpre- tation fits in Aristotle’s view on moral virtues in EN.
Aristotle’s account of moral virtues starts at EN I 13, where he first reminds the read- ers that this examination of virtue is for an investigation on human happiness. Since the happiness Aristotle is here looking for is a human one, the subject of present in-
vestigation should also be about human soul (1102a10-20).6 Generally, Aristotle di- vides the soul into two main parts: non-rational part and the part that has reason (1102a29-30). And the non-rational part can be further divided into two smaller parts:
the nutritive part and the somewhat-shares-with-reason part.
Aristotle’s treatment of the soul begins with a consideration of the non-rational part of the soul. He first accounts for only one part of it: “the cause of nutrition and growth”, which Aristotle believes is to be “plantlike and shared [with all living things]” (1102a34-1102b1).7 This nutrition part of the soul is endowed with the ca- pacity related to growth: things that are related to nourishment, growing-up and the like. This is the part that is shared among all living things (1102b4).8 We can see growth in all forms of life, and both good and bad person are grownups—if they are not already, then one day will. One feature of this nutritive part is that it is observed amongst all living forms. We can see it present in all souls (whether human or not).
This part is, therefore, irrelevant to human virtue.
Another sub-part of the non-rational part of the soul is one that “in a way shares in reason” (1102b15). This non-rational-but-in-a-way-shares-in-reason part is the part that has something to do with “appetites and in general desires” (1102b30-31), but, unlike the nutritive part, this part obeys and listens to reason. In explaining this part of the soul, Aristotle employs the example of the continent and incontinent person:9 Ar-
6 Aristotle here refers back to the definition of happiness in BK I, 7. There, Aristotle only identifies happiness to human good, and that happiness is an activity of the soul. However, Aristotle does not say what virtues are there.
7 All translations of EN are from Irwin, 1999.
8 However, nowhere in the EN does Aristotle talk about this third part of the soul. I think that it is be- cause this third part of the soul is out of our control in the sense that we cannot decide whether or not we are to grow. For example, we can decide who we are to become by choosing different courses of actions, but we cannot decide how tall we are to become or what size we are to become—it does not depend on our decision, therefore lack the voluntariness we see in actions. And since it has nothing to do with our choices, it has nothing to do with ethics.
9 Although Aristotle uses continent and incontinent person as examples, he does not think that conti- nence is a virtue while incontinence is a vice. Aristotle states that continence “seems to be good and praiseworthy conditions, whereas incontinence … seem to be base and blameworthy conditions.”
istotle claims that people praise continent person for their reason: for “the part of the soul that has reason, because it exhorts them correctly and toward what is best”
(1102b16-17), while “[the souls of the continent and incontinent person] evidently also have in them some other part that is by nature something apart from reason, clashing and struggling with reason” (1102b18-19). In the continent soul, Aristotle argues, we can see how the non-rational part of the soul “shares in reason”: in that
“the continent person obeys reason; and in the temperate and the brave person it pre- sumably listens still better to reason, since there it agrees with reason in everything”
(1102b25-28). On the other hand, we can observe the clashing and struggling in the incontinent person, since she “have impulses in contrary directions”, just like the
“paralyzed parts of a body, when we decide to move them to the right, do the contrary and move off to the left” (1102b20-22). And this example helps us see how this non-rational part only shares in reason in a way: it can go either way. It is therefore not at all rational, and not at all irrational.
But this way of explaining it is not clear enough. We can always further ask Ar- istotle: so in what way does this part of the soul shares in reason? Aristotle gives us an extremely vague answer: “it listens to reason and obeys it” (1102b31; ᾗ κατήκοόν ἐστιν αὐτοῦ [λόγου] καὶ πειθαρχικόν). But listen in what way? Aristotle gives another unsatisfactory answer: “This is the way in which we are said to ‘listen to reason’ from father or friends, as opposed to the way in which in mathematics. The non-rational part also [obeys and] is persuaded in some way by reason, as is shown by correction, and by every sort of reproof and exhortation” (1102b31-1103a1). These are inade- quate answer since Aristotle does not further explain what does ‘listen to reason from
(1145b9-12) However, continence is not a virtue, since a continent person still have base appetites whereas a virtuous person won’t. On the other hand, incontinence is not a vice, since incontinent per- son still can make the right decision, just fails to abide by reason (1151b24-1152a4).
father or friends’ means. However, it is rather obvious why listening to reason is not like listening to mathematics: unlike actions, mathematics is much more precise. We do not have different courses of mathematics as we have different courses of actions.
Learning math is not the same as guiding actions. How one acts can have an impact on how he forms his self; but how one calculates does not have the same impact. It is the case that we have different formulae in mathematics according to which we follow to solve math problems, and following those formulae we can find a clear answer to each problem; yet we don’t find such formulae in ethical life: there is seldom a clear answer to ethical problems we encounter in life.10 Mathematics has nothing to do with our ethical life, for instance, knowing a lot about trigonometric functions does not make one’s action more virtuous,11 but listening to one’s father and friends might.
Mathematic logos is impractical in the sense that it cannot guide one’s action or teach how one should lead his life; whereas ethical logos, in this sense, is practical.
On the other hand, as far as we can see, people listen in different ways to their fathers or friends. Sometimes one might find one’s friends’ advices are more accepta- ble simple because the adviser is her friend, even these pieces of advice is exactly the same as her father’s. Other times we listen to our father because he has a kind of pa- rental authority over us. We do not listen to those advices per se, but because we obey our father’s authority. 12 However, Aristotle cannot mean that the non-rational-but-share-in-reason part of the soul will obey the authority of the rational part of the soul, since nowhere in Aristotle’s writing gives the rational part of the soul this special authority to rule over the other parts. If so, then what does Aristotle have
10 There might be a related question about the function of moral rules when we are making moral judgments. But I’ll set it aside right now, since this is not what is in question here.
11 Plato might argue against this view, see Republic BK VII.
12 Pakaluk does use the image of an immature child and his father to illustrate this point. However, he does not say that the child follows his father because he recognizes his father’s authority; rather he fol- lows because his reason is not yet full-blown. It is precisely because he is not rational enough to recog- nize it so he obeys. See Pakaluk 2008, 93.
in mind when he talks about this special part of the soul?
David Bostock suggest that what Aristotle has in mind is really a Humean con- ception of reason and passion. Bostock argues that “Aristotle includes under ‘reason’
some of what Hume would count as ‘passion’ (i.e. desire),” and suggest that this in- terpretation can work since Aristotle’s term for appetition, ὄρεξις (orexis), “covers both what we may call the ‘bodily’ desires—e.g. desires for food or drink or sex—and what we may call ‘rational’ desires, e.g. the long-term desires for health, or honour, or virtue.”13 So that both rational and irrational part of the soul contains pas- sion, different in essence. Further, Bostock notes that “apparently we must think of the [rational desires] as belonging to the part of the soul that has reason ‘in itself’, not to that part which ‘has reason’ merely in the sense that it can ‘listen to reason’, for otherwise—as Hume rightly observed—the two parts could not conflict.”14 In sup- port of this separation, Bostock reminds the readers that Aristotle himself credited a form of desire to reason: wish (βούλησις), for example, in 1111b11-30 Aristotle says that wish is a sort of appetite for an certain end. This separation allows Bostock to further draws on to modern scientific research that certain emotions to be cogni- tive—that there is a sense of rationality in play when emotions work.
On the other hand, Michael Pakaluk follows Aristotle’s example to explain the
‘listen to’ or ‘obey’ relation between the two parts. Pakaluk sees the irrational but shares in reason part of the soul as having immature reason, that is, this part is per- suadable by reason but not in itself rational. Just like, as he puts it, an immature child who has not yet reach ‘the age of reason’ so that he cannot do the kind of ‘reasoning’
that is required; however, such child is rational enough to obey his father’s commands
13 Bostock 2000, 34.
14 Bostock 2000, 34.
and does have a good grasp of his father’s reasons for such commands.15 In his view, as it seems to me, the relation is natural and evident enough that we don’t need to further explain it.
Although I largely agree with Pakaluk’s view, and I do agree that Aristotle does think there is an ‘animal side’ of human nature, and that some activities are different from other animal activities; I do not think Aristotle’s explanation adequate.16 Further, I also would suggest that Pakaluk’s interpretation says nothing more than Aristotle did in EN, since Pakaluk’s interpretation, though strictly follows the text, still uses obey to explain ‘listen to’, and the image of an immature child, though helpful, fall short of explaining what Aristotle means by ‘listen to reason from fathers or friends’.
Moreover, I don’t think both Pakaluk and Bostocks’ Humean interpretation of Aristo- tle can work, since, I shall argue, it does not fit with the progressive view that Aristo- tle holds.
Aristotle separates three major parts of the soul, signifying three different kinds of activities: the rational part, which signifies the activity of reason, of thought; and the irrational part, which signifies the activity of appetite, of animal-like activities, and the vegetate part, which is common to all living things, signifies the activity of taking in nutrition. The activities of reason and the activities of growth and nutrition distinguish human beings from non-human animated beings,17 and this indicates that in every human soul there are three components: the vegetative one, that of ani- mal-like and that of distinctively human. It signifies the two sides of a human being:
that one has an animal side, and a properly human side. As human beings, we have something more than other animals, namely, λόγος. In Politics, Aristotle says that
15 Pakaluk 2008, 93-4.
16 Pakaluk 2008, 92.
17 Cf. EN I, 7
“man is much more a political animal than any kind of bee or any herd animal is clear.
For, as we assert, nature does nothing in vain; and man alone among the animals has speech (λόγον)”18 (1253a8-10). The ability to use language is distinctively human:
we use language to converse to ourselves and to others. Λόγος, whether reason or language, in this sense plays the role of a gap-closer. Conversation means that people are trying to find common grounds amongst each other; similarly, for the two parts of the soul to converse to each other means that the two parts are finding ways to reach a common ground. And this common ground, as we shall later see, is the virtue. This is most obvious in the case of an incontinent person: we call this person incontinent since knows not to do certain action, but at the same time want (or desire) to do it, and in the end she caves in. There is a sense of disharmony in this notion, since the soul is in a state of inner conflict.
In order for the soul to be a united whole, Aristotle needs a way to link the two parts together. And that is where λόγος comes in play. As I mentioned earlier, what is special about human being is that a human being has the ability to use language to bridge two separate things. For the rational part of the soul, the function of λόγος is exactly to tame the irrational part. There is a portion of the irrational part of the soul that will listen to the rational part in the sense that they can hear the language said by the rational part. It does not have to have the ability to comprehend the meaning of the language used; all it has to do is to be tamed by the things it heard. It will follow, at first maybe not precisely, but generally on the right track, the things that rational part says. Just like a dog that ‘follows’ the order of their master. Over time, this irrational part will be tamed, and will be brought up in such way that it not only follows the or- ders given by the rational part, but that it will habitually act in a certain way. Through
18 Translation of Politics is from Lord 2013.
the taming by language, the irrational part will make its progress: its force is con- tained by λόγος, or better, it can learn from previous experiences, and therefore ha- bituated, so that it is always in harmony with the rational part of the soul. With this taming by the external regulations, and the repetition of certain actions, desires de- velop certain habits. They are conditioned by reason’s governing, and habitually fol- low the orders of the reason. Human soul, hence, is progressive. Not only the rational part but the irrational part will progress. Moreover, rather than saving a place for de- sire in rational part of the soul, this view suggest that it is the desires that become ra- tional—rational part can still be purely rational, but the irrational part will come clos- er and closer to reason. It may never be rational, but can get close enough that it will share with reason: it seemed to have taken something from reason so that it appears to be rational.19 We can thus see the progression here: at first the irrational part obeys the rational part just like an immature child obeys his father; as time goes by, and as the soul grows, the irrational part comes closer and closer to the rational part. And now it no longer obeys the reason as a child obeys his father; they are on an equal stance now—the irrational part listens to the reason as a friend listen to another. The entire soul is kept a harmonious unity.
Each part of the soul has its own virtues, as Aristotle puts it, “the division be- tween virtues accords with this difference” (1103a5). Here Aristotle speaks of virtues as something that is about a thing which makes the thing such that it perform its func- tion well.20 For example, a car has the function of running on the road. If this car runs well, then there must be something that makes this car runs well. That something is what Aristotle called a virtue. Since virtues means simply the excellence of a thing, it
19 I use take here since the word Aristotle uses to mean ‘share in’ is µετέχω, which also means ‘partake in.’ Etymologically, it is the combination of µετα- ‘with, after’ and ἔχω ‘have, possess.’
20 Pakaluk 2008, 88.
is not confined to organic bodies. Everything can have a virtue or virtues. So is the soul, and the parts of the soul. For Aristotle, each part of the soul has its own distinc- tive virtue. For the rational part of the soul, Aristotle attributes wisdom, comprehen- sion, and prudence as its virtues; whereas the irrational-but-shares-with-reason part of the soul, has temperance and generosity as its virtues (1103a5-7). The distinction cor- responds to the two parts of the soul. The rational part of the soul that do the thinking and as responsible for though has wisdom as its virtue, which is a state of the soul; on the other hand the irrational but shares with reason part has states of characters as its virtue, since this part of the soul is concerned with appetites and desires, talk of qual- ity is easier to distinguish one desire from another.21 Aristotle does not specify the virtue of the nutritive part of the soul, but considering its function is simply growth, it is reasonable to exclude it from present discussion.
Having laid out the correlations between virtues and the soul, Aristotle turns to virtues of characters, or moral virtues, in EN II.
In 1103a, Aristotle defines moral virtues, or virtues of character, as the result of habit (ἔθος/ethos). Virtues of character do not arise in us naturally; rather, virtues of char- acter “arise in us neither by nature nor against nature,” and that “we are by nature able to acquire them, and we are completed through habit” (1103a25-6). That is, people are not born virtuous. This is different from other things that arise in us by nature, for example senses:
[I]f something arises in us by nature, we first have the capacity for it, and later
21 This does not mean that virtues of characters are not states. It only means that talk of quality has a practical advantage.
perform the activity. This is clear in the case of the senses; for we did not acquire them by frequent seeing or hearing, but we already had them when we exercised them, and did not get them by exercising them. Virtues, by contrast, we acquire, just as we acquire crafts, by having first activated them. For we learn a craft by producing the same product that we must produce when we have learned it; we become builders, for instance, by building, and we become harpists by playing the harp. Similarly, then, we become just by doing just actions, temperate by do- ing temperate actions, brave by doing brave actions. (1103a27-1103b2)
We don’t have to practice our senses to acquire them or to make them perfect (if there is such a thing as “perfect senses”). Senses are not the sort of thing that we grow out of us; rather, we are endowed with them—we already have them before we can con- sciously practice them. However, as Aristotle sees it, that is not the case for virtues.
As the analogy between virtues and crafts show, Aristotle takes virtues as the capacity that we acquire through performing corresponding actions. We have to do those cor- responding actions first, then we can talk about acquiring virtues. And virtues are not the kind of thing that we acquire by performing those corresponding actions once: re- call 1103a18-2, that virtues do not arise in us naturally. One has to constantly practice those actions so that they become her habitual actions. And these actions will produce states (ἕξις/hexis) in that person’s soul; different actions will produce their own cor- responding states (1103b20-23).
Aristotle’s point here is that people become virtuous by constantly doing corre- sponding actions, hence virtue of character is also completed or perfected by our re- peatedly performing those actions. Since virtue of character is achieved through the repetition of actions, Aristotle concludes, it is therefore a state of character, stabilized
by our practicing it. The point here is that we have to habituate these actions. It is not enough to merely practicing them; they have to become our habit.22
However, Aristotle also acknowledges that it may not be easy to make such ac- tions our habits. The process of habituation may be different from one to another,
For each of us seems to possess his type of character to some extent by nature;
for in fact we are just, brave, prone to temperance, or have another feature, im- mediately from birth. (1144b4-7)
People are different, Aristotle admits, and we are endowed with different kinds of natural virtues (ἡ φυσικὴ ἀρετὴ). These different natural virtues can help people to become certain kinds of people more easily, since they are by nature prone to do cer- tain sort of action. For those who are naturally prone to temperance, it is easier for them to become temperate persons. It is therefore clear that we do not magically be- come virtuous, that is, we do not become virtuous without any precedent conditions.
We do not magically perform virtuous actions out of nowhere. The starting point is our natural virtues; these natural virtues affects how easily we are to develop full vir- tues (ἡ κυρία ἀρετή).
Further, in EN II 2, Aristotle argues that virtue of character is preserved by the mean and destroyed by both excess and deficiency. He employs the analogy of health and strength, that both excessive and deficient exercises might ruin physical strength, so also too much or too little food, while the proportionate amount of exercises and food would increase and preserve our physical strength and bodily health. Virtue is similar to physical strength and bodily health: it could be ruined by both excess and
22 I will say more about this process of habituation in later chapters. It is enough for present purpose to note that Aristotle’s idea of habituation is related to moral education.
deficiency, and preserved by the mean. This point is shown more clearly by Aristo- tle’s own examples. Take bravery for example. Someone who is afraid of everything, that is, feeling too much fear, is a coward person, he acts cowardly. If, on the other hand, he is not afraid of everything, that is, feeling too little fear, then he is a rash person, he acts recklessly. Bravery, a virtue, can only be preserved by the mean, that is, generally speaking, feeling appropriate amount of fear, and act accordingly.
Thus, for Aristotle, virtue of character is a state of character concerned with feeling, and the agent acts according to these states of character. And a state (ἕξεις/hexis) of character is not itself a feeling or capacity of having feelings.
But what precisely is the relationship between a state and feelings? So far we only know that virtue is concerned with feelings and actions, and the mean preserves the virtue. Though Aristotle explains in EN II 5 that “by hexis I mean what we have when we are well or badly off in relation to the feelings” and if we are to be well off in rela- tion to the feelings, we should be in the mean. But what does this mean means? What exactly is his doctrine of mean?
Aristotle introduces his doctrine of mean with an analogy:
If, for instance, ten are many and two are few, we take six as intermediate in the object since it exceeds and is exceeded by an equal amount. This is what is intermediate by numerical proportion. But that is not how we must take the in- termediate that is relative to us. For if ten pounds, for instance, are a lot for someone to eat, and two pounds a little, it does not follow that the trainer will prescribe six, since this might also be either a little or a lot for the person who
is to take it—for Milo a little, but for the beginner in gymnastics a lot; and the same is true for running and wrestling. (1106a33-1106b5)
In regard to ethical virtues, the mean is not an objective, arithmetical mean; it is something “relative to us”.23 There are different ways for different people to be healthy or to maintain physical strength. What is suitable, or mean, for Milo may not be so for a beginner in gymnastics. Health is a mean ‘relative to the agent’. The way to be healthy may differ from one to another, and so is being virtuous.
Virtue is also a ‘mean relative to us.’ To be virtuous is to act according to the right reason (1103b33), and have feelings for the right reason, at the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, in the right way (1106b21-7). Paula Gottlieb proposes the idea that the doctrine of mean is in equilib- rium, and she illustrate this point with an analogy of a scale:
Imagine an old-fashioned pair of scales. The empty scales consist of a pivot and a cross-bar with two pans. If the pivot is in the correct place, and the cross-bar is balanced on it, the scales are in equilibrium. Then, when an amount to be weighed is placed in one of the pans, the amount needed to balance it in the other pan will be the correct amount. The scales will work correctly.
The virtuous human being is analogous to the empty scales that are correctly balanced. When something happens, the virtuous human being, who is properly balanced, will respond and act in the correct way. The human being who lacks a balanced disposition will not have the right emotions and act correctly in the right situation, just as unbalanced scales will not correctly react to the weight in
23 On the idea that mean is relative to us rather than an intermediate between two extremes, see also Brown 2014, p. 64-79.
the pan. The analogy is between the virtuous human being and the correctly balanced empty scales.24
The analogy here is the virtuous agent and the empty scale. Gottlieb understands vir- tue as a correctly balanced empty scale, and mean is the correct balancing. This scale can correctly weight the situation, and relative aspects, in which the agent finds her- self. If the scale is correct, then the action will be correct, and therefore the agent will act virtuously.
This analogy appears to capture an important aspect of mean: that it must be tuned. Yet this analogy leaves out another important aspect of mean: the relation be- tween reason and emotion. Of course, it can be argued that the relation is one of bal- ancing and being balanced. Reason is the one who does the balancing, while emotion is the one being balanced. However, this point is not obvious in Gottlieb’s analogy.
And I can hardly see how can this explanation fits in her picture. If the virtuous agent is the balanced scale, then there must be something, or someone, else that does the balancing. Perhaps it is the agent’s teacher who does so, or it is balanced through ed- ucation. Anyhow, it requires there be a presented other that does the balancing. If my earlier interpretation is right, then this analogy is at odd with Aristotle’s account of virtue. Since virtue arises from the part that shares reason and that this part will listen to reason, it does seem to be that the agent can balance herself, or that a virtuous agent is one who can balance herself.
That said, I do think that the image of a balanced scale fits what Aristotle has in mind about virtue as a hexis. It is true that a balanced scale is a stable one, just as hexis is a stable state. And it is also true that the scale itself is not feeling nor the ca-
24 Gottlieb 2009, 23.
pacity of having feelings; it is a thing that measures feelings. It tells us how much feelings (since we are now measuring the amount of feeling) we feel, and if the scale is balanced, we can produce the right reaction.25 Again, we still face the question:
how can one become a balanced scale? Surely, she cannot by herself become a bal- anced scale. As I noted before, she will need help, and this help comes from reason.
Therefore, I propose that we understand virtue and mean differently: virtue can be understood as a balanced scale, while mean is probably better understood as a dy- namic process of reason conversing with feelings—that is, mean is the constant bal- ancing.26 In this picture, thus, mean is not static whereas virtue is. Also, since it is mean that preserves virtue, and virtue is a state related to feelings, mean is what pre- serves a certain state of the soul that is related to feelings. Again, in Aristotle’s picture, virtue arises from the part of the soul that shares in reason, which will listen to reason.
As my interpretation indicated before, this part of the soul is conditioned by the ra- tional part of the soul, and it is this conditioning that makes virtue possible. Therefore, mean is not something that will not change after formed; it is indeed stable, but not inflexible or unchangeable. That is, I am suggesting that we understand mean not as a static state but a state which is essentially a dynamic.
The dynamic I am suggesting here a dynamic of reason and feeling. As I noted earlier, for virtue to arise in our soul, there is a sort of interaction between the two parts of the soul. This dynamic is about two aspects of virtue: first, it is about the in- ternal relation between reason and emotion; second, it is about the rational involve- ment in each ethical situation.
For the first aspect, this dynamic describes what Aristotle had said in EN I 13,
25 On the view that virtue is related to the amount of feeling one feels, see Urmson 1973.
26 I use “conversation” here to capture the analogy of father and son that Aristotle himself uses in EN I 13. We shall later see that Aristotle himself also uses “tune” to capture the relation. Regardless of the term chose, the general picture is that one part of the soul will condition the other part. And this “con- ditioning” relation is what I really want to capture here.
that the part shares in reason will listen to the rational part of the soul. This listening relation is not merely one part listening to another; but one part speaks, the other lis- ten, and what is being said and listened will be shown in through action. The action performed is the listening part responding to the speaking part’s speech. So, there is a sort of communication between the two, and this communication is also the habitua- tion of certain actions. And this brings us to the situation an agent finds herself in.
The second aspect is about this situation. In the ethical situation in question, the agent is confronted with some events, and it requires her action. What is the right ac- tion to do? As Aristotle puts it, the right action is one that is at the right time, about the right person, to the right object…etc. What counts as right? The rational part of the soul will judge what is right. What is right might differ from case to case, and feelings cannot by itself judge what is right. It is reason that do the judging. Indeed, feelings might respond faster than reason, but that does not mean a virtuous agent will only act on feelings. It might be the case that one got irritated by someone’s remark, but that does not necessarily mean she has to act on that anger and yell back to the speaker. Her reason might step in and make other directions. And if, as reason directs, there arises another feeling that ends up motivating the agent to do this or that, and if that action is the correct action to do, then the agent is said to performed a virtuous action.
Further, since this dynamic is the relation between the two parts of the soul, one person’s dynamic might be different from another’s. And this difference is why Aris- totle says “mean is relative to us”. If my interpretation is correct, then “relative to us”
means this dynamic is difference from one to another, and the kind of relation that each person will end up having will be different. But that does not affect one’s being a virtuous agent. What is important is to be a virtuous person, but not to be a specific
kind of virtuous person, for example, be a virtuous person exactly like Hector or Mar- tin Luther King—recall that Aristotle admits that people are endowed with different natural virtues, and those natural virtues will figure in person’s future development. It, therefore, makes perfect sense that people might have different dynamics in them, but they can still all be virtuous.
This interpretation can also accommodate Hursthouse’s criticism to Urmson. In Hursthouse’s view, the doctrine of the mean prescribes two ways of being wrong: ei- ther the person can be wrong for having too many, for example, having too many fear or anger, or the person can be wrong outright, for instance, adultery is one way of being wrong outright. There is no right adultery (1107a13ff.).27 As she sees it, what the doctrine of the mean prescribes is more than just the quantity of feelings, but there is also a qualitive problem here. Aristotle himself says that
But having these feelings at the right times, about the right things, toward the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue. (1106b21-23)
We can clearly see here that what virtue admits is not just the correct amount of feel- ings. It is also about make the right judgments.28 Thus, Hursthouse emphasizes that, in the doctrine of the mean, there is always a rational part in play. Just as my inter- pretation points out, we cannot ignore the work of reason when we are talking about virtues. If we understand the doctrine of mean as I have suggested, then we can see that this doctrine expresses the cooperation of reason and feelings. Virtues, as state of characters, are a balanced scale, one that measures the amount of feelings one has,
27 See Hursthouse 1980, 64.
28 On this point, see Hursthouse 1980 and 2006.
and the mean (meson) is the balancing of that scale, to accord this scale to different conditions the agent finds upon herself, so what we get from this doctrine of the mean is one balanced reaction from the agent, and the action thereby produced will be a virtuous one. It is, again, the factors that are being measured and balanced, not the scale itself that is being balanced. The scale is stable, but the outcome coming out of the balancing is not. Different virtuous agents can have different outcomes: their ac- tions are the outcome of their own balancing. What might be call courageous actions for virtuous agent A may not be courageous for agent B. What can be called virtuous actions are different from one agent to another. But they still have one thing in com- mon, that is: these virtuous actions are all the product of their balancing. Agents are stable—they tend to do this or that in such and such circumstances, and, analogously, so are the scales.
In light of this discussion about the state of character and the doctrine of the mean, it might be helpful here to consider an example. In EN II 5 1105b25-28 Aristotle re- marks that “by hexis I mean what we have when we are well or badly off in relation to the feelings. If, for instance, in relation to getting angry, we are too intensely or slackly off, we are badly off, if meanly off, well.” And since his example is a virtue concerning anger, let us take the nameless virtue of mildness in EN IV 5 for example.
The namelessness of this virtue may be explained by Aristotle’s own words:
“Since the mean is nameless, and the extremes are practically nameless too, we call the intermediate condition mildness, inclining toward the deficiency, which is also nameless” (1125b1-4). It seems to me that Aristotle cannot find a word that accurately captures the notion he has in mind. And this situation, that our language cannot accu-
rately express the virtue, can be seen also in the discussion of other virtues.29 I there- fore argue, in line with professor Gottlieb, that the reason for this particular virtue (or these virtues) to be nameless is simply because our ordinary language is not abundant enough to have a word (or words) that can accurately express them.
Aristotle describes this virtue as such:
The person who is angry at the right things and toward the right people, and also in the right way, at the right time, and for the right length of time, is praised. … The deficiency…is blamed. For people who are not angered by the right things, or in the tight way, or at the right times, or toward the right people, all seem to be foolish. (1125b32-1126a7)
The excess arises in all these ways—in anger toward the wrong people, at the wrong times, more than is right, more hastily than is right, and for a longer time—but they are not all found in the same person. (1126a10-3)
To be a mild person means to feel angry at the right time, for the right amount, for the right length of time, and so forth. It does not mean to feel angry moderately. For ex- ample, it could be mild for First Lady to feel pretty angry when she finds out that her speech is being plagiarized. It might be proper for one to feel extreme anger in some occasions, and proper to not feel that much anger in other occasions. There is no defi- nite way do say what the proper amount of anger would be. But there is a way to say that the person in question acts properly: that he acts according to the reflective equi- librium he reaches, and again, this reflective equilibrium is relative to him. It is there-
29 For the discussion of nameless virtues, see also Gottlieb 2009, 40-44.
fore reasonable to conclude that this person in question is a virtuous person, and in this case, a mild person.
Aristotle does not clearly define what anger is in Nicomachean Ethics. But he does so in Rhetoric. In Rhetoric II 2 1378a Aristotle defines anger as “a desire in- volves pain” (orexis meta lupos), and anger is a desire for retaliation. Recall that be- ing virtuous means getting everything right. So to be a mild person means one gets everything right. He should have the right amount of anger, and since anger is di- rected to the right object, he desires the right kind of retaliation to the right person (the one who irritates him), at the right time, and so forth. The amount of anger is measured by the scale, and which is the right object, when is the right time and who is the right person is the judgment made by reason. And the reason’s making these judgments is the balancing of the scale.
In this view, what it means to be virtuous is to have the correct balancing and the balanced scale, and this is can be said to be a combination of feeling and action: the scale is the feeling part, and the balancing is the action part. That is, to be able to have the correct balancing requires our practice. Recall that this balancing requires the work of reason—it needs to make judgments about things like time, object, place…
and so on. One cannot simply achieve this balancing by contemplating them; rather, one can only get things right by experiencing these situations and by learning from these experiences. This balancing needs to be practiced, and it needs to be practiced through our performing actions in ethical situations.
Again, recall that I had argued earlier that the relation between the rational and irrational part of the soul is one of conversation: that reason will, through logos, ha- bituate the irrational part of the soul so that the latter will follow the order of the for- mer. The balancing is in effect this ‘conversation’. There are some judgments to be
made about the relevant aspects of the action: the object, the timing, how to perform the action…and so on. These are given by the rational part of the soul, and the irra- tional part listens. The end point of this balancing is the action performed. That is to say, there isn’t a single point when the balancing is done for good. We are constantly balancing, even if we are already virtuous, we still need to balance our scale to accord it to the different conditions we find upon ourselves. The dynamic is here for per- forming actions, and once everything is balanced, we perform certain action. And it is clear that this balancing is also our becoming good, for we well form habits about how we balance our scale. If we balance in the right way, then we are habituating ourselves to be virtuous. But what exactly is this habituation?
Now, as Aristotle sees it, the origin of an action is decision (προαίρεσις) while the principles (ἀρχὴ) of decision are desire and goal-directed reason (1139a32-33). Fur- ther, the state of character is a state that decides; the decisions are made by the virtues.
This, again, fits in the picture I presented earlier: a virtuous action requires the two parts of the soul (the rational and irrational) to be in a harmonized dynamic. True, it is the character that makes the decision, as Aristotle says,
For our decisions to do good or bad actions, not our beliefs, form the characters we have. Again, we decide to take or avoid something good or bad. We believe what it is, whom it benefits or how; but we do not exactly believe to take or avoid. Further, decision is praised more for deciding on what is right, whereas belief is praised for believing rightly. Moreover, we decide on something [even]
when we know most completely that it is good; but [what] we believe [is] what
we do not quite know. (1112a3-13)
The decision on performing this or that act is certainly made by our character—made by our irrational part of the soul, the part that is involved with feeling and desires. It accounts for the motivation for actions, but that is not the whole picture. Since it is not the motivation that makes the action virtuous. As I argued earlier, virtuous actions involve some judgments about a plurality of things, therefore an account of motiva- tion cannot explain what makes an action virtuous. Aristotle knows that, and he fur- ther notes that
Now virtue of character is a state that decides; and decision is a deliberative de- sire. If, then, the decision is excellent, the reason must be true and the desire correct, so that what reason asserts is what desire pursues. This, then, is thought and truth concerned with action. (1139a22-25)
The principle of an action—the source of motion, not the goal—is decision; the principle of decision is desire and goal-directed reason. That is why decision re- quires understanding and thought, and also a state of character; for acting well or badly requires both thought and character. (1139a31-36)
Now it is clear that though virtues make decisions, they do not decide randomly. Vir- tues make decisions according to desires and goal-directed reason—this shows that, for Aristotle, there is always a rational element in a virtuous action. Aristotle also states the function of this rational element
For in all the states of character we have mentioned, as well as in the others, there is a target that the person who has reason focuses on and so tightens or re- laxes; and there is a definition of the means, which we say are between excess and deficiency because they accord with the correct reason. (1138b20-24)
Note that Aristotle does not only emphasize the importance of right reason in these lines; but, as Burnet points out,30 he also changes the metaphor. Previously, in EN II, the metaphor had been hitting the right target, but here the metaphor is to tune the lyre—it is lyre that requires more tightening and relaxing to hit the correct note. This metaphorical tuning, I suggest, is meant to describe the interaction between reason and emotion. This interaction, in my interpretation, is the communication between the two parts of the soul.
However, one might still wonder what exactly does reason, the rational part of the soul, do when we are making ethical decision? According to Aristotle, we deliber- ate:
Then what, or what sort of thing, is decision, since it is none of the things men- tioned? Well, apparently it is voluntary, but not everything voluntary is decided.
Then perhaps what is decided is what has been previously deliberated.
An agent’s decision is to decide on things that had been deliberated. But what do we deliberate?
30 Burnet 1973.
We deliberate about what is up to us, that is to say, about the actions we can do.
Deliberation concerns what is usually [one way rather than another], where the outcome is unclear and the right way to act is undefined. … We deliberate not about ends, but about what promotes ends… we lay down the end, and then exam- ine the ways and means to achieve it. If it appears that any of several [possible]
means will reach it, we examine which of them will reach it most easily and most finely; and if only one [possible] means reaches it, we examine how that means will reach it, and how the means itself is reached, until we come to the first cause, the last thing to be discovered. (1112b9-20)
What we deliberate are (a) means to the ends and (b) whether the object being delib- erated is up to us, or possible to us. That is, in Aristotle’s words, “what we could achieve through our agency” (1112b28). For example, in the famous ‘Trolley Prob- lem,’ I find myself in a situation where in which I have to decide whether to push the guy on my right-hand side over the bridge to stop the trolley, or to pull a lever on my left, I will have to deliberate about the choices before I decide. I have to deliberate whether these actions can be achieved through my agency—whether or not I can per- form this action, and whether these actions can bring about the wished ends. I have to make some calculations about the two courses of actions: which can stop the trolley in time? Is pushing the guy really the right thing to do? Am I strong enough to pull the lever? These questions require my rational calculation—not least ethical: I need to know what is the right thing to do, relative to me or in general. All these require my reason to work, so Aristotle identifies deliberation to the rational part of the soul:
Previously, then, we said there are two parts of the soul, one that has reason, and one non-rational. Now we should divide in the same way the part that has reason.
Let us assume there are two parts that have reason: with one we study beings whose principles do not admit of being otherwise than they are, and with the other we study beings whose principles admit of being otherwise. … Let us call one of these the scientific part, and the other the rationally calculating part; for deliberating is the same as rationally calculating, and no one deliberates about what cannot be otherwise. Hence the rationally calculating part is one part of the part of the soul that has reason. (1139a5-18)
Further, Aristotle argues that deliberation, being the rationally calculating part of the soul, is also the mark of practical wisdom (φρώνεσις)31:
It seems proper to a practically wise person to be able to deliberate finely about things that are good and beneficial for himself, not about some restricted ar- ea—about what sorts of things promote health or strength, for instance—but about what sorts of things promote living well in general. (1140a26-29)
A practically wise person will be one who deliberates well about things in life—things that are core to her living a good life. And, in the Aristotelian context, it can most appropriately be understood as living a virtuous life. To be virtuous thus re- quires one to be practically wise, since, again, practical wisdom is about our deliber-
31 I render phronesis into practical wisdom whereas Irwin rendered it prudence. For the sake of con- sistency, I shall use practical wisdom throughout. I prefer practical wisdom since prudence in an ethi- cal context might remind readers too much about contemporary meta-ethical debates about the idea of prudential reasoning.
ating about things that are good and beneficial for oneself. Thus, practical wisdom
Is a state grasping the truth, involving reason, concerned with action about things that are good or bad for a human being. (1140b5-6)
Since practical wisdom is about human concerns—concerns that are related our being good or bad; to the ends that we pursuit; to the best good we can achieve by action. In this way, a person who deliberates well is said to have practical wisdom.
Recall that according to Aristotle, people deliberate before making decisions. A virtuous action is decided according to the agent’s deliberation. Since it is the state of character that decides, and it is the practical wisdom that deliberates; all the while state of character is said to be the part of the soul shares in reason and the practical wisdom is said to be the rational part of the soul, the interaction between the two parts of the soul can be seen more clearly. When we find ourselves in an ethical situation where we have to perform an action, we first deliberate. We take relevant factors into consideration and deliberates. Our deliberation leads to some ethical judgments. Our reason then tells the emotion that some ethical judgments are made. Our emotion then decides, and finally we perform that action. This entire process of deliberating, telling and deciding can be repeated again and again; through repetition, we will naturally produce some tendency to perform in certain way. And this is the habituation that helps us become a virtuous person.
In this chapter, I reviewed Aristotle’s account of the soul, and that of virtue. I argued that the interaction between the rational part and the irrational part of the soul should
be understood as the two parts conversing with each other, and the irrational part will follow the order of the rational part. And I later argued that this relation can best be shown in the doctrine of the mean. Following Paula Gottlieb’s idea that virtue is the balanced scale, I suggest that we understand the doctrine of the mean is the balancing of the scale. Since the doctrine of the mean prescribes more than simply the amount of feelings; it also considers the where, when, who, what, how questions in respect to the action. The working of this doctrine, I argue, just like that relation between the two parts of the soul: there is a dynamic between the reason and feelings in play. And it is this dynamic that accounts for our becoming virtuous or not. That is, this constant balancing is our moral progress. We are not born virtuous; we become virtuous. This balancing is our becoming and being virtuous.