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Character - Aristotle And Virtue Ethics

characters person moral types

The fourth-century B.C.E. philosopher Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, understands character (êthos; or hexis êthikê, "moral disposition") to be a disposition of the appetitive and emotional faculties, which leads its possessor to act and feel in particular ways. This disposition is acquired through habituation, a process that develops the intellectual as well as the appetitive and emotional faculties. Aristotelian virtues are such dispositions informed by practical wisdom—a capacity for judgment developed through experience and reflection, which guides conduct where technical knowledge cannot. This is one point of convergence between Aristotle's ethics and the thinking of contemporary virtue theorists, for as Aristotle rejects the claims of his teacher Plato (c. 428–348 or 347 B.C.E.) and Sophists such as Protagoras (c. 485–410 B.C.E.) that there is some art or science that can guide conduct, contemporary virtue theorists reject the claims of deontological ethics that conduct is well-guided by rules, such as "maximize utility" or "act only upon a maxim you could without contradiction will to be a universal maxim." Aristotle and contemporary virtue theorists also share the view that characters are appropriate objects of moral praise and blame; Aristotle reasons that this requires that our characters be voluntary, and argues that this is so on the grounds that our actions are voluntary and our characters are the products of our actions.

Aristotle's Ethics focuses on the cultivation (or acquisition or promotion in others) of virtuous character. When Aristotle describes the courageous or liberal person, he does so from the inside, showing us the person's concerns so that we see how, given the person's values, it makes sense for him to do as he does. But Aristotle's Rhetoric uses characterization to dispose audiences to trust a speaker, and his Poetics, to effect an appropriate fit between a person and his words and deeds; here, words and actions are signs by which we may know someone's character. Subsequently, Aristotle's student Theophrastus (c. 372–c. 287 B.C.E.) sketched representative vicious types by enumerating their typical words and deeds, in a work that came to be known as the Êthikoi Charaktêres (English trans. Characters of Theophrastus, or Moral signs), which was much imitated in English literature from the seventeenth century on. In Characters of Vertues and Vices (1608), by the English prelate Joseph Hall (1574–1656), "character" for the first time refers to a type of person, rather than just to the signs that reveal that type. A "character" genre evolved in various directions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, adding to moral types, types of men and women in various stations of life (perhaps influenced by the Stoic notion that human beings are given personae, or roles to play in this world), and using their sketches to satirize individuals and societies. Although this literature interacts richly with popular ideas about character, it has generally not been taken up in philosophical ethics.

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almost 6 years ago

this plato guy is such a noob!!!

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almost 10 years ago

i think aristotle is a pretty cool guy