Virtues

Well, here comes the latest Aristotelian ramblings. Calm down. I know you’re excited, and I am too, but we must retain some semblance of sanity. Haha.

Anyway, this time, I am still left to consider the virtues, though in different aspect. My argument last time seems a bit incomplete in light of further readings in Nicomachean Ethics, namely what the virtues themselves are.

Firstly, let me identify Aristotle’s argument as to what constitutes a virtue. The Golden Mean, the middle ground between an excess and deficit defines a virtue in his mind. For example, Courage is the virtue while Recklessness is the excess vice and Cowardice is the deficit vice. I do not disagree with this particular virtue, though I must disagree with the general notion. Before that, we must identify some virtues, for we disagree on which are given this attribute.

Aristotle’s list of virtues differs greatly from Western Culture as we know it now, and as has been influenced by Christianity. In general, we identify virtues that Aristotle lists under emotions. Love is the most simple example of this. Hope and Faith and Freedom likewise do not make Aristotle’s list, but few people in any Western society would forget to list them.

This raises a question and at least one major problem. Let’s get the problem out of the way, for the question will bring more to deal with in its time. The problem should seem obvious: do Love or Freedom or any of the other such non-Aristotelian virtues adhere to the Golden Mean? Of course not. Could you ever have too much Love? Too much Hope? Too much Freedom? Now some could argue that an excess of Love would move to obsession, an excess of Hope to blind hope, et cetera. But I would counter that such vices are not an excess but rather a corruption of a pure virtue. Think along the lines of a white shirt. If it gets a stain, it is still a white shirt, but not fully, and at a certain point, can not be called a white shirt anymore, even though it began as a white shirt. Even for a case such as Aristotle’s virtues, is Recklessness truly an excess of Courage, or is it a combination of stupidity with Courage, diminishing Courage’s purity by lack of knowledge? So it would seem to me.

One must wonder though, are all virtues relativistic (at least one philosopher makes this argument in part)? Anyone who has studied Ethics must know that relativism simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, and yet we have differing virtues. But perhaps there is another way. Perhaps there are Virtues with a capital ‘V’ that are transcendent while there still may be virtues with a lowercase ‘v’ that are purely cultural, civic virtues versus moral Virtues as it were. Identifying them is beyond the scope of this entry. That would require a long theological and philosophical exposition which I am not ready to make at the moment. Suffice it to say for now though that as a Christian I would side with the Christian Virtues as listed in part previously.

I suppose there is also the ambiguity of a Virtue and its Vice to consider. Love is always easiest — to illustrate that is, certainly not in practical or moral application — to use. What is the Vice of Love? Hate seems to be obvious, but it has been suggested that Apathy is also Love’s Vice. I can’t argue against Apathy, though is such Apathy an implicit and passive form of Hate rather than the explicit and active form? I have no answer to that right now. I could make an assertion for the sake of sounding sure, but that has always been one of my pet peeves in life, and one that I regard as chief foolishness.

Well, sorry to leave things completely open-ended with no real conclusion. Then again, that is life and philosophy and thinking, isn’t it? Stay tuned for the next episode of Christian’s Aristotelian Jibberjabber.

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