Aristotle’s Understanding of Virtue and Morality

Aristotle’s Understanding of Virtue and Morality

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Aristotle’s understanding of virtue or Aristotle’s understanding of morality is a subject in which the main principles of Aristotelian ethics are determined. As it is known, Plato argued that happiness (eudaimonia) is the ultimate goal for all people, and that the thing that will make people happy is goodness. This idea, accepted by almost all Greek thinkers, forms the basis of Aristotle’s ethics.

Aristotle clearly reveals this acceptance in the opening sentences of his most important work in the field of ethics, “Ethics to Nicomachus”, and says:

“Every art and research, as well as every action and choice, is thought to desire a good; That is why they spoke of the good as ‘that which all desires’.” (Ethics to Nicomachus, 1094a).

In that case, as in Plato’s understanding of ethics, actions in Aristotle’s ethics are always examined in line with a goal and a purpose, and all human actions are ultimately directed towards the purpose of human well-being, that is, happiness. Thus, Aristotle’s understanding of ethics is evaluated as “happiness morality” just like Plato’s.


Every action that helps to achieve human well-being or the goal of happiness is right action, and actions that distract people from this goodness are wrong (Copleston, 1997: 68). Although well-being and happiness are the ultimate goals for human beings, actions in daily life sometimes may not directly lead to this higher purpose. Lower goals can become a means to achieve higher goals.

The ultimate end, the good, is a construct always chosen for itself, never a means to anything else. Because, like Plato, Aristotle sees good as the state of being complete, competent, self-sufficient without needing anything else.

These two signs, namely “always being chosen for itself, never being a tool” and “self-sufficiency, making life worth choosing with itself” are the two distinguishing features of the good (Ross, 2002: 224).

Like Plato’s morality, Aristotle’s morality is also a happiness morality. Because it aims at the well-being and happiness of human individuals and society as a whole. All human actions are directed towards the attainment of this highest goal.

Although it is emphasized that the good is the ultimate goal for people, the question of what good or happiness is and with what it can be achieved has not yet been answered.

Aristotle argued that there are four different ways of life in accordance with the chosen purposes. A way of life oriented towards the purpose of obtaining pleasure is something that only slaves and animals would prefer. Above that is the life of honor, which is a comparatively better way of life. But honor is not self-sufficient because it requires the presence of an honoree.

Some people seek wealth, but wealth, according to Aristotle, is never an end, only a means. According to Aristotle, the fourth and most correct way of life is the theoretical life, which is suitable for the natural purpose and structure of man (Ross, 2002: 223-224).

Theoretical life is undoubtedly the life of reason, which is based on knowledge and puts people in a state suitable for their own nature. But it points to only one aspect of a righteous life. The other aspect is undoubtedly related to our actions, namely ethical values.

Thus, Aristotle speaks of two kinds of virtues, one of them is “ethical virtues” and the other is mental, that is, “dianoetic virtues”.

One refers to a person’s mental life, while the other relates to their actions in daily life. In any case, the righteous life proposed by Aristotle is a life of virtue, and this requires examining what virtue is. It would be appropriate to begin this review with ethical virtues.

Moral Virtues: The virtues that consist of finding the right middle, the golden ratio between two extremes, such as justice, courage, temperance, generosity, and friendship.
Dianoetic Virtues (Virtues of Wisdom): These are virtues that depend on intellectual activity and are determined by understanding and discovering why things happen. These virtues are those determined by theoretical wisdom or “Sophia”.

Ethical virtues are related to human actions in daily life, while dianoetic virtues are science, art, practical and theoretical wisdom etc. related to mental pursuits such as

According to Aristotle, well-being or happiness is a goal that can be achieved through activities in accordance with virtue.

Virtue, when considered in its most general sense, is being in a state suitable for one’s own purpose. That is, man should always act in accordance with his nature. The different parts of the human soul must act correctly, the body must function properly.

A virtuous soul is a well-ordered soul. In other words, the relationship between the faculties of the soul such as reason, emotion and desire must be harmonious. A virtuous act can find ground in such a well-functioning spirit.

Moral action is an action that a person with these qualities voluntarily and consciously intends and freely chooses (Thilly, 2000: 169-171).

Therefore, in order for an action to have moral value, it must be voluntarily chosen without any pressure.