My favourite ethical theory - Ethics Essay Example

My favourite ethical theory

 

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Ancient philosophy determined the direction of inquiry and search for a couple of centuries ahead: philosophers from all over the world have tried and are still trying to find the place of  Human in the world, his destination and way to Happiness. Ethical theories give some answers to these problems, and among the ancient philosophers who raised the question of ethic and moral were Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – all newly-born phlosophers argued or agreed with them.

Being a disciple of Plato (who was the follower of Socrates), Aristotle, nontheless, keeps aloof in the row of great philosophers.

On one hand, he created a realistic theory, basing on norms and principles taken from the real life, and on the other hand, an idealistic theory, making Human develop his intellect and soul. In this way he avoided Utopian theory of Plato, which rejected earth life, as well as moral antiutopia of sophists, whose ethical directives led to amoralism and justifying of violence and arbitrariness: the winners are not judged and all the means are good.

I like his theory, because he placed Human and Human Mind in the center of the world. Act which looks like virtuous is not so, if it is not accompanied by virtuous mind effort. Each person determines for himself which path to go and whome to become: Aristotle gives an opportunity and freedom of mind by his theory. Happiness can be attained, and it is connected with virtues, according to Aristotle, and virtues can be obtained by everyone. His theory assures the followers that we do not need to give ower lives to the Fate or something (someone) else, so everyone can come to happiness.

 

 

In ancient times the term “ethic” meant life wisdom, practical knowledge about life and happiness. Ethic is the science of morality, of raising volitional and mental qualities needed for everyday usage. Aristotle attributed it to a practical science, as well as politics; other types of sciences were creative (art, for example) and theoretical (mathematica, physics).

The central term of Aristotlean ethic theory, which he stated in his great ethical works “Nicomachean Ethics”, ”Eudemian Ethics” and “Great Ethics” is Virtues possesed by different parts of the human soul. “Aristotle defines ethical virtue as ‘a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it’”[1]

He writes human soul is devided into 2 main parts – reasonable and non-reasonable. The latter is nourishing (which does not have any virtues or vices) and affectionate, or striving, having its own virtues and vices. The reasonable part of the soul is theoretical reason and common sense aimed at practical acts. Reasonable part has intellectual virtues, for example, wisdom, prudence, and vices (in contrary to those virtues). Affectionate part and common sense are taken by Aristotle in unity: their virtues are those of will, character and ethos, for example, courage, moderation, truthfullness, generostity. The soul is virtuous to the extent in which practical mind takes possession of the emotions. “Sometimes Aristotle employs an uncomplimentary distinction between living according to reason and living according to emotion. Moreover, he is known to have famously said that what distinguishes humans from animals and plants is logos , speech or reason, so that our characteristic work is the “activity of the soul that expresses reason . . . or obeys reason”. [2]

“Aristotle says that virtue lies ‘in a mean’”[3] Ethical virtues are determined philosophically as the middle of 2 vices. For example, lack of courage is cowardice, but the abundance of courage is also vice, as it is insane courage, bravery. The latter occures very seldom, that is why people got used to contrast courage and cowardice. As for the generosity, it is the middle of stinginess and wastefulness. There is no big difference among the extremes in the sphere of ethic. The one who steps over the boundary of courage, looks madly brave, but is not so in reality. And a coward person wants death not because it is good or he dies for lofty ideas, but because he gets rid of life problems. That is why, according to Aristotle, suicide (and ethounasia) is faint-heartedness, or cowardice. “Sometimes an agent reaches a rational choice – a judgement of what it is best to do given his situation – and fails to act on it, not for any good reason nor because of external interference, but because he does not want to do it or wants to do something else more. This is the phenomenon of moral weakness or incontinence (akrasia)”.[4]

To let reason prevail, conditions should be created for the person, so that he can make the right choice of destination, expedient way of life and actions: either to choose a good ideal or to choose a good teacher who will guide him. The most virtuous person is a philosopher who strives for wisdom. This striving for high values makes the soul perfect and distract it from vices, making it virtuous ethically. The perfection of a person should be through cognition, active attitude to the reality and taking command of the reason over the desires and pleasures. “Aristotle constantly reminds his readers that happiness is activity: it is virtue in action, not virtue unused.”[5]

This is the point in which Aristotle disagreed with Plato, who thought ideal was separated from the material world, or the body. Desires take a person away from the main destination  of the person and lead him to everything low and vicious. Not to allow it, person should get rid of material reality, in contrast to Aristotle who never sepparated ideal from the material. To make reason preavail over the affectionate part of his soul a person should be taught to use his mind, he should act according to his reason. “Aristotle maintains both that the soul is the actuality of the body and that the soul is involved in the origination of bodily movement… the soul is a separable thing and denying that the psychical processes to which the theory applies, including those involved in the origination of bodily movements, occur without physiological concomitants. These denials are, if true, important. They are part of Aristotle’s deviation from Platonism.”[6] Deads are attributed to good if they are acted because of person’s volition.

 

Aristotle criticized Socrates’ and Plato’s underestimation of human Volition. In contrary to Socrates, who identified virtue and knowledge, Aristotle thought that moral and virtues depend not on knowledge but on person’s volition: a person may know what is good and what is wrong, but it does not mean that he will act rightly.

Basing on human’s volition and his freedom of choice he excuses abortion – a very contradictory act since ancient times. Another reason for it he saw in demographical stability. But he made an important addition: abortion is bad and considered as murder, if an alive baby is killed – that is on 40th day of his life in the body of a mother.

Aristotle’s does not like thesis advanced by Socrates and shared by Plato that nobody acts badly because of his own volition. He believes that if this thesis is put into practice, human is not commanding his life and himself, so he does not have any responsibility for his deads. But, he thinks that drunken are double guilty, as a person has power and it is in his command not to get drunk. So, human is able to possess positive moral qualities and that is why he is responsible for the deads he has committed.

Aristotle also disagreed to Plato’s conception of the state and obstacles towards the realization of an ideal country. Since personal interests and selfishness separate people from each other and make them hostile, Plato suggested the following measures: community of wives and children and abolition of private ownership. But Aristotle believed that such measures will lead to absolutely contrast results, because the revealing of such virtues as incon generosity would be impossible. He thought that people care mostly about which belongs privately to them, and less they care about the common ownership.

However, being a disciple of Plato, ethical theories of these greatest philosophers-moralists have much in common. Aristotle intercepted his teacher’s notion of the highest Good. It lies not in sensual satisfaction or something material, but in spiritual state, which appeares because of the duties’ fulfilment.

Both Aristotle and Plato agree in the determination of human’s destination. It is self-perfection and creating of a spiritual personality.

 

And what about the role of inborn advances and teaching, upbringing of habits in the moral perfection of a person? In his “NE” Aristotle writes that natural talents are not in ower power, and the upbringing does not influence everyone in the same way. Especially incorrigible people should be punished and exiled away from the state. But this an extreme way of solving a problem. Concerning punishment, he reflects on types of justice, not sharing Pifagore’s notion of justice based on treating badly those who have treated badly themselves. He does share an idea of material retribution, but of ideal. He makes difference between the deads which were made by accident and those under compulsion and in defence. But he does not determine for himself opinion on the measure of punishment being sure in human’s ability to be responsible for his deads and his volition.

Aristotle also discussing the theme of friendship, which is a very important human virtue. “For without friends no one would choose to live, although he had all other goods… Friends (in English) are persons outside the immediate family circle with whom interests are shared, so that conversation is easy. Philoi include friends in this sense but also all those who are ‘dear’… especially wives and husbands and children and parents. There is a natural philia between parents and offspring ‘not only among men but among birds and among most animals’. A mother’s love for her children is adduced by Aristotle as a conspicuous example of the disinterestedness of friendship: sometimes she shows her love by handing her child to foster-parents, knowing that the child in ignorance ‘can give her nothing of a mother’s due’. Marriage is for Aristotle an important kind of friendship”.[7] So, Aristotle understands fiendship wider than just relations between friends.

 

However Aristotle’s ethical theory has some drawbacks. It is usually criticized for the racism.And he is far from the equality of all people, Aristotlian ethic comes from the notion that initially people are not equal in their abilities, forms of activity, and level of happiness and prosperity, consequently. For example, he thinks that a slave cannot be happy. In this question he did not get away from the mainstream of his time. He proposed the theory of a natural superiority the first over the latter ones. Treating slaves like inferior people consequented from his conception of human being as a socio-political creature. For him the persone outside a community is either god or animal.

Another matter of claims is made by religious-minded people. Aristotle stated science and mind higher than moral, making contemplative life as and ideal moral life. He values usual Greek virtues of a citizen – courage, wisdom, justice, and friendship, as well. But he does not know about love of human to a human in the sense of christian theologians. The humanism of Aristotle is friendship and benevoience among the people, in contrary to christian humanity, where all people are brothers, they are equal in the face of God.

 

Nontheless, in the reasonable attitude of Aristotle there is sense: to show how to avoid Misfortune and to achieve Happiness, which is accessible to any human being. Well-being of any person depends on his reason, foresight and prudence. In this sense he stays in the history of philosophy as a humanist.

 

 

 

Bibliography.

 

1.      Broadie Sarah. Ethics with Aristotle. Oxford University Press, 1991.

 

2.      Hardie W. F. R. Aristotle’s Ethical Theory. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1980

 

3.       Stewart J. A. M. A. Emotion in Theory. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1892.

[1] Hardie W. F. R. Aristotle’s Ethical Theory. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1980. Page 94
[2]  Stewart J. A. M. A. Emotion in Theory. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1892. Page 81.
[3] Hardie W. F. R. Aristotle’s Ethical Theory. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1980. Page 94.
[4]Broadie Sarah. Ethics with Aristotle. Oxford University Press, 1991. Page 266.
[5] Broadie Sarah. Ethics with Aristotle. Oxford University Press, 1991. Page 57.
[6] Hardie W. F. R. Aristotle’s Ethical Theory. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1980 Page 83.
[7] Hardie W. F. R. Aristotle’s Ethical Theory. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1980. Page  315.

 

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