Aristotle argued that being moral has to do with the function of a human being and that developing his argument he moved from the non-moral to the moral uses of good and bad. He suggested that anything that is good or bad is so because it functions well or poorly. These examples are covered in depth in his work Nicomachean Ethics in a series of ten books or scrolls created from his lecture notes. Particularly the importance of happiness, choices of mean, habits, courage, temperance, and shame as core functions of virtue are covered in depth. He does this to help us understand what it means to be virtuous and therefore moral.
“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good” is Aristotle main premise at creating a moral theory based around virtues. He uses careers and their end goals of success to show that having an end itself results in the best outcome. Repeating this end over time creates the feedback loop of living a good and happy life is equivalent to, “the obvious and evident things, such as pleasure, or wealth, or honour”, but this flips its head as soon as you become sick or frail. Using this, Aristotle then shows that individuals are short sighted and can be judged from this instance to be virtuous or not by a means of intermediate relation. By acknowledging that every virtuous situation is determined by this relation, each individual’s capacities justify their morality based on its situational functionality. This makes a little boy virtuous for having the courage, realization of ability, and acceptable shame to know that calling for help when seeing another kid getting bullied is the right decision and the moral decision based off the functionality of his actions and not based off fruitlessly confronting the bully. Confronting the bully would not have resulted in bravery as, “standing firm against what is painful makes us call people brave.”
Aristotle’s argument is perhaps one of the most human moral theories I have come across and thus makes it very hard to disagree with it in entirety. Yet, further thought makes me consider that his theory is limited by the ability of the mind to contemplate what the limits of a virtuous person are before they become reckless, rash, or aloof. Russ states, “Those who have been raised to idolize Hitler or Stalin are going to have a skewed moral vision, and there may be no way to convince them of their error.” This reiterates itself in those who are repressed in any manner as they have seen those who they deem virtuous possibly being tied up and whipped for even looking at another man in the eye. Both have a morally twisted ideologue influencing what are the bounds of intermediate reasoning for a virtue. Extremes dissolve the ability to mature in a virtuous manner as the vehicle for progress is determined by establishing good habits and goals.
Aristotle guides us with natural law theory as well in hopes these chains may be broken from those within the extremes. One of the core features of natural laws is its acknowledgement that it believes the true nature of humans is nonviolent and gentle. This is based of children from all walks of life not showing any signs of violence or aggression until the adult has impressed that upon them. This goes to show why every fifty years, or every two generations, American society changes to be more inclusive, diverse, and accepting.
With morally mature individuals more accurate tests can assure the viability of Aristotle’s theory of function deciding morality. He viewed temperance as pleasures, “that are shared with other animals and so appear slavish and bestial. These pleasures are touch and taste.” Children cannot possible know how to exercise this trait as emotions and desires operate their lives until they understand that sharing the object solving your pains will not kill you. Until that point they are going to eat the entire happy meal, keep the toy, and keep the other child from stealing what is his even if they themselves are over satisfied. An adult has the ability to stop eating once they are full. This shows the case of intemperance from the child by over eating and temperance from the adult as restraining yourself to ensure that your health and fitness stays at an acceptable level is the functionally better decision. A more pronounced understanding of this is using happiness gained as the resulting function from using temperance. On one hand the child is still having the time of his life as he took care of his need for food and curiosity in one sitting; while the adult relishes the time he was able to enjoy life as freely. Acting on either temperance or happiness alone does not ensure similar functionality. One must be able to balance out both to result in a virtuous outcome.
Virtue ethics and natural law are the core principals in a lot of people’s everyday life without even know what they are. Coincidentally they have been practicing these the moment they acknowledged their parents and idolizing their every movement. Aristotle simply put logic behind the upbringing of every person to make sense out of why things seem so natural at some points and magnanimous at others.