Aristotle Essay

Cheap Custom Writing Service

A description of virtue ethics must begin with recognition of its founder, Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.). According to historical accounts, Aristotle began study at Plato’s Academy at age 17 and was an exceptional pupil. Aristotle soon adopted his teacher’s passion for investigating fields of study as diverse as logic, biology, psychology, and mathematics. By age 50, Aristotle founded the Lyceum, a school that remained for centuries one of the great centers of learning in Greece. Aristotle is considered one of the great philosophers and is associated with approximately 146 lecture-based treatises. This includes a body of work devoted to the study of virtue ethics, with the most significant of these titles including Nicomachean Ethics.

Under a virtue ethics philosophy, humans are defined as social, political, and rational in nature. Ethical progress occurs when the individual moves from being a moral blank at birth (tabula rasa) to an elevated state in which ethical behaviors are routinely displayed. To virtue ethicists, it is only through the demonstration of moral behaviors within a social context that one can truly be considered virtuous. Thus, there is no need to seek external, supernatural forces to explain morality. The development of virtuous behavior occurs though socialization experiences and moral training, with the ultimate goal of virtue being a state of eudaimonia.

According to Aristotle, the role of government is to reinforce virtuous behaviors in the citizenry in order to preserve a peaceful statehood. This involved a social structure in which a kingship (one) and aristocracy (few) governed the remaining polis or republic (many). As highlighted in Politics, Aristotle supported the concept of a republic in which sovereignty resides in the people but that also entrusts moral decisions to those in positions of power. Aristotle suggested that nobility should receive moral training, specifically in virtue ethics, in order to effectively weigh good and bad behaviors. Moreover, Aristotle supported the notion that all lawmakers should be educated in matters of moral virtue, resulting in a greater likelihood that laws and regulations would be just. Aristotle argued that politicians in a well-ordered state should adhere to principles of rationality while suppressing their own personal desires and whims.

Presently, the field of virtue ethics includes a range of seemingly disparate philosophical arguments. However, despite such appearances, virtue ethicists continue to be linked by the following three essential concepts: phronesis, arête, and eudaimonia. Phronesis refers to moral intelligence or practical wisdom. Phronesis denotes the ability to merge rational thinking with personal knowledge. Arête is usually translated to mean the fulfillment of one’s purpose or function. In everyday language, it is how a person is living up to his or her full potential. Here, virtue ethicists may differ on what exactly is the function of the proper human life. For example, a kitchen table may be defined as having four legs and functioning as a place to sit and eat. Yet there is discord in terms of a similar account of what the human purpose or meaning is. By repeatedly asking questions, Aristotle was able to explain what he thought constituted the essence of the human experience.

When Aristotle inquired why an individual engaged in a particular behavior, he found that humans eventually identify the root motivation to be something along the lines of “because it makes me happy.” Aristotle used the term eudaimonia, a word which has also been translated as “wellbeing,” “happiness,” “blessedness,” “self-realization,” or “flourishing,” to describe this essential function or purpose of the human experience. For the virtue theorist, the display of virtuous behaviors is the only means by which a person can achieve the state of eudaimonia. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes eudaimonia as activity of the soul in accordance with perfect virtue. Eudaimonia remains the ultimate goal of practicing virtue ethics, one that makes a person flourish in his or her individual capacity and within the milieu of a broader, complex society.

In addition to moral intelligence, Aristotle also identified a set of core moral virtues that includes courage, temperance, prudence, justice, pride, ambition, good temper, being a good friend, truthfulness, and wittiness. These moral states are further presented as four cardinal virtues (i.e., prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) that are needed in order to live the good life. To achieve these moral states, Aristotle highlighted the importance of the Golden Mean. This hypothetical state is the mean between two corresponding vices, one of excess and one of deficiency. For example, an extreme display of courage may be viewed as reckless or unwise, while a lack of courage may be labeled as cowardly behavior. The Golden Mean suggests that between the extremes of recklessness and cowardice a moral individual will display the virtue of courage in an appropriate manner to the situation.

Aristotle’s work has been highly influential on the modern-day criminal justice system. In the general sense, virtue theory supports the assumption that the polis is the zenith of human organization and stresses the importance of virtue ethics within this political system. The basic ideas in Aristotle’s virtue ethics have been employed by such diverse writers as Saint Thomas Aquinas, Niccolò Machiavelli, and David Hume. They have also been integral aspects of both the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789. For example, James Madison, who is often called the father of the U.S. Constitution, defined a republic in terms similar to those of Aristotle’s polity. As a result, the current legal system is entrenched in many of Aristotle’s ideas about virtue ethics. Aristotle’s conceptualization of law involves two parts, general justice and particular justice. The concept of general justice centers on a universal set of social rules that could exist only within a perfect community. In this sense, general justice is a synonym for virtuous behavior. Particular justice, on the other hand, refers to the application of a punishment for a crime. Particular justice contains matters of honor, money, and public safety. This also involves the judgment of an expert who asserts the moral culpability of the offender. As a result, the function of a judge in a legal trial is to restore the equality that was lost during the unjust incident or transaction.

Aristotle states that it is the role of the judge to weigh the unethical behavior of the offender and to assert a fair punishment. In today’s world, this type of justice has shaped everything from penal sentencing policy to defenses that include provocation and necessity. These ideas have profoundly shaped the modern concept of equity. Aristotle’s treatment of justice may now be considered a general principle of law; one that includes the notion of blind justice, the inclusion of independent evidence, and the deliberation of each moral and legal case on an individualized basis.

These concepts strike at the essence of the current legal system, particularly with reference to the goals of justness and fairness. Aristotle adds that these laws are designed to encourage citizens to behave in a just manner. In turn, citizens who engage in legal behavior on a daily basis are exhibiting their virtues. When citizens violate laws they are displaying a lack of virtuous behavior and reducing social connectedness. Here, virtue ethics emphasizes the importance of the character of the citizen as prime.

Within current court, police, and correctional systems there are daily assessments of the character of the offender. This is the indispensable component of virtue ethics, the notion that the displayed behavior is reflective of an individual’s moral character. In contrast, other philosophical approaches are more likely to examine the duty to rules (deontology) or the outcome of a decision (consequentialism) when evaluating one’s ethics. In accord with the tenants of virtue ethics, current legal rulings continue to take place on a case-by-case basis, along with mitigation of deficiency (e.g., mental illness, age), situational contexts, and personal intentions (i.e., offender malevolence). Consequently, Aristotle’s virtue ethics may now be considered a basic principle of law in the current criminal justice system.

In summary, Aristotle held that moral virtues are essentially good habits, and that to attain happiness or eudaimonia a person must develop two kinds of habits: those of mental activity, such as knowledge, which lead to the highest human activity, contemplation; and those of practical action and emotion, such as courage. For Aristotle, the intellectual and the moral virtues are merely means toward the attainment of happiness, which results from the full realization of human potential.


  1. The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  2. Politics. E. Barker and R. F. Stalley, trans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  3. Bostock, David. Aristotle’s Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  4. Broadie, Sarah. Ethics With Aristotle. New York: Oxford University Press,1991.
  5. Hoffe, Otfried. Aristotle. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.
  6. Tessitore, Aristide. Reading Aristotle’s Ethics: Virtue, Rhetoric, and Political Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.
  7. Thomson, G. and M. Missner. On Aristotle. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000.
  8. Whelton, Beverly. “The Multifaceted Structure of Nursing: An Aristotelian Analysis.” Nursing Philosophy, v.3 (2002).
  9. Willbern, York. “Types and Levels of Public Morality.” Public Administration Review, v.44 (1984).

This example Aristotle Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

See also:


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality

Special offer!