Subject: MORAL PHILOSOPHY
Sem./AY: Summer of 2012
Modular Credits: 3
Subject Teacher: Michael Jhon M. Tamayao, M.Phil.
Department: Social Sciences and Philosophy
E-mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
This course will introduce the students to the basic themes of Moral Philosophy or Ethics. In order to be truly faithful and to fully appreciate the ideas of the great ethicists (such as Plato, Aristotle, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, & Friedrich Nietzsche among others), our discussions will be based on their philosophical written works. While our immediate focus is the understanding of these philosophical works, practical and relevant application of these ethical theories in case studies are also sought. Knowing the different ethical theories is very important, but more important than this is their actual application in real life situations. After all, our ultimate aim in studying ethics is to acquire the necessary tools in evaluating the rightness (or wrongness) of our actions and the goodness (or badness) of our lives.
The course must however be distinguished from theology or religion. Unlike the latter disciplines, ethics does not use the revealed truths found in the Sacred Scriptures in explaining the rationality of human morals. Instead, it uses human reason alone. This makes ethics a strictly philosophical discipline.
At the end of the semester, the students must be able to:
- Understand and evaluate the central ideas and issues studied in Moral Philosophy.
- Acquaint themselves with the inescapable controversies which the past thinkers have raised, but which remain as yet unresolved.
- Construct their own value systems.
- Reflect on where they stand on important ethical issues.
- Develop philosophical thinking.
Tentative Outline of Topics (subject to changes)
- What is Philosophy? (Roth & Sontag, 2-12)
- Ethics and its branches (Tamayao)
|Greek and Hellenistic Moral Philosophy
- Socrates (Montemayor, 186-189)
- Plato (Montemayor, 189-193)
- Aristotle ( Montemayor, 194-201; Minton & Shipka, 257-271)
- Epicureanism (Roth & Sontag, 249-254)
- Stocism (Roth & Sontag, 255-259)
- Patristic Ethics: St. Augustine of Hippo (Roth & Sontag, 260-267)
- Scholasticism: St. Thomas Aquinas (Montemayor, 209-216)
|Modern Moral Philosophy
- Thomas Hobbes (Roth & Sontag, 285-291)
- David Hume (Roth & Sontag, 393-403)
- Immanuel Kant: The Categorical Imperative (Minton & Shipka, 283-292)
- John Mill: Utilitarianism (Minton & Shipka, 292-301; Roth & Sontag, 229-237)
- Kierkegaard and Nietzsche (Roth & Sontag, 267-278; 404-411)
|20th Century Moral Philosophy
- Mikhail Gorbachev (Montemayor, 223-237)
- A.J. Ayer (Roth & Sontag, 314-320)
- John Rawls (Roth & Sontag, 238-243)
|The Ethical Concepts and Problems
- The Branches of Ethics
- Natural Law & Conscience (Tamayao)
- Making Moral Judgments (Glenn)
- Virtue Ethics: Review of Aristotle & Thomas
- Ethical Relativism & Egoism (Montemayor,4-7; Minton & Shipka, 215-224)
- Ethical Objectivism: Review of Mill & Kant
|Applied Ethics: The Issue of Abortion|
|Applied Ethics: The Issue of Euthanasia|
|Applied Ethics: The Issue of Artificial Birth Control Methods|
|Applied Ethics: The Issue of Homosexuality|
1. Attendance is a must.
- Students exceeding seven absences will be force dropped.
- Additional points will be given to students with perfect attendance.
- Fifteen minutes late is considered absent.
- Only two things can excuse a student from attending class: health reasons, and school-activities. Each of which must be supported by corresponding certifications.
- If the student is unable to attend class, he/she is independently responsible for obtaining all materials covered during the class meeting.
2. Assignments and Take-home Examinations
- All written assignments and take-home exams are to be typed and double spaced. Assignments will be evaluated for grammar as well as composition.
- All papers are due at the beginning of class on the date specified. Late papers are given corresponding deductions.
3. Cheating and Plagiarism
- All students are expected to practice the highest standards of academic honesty. Cheating on exams or plagiarizing other people’s work is unacceptable and may lead to a failing grade.
There will be no textbook for this course; required readings will be provided as the course progresses. However, students are especially recommended to read the following introductory books:
- Felix Montemayor. Ethics: The Philosophy of Life. Navotas: Navotas Press, 2006.
2. Paul Glenn. Ethics: A Class Manual in Moral Philosophy. St. Louis: Herder Book Co.
3. John K. Roth & Frederick Sontag. The Questions of Philosophy. California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1985.
4. Arthur J. Minton & Thomas A. Shipka. Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1982.
You can also refer to the following online materials:
1. It is that written instrument by which the fundamental powers of the government are established, limited, and defined and by which these powers are distributed among the several departments or branches for their safe and useful exercise for the benefit of the people.
a. Constitution b. Statute of the Philippines c. Ordinance of the Philippines d. Constitution of the Philippines
2. It is a form of constitution that is regarded as a document of special sanctity which cannot be amended or altered except by some special machinery more cumbersome than the ordinary legislative process.
a. Enacted b. Unwritten c. Inelastic d. Cumulative
3. What is that group of provisions that deal with the framework of the government and its powers, and defining the electorate?
a. Constitution of government b. Constitution of liberty c. Constitution of sovereignty d. All of the above
4. It is the Constitution drafted by a Constitutional Commission created under the Article V of Proclamation No. 3 issued on March 25, 1986 which promulgated the Freedom Constitution following the installation of a revolutionary government through a direct exercise of the power of the Filipino people.
a. 1986 Provisional Constitution b. 1987 Constitution c. 1973 Constitution d. 1935 Constitution
5. Under what provision in the Constitution can you find the Doctrine of Incorporation?
a. Art. II, Sec. 1 b. Art. II, Sec. 2 c. Art. II, Sec. 3 d. Art. II, Sec. 4
6. Which of the following rules is adopted by the Philippines in determining the limits of its territory?
a. 3-mile limit rule b. 12-mile limit rule c. Archipelagic Doctrine d. Archipelago Doctrine
7. What is the significance of the Archipelagic principle of territoriality?
a. It prevents the danger of having open seas right at the center or our territory.
b. It welcomes other nations to enter into our territory without much requirements.
c. It opens our doors to enemy warships or other foreign vessels and have friendly ties with them.
d. All of the above
8. If the State inflicted damages to the property of a citizen, can the citizen just sue the State?
a. Yes, because he has the right to demand from the State the indemnification of his property.
b. No, because of the principle of the non-suability of the State.
c. No, because the citizen has no right to demand for indemnifications.
d. None of the above.
9. Is it unconstitutional to declare war against the NPA’s?
a. Yes, because Art. II, Sec. 2 states that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy.
b. No, because this is in order to preserve peace and integrity of the State.
c. Yes, because war in here is aggressive.
d. No, because rebels need to die.
10. What are some of the measures employed by the Government to safeguard the State against military dictatorship?
a. By vesting upon a civilian the highest authority in the land, the Presidency.
b. By making the President the Commander-in-Chief of the AFP.
c. By giving the President and the Congress the power to determine the military budget and define the national policy on defense and security.
d. All of the above
11. Which of the following explains the principle of the separation of the Church and State?
a. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion.
b. No public money or property shall ever be used for any religious denomination.
c. The Church must not interfere with the affairs exclusively for the State.
d. All of the above
12. Which of the following is NOT prohibited by the State?
a. Nuclear power b. Abortion c. Divorce d. None of the above
13. What is social justice?
a. Giving equal opportunity to all, rich and poor alike.
b. Giving preferential attention to the less fortunate.
c. Eradicating poverty through the abolition of private property
d. Getting some from the rich and giving the same to the poor.
14. It is the method by which a public officer may be removed from office during his tenure or before the expiration of his term by a vote of the people after registration of the petition signed by the required percentage of the qualified voters.
a. Plebiscite b. Referendum c. Recall d. Impeachment
15. What is the difference between a citizen and an alien?
- A citizen is a member of a democratic community, while an alien is only someone passing through another country.
- A citizen is a member of a democratic country who is accorded protection inside and outside the territory of the State, while an alien is a citizen of another country who may only be protected inside the territory where he is passing through.
- A citizen is a member of a democratic country who enjoys full civil and political rights while an alien is someone who does not enjoy the same.
- All of the above
16. A Bill of Local Application was submitted by Senator Wade to the Senate Secretary. It has passed three readings in the Senate and then in the Congress. Thereafter, it was presented to the President for approval, but the same was disapproved. The President vehemently objected to the validity of the entire process.
Is the President correct?
a. Yes, the Bill must first be submitted to a proper committee.
b. No, it must be approved because there has been no constitutional breach.
c. Yes, because the said Bill must only emanate from the House of Representatives.
d. No, it may be initiated by the Senate because either House of the Congress may do so.
e. Yes, because the President possesses an absolute veto power.
f. No, the veto power is not absolute.
g. Yes, the law allows the president to disapprove any bill submitted to him by the Congress.
h. No, the president acted in grave abuse of his discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.
17. President Juan Masipag filed an application for appropriation, and in pursuance thereof money was paid out of the National Treasury. It must be noted that the appropriation is for a public purpose, and it is not for any specific sect, church, denomination.
Is there something wrong with the presidential appropriation?
a. None; it is perfectly valid.
b. The appropriation is unlawful because it is paid out of the National Treasury.
c. It is invalid because the Senate President, not the President, is empowered to apply for appropriation.
d. It is wrong because before public funds may be used, an appropriations law must first be passed.
e. It is lawful; the President can by law file an application for appropriation.
f. It is illegal because it should have been the Congress that applied for the appropriations.
18. When the president dies, is permanently disabled, is impeached, or resigns, the Vice-President becomes President for the unexpired term. However, if both the President and Vice-President die, become permanently disabled, are impeached, or resigned, the Senate President shall act as President until the President or VP shall have been elected and qualified.
If the Senate President becomes disabled, who will succeed?
a. The Speaker of the House shall become the President.
b. There will be a special election specifically conducted for the filling up of the vacant offices.
c. The Senate President shall submit to the Congress a declaration of his disability, then a Senior Senator will be the acting President.
d. The Speaker of the House shall act as President until the President or VP shall have been elected and qualified.
19. Noel Uban was nominated by President John Mar Siuagan to the rank of naval captain in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. His nomination has been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, and his appointment (by President Siuagan) followed thereafter. Noel Uban have accepted the nomination with great pride and honor. The President reconsidered his appointment after discovering that Mr. Uban has a criminal record. The President withdrew his appointment. Is this allowed?
a. Yes. This is a matter of presidential discretion, arising from the power of appointment.
b. No. The President can no longer withdraw the appointment because all the steps have already been complied with.
c. Yes. The power to withdraw appointments is one of the residual powers of the President.
d. No. once the appointee accepts, President can no longer withdraw the appointment.
e. A & C
f. B & D
g. None of the above
20. Vincent is an alien visiting the Philippines. During his visit, he was accused of killing a Filipino. Which of the following actions are permitted by the Constitution?
a. Imprison Vincent right away
b. Give him the chance to defend himself
c. Deport him back to his country
d. The government cannot do anything because he is an alien.
21. Is a citizen also a national?
a. Yes, inasmuch as he also owes allegiance to a State.
b. No, the two are not the same.
c. Yes, because like a nation a citizen exercises political and civil rights.
d. No, not all citizens are nationals.
22. This Constitutional principle signifies that all persons subject to legislation should be treated alike, under like circumstances and conditions both in the privileges conferred and liabilities imposed.
a. Due process of law
b. Equal protection of laws
c. Security in one’s person, house, papers, and effects
d. National integrity
23. Pedro was born January 17, 1973, of Filipino mother but a Swedish father. Is he still required to elect his Philippine citizenship?
a. Yes. Since he was born on January 17, 1973, the governing provision during that time requires that his parents must both be Filipinos. Thus to effect his Philippine citizenship, he must elect for it upon reaching 18 years old.
b. No. The governing provision at the time of his birth requires only that either his father or mother is a Filipino. Thus, he is already a Filipino and electing his Philippine citizenship is no longer necessary.
c. Yes because Art. 4, Sec. 1 (3) states that “those born on January 17, 1973, of Filipino mothers, who elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority” are citizens of the Philippines. So if Pedro wants to be a Filipino citizen he must elect for it.
d. No because he is already 38 years old.
24. It is a form of government in which the control of national and local affairs is exercised by the central or national government.
a. Republic b. Unitary c. Federal d. Parliamentary
25. This government was established during the American regime pursuant to an act of the United States Congress on March 24, 1934, commonly known as the Tydings-McDuffie Law.
a. Commonwealth Gov’t b. Military Gov’t c. Civil Gov’t d. Republic
26. It refers to that body of rules and principles in accordance with which the powers of sovereignty are regularly exercised.
a. Statute b. Civil Code c. Preamble d. Constitution
27. Which among the following is not descriptive of the Philippine Constitution?
a. Cumulative b. Rigid c. Conventional d. Written
28. What’s the difference between a Constitution and a statute?
a. A Constitution is a legislation direct from the people, while a state is a legislation from the people’s representatives.
b. A Constitution provides the details of the general framework of the law and the government stated in the statute.
c. The Statute is the fundamental law of the land to which the Constitution and all other laws must conform.
d. There is no difference because they are both laws.
29. This principle holds that no man is above the law, so that every man, however high or low, is equal.
a. Rule of the majority b. Rule of Law c. Democracy d. Constitution
30. Although the Preamble is not an essential part of the Constitution, why is it advisable to have one?
a. It could be a source of private right enforceable by the courts.
b. It sets down the origin and purposes of the Constitution.
c. Aside from (b), it may serve as an aid in the interpretation of the Constitution.
d. All of the above
31. What is the single biggest factor for national solidarity?
a. The government envisioned in the Constitution
b. The Preamble and the different Statutes promulgated by the Congress
c. The Democratic ideals of peace, love, freedom, justice, & equality
d. All of the above
32. Which of the following explains the principle of the separation of the Church and State?
a. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion.
b. No public money or property shall ever be used for any religious denomination.
c. The Church must not interfere with the affairs exclusively for the State.
d. All of the above
33. What is meant by a bicameral legislature?
a. It means that the Congress is composed of two House of Representatives.
b. It means that the Congress is composed of two chambers: Senate and House of Representatives.
c. It means that the legislative power, the authority to enact and promulgate laws, is vested in the Congress of the Philippines.
d. All of the above
34. What is the difference between a Senator and a Member of the House of Representatives?
a. A Senator is elected at large by qualified voters, whereas a member of the House of Representatives is elected in his district.
b. Although both are legislators, a senator is concerned with the national interest of the people, while a member of the House of Representatives is concerned only with the regional interest of the people.
c. A senator is trained to be the future leader of the country, whereas a member of the House of Representatives is not.
d. All of the above
35. Which of the following speaks of the Philippine foreign policy?
a. It is one that preserves and enhances national and economic security.
b. It guarantees the protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare and interest of Filipino overseas.
c. It is one that does not subordinate or subject to nor dependent upon the support of another country.
d. Its objective is to establish friendly relations with all countries of the world regardless of race, religion, ideology and social system and to promote as much beneficial relations with them particularly in economic and trade activities.
e. It is the sole weapon of the Philippines for the promotion of national interest in international affairs.
f. All of the above
g. C and D
h. C, D, and E
36. What is the extent of the right of State to interfere with education of children?
a. Since the children are the property of the State (Regalian Doctrine), it can by law compel the parents to make their children accept interference with the liberty of parent to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.
b. The State can reasonable regulate all schools, their teachers and pupils.
c. The State can require that all children of proper age attend school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic disposition.
d. The State can oblige that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing to be taught which is manifestly inimical to public welfare.
e. While the natural and primary responsibility for educating the child rests in the family, the State also has a distinct interest in this matter since a proper education – humanistic, vocational, moral, religious, civic – is necessary for social well-being.
f. It is the right and duty of the State to see that the obligations of the parents are fulfilled (through such means as compulsory education laws.
g. The State may supply the essential educational facilities which private initiative is unable to furnish.
h. All except A
i. B, C, D, E
37. It is principle that discourages government engagement in particular business activities which can be competently and efficiently undertaken by the private sector unless the latter is timid or does not want to enter into a specific industry or enterprise.
a. Principle of subsidiarity b. Principle of subsidy
c. Principle of subsidiary d. Principle of free enterprise
e. Principle of capitalism f. Principle of free market
38. What is an indigenous cultural community?
a. It refers to those groups in our region which possess and wish to develop their ethnic, religious, or linguistic traditions or characteristics markedly different from the rest of the world.
b. It refers to those dominant groups in our country which possess and wish to improve their ethnic, religious, or linguistic traditions or characteristics similar the rest of the population.
c. It refers to those minority groups in other countries which possess and wish to preserve ethnic, religious, or linguistic traditions or characteristics markedly different from the rest if the population.
d. It refers to those non-dominant groups in our country which possess and wish to preserve ethnic, religious, or linguistic traditions or characteristics markedly different from the rest of the population.
39. It is a name given to the submission of a law or part thereof passed by the national or local legislative body to the voting citizens of a country for their ratification or rejection.
a. Election b. Plebiscite c. Referendum d. Initiative e. Recall
40. In this system or principle, the powers of the government are divided into three distinct classes: the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary.
a. Bicameralism b. Parliamentary System c. Presidential System d. Checks and Balances
41. Who among the following is a registered voter?
a. One who is eighteen years of age and can read and write.
b. One who is at least 35 years of age on the day of the election and is a resident of the Philippines for at least 2 years prior the day of election.
c. one who has all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications of a voter provided by law and who has registered in the list of voters.
d. All of the above
e. B and C
f. All except A
42.When is the regular election of the Senators and the Members of the House of Representatives held?
a. Every 4th Monday of July
b. 2nd Monday of May
c. 1st Sunday of June
d. None of the above
43. If there are 215 Members of the House of Representatives, and 15 are abroad, what would constitute the quorum?
a. 100 b. 101 c. 100.5 d. 102 e. 108
44. Which of the following is not allowed by the rules on Congressional suspension?
a. Suspension for 1 month b. Indefinite suspension c. Suspension for 1 day d. None of the above
45. It is a bill affecting purely municipal concerns like changing the name of a city.
a. Bill of municipal application
b. Bill authorizing change of name
c. Bill of local application
d. Private bill
1-4. Qualifications of voters
5-6. Congressional disqualifications
7-15. Steps in the passage of a bill
Putting aside its religious and salvific significance to the faithful, and to those who once lived and died for it, Christianity has played a very important role for the longevity of human knowledge and culture. During the period called the Dark Ages, following the collapse of the once glorious Greco-Roman civilization, the entire western civilization entered a state of economic turmoil and social anarchy. As implied by the term “Dark Ages,” there was both a bankruptcy in human knowledge and culture. The brutish barbarians sacked into ruins the proud Roman states and colonies, including their important cultural sites, and destroyed almost all the works of the great Greek and Roman thinkers, as they were lost and burned into ashes. The ignoble vandals ravishingly placed human civilization at the verge of destruction.
A sudden spark of light was initiated by the Christian Carolingian Period. This period, spearheaded by Charlemagne, aimed at reviving education and religion. The so-called Medieval universities were instituted for the said purpose and from which began the series of revivals of the great philosophical heritage of the Classical Period. The Patristic Age revived the Platonic philosophy with the aim of supplementing the treasuries of truth in the Sacred Scriptures. This age believed that faith and reason complement each other. It produced great philosophers and theologians such as St. Augustine, Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, Justin Martyr, and Cyril of Alexandria. Following this age is the Period of Scholasticism which revived Aristotelian philosophy with the same aim of supplementing faith with reason. Under this period were also great thinkers like John Scotus, Boethius, St. Albertus Magnus, Alexander of Hales, St. Boneventure, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and, the most illustrious of them all, St. Thomas Aquinas.
With its great contribution to the flourish of education and culture, Christianity paved the way for the renaissance of human civilization.
Part of reviving the civilization is the revitalization and reconstruction of a complete system of ethics. Moral order is essential to all individual and social state of affairs, without which progress is impossible.
We will discuss in this paper one of the most dominant philosophical schools that gave a complete system of ethical principles for the then budding Christian community during the Medieval Period – the Scholastic Philosophy. Thus we will discuss what is meant by “scholasticism,” its influences and basic doctrines, and its fundamental ethical principles. Inasmuch as it is the culmination of Scholastic philosophy, the Thomistic ethical treatise will be the major source of our discussion.
What is Scholasticism?
The word “scholasticism” has its roots in the Latin word “schola” which means school. In Latin medieval universities, the heads of the schools are called “magistris scholarum” (masters of the schools) or simply “scholastici” (scholastics or schoolmen). These scholastici generally taught dialectic, which is a philosophical method used to evaluate, analyze, and criticize a dominant philosophical doctrine to come up with a new and more profound answer to the pervading philosophical questions. During the Medieval times, the scholastici were recognized as the bearers of authentic philosophical and theological views. Out of these dialectical teachings of the scholastici or scholastics came the philosophical tradition known as Scholasticism.
Through their dialectic method, the scholastics tried to synthesize the antithetical realms of reason and faith, science and religion, pagan philosophy and Christian theology. The Patristic philosophers (which came before them) also tried to give a synthesis to these opposing realms but they lacked the technicalities of the dialectic method as thosed used by the scholastics. While the Patristic philosophers wrote in the mystical and poetic style of Platonic philosophy, the scholastics wrote in the more empirical and prosy style of Aristotelian philosophy. These two schools however have the same goal, i.e. to explain faith through reason and to supplement reason with faith. For them, the revealed truths in the Bible and the truths found in pagan philosophies ultimately have the same source – God. Contradiction between these two realms is therefore impossible.
Moreover, Scholasticism highlights two things: first, that there should be a clear delimitation of the respective domains of philosophy and theology, and; second, that man should guide his faith with his reason. Unlike the Patristic thinkers who did not give definite limits between philosophical truth and Biblical (theological) truths, the scholastics, in particular St. Thomas, pointed out that philosophical truths are known through human reason while theological truths are known through revelation, thus, putting a clear distinction between the two.
Reason should guide our faith. This philosophical view is usually associated with rationalism, i.e. the view that reason reigns supreme in man. Scholastics believe that every human, regardless of his beliefs, share in humanity through the possession and use of reason, without which man is not man. Reason has the capability to arrive at indubitable truths, as that achieved by the Aristotelian wisdom. As rationalists, the scholastics cannot just disregard the evident truths of pagan philosophy (Aristotelian philosophy), so they assimilated Aristotle’s philosophy in defense of faith. Through this view, scholastics provided faith with a rational foundation. Undoubtedly, this is one of their crowning achievements. But just as they trusted human reason, they also believed in the primal veracity of revealed truths. If God is Truth itself, then His revelations must necessarily be true. Thus a unique blend is necessary for the scholastics.
The Existence of God
One of the bedrocks of our faith is the belief in the existence of God. Through reason, one can prove that God indeed exists. In this vantage point, reason indeed aids faith.
Adopting Aristotle’s philosophical ideas, St. Thomas proved the existence of God in his famous Quinque Viae (Five ways).
Aristotle posited that the principle of causality forms one of the foundational building blocks of human knowledge. Like other principles of thinking (e.g. principle of identity and principle of contradiction), the principle of causality admits of no proofs and is considered as one of the ultimate presuppositions for knowing. To question its objective certainty (as Kant did) is to open the door for subjectivism and universal skepticism. Meaning to say, the denial of the principle of causality may also mean a declaration that the whole process of human reasoning could be fallacious.
The principle simply states that every effect necessarily has a sufficient reason or cause for its existence. The emergence of global warming, for example, is an effect which has the overly excessive carbon dioxide combustion as its necessary cause. Every thing, event, and occurrence follow the same fashion. According to Aristotle, one cannot go one to infinity. To affirm regressive infinity is to also affirm the non-existence of a beginning. Thus the principle of causality admits the existence of a self-sufficient cause or ground of being to which all physical and mental phenomena ultimately refer. This one ultimate source of all movements is the supreme first mover, which in itself does not move. It is the unchanging being whose presence the world responds to. It is the unchanging and unmoving “good” towards which every being tends and ends. This “Prime Mover,” “First Cause,” “Necessary Being,” “Perfect Good,” and “Final Cause and Good of all things” is, for Aristotle, God.
Aquinas acknowledged the validity of these arguments and adopted them in his Quinque Viae. Nevertheless, Aquinas saw their inadequacy in explaining the Christian notion of God. The Aristotelian God is an impersonal God, which is contrary to the Personal God revealed in the Scriptures. Hence, Thomas developed his “argument from design” which now has a Christian touch to it. He says that the order in the universe is not simply initiated by an impersonal God from afar but it is something continually guided by a loving God. God is now seen as a Loving Father who takes care for his children or a Shepherd tending his flock.
History of Creation
The different scholastic accounts are more than just a random list of philosophical and theological discussions. Faithful to the aim of (Aristotelian) philosophy, the scholastics attempted to give an orderly and truly universal, rational view of the universe. All of their accounts are meant to explain the history of the cosmos and provide an outline for the meaning of life itself. St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, for instance, is a sweeping attempt to explain what reality itself is. It is a proposal for the grand scheme of things.
Founded on purely Christian ideals, the scholastics proposed a history that revolves around the relationship of God and man, and how man’s reconciliation with God is made possible through Christ, the Perfect Man. With these ideals, they came up with a cyclic history that begins and also ends with God. But although their ideals are Christian, they use pagan concepts (Aristotelian) in explaining the intricate details of the existence of God and man. God’s existence, as was seen above, is explained through Aristotelian philosophy. And man’s ultimate end is also based on the Aristotelian teleological philosophy of happiness.
With reference to St. Thomas’ treatise in Summa Theologica, we can diagram the history of creation as follows:
When we say that everything begins with the existence of God, it does not mean that at a point in time, God suddenly came into being and from there everything also came into being. Rather, God’s essence is to exist so that He neither has a beginning nor an end. He is outside the limiting dimensions of space and time; or, simply, He is eternal. Now, from His existence comes the existence of the material world. This emanation of reality from the Divine is what we call creation.
Scholastic discussions in ethics are situated in this grandiose scheme. For this reason, our own discussions will be patterned after this diagram. It is also important to note that because of its strictly theistic nature, scholastic ethics or morality cannot be separated from religion. Unlike some modern ethical treatises, scholastic ethics firmly believes that the moral order is ultimately founded in the Divine Ordination of things.
Man as an Image of God
The proofs of the existence of God are not intended for metaphysical or cosmological uses only. They have direct application to human ethics. In Thomistic ethics, man could only be understood under the context of being an “Image of God.” In Summa Theologica, St. Thomas wrote:
“Man is made to God’s image, and since this implies, so Damacene tells us, that he is intelligent and free to judge and master of himself, so then, now that we have agreed that God is the exemplar cause of things and that they issue from his power through his will, we go on to look at this image, that is to say, at man as the source of actions which are his own and fal under his responsibility and control.”
God is not only the efficient cause of man (the agent that caused man’s existence) but also his exemplar cause (the agent towards which man’s essence conforms and participates). Man’s very ontological constitution and mode of living a meaningful life, by way of intelligence, freedom, and mastery over himself, are all rooted in his being an image of God. Thus, for the scholastics (St. Thomas in particular), an ethical life can only be a life in conformity with the life of God.
Virtue and Happiness
In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas highlighted how the human intellect guides the will towards the “Good,” who is God Himself. Since God is the Good towards which man craves to be with, human practical reason dictates that man should follow the example of His being, which is perfection. Thus man seeks the best way of living. Using Aristotle’s teachings in Nicomachean Ethics, the scholastics saw the different virtues as a rational way towards the Good. Although the scholastics agree with Aristotle that the good towards which every man intends is Happiness, they added that this Happiness is no other else than God Himself (thus going beyond nature itself).
Man is said to lie in between divinity and brutishness. This is because man has, in his nature, rationality and animality. Inasmuch as rationality (which is purely present in the Divine) has superiority over animality (which characterizes the brutes), reason must reign supreme in man. It is only the intellect that knows what is truly good from what is only apparent. It must therefore guide instinctual passions and appetites toward what is truly good. And one of the principles of practical reason is to always act in moderation. This is the basic presupposition of a virtue; it always stands in the middle.
Before going to the different virtues, it is important to discuss the different powers or faculties in man. Man cannot be otherwise but composed of body and soul. Like the animals, the body of man is governed by the laws of nature. On the other hand, the soul (according to Thomistic psychology) is considered as the principle of life without which the body ceases to exist. Meaning to say, the soul governs the acts and movements of the body. Like Aristotle, the scholastics identify two powers in the soul: the appetitive or irrational power and rational power. By means of the rational powers, we know the truth about things. The rational faculty has two parts – the practical and the contemplative. The practical part determines the proper act and ends of man. It is firmly connected to the appetitive powers of the soul inasmuch as it guides human desires and passions. This firm connection between practical reason and the appetitive faculty, together with the contemplative activity of the rational faculty, differentiates us from the animals. Following Aristotelian ethics, the scholastics taught that the right habitual use of practical reason creates moral virtues; and the habitual practice of contemplation, of course functioning in accordance with its proper excellence, is the highest form of intellectual virtue. Through these virtues one can achieve eudaimonia or happiness.
Contemplative part, on the other, has for its object the higher things beyond itself. It is through the contemplative activities of the soul that man shares with the perfection of higher beings. Thus, the theoretical or contemplative part seems more favorable than practical because it is closer to the Divine. In here man transcends himself and becomes like a god.
While for Aristotle true happiness is achieved by living a virtuous life, the scholastics believe that true happiness is achieved only through the beatific vision. Happiness does not end in living a moral life or achieving human excellence on earth, but rather it comes into completion in one’s union with God. The happiness in living a moral life is just a means towards the happiness in the after life.
Moreover, Scholastics also added to Aristotelian virtues such notions as Duty, Sin, Sovereign Lawgiver and Judge, Reward and Punishment in a life to come. As seen by the scholastics, the Aristotelian road to happiness (virtue) is also a path of duty. For Aristotle, if a man does not want to be rationally happy, he is said to be a fool and thus falls short of living an excellent life. For the scholastics, one the other, if a man will not take the road of rational happiness then he is a lawbreaker. He breaks the law which is discovered and formulated by reason, but imprinted in his nature by the Supreme Designer and Divine Legislator of the universe – God.
Christianity has been a very important tool for the conservation and development of human culture and education. It has perpetuated the important philosophical teachings of the Greeks by adopting and using them to explain Christian beliefs. It has also instituted places that have served for centuries as repositories of knowledge. Medieval universities did not only serve as a storage for philosophical works, but they also produced one of the best philosophical schools – Scholasticism. And one of the best philosophers produced by scholasticism was St. Thomas Aquinas.
As a philosopher of history, St. Thomas viewed history as a cyclic process that starts and ends with God. St. Thomas presented this view again through Aristotelian philosophy but substantiated it with the revealed truths of the Bible.
That man is made into the image and likeness of God grounds the Thomistic philosophy of man and ethics. Man cannot, according to St. Thomas, live ethically unless he conforms and patterns himself to the life of God.
If there’s one thing you need to remember about Scholastic (Thomistic) Ethics, it is its reverence to man’s faculty of reason. Although he was a devote Catholic, St. Thomas did not condemn Aristotle, a pagan, because he found truth in Aristotle’s words. Reason binds all men together. Regardless of the heterogeneity of its source, reason has one final end – truth. All rational beings who exercise their reason to its fullest extent will arrive at this end. St. Thomas affirms the correctness of Aristotelian philosophy, but he also affirms the veracity of the revealed truths in the Bible. So he ingenuously constructed a philosophy that beautifully tied the two together without any contradiction.
Aristotle occupies an indispensable position in the study of moral philosophy. So much of what he said has shaped up our thinking today. No serious student or teacher of this subject could intelligently absorb himself in a philosophical discussion without coming to terms with Aristotle’s thoughts.
Together with Socrates and Plato, Aristotle (384-322 BC) completed the triumvirate of the great Greek philosophers. He was born in Stagira in northern Greece and educated for twenty years in the Academy, the famous school instituted by Plato.1 Although he did not become the chosen successor of Plato in the Academy, Aristotle became the most notable pupil of Plato and whose achievement was the only thing that exceeded Plato’s promethian work. After Plato’s death, he returned to Macedonia and became a tutor to Alexander, the son of King Philip of Macedonia and who later created one of the greatest empires in human history. He came back to Athens and established his own school, which he named Lyceum.
He devoted the rest of his life to teaching, writing, and research in a surprisingly broad range of topics, which included metaphysics, logic, ethics, and other philosophical subjects, and physics, biology, psychology, and other empirical sciences. Although he compartmentalized knowledge into many sciences, he did this in line with his over all thrust of constructing a “system” of knowledge that sought to explain everything coherently.
Ethics is one of the major intellectual preoccupations of Aristotle. It may not be as precise as his other scientific treatises, but his ethics, which is based on “character-formation,” serves as a systematic, if not complete, guide to living a good life. He believes that a good life is achieved through a long and rigorous process of habituation to good practices.
What were the works of Aristotle in ethics?
Aristotle’s ethical teachings were compiled under three titles, each of which was written in a different stage in his career. These include Eudemian Ethics, Magnia Moralia, and Nicomachean Ethics. For most scholars, among these three, the Nicomachean Ethics (NE) is the most complete work that explains his mature views in ethics.2 In this light, our discussion will revolve much around the basic themes of the NE, with special emphasis on character-building and virtues; after all, “ethics” refers essentially and originally to “ethos,” the Greek word for character.
It is particularly important to note that for Aristotle, although ethics has its own distinctive subject matter, it is intimately entwined with politics. As a matter of fact, NE is just the first volume of a two-volume study of politics. Aristotle, in Book I of NE, says that his inquiry is a kind of political science.3 The second volume is entitled “Politics,” which is suppose to be a sequel to the former. Both are practical sciences, dealing with the practical aspects of the human society and how the state and the individual could make good life possible.
What is “teleological” and “naturalistic” ethics?
Aristotle’s ethical account is distinctively labeled as teleological and naturalistic. Teleological because it embraces the belief that man, like any other being, has an “end” (telos), towards which his very existence intends and finds meaning. All actions terminate in this end. His ethics is also naturalistic because it describes the “end” as something natural to man. Thus, the end towards which man’s life is intended is in accordance with his nature.
In the opening lines of NE, Aristotle identifies the good as that at which everything aims.4 The end is good, because everything that fulfills one’s nature is good. If, for example, this paper is read by my students, then the paper fulfills its end as an instructional material. The event of its fulfillment (end) is said to be good because its nature has been actualized. Just like this paper, man’s end is also good because it is the actualization of his nature. Moreover, in achieving this good, it is “nature” that dictates the goodness (or badness) of man’s acts, so that all acts that are “unnatural” are bad or immoral. Suicide, for instance, is bad because it is unnatural for man to take away his own life; what is natural is for him to preserve his life.
What is meant by Rationalism?
Aristotle defines man as a “rational animal.” Man is an animal, but what distinguishes him from other animals is his rationality. Just like other animals, man eats, grows, reproduces, and senses things around him. But unlike them, he thinks — this is something natural to him. He has a grasp of the truth and an idea of the good through which he orders his thoughts and affairs. If man lives by his instincts, he lowers himself to the level of animals. But if he lives in accordance with his reason, he actualizes his essential property (that is, his rationality), and thus fulfills his nature and elevates himself over and above other beings. This theory which upholds reason as the crowning property of man and that which must govern his activities is called “rationalism.”
This theory permeates the entirety of Aristotle’s ethical work. It is its guiding theme. Goodness of acts and the achievement of the good life are achieved only through the proper exercise and cultivation of the powers of reason. Any act done in accordance with reason is good, whereas any act done contrary to reason is bad.
Nonetheless, unlike Plato, Aristotle states that man is not just a pure mind. Man is a composite of two essential natures: the tangible and the intangible, the body and the soul. While the intangible (soul) is more important for him – thus still indicating the strong influence of Plato – the tangible (body) part remains to be an essential property of man.
What is the End of Man?
Aristotle states that all human activities aim at some good. This good is the end of man. But there are differences as regards the ends. Some ends are just means to further ends. Ends, which are means, are “activities,” while ends, which are the end of activities, are “products.” When a general, for example, intends to win a war, his end is the victory of his army. But his victory is just a means for peace in his country. Thus, his victory, which is just a means to a further end, is an end as activity, and peace, which is the further end, is the end as product. Naturally, products have more goodness in them than the mere activities.
Happiness as the ultimate end…
Aristotle was seeking for man’s ultimate end, that is, the ultimate “product” of all human acts. It is not just an end as activity but an end as the ultimate product of all activities. If this end is that towards which everything terminates and that which does not refer to further ends, then this end is an end-in-itself. For the human beings, this ultimate good or end is Happiness (eudaimonia). Happiness is that which people always choose for the sake of itself and not for something else. Money is not our end, since it is just useful for getting something else. Even intelligence and virtue are not good in themselves, but good only because they make people happy. Happiness is found to be something perfect and self-sufficient, being the end to which all actions are directed.
People may have different opinions about the meaning of happiness. However, the happiness thought of by Aristotle and other Greeks is very much different from its English counterpart. They construed eudaimonia not as a feeling or emotional well-being, but as fulfillment, success, or flourishing, which reflect very significant aspects of the social life of ancient Greeks. For the Greeks, happiness is a matter of living (energeia) the right way. In addition, Aristotle stressed that happiness is something that does not happen in the flickering moments of our lives. Rather it is something that lasts. Good things that happen once in a while are forgetful, but constant joy bears a lasting impact and qualifies for true happiness. True happiness lasts because it is a product of rigorous training and constant application of rules that remain stable and universal throughout our life’s journey.
Happiness as the proper exercise of reason…
Happiness is the intended product of virtuous living. If happiness is the highest human good then it consists of the proper function of man, not just of some of his parts but of his whole being. Man is a hegemony of reason, so to function properly, he must use his highest faculty, which is reason, in ordering all his actions and endeavors. Happiness is then said to be man’s proper and constant exercise of reason.
It would be hard to appreciate Aristotle’s happiness philosophy without going into the intricate details of his discussion of the particular virtues. Happiness is an activity, achieved through a constant and habitual practice, just as a flutist in order to be good constantly develops his skill with the flute. Through his study of the virtue, we are led into a plausible path towards the happiness.
What are virtues?
As the “mean” disposition…
If something functions properly, then it becomes good. But if it malfunctions, then it falls short of goodness. For man, he is said to function correctly if he does the right actions. Actions are product of deliberation or choice. Someone is said to have done the right act if he has made the right choice. And right choice is that which follows the rule of the “golden mean,” which states that the good is always found somewhere between what is deficient and excessive.
Right actions are actions done in moderation, or actions that are neither deficient nor excessive. Exercise, for example, is good if it is just enough to keep one healthy. But excessive (or deficient) exercise is bad because it can damage one’s health. Now, if one constantly does moderate acts, as when he always exercises moderately, then he cultivates a “good disposition” towards exercise and health. This disposition arising from always acting according to a “mean” is human excellence (arête) or virtue.
Relativity of the Golden Mean…
The “mean” or the “midpoint” between the excessive and the deficient is relative to each individual. The level of prudence necessary for a priest differs from a layperson. The level of courage necessary for a soldier differs from a schoolteacher. More so, some extremes are closer to the mean than others. Rashness, for instance, is closer to courage (mean) than cowardice. This shows that the ethical mean is not a mathematical mean. It is that difficult middle which balances all aspects of human life. The difficulty in striking the mean explains its label as the “golden” disposition for acting. Mastery of this rule is a sign of virtuosity.
Aristotle states that right actions, if constantly practiced, bring about good habits. The structure of the good habits in turn defines a good character. And someone with a good character produces good acts, thus, repeating the cycle all over again but now with more ease and pleasure than before. A good character does not happen in an instant; it takes a lot of practice and habituation.
Moreover, to be a good person requires, not just being good in a particular aspect, but being good holistically instead. Having good study and prayer habits, for example, do not make a person good, unless they are complemented by the rest of other good habits, such as proper exercise and socialization.
The two types of virtue…
There are two types of virtue: the intellectual and the moral. Intellectual virtues are excellences involving skills in mathematics, philosophy, and other speculative sciences. Moral virtues, on the other, are excellences that focus on the actions; they are learned through habits. While the moral virtues dispose us to behave in the right way, the intellectual virtues dispose us in reasoning properly about ethical matters.
The various moral virtues…
Here is a table listing all the moral virtues with their corresponding vices (deficiencies and excesses) and spheres of feeling:
Courage is confidence in face of fear, and endurance or poise in the presence of pain.5 It does not mean fearlessness, for this constitutes the vice of rashness or overconfidence. Its deficiency is cowardice.
Temperance is a mean concerned with bodily pleasures.6 It is the moderate enjoyment of temporal pleasures. Its excess is licentiousness; its deficiency is called insensibility, although this name is just an stipulation of Aristotle for this rare vice.
Generosity or liberality is the mean in relation to wealth, i.e. to the taking and giving of wealth, more especially the giving.7 Its excess is prodigality or squander, and its deficiency is illiberality. The former vice is for Aristotle more favorable than the latter because it can be checked by teaching the value of money. Magnificence, which also involves the sphere of getting and spending but in a major sense, requires a good sense of taste. The deﬁciency of this state is called niggardliness, and its excess vulgarity.8 In face of honor (in the smaller scale), it is good to have a proper ambition, but vicious if excessive or deficient.9 Magnanimity, which also involves the sphere of honor and dishonor, but in a major sense, is the disposition of knowing the honor your worthy of.10 A magnanimous person is great and always seeks his rightful place. Its excess is vanity or conceit, and its deficiency is pusillanimity.
Patience or even temper is the appropriate disposition towards anger.11 Its excess is called irascibility, and its deficiency is lack of spirit, though the latter is more favorable than the former. These names are again stipulations of Aristotle.
Friendliness (for lack of word) is the mean state when it comes to social conduct. Its excess is obsequiousness or flattery, and its deficiency is bad temper or belligerence. “A person who is always pleasant with no ulterior motive is obsequious, while he who is so with a view to beneﬁting himself with money or what it buys is a ﬂatterer. While the person who objects to everything is bad-tempered and belligerent.”12
Truthfulness (for lack of word) is the mean state for self-expression or matters about claims. Boastfulness, which is claiming of esteemed qualities one does not have or has to a lesser degree, is the excess, and self-depreciation, which is disclaiming those he has or play them down, is the deficiency.13
In social intercourse or amusements, wittiness or seemliness is proper to the mean state.14 It is wrong to converse/joke too much, as in the case of a buffoon, or not to converse/joke at all, as in the case of a boor.
Modesty, which is not properly a virtue, is feeling which a refined youth should be properly disposed to feel in instances of error and shame. A virtuous person have no need of modesty because he does not do things which would disgrace him. In order that he becomes virtuous, the youth needs to feel shame in the mistakes they would inevitably commit.
The soul is divided into the rational and irrational part, and the rational part is further divided into the contemplative and calculative.15 The best states of each sub-part define the intellectual virtues. While moral virtues deal with the proper management of our feelings, passions and appetites, intellectual virtues deal with the proper utilization of our rational faculties by which we arrive at truth and the good.
Intellectual virtues must complement the moral virtues, for although knowledge is useless without action, action without the light of reason is futile.
There are five intellectual virtues, namely, scientific knowledge, skill, practical wisdom, wisdom, and intellect.
Scientific knowledge is the virtue by which we demonstrate and arrive at truth, using the methods of deduction and/or induction.16
Skill is a productive state involving proper reasoning; and its contrary, lack of skill, is a productive state involving false reason.17
Practical wisdom or prudence, which is one of the most important virtues, helps us deliberate nobly about what is good and beneficial for living well generally.18 It helps us grasp the right principles of action without which a man cannot truly be virtuous. As pointed out by Aristotle, it is that which links the intellectual and moral virtues together.
Intuition or intellect is the state concerned with the first principles from which scientific truths are derived.19
Wisdom, which is the most precise of the sciences, is the combination of intellect/intuition and scientiﬁc knowledge.20
While we envision our ends through prudence, resourcefulness or good deliberation helps achieve these ends. In practical matters which involve the determination of the right action or decision, the natural gifts of understanding, judgment, practical wisdom/prudence, and intuition are necessary and important.
What is Character?
Character is derived from the Greek word χαρακτερ which originally connotes a mark impressed upon a coin. It then evolved into the word used generally to mean a distinctive mark by which one thing is distinguished from another. Today, it primarily means the assemblage of qualities that distinguish one individual from another.
Character, inasmuch as it is an observable phenomenon, is now a subject matter properly tackled by psychology. Nonetheless, modern empirical psychologists trace their roots in the philosophical treaties of Aristotle with regards to his discussion of character. Among the Greek moralists, he has provided the most psychologically insightful account on character for the modern empirical psychologist. His account provided them with an ample amount of data regarding character-building very much applicable to child rearing and other socially oriented matters.
As a part of the soul…
According to Aristotle, character is a part of the soul. The soul has three components: passions, faculties and states of character. The passions are man’s feelings, desires, fears, anger, ambitions, and others. The faculties are man’s natural capacities and potencies for feeling and acting. And the states of character are thought to be the complex tendencies or dispositions to act and feel in certain ways under certain circumstances. Nature allows us to have characters because they are ingrained in our souls. Nonetheless, they are just ingrained “potencies” and it is up to us to perfect them through habit.
As a disposition…
Character is a disposition: it is a disposition to act and also a disposition to feel. For Aristotle, character is determined by actions and at the same time it determines future actions. It is determined by a long-term practice of actions developed into habits, which in turn will be the pattern for which actions are to be undertaken. Character also involves emotions so it is a disposition to feel. By emotions we mean the cultivated and habituated, and not the immediate impulses.
Virtue is a character or disposition.21 It is not a feeling or a faculty. Feeling may move us to act and faculty determine our capacity for feeling, but only in virtue is man a subject of praise or blame.
What are the Different States of Character?
Virtuous and Vicious…
A person who always does virtuous things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way by striking the mean, will certainly be a virtuous person. While a person who always does vicious things by repeated actions of extremes and deficiency will certainly be a vicious person. The character of a virtuous person is cultivated first by habituation. Eventually, this constant practice will lead to knowledge and understanding of the action itself. And when one fully understands the whys of his actions then he will learn to enjoy and continue choosing them for their own sake, and thus act out of a settled state of character.22 A virtuous person necessarily takes pleasure in his actions. Thus, one’s enjoyment of his actions serves as a proof that he is a virtuous person.
In Book II, Aristotle distinguishes a virtuous person from someone who is good only accidentally; he proposes three criteria, to wit: ﬁrstly, that the person acts with knowledge that what he does is right; secondly, that he acts from rational choice; and, thirdly, that the he has a ﬁrm and unshakeable character.23
Continent and Incontinent…
When a virtuous person reacts to the things around him, there is harmony in his emotions and reason.24 The virtuous person’s soul then, is whole, unified and not tattered. This is what distinguishes the virtuous person from other states of being such as continence, incontinence and vice. The continent and the incontinent persons are divided by the conflict of their desire and will. Like the vicious person, one part of their soul is upset at being restrained, and another is delighted by the intended action.25 This dichotomy tears them apart. In contrast to a vicious person, the continent and incontinent persons have internal conflicts, but are, nevertheless, more aware of their inner conflicts than the morally vicious person. Continence is essentially a kind of self-mastery; right reason overcoming negative desires.26 The continent person recognizes what he should do and does it, but to do so he must struggle against the pull of recalcitrant feelings. On the other hand, incontinence is a kind of softness or inconsistency. He knows that his actions are wrong, but still does them because of his feelings.27 The incontinent person in some way knows what he should do, but fails to do so because of recalcitrant feelings.
Divine Virtue and Brutishness…
For Aristotle, divine virtue and brutishness are the best and worst moral states possible to every individual. Divine virtue, on the one hand, is considered as virtue that exceeds the usual human mode of virtuosity. It is virtue in the fullest sense; a state close to divinity. Brutishness, on the other hand, is a moral state close to being an animal. It is a disposition wherein thoughtful action is absent and, therefore, only involuntary wrongdoings are present. In a sense, the agent in this state looses the highest part of his nature and tends to be an animalistic and irresponsible agent.
How is a Good Character built?
By giving the correct fundamentals…
The human mind starts to know something either in an a priori or a posteriori manner. The goodness of virtue or habit is not a naturally acquired knowledge innate to us since birth. They are known a posteriorily in the sense that we acknowledge them first as given to us as “the that.”28 But the human mind must justify the “that” taught to them in their initial encounters of what is good. So, the essentiality of the “that”, the good fundamentals, could only be fulfilled when one understands and applies it from the heart. The “that” must be complemented by the “because” for it to be complete. So in order for one to become familiar with common beliefs he needs a good upbringing.29
To have good fundamentals is the first step in having a good character. If one has a good upbringing and correct fundamentals then he has the correct starting point.30 The importance therefore of the fundamentals lies in its being an indispensable starting ground or origin for the development of a good character. This is why, for Aristotle, goodness could only be found and achieved in a selected few.
For Aristotle, the proper way of acquiring the fundamentals is through habituation.31 There are three modes of acquisition: induction, perception and habituation. The starting points for ethical actions are acquired through habituation just as bodily actions are acquired through perception of some bodily necessity.
As stated above, the origin of a good character is the acquisition of good fundamentals through habituation and internalization. Habituation, therefore, is the process by which the origins of character development take shape. It is a developmental process in which one increases his power of discernment in his perceptual, affective and deliberative capacities. It is not solely a rigid process of constructing a mind of tabula rasa into a mechanistic one. Aristotle insinuated that in the process of habituation the agent must be able to know that he is doing a virtuous action, decide on them and do the actions from a firm and unchanging state.32 Habits are therefore voluntary and moral actions.
Aristotle says that all are born with the potential to be morally virtuous, but it is only by behaving in the right way that people train themselves to be virtuous.
Aristotle’s theory of habituation speaks loudly of his general goal of imparting a practical science. Ethics is practical and it becomes useless if it remains in the domain of the abstract. Habituation is not mere theoria; it is essentially praxis. The notion therefore of character is not merely an abstract concept equally the same as modern concept of “personality” but a state which necessarily arises from the repetition of similar activities.33
Are we Responsible for our Character?
Since habituation is a product of active deliberation and voluntary action, it is evident that character, the result of habituation, accounts for the responsibility of the person. Yet, one might object that people should not be held responsible for their voluntary actions because being negligent or evil may be part of their character. But Aristotle firmly holds that a person is always responsible for his character as well as his actions arising from his character: “…A man is himself responsible for becoming careless, because he lives in a loose and carefree manner; he is likewise responsible for being unjust or self-indulgent… For a given kind of activity produces a corresponding character.”35
Is a solitary life better than a shared life?
For Aristotle, contemplation is the excellence of man’s intellect. Since the intellect is the highest thing in man, and the objects that it apprehends are the highest things that can be known,contemplation is the highest form of activity.36 Man can therefore be happy by himself when he engages in contemplation.
Unlike any other activity, contemplation is the most continuous activity. It is also the most pleasant and most self-sufficient. Aristotle also says that contemplative life is a god-like life because we come closer to the Divine realities. In Book X, chapters 7–8, he gives it a special position, making it the pinnacle of a well-lived life, the highest of all human activities.
Although one can achieve happiness in his solitude through contemplation, Aristotle asserts that friendship is a better condition than solitariness. A self-sufficient life is one whose activities are intrinsically worthy. It has its ends which are worth choosing regardless of what may become of them. Aristotle is not concerned to justify friendship because it conduces to or promotes self-development but because it is part of a self-contained, fully realized life.
Aristotle says that even the contemplative man needs external goods in order to be happy. These goods may be good birth, good children, and beauty. Man is a political animal and there is nothing more that affirms this statement than his life as essentially openness for friendship.
Types of Friendship…
It is remarkable to note that two of the ten books of the Nicomachean Ethics is devoted to friendship (philia). This is because philia involves a wide variety of human relationships, and not because it is of more importance than the subject on contemplative life.
There are three types of friendship: friendship based on utility (pragma), friendship based on pleasure, and friendship based on goodness of character. The first two are superficial and not long-lasting because they are based on an unstable foundation. The third, however, is the best type because it is based on a stable ground. It is the love for “who” the other person is and not the love for “what” the other person can give. A virtuous person treats others according to their personhood and not according to what they can give him. He treats others as individuals who has persons and not merely as objects of his personal interests.
To know the goodness of one’s life, one needs to have intimate friends whose lives are similarly good, since one will be able to evaluate life when it is not his own. Man knows the kind of life that he has through his friends; his alter egos.
It is in living in activity with others that one becomes more continuously active and more fully happy. A solitary life will be a hard life, for it is not easy to keep up a continuous activity by yourself as you will easily get tired of what you’re doing. Unlike the solitary person, one who engages in activity with others will have the joy of companionship.37
According to Aristotle, our life’s project is to be happy, and building a good character is necessary. Put simply, our happiness consists in having a balanced life.
For many reasons contrary to our present understanding, Happiness for Aristotle is living a moral life. It is having the stability and consistency of character. It is thriving in a strong disposition, a flourishing, that neutralizes the seducing power of pleasure.
In order to achieve happiness, it is imperative that one has already developed a good character. A virtuous person is a happy person while a vicious person is a miserable person, even though it may seem, as usually the case, that the latter enjoys more the luxuries in life.