This chapter, which analyses the ethical theories of Greek sceptic Sextus Empiricus, begins by considering other sceptical figures who preceded Sextus, both for their intrinsic interest and to set the context for Sextus's work. These include Pyrrho, Arcesilaus of Pitane, Carneades of Cyrene, and Philo of Larissa. The chapter then examines surviving works of Sextus Empiricus, the best known being Outlines of Pyrrhonism.
The Greek noun for which “virtue” and “excellence” are often used as translations—aretê (plural: aretai)—is cognate to the name of the god of war, Ares (called “Mars” in Latin) and, centuries prior to Aristotle, designated the manliness or valor of a warrior. But by the fifth and fourth centuries
Christopher C. W. Taylor
For Aristotle,phronēsis, the excellence of the practical intellect, is two-fold, consisting of a true conception of the end to be achieved by action and correct deliberation about the means to achieve that end. Three accounts have been given as to how that true conception of the end is acquired: i) by virtue of character, ii) by dialectic, i.e. critical reasoning concerning authoritative beliefs, and iii) by induction from data of experience. Virtue of character is the proper responsiveness of the appetitive element in the soul to reason; it is itself a rational state, presupposing a prior grasp of the end by the intellect. Dialectic and experience are each required for the attainment of that grasp, the role of the former being apparently to formulate more or less indeterminate principles that it is the task of moral experience to make determinate.
This chapter examines the main issues in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. The discussions cover his views on happiness, virtues of character, virtues of thought, moral responsibility, moral dilemmas, practical reasoning, choice, akrasia, pleasure, and friendship.
A new moral philosophy emerged on the British philosophical scene in the late 1870s, one referred to as the idealist ethic of social self-realization, which rapidly became the dominant mode of moral thought for over twenty years. This chapter discusses the views of the pioneers of idealist ethics, F. H. Bradley and T. H. Green.
Terence H. Irwin
Aristotle begins the Nicomachean Ethics by asking what the final good for human beings is. He identifies this final good with happiness, and in the rest of Book I, asks what happiness is. In I 7, Aristotle reaches an “outline” of an answer, claiming that the human good (that is, happiness) is activity of the soul in accordance with the best and most perfect (or complete) virtue in a perfect life. But he does not say what the best and most perfect virtue is. Towards the end of the last book of the Ethics, Aristotle seems to answer this question by arguing that the best and most perfect virtue is theoretical wisdom (sophia), exercised in theoretical study or contemplation (theôria) of universal and necessary truths about the universe. He believes that self-sufficiency follows from finality. This article considers Aristotle's conception of happiness, its relation to other goods, happiness as fulfillment of the human function, a monist conception of happiness, complete life, the counting condition, rational life, and moral virtue.
This chapter discusses the ethical theories of Cynics and Stoics. Cynicism traces its origins to Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412/403–c. 324/321
This chapter begins with an Epicurean account of freedom of choice, which illustrates some of the larger contours of Plato's ethical aims in the context of his materialism. It also serves as a salient point of departure for gauging the overall plausibility of his general project of ‘naturalizing reason’, to use a contemporary slogan Epicurus might well have endorsed. The discussions then turn to Epicurus's claims about death and pleasure.
This chapter provides interpretations of Homeric poems. Homer reflects a view of the nature of human beings and their place in the world, and their reasons for living and acting in that world, but exactly what that view is has been debated for centuries. In the early to mid-twentieth century, Bruno Snell and other classical scholars proposed a developmental view known as ‘progressivism’, according to which the Homeric understanding of the human mind, and consequently morality, is in certain important ways ‘primitive’. There was disagreement about exactly when development took place after Homer, but it was generally agreed that the modern position on such issues was superior. The debate about progressivism led to the adoption of various positions, some more antagonistic to progressivism than others, on the nature of virtue in the poems, the role of shame in Homeric morality, and justice. The chapter discusses each of these positions and debates. It then focuses on shame and guilt, and concludes with a section on virtue, including a sub-section on pity – a highly salient emotion and virtue in Homer that appears not to have received the attention in the literature it might have.
Ethics, is referred to as a concern to act rightly and to live a good life, is pervasive in Plato's work, and so we find Plato's ethical thinking throughout the dialogues. The article discusses the idea of ethics as propounded by Plato. Why does Plato take most people to be drastically wrong about goodness but not about happiness? The answer here lies in the notion of happiness, which is how we have hitherto rendered eudaimonia. Plato's ethical thought is, then, structured by a broad eudaimonist assumption. His main concern is to challenge the views most people have about goodness, for it is here that they go disastrously wrong in trying to live happy lives. Most people think that virtue is a minor good, or even an impediment to living a happy life. Plato considers this to be utterly incorrect; it is only by being virtuous that we can hope to be happy.
This chapter, which analyses Plato's thinking about ethics and his engagement with it, first reviews his earlier works and asks why neither of them address ethical questions. It then turns to Plato's classical works, particularly the Republic, which suggest a definite ethical position, arguing that they, like his earlier works, are best regarded as often exploring questions rather than as always propounding doctrine.
Lloyd P. Gerson
This chapter examines the ethical theories of Platonists in later Antiquity. The focus is on Plotinus, given that later Platonists follow him in his exposition of the Platonic position. The chapter also discusses how Plotinus's pupil, Porphyry, and later Platonists systematized his account of virtue. It is argued that the fundamental truth contained in the Platonic interpretation of Plato's ethics is the refusal to foist upon Plato a facile view of human personhood. Platonists never for a moment supposed that Plato thought that what was good or virtuous for the human being, the anthrōpos, was identical with what was good or virtuous for the person, for persons have destinies that transcend humanity.
Plato's dialogues form the basis of Socratic Ethics and Moral Psychology. Among Plato's thirty-five dialogues there is a group of eleven or twelve that share certain features setting them apart from the rest. In these dialogues, which are considerably shorter than the others, Socrates always has the role of questioner. The questions he discusses are mostly about specific virtues and how they are related to each other: for example, piety is discussed in the Euthyphro, courage in the Laches, temperance in the Charmides, and justice and temperance in the Gorgias. A major theme of Socratic dialogues is Socrates' opposition to the “sophists,” a varied lot with different interests and claims to fame who shared certain characteristics that justified their common designation. Socrates debates the issue, if virtue is an art or skill that involves knowing what is truly good and evil, the virtuous person should be able to “size up” a situation and determine, as to what sort of action is called for to resolve a particular situation.