Week 4 Instructor Guidance Virtue Ethics: Being a Good Person

This week focuses on the third major ethical theory and how it applies in the context of our responsibilities toward the environment as well as within military contexts.

This Week's Topics

1. Virtue Ethics

Let's once again review the broad spectrum of moral theories that we saw in the guidance for weeks 1 - 3:

If we regard human actions as consisting of three parts, then the main difference between these moral theories has to do with which part they believe to be most important consideration when thinking about ethics.

The three parts of human action are:

  1. The nature and character of the person performing the action.
  2. The nature of the action itself.
  3. The consequences of the action.

The three moral theories can be distinguished in this way:

  1. Virtue ethics focuses on the nature and character of the person performing the action.
  2. Deontological ethics focuses on the action itself.
  3. Consequentialism focuses on the consequences of the action.

Virtue ethics focuses on the nature and character of the person performing the action.

The most common forms of virtue ethics are modeled on the ideas of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, and so we will read portions of his text the Nicomachean Ethics.

2. Ethics and the Environment

What are our moral responsibilities toward the environment? We will consider this question in a way that focuses on the virtues and how they manifest themselves in particular ways in our treatment of the environment by examining an article by the contemporary philosopher Thomas Hill.

3. Military Ethics

What virtues are needed to be a good soldier, and what kind of behavior would a virtuous soldier exhibit? Paul Robinson's article discusses this with respect to two virtues, integrity and magnanimity.

3. Discussions

There are two discussions this week. Please carefully read each discussion prompt before you begin posting, and review them often during the week.

Virtue Ethics

A Virtue Defined

A virtue, and the most basic level, is a quality that enables the thing that has it to be in a good condition. A good knife will have the virtue of sharpness; a good football quarterback will have the virtue of accuracy and quick thinking, and so on.

For humans in general, virtues are dispositions to choose to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and for the right reasons.

Aristotle recognized 4 primary or "cardinal" virtues: Courage, Justice, Temperance, and Practical Wisdom

A Teleological Theory

The Aristotelian account of virtue ethics starts with the idea that some things have a "function", "purpose", or "characteristic activity". The virtues are those traits that enable it to perform those characteristic activities well, and to fulfill those purposes.

The Greek term for such purposes is the "telos", so this account is called a teleological account of ethics.

Happiness Reconsidered

Aristotle calls the telos, or ultimate purpose of human life to be "happiness". Thus the virtues are those qualities necessary for happiness. But what he meant by happiness is perhaps quite different than what we today mean. We usually think of happiness as a certain kind of positive inner feeling, while Aristotle thought of it as a condition in which one's life is truly going well.

When you see "happiness", perhaps replace that in your mind with "fulfillment", "well-being", or "flourishing", and you might be closer to the idea that Aristotle called "eudaimonia".

What Is Virtue Ethics?

"Allegory of the Virtues" (c. 1529-1530) by Correggio

Virtue Ethics maintains that the most important consideration for morality is first and foremost what it means to be a good person. To be a good person is described in terms of possessing certain character traits, ones that enable us to live well. These character traits are called virtues.

A virtue is a certain quality that is essential to living well.

Generally, when we say that someone or something is "doing well", we have in mind some idea of what that person or thing is supposed to do - what it's function or purpose is. For instance, if a car is "running well," we mean that the engine is humming, it drives smoothly, it can reliably get you from point A to point B, and so on. When we say that a child is "doing well school," we mean he or she is learning, earning good grades, and so on. This is because the purpose of the car is to get one from A to B (among other things, depending on the car), and the purpose of being a student is to learn, which is often measured by grades.

For a car to run well, it has to have its various parts working in harmony, doing what they are supposed to be doing, each contributing to the well-functioning of the whole. If the tires aren't aligned, or the radiator leaks, then the car as a whole won’t be “running well,” and we won’t say that it’s a “good” car. 

For a child to be doing well at school, he or she needs to be learning the things being taught, behaving in appropriate ways, earning good grades, and so on. If the child is learning but not getting good grades, or getting good grades but misbehaving, or getting good grades but not really learning anything, then we would be reluctant to say that the child is "doing well" in school.

What does any of this have to do with ethics?

Well, for a car to run well, it needs certain good qualities that enable it to run well and fulfill its purpose in the ways described. Similarly, for a student to be doing well in school, it needs certain good qualities that enable it to fulfill its goals and flourish in the ways described.

In the same way, a person needs certain good qualities that enable him or her to live well, fulfill his or her purposes, and flourish.

So virtue ethics is concerned with two things: what does it mean for a person to live well and flourish, and what are the qualities (virtues) needed for this?

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Our source for these ideas is the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived from 384-322 BCE. Aristotle was a student of Plato (who we read in Week 1 when we encountered the Ring of Gyges story), and went on to become along with Plato one of the most important figures in Western history. He invented the study of Logic, made contributions to the natural sciences, especially physics and biology, that dominated scientific studies for nearly two-thousand years, and his metaphysical views had a tremendous impact on the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions.

We are, of course, looking at his ethical writings, most of which are contained in the book, Nicomachean Ethics.

Before looking into all of this, let's first get a sense of how virtue ethics differs from the other two theories we've considered.

Virtue Ethics vs. Deontology vs. Utilitarianism

Here are four scenarios, with two people doing the same, or almost the same act. Is there an important difference between the two people in each case?

  1. Consider someone that, after a night of drinking, stops a man from robbing an old lady on his way home. Later he barely remembers doing that, and admits that he would have never done such a thing sober and that this must have been the whiskey acting, not him.

    Compare that with someone (perfectly sober) who confronts the robber with little hesitation, and would do it again in a heartbeat.

  2. Consider a child that runs up to his great-aunt Gertrude and brazenly volunteers his opinion that her new hat looks hideous, because his parents had taught him to be honest.

    Compare that with the child's mother who tactfully manages to say something evasive but encouraging, and thus avoid lying to her aunt while not hurting her feelings either. (For instance, something like this.)

  3. Consider someone who gives to a relative in need, but does so grudgingly, wishing instead that he could keep it for himself (this could be money, resources, time, manual labor, or anything else).

    Compare that with someone that gives to his relative cheerfully, out of a sense of compassion, sympathy, and familial loyalty, as well as a sense of contentment with only a modest amount for himself.

  4. Or consider someone that risks danger to save another person from drowning, but only because that other person owes her money and she wants to make sure she gets paid back.

    Compare this case with someone that risks danger to save the drowning person with absolutely no thought of personal gain.

In each of these scenarios, the comparisons are between people who, in some basic way, did almost the same thing. But most of us sense that there is something profoundly different about these actions. This difference would have to do with the character of the person performing the act.

These kinds of examples elicit the intuition virtue ethicists draw upon when distinguishing their approach from a deontological or utilitarian one. The idea is that more fundamental than the rules we follow, and more fundamental than consequences we try to bring about, is the question of what kind of people we should to be. As we said above, the kind of people we need to be is described in terms of possessing certain character traits, ones that enable us to live well. These character traits are called virtues.

Virtues are dispositions to choose to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and for the right reasons.

In case number 1, we might hesitate to call what the first person did an act of "choosing the right thing" at all, since he was acting under the influence of some other force.

In case number 2, there was a choice, and in some sense it was for the right reasons (it's good to want to be honest and not lie), but the child hasn't yet learned the difference between being overly blunt and being sensitive to another person's feelings while remaining honest. So the child hasn't yet learned what the right time is for telling the absolute truth, as his parent has.

In the third case, the person did their "duty", but the fact that he did so grudgingly may lead us to say that that he didn't do it in the right way, as opposed to the other person who did so cheerfully.

Finally, in the fourth scenario both people bring about the best outcome, but because the first is driven by greed and selfishnesses, we might be inclined to think he didn't do this for the right reasons - not out of benevolence and valor like the second person.

From a virtue ethics perspective, these kinds of considerations suggest that ethical action is not simply a matter of doing the right thing (as the deontologist might say) or bringing about the right results (as the utilitarian would insist), but will involve a range of motivations, feelings, and reasons that all fit together, linked by a general view of what a good overall human life involves.

Sometimes people will be partly virtuous, as in the example of a child or someone who does the right thing only with difficulty; but sometimes people can go wrong in more serious ways. Instead of possessing the virtues, such people posses vices like greed, cowardice, or dishonesty. We call such people vicious.

Virtues and Moral Reasoning

This theory is often more difficult for people to understand because it doesn't involve the same kind of straightforward application of an independent rule or a principle to determine the right action in the circumstances. Rather, it emphasizes that we have to have the wisdom and good character to make the right choices in each particular circumstance, and that this process cannot be reduced to a procedure or program of applying a rule or principle.

By contrast, both deontological and utilitarian theories seem to fit neatly into a deductive argument. For example:

A Simple Deontological Argument

  1. Stealing is wrong.
  2. X is stealing.
  3. Therefore, X is wrong.

A Simple Utilitarian Argument

  1. Do that which results in the greatest overall happiness and the least unhappiness.
  2. X would result in more unhappiness than not doing X.
  3. Therefore, X is wrong.

According to these views, as long as we have the right rule or principle in place (#1 in the arguments above), we can plug in the relevant features of the situation (#2) and get our "right answer" (#3).

Because virtue ethics doesn't have a straightforward rule or principle that lets you determine exactly what is to be done in a particular situation, some people think it is not very helpful as a theory of how we ought to live. From a virtue ethics perspective, however, this is an advantage of the theory, rather than a disadvantage.


Is morality really a matter of finding principles that tell us what to do in every circumstance?

Many people, when they study theories like utilitarianism or deontology, come away with the sense that each of these theories seems right some of the time, but not all the time.

Knowing what is right in a circumstance, including whether to pursue the best outcome, or whether to respect certain absolute limits or duties, requires wisdom beyond the straightforward application of a rule or principle: wisdom gained from experience and a life in pursuit of the good.


"Ideals of Wisdom"
Fictional characters often represent Ideals of what we all should aspire to be, even if we could never actually attain it.

Many people are attracted to the idea that morality involves bringing about as much good as possible, as the utilitarian would say. But often it seems that there are things we should do or not do regardless of the results, as the deontologist would say.

Moreover, both theories seem to demand that we sacrifice, or at least disregard, our own happiness and well-being for the sake of doing the morally right thing.

Virtue ethics tries to make sense of these puzzles. It maintains that sometimes the right thing to do might involve bringing about the best results, and sometimes it might involve sticking to one's sense of the "absolute" right or wrong, but the people most equipped to make that kind of judgment are those who have good moral character, and can thus make the "right call" in the situation.

Moreover, Aristotelian virtue ethics maintains that this is all connected to a vision of what a truly good or happy life is, a life that Aristotle described by the term "eudaimonia". So to act virtuously is to live a flourishing, happy life, rather than to sacrifice it.


It turns out that we use this kind of reasoning all the time in our lives.

We often think that "ethics" encompasses only a special domain of "right and wrong" action that needs these clear rules or principles. Most theories of virtue reject this idea, and insist that "ethics" is concerned with how we live our lives as a whole, not just with a narrow set of actions. (Note, though, that some deontological and utilitarian theories think this too.)

But if we can make sense of a kind of everyday reasoning that is neither strictly a matter of maximizing positive outcomes, nor a matter of strictly abiding by the rules, but requires a special kind of "wisdom" informed by a well-developed character, then that's pointing us to the way that virtue ethics thinks about the ethical life (we will have more to say about this below).


The rationality of virtue-based reasoning lies in its teleological character.

The idea of the virtuous person, and the idea of what a virtuous person would do, are both based in some conception of what kind of person he or she should be. This is rooted in a sense of the "telos", or the end, purpose, or function of the person's life. Some of that has to do with one's social role. Some of that has to do with deeper ideas about human nature. And some of it might be based on the ideals and ends that a person has chosen for himself or herself.

The idea is that when we look at how we reason teleologically in everyday life, we will find a certain kind of rationality to ideas about how one should live and what one should do that are not reducible to following rules or principles.

Virtue ethics tries to extend this form of reasoning to the traditional "ethical" questions about how anyone should live.

Virtue-based reasoning in everyday life.

Think about the various features of your life. Many of you are fathers, mothers, husbands, wives. Some of you are in the military. Maybe you work with kids, or are in sales or management, or work in something hands-on like construction or repair. And of course, all of you are students.


What qualities do you need to be successful at each of these activities?

For instance, to be a good soldier you need courage, loyalty, and integrity. To be a good parent you need patience and care. To be a good student you need discipline and open-mindedness. And the list could go on.

All of those character traits in red are the virtues needed to be a good soldier, parent, etc. What kinds of actions do these virtues call for in various circumstances?

What does courage mean on the battlefield vs. in the barracks? How do we balance loyalty and integrity when they come into conflict?

Does having patience mean we never get angry at our children, or are there appropriate times and ways to express anger? Does caring for the child mean indulging the child by giving it whatever it wants, or never giving the child anything? If it's a balance between the two, what is that balance?

How does the dedication and discipline you need to be a good student weigh against the kinds of care and thoughtfulness needed to be a good spouse, especially when you don't have unlimited time?

Most people would agree that there are no hard and fast rules or principles that can answer all of these kinds of questions we encounter. Rather, making good decisions in these kinds of matters requires a good character, one that is able to discern what it means to be a good soldier, parent, or whatever, what is important, how to prioritize things, and how to best attain what is important so that we can flourish in whatever it is that we do.

The character traits that enable us to do all this are the virtues.

But what are the virtues, and what kinds of decisions would a virtuous person make in particular circumstances?

As we said above, while there are no hard and fast answers to these questions, there are ways in which philosophers like Aristotle have tried to spell out some of what is involved. We now turn to his text.

The Nicomachean Ethics

Start by reading Book I (page 1 through the top of page 5), and come back to this point.

Book I: The Human Telos

What Aristotle is talking about here is the way in which the study of ethics has to be connected to a conception of the telos of human life. This isn't so strange: if I'm learning how to be a good cook, or pilot, or nurse, or whatever, it's not simply about learning good technique. A good technique is good because it enables the cook to produce a good meal, the pilot to fly the plane well, or the nurse to help care for the patient. These are all part of what it means to be a cook, pilot, or nurse: it's their function, their purpose, what they characteristically do - it's their telos.

Similarly, to study what it means to act ethically, we have to consider what it means to be a human - what we characteristically do, what it is that we all aim at insofar as we are humans. Only then can we get a grip on the "good technique" (the ethical standards) for fulfilling that.

And what is that?

Well, we’ve been looking at examples of the functions and purposes associated with various parts of human life, such as our occupation, our family life, and so on.  But is there something that all people, no matter their differences, all aim at? 

Aristotle says yes: we all aim at happiness. 

But be careful here - we shouldn't simply take for granted our initial assumptions about what happiness means.

Many of us these days think of "happiness" as a kind of good feeling, or a sense of satisfaction. We are used to saying things like, "if it makes her happy, then who am I to say there's anything wrong with the way she lives her life?" In this sense, there’s going to be a lot of different views about what happiness is.  And Aristotle acknowledges this:

both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise… 
Book 4

But if we think deeply about this idea of the “ultimate aim” of human life (or “chief end” as the text calls it), we realize that it has to be more than simply how someone feels about their life. 

What we all want, says Aristotle, is a life that is going well.  That’s what happiness really means.  The Greek word for this is "eudaimonia," which means something more like "flourishing" or "living well".

And when it comes to any sort of flourishing or doing well, we can be deluded.  Think of something that deeply, truly, and sincerely believes that they are an incredible singer, but cannot carry a tune if their life depended on it (one of those truly horrible singers we sometimes see in the tryouts of "American Idol", for example).

Remember Him?


Can people be similarly mistaken about whether their life is going well?  Consider the following scenario, from a movie called Brain Candy.  In the story some people have invented a drug that finds your most blissful, feel-goody moment, and rewires your brain so that you’re permanently reliving that moment. Would we really consider this person to be living a good life?  Is that permanent state of bliss what we have in mind when we think of the overall aim of our lives? 

Brain Candy
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Instead, what Aristotle has in mind is the sort of person about whom we’d say at their funeral, “this person lived a good life.”  Maybe you have had a grandmother like that, or a pastor, or it might be someone you read about.  Often in such cases the person has decidedly not lived a life of “bliss”; in fact, it’s often the way in which they endured and overcame hardships that leads us to hold their lives up as examples of a life lived well. 

Instead, what Aristotle has in mind is the sort of person about whom we’d say at their funeral, “this person lived a good life.”  Maybe you have had a grandmother like that, or a pastor, or it might be someone you read about.  Often in such cases the person has decidedly not lived a life of “bliss”; in fact, it’s often the way in which they endured and overcame hardships that leads us to hold their lives up as examples of a life lived well. 

So he urges us to move beyond the immediate ideas we might have about happiness and examine more deeply what it means to talk about “a life lived well”. 

Here we can go back to the more familiar, everyday examples,  and think of what it means to talk about someone doing well as a soldier, football player, student, parent, and so on.

In each case I have to consider what it is that they specifically do.  For example, if I’m interested in what makes someone a good football running back, I am talking about a particular player on a football team.  This player has a particular function on the team, and given this function, we might say that a particular player is a good running back, or is performing well as a running back.

Specifying this means I have to say more than “he scores touchdowns” or “he runs fast”.  Other players on the team try to score touchdowns, and other players need to run fast.  To flourish as a running back is to perform well those activities characteristic of a running back (as distinguished from other positions on a football team). 

Similarly, to flourish – to be truly happy – as a human being is to be performing well those activities characteristic of a human (as distinguished from other kinds of creatures). 

So what is this “characteristic activity” of human lives?  What is it that most deeply captures our “humanness”?

In previous weeks, we have seen a few proposals: John Stuart Mill proposed that it’s the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. Kant proposed that it’s our capacity to make free, rational choices. 

Aristotle offers what might be considered a combination of the two.  Like Kant, he thinks that choosing what to do on the basis of good reasons (as opposed to blindly following what we happen to feel like doing) is a core feature of our humanity.  But he also acknowledges the importance of our feelings and desires, like Mill, as well as our belonging to particular communities.

Let's look at the central passage, found on pages 4-5:

Life seems to be common even to plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man. Let us exclude, therefore, the life of nutrition and growth. Next there would be a life of perception, but it also seems to be common even to the horse, the ox, and every animal. There remains, then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle...Now if the function of man is an activity of soul which follows or implies a rational principle, and if we say 'so-and-so-and 'a good so-and-so' have a function which is the same in kind, e.g. a lyre, and a good lyre-player, and so without qualification in all cases, eminence in respect of goodness being added to the name of the function (for the function of a lyre-player is to play the lyre, and that of a good lyre-player is to do so well): if this is the case, and we state the function of man to be a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions of the soul implying a rational principle, and the function of a good man to be the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete. But we must add 'in a complete life.' For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.
Aristotle, 1931, 1098a

This can seem vague and hard to understand, but there are a few key points that we should take away from it:

First, happiness is an activity. Sometimes we like to think that happiness is something like lounging on the beach and doing nothing.  And certainly periods of rest and relaxation are important.  But we wouldn’t say a running back is “flourishing” as a running back if he is just sitting on the bench, or a musician is “flourishing” as a musician if he never picks up an instrument. Similarly, a flourishing, happy life is one in which one is actively living in a way that fulfills one’s potential. 

Second, it’s an activity of soul.   For the Greek philosophers the "soul" is what we call the "psyche" - our psychological or conscious life. And in humans the capacity to consciously reflect on who one is and what one is doing, to take a stand on what one believes to be good and true, and to base one's life and decisions on that, is our unique gift. So exercising that capacity by living a reflective life that continually seeks to orient itself toward the good is the best kind of life we can live.

Admittedly, this is still rather vague, since it doesn’t tell us something specific and concrete.  But seen from a different point of view, perhaps this is exactly as it should be.  Aristotle recognizes that because people are different in all sorts of ways, it is impossible to give a determinate, concrete account of the ultimate good that would apply to everyone equally; the best we can do, as he says repeatedly, is provide an account “roughly and in outline.”  Then it’s up to us, together with others, to fill in the details.  

The bottom line is this: living a good, flourishing life means that the whatever is essential to our humanity is in good condition.  As rational, reflective beings, a good life involves living reflectively rather than blindly following one’s impulses and desires, or contenting oneself with whatever one happens to prefer.  But we can add that as beings that live in community, form relationships, depend on others and on whom others depend, a flourishing life involves nurturing and sustaining good relationships with others.  And as beings that feel, desire, and form habits, having dispositions to feel and desire in the right ways will also be part of a flourishing life. 

Since this is all concerned not simply with doing certain things, but being a certain way, we need the kinds of traits characteristic of such a life, which is what he means by living “in accordance with virtue.”  So we now turn to look more closely at the virtues themselves.    

Book II: The Virtues

Go ahead and read Book II (pages 5 - 8), and come back to this point.

Early in Chapter 6, he gives an account of what a virtue is in general that should be familiar to us by now:

every virtue or excellence both brings into good condition the thing of which it is the excellence and makes the work of that thing be done well...Therefore, if this is true in every case, the virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well.
Aristotle, 1931, 1107a

As we said before, we can’t provide the kind of specificity to the “characteristic work” of a human life in general that we could give to characteristic work of other things, and so there is a limit to how much specificity we can give to the virtues apart from looking at specific cases. But we can still say a lot of things about those virtues, even if we can’t precisely specify them. 

Let’s first look at how he defines virtue at the end of chapter 6, and break it down:

Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.
Aristotle, 1931, 1107a

A State of Character

The first thing to be said of a virtue is that it’s a “state of character”, or as he says in chapter 1, it’s a habit.  Let’s think for a minute about what this means. 

What do we usually mean when we call something a habit?  For example, we might think of habits like smoking, overeating, procrastinating, or compulsively checking one’s watch.  These things are acquired over time through repetition of similar kinds of action (no one has ever become a habitual smoker after trying one cigarette!). In doing something over and over again, it sort of becomes ingrained in us, so that we do it without thinking, or it’s just “natural” for us. 

And for this reason, when we have a habit, we’re in some sense controlled by it – it strongly effects our behavior.  We feel almost as if we have to do it, and breaking the habit involves a great deal of effort and discomfort.

For this reason, we’re used to thinking of habits as bad things.  But they can also be good things.  Think of how we talk of wanting to develop good study habits to be good students. Athletes and musicians need to have certain things ingrained in them to perform well, and would be greatly hindered if they had to constantly struggle to perform their characteristic actions. 

Similarly, Aristotle says that not only can habits be good things, he says that happiness and the good life requires habits, since that’s what virtues are.  Honesty is a habit, just like lying is.  Generosity, courage, all those things that we admire and praise in people, are habits.  Think back to the examples we gave earlier on, such as the guy who only saved someone from attack because he was drunk, or the person who only gives to someone in need grudgingly.  They did the right thing, but it wasn’t natural for them – it didn’t flow from a deeply-rooted character in the way that it did for the counterpart examples.  

This points us to another important feature of the virtues as habits, namely the way that they affect not just what we do, but how we feel

When someone has a habit like smoking, it’s discomforting when one cannot smoke, but satisfying and pleasurable when one does.  Could the same be true of good habits?  Think of what it’s like to become really good at something, or to get in shape.  The process of getting there often involves a lot of struggle and discomfort, but as we develop the virtues associated with that activity we come to really enjoy it.  Similarly, the generous person enjoys giving to others; the honest person is pained at the thought of telling a lie; the courageous person wants to aid her fellow soldier in trouble. 

The mark of a virtuous person is that their feelings are in harmony with their actions, and they gain pleasure through virtuous activity. 

Developing Good Habits

So, how are virtues acquired?  How do I come to be a virtuous person?  Is it enough for me to read a lot of books or moral philosophy?  Is it enough for me to go to church every Sunday and pray?  Is it enough to just “try my best”?  Aristotle says no – none of these things is sufficient for becoming virtuous.  They might help, but ultimately becoming virtuous requires, in short, practice, just like with any virtue.  Even if we aren’t very honest people, if we want to become honest people, we have to do those sorts of things that honest people do.  Even if it isn’t easy, automatic or natural for us to do what’s honest, if we do it enough, we will develop the habit and the virtue of honesty.  And likewise with all the virtues. 

But this brings up the question, how do I know what’s honest, if I am not already honest?  Well one way is to just look and see what honest people do, and to emulate them, just as we do when we aspire to become a good athlete or musician.  Of course, this raises the further question, how do we know who the honest people are

The difficulty in pinning down these questions, and the reason that they rely so much on a kind of embedded wisdom, is that the virtuous thing to do is going to vary by circumstances.  It’s like the good football coach – there’s no formula to play-calling – the good coach is going to know what the right thing to do is in each circumstance, knowing your players, knowing the other players, etc.  That’s why a computer could never be a good coach.  

But there are certain general characteristics of the virtues that Aristotle points us to.  The first, and perhaps most important, is that a virtue lies in the mean between excess and defect. 

The Golden Mean

Virtuous action is an intermediate between two extremes - excess and defect. In other words, it will avoid too much of some quality, as well as too little of it, but get just the right amount.

The best way to see this is to consider some examples.

Consider a quality like FEARLESSNESS on the battlefield.


TOO LITTLE fearlessness is COWERDICE. This is pretty familiar. If a soldier runs away from battle and abandons his comrades the moment he hears gunfire, he is a coward.

TOO MUCH fearlessness is RASHNESS. This is often less familiar, but we can still recognize it. If a soldier runs the middle of a firefight without any good reason, and needlessly puts his life, and the life of his comrades at risk, this isn't courage but something more like rashness, stupidity, and overzealousness.

JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT is COURAGE. Knowing when to put oneself at risk, and how much risk to take, is the exercise of virtue.

Consider another quality like one's eating habits.

Eating TOO MUCH, especially of the kinds of things that aren't good to eat, is what we sometimes call GLUTTONY or OVER-INDULGENCE.

Eating TOO LITTLE is less familiar and there isn't a proper term for this, but it can occur when a person doesn't get the amount of nutrition they need. This is often the case with those who have anorexia, for example, or those who neglect their health.

Eating JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT is what is sometimes called TEMPERANCE or MODERATION.

What is the "right amount"?

Is it exactly the same for all people in all situations? Aristotle said "no". A virtue, according to his definition, lies in a mean relative to us.

In other words, what is "intermediate" between the extremes will vary depending on the person and the situation.

Let's go back to the example about eating. Take a look at this meal plan, and think about whether it would be the daily diet of someone who eats too much, too little, or the right amount:

Meal Plan

For most of us, this sort of diet would lead to something like this:

Okay, maybe not so large as Mr. Creosote from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, but you get the idea

However, that diet was part of the actual routine of this person:

Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps

Clearly this diet was the "right amount" for Michael Phelps during the Olympics, but would be far too much for almost anyone else. What's more, a diet that would be "temperate" for the rest of us would have been deficient for Phelps.

How is that "right amount" determined?

Determined by a Rational Principle

Why is the diet above the "right amount" for Michael Phelps? Because of who he is and what he does: he is a swimmer, with a certain body type, who competes in the Olympics (and we could even specify what kind of a swimmer he is as well). Swimmers have a certain kind of characteristic activity, and to be successful in that kind of activity, especially at the Olympic level, requires certain kinds of nutrients and certain levels of energy tailored to the individual's body type. A person who was not a swimmer, or who had a different body type, or who competed at a different level would need a different kind of diet to flourish in their kind of activity.

Similar kinds of considerations would apply to other areas of life, like being a parent, a husband or wife, a soldier, a carpenter, a teacher, a painter, a software developer, a student. What is it that parents, spouses, soldiers, carpenters, teachers, painters, software developers, or students do? What is their characteristic activity? What is it that they aim at, characteristically? What would constitute success or flourishing in that kind of activity?

Rationally determining the "right thing to do," or more broadly, "what the virtuous person would do," is a matter of asking these kinds of questions and attempting to answer them.

So in short,

the "right amount" that the virtues target is a function of who one is, what one is doing, and what one is aiming for, given the role in question and its characteristic activity.

Practical Wisdom

For Michael Phelps and his coaches to know what just the right amount is can't simply be discovered by following a set guideline or principle, but requires wisdom, experience, and skill. Moreover, they have to take into account the answers that people have given in the past, and they have to be open to the ideas and critiques of others in the present. But they have to also be open to new ideas, changing circumstances, creative differences, and other factors that might call into question the received wisdom.

This can make answering questions about the right way to live and act daunting, frustrating, or even seem impossible. But the fact that we feel this way is often a sign that we do sense that there is something real and true that we're striving after here. This is what drives people to continue striving to be better, more virtuous practitioners of the various forms of life in which we engage.

The next task is to see how all of this discussion of the virtues within particular areas of life extends to human life as a whole, and especially the kinds of broader moral questions we are often concerned with.

From Everyday Life to Morals

We have been looking at particular areas everyday life to get a sense of what Aristotle means by the virtues. We have noticed a relation between the meanings, purposes, and characteristic activities of those areas, and the qualities needed to flourish in them - qualities that enable one to make the right choices and avoid extremes of excess and defect.

Let's go back now to the deeper question of what qualities constitute a flourishing life overall, and enable us to live out the human telos.

We have indicated certain significant features of human life that are common to all (or almost all) people, regardless of our different backgrounds, activities, and forms of life - things like living in community with others (including families), forming and sustaining friendships, and making rational choices.

The qualities needed to make right choices and live a successful human life overall are what are often called the moral virtues.

Moral reasoning, according to this view, might very well consider consequences, or considerations like fairness and rules, but the primary question would be something like, "would this be courageous or cowardly?" "would this be moderate or self-indulgent?" "would this be honest or dishonest?"

And those kinds of questions will be considered in light of the kind of life that those virtues enable us to live. "Is this being a good soldier / parent / citizen / friend / neighbor / human being?"

Do you think that we can give an account of a "good human life" that applies to all people? If so, what are the virtues that are needed to live out such a life?

Going Deeper

Groundhog Day (1993)

In this classic comedy, Bill Murray plays someone trapped in a loop of reliving the same day over and over again. In this situation, he realizes that neither the "rules" nor the consequences of his actions matter anymore. Initially he finds this liberating, and enjoys himself, seeming to confirm the claims of Glaukon that we examined in Week 1. But that soon gives way to depression and despair. Eventually, though, he seems to find new reasons to be generous, helpful, caring, and so forth, as he develops what we might consider to be a virtuous character.

Can we find reasons for performing virtuous actions that are not simply a matter of following society's rules or trying to make the world a better place? How might this support a virtue ethics account?

(Information on where to digitally stream the whole movie can be found here. Below are a few clips from the movie.)

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After Virtue

One of the most significant attempts to revive Aristotelian ethics in a way that is relevant to modern times was undertaken by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in his book, After Virtue. MacIntyre begins the book by proposing that we moderns are in a situation in which we have no way of rationally resolving moral disputes, and that this situation is the result of a "catastrophe" in which we lost the tools needed to do so. We are left with the alternatives of either accepting that morality, and indeed life itself, is nothing more than a clash of wills, or trying to identify and recover something of what was lost.

He argues that what was lost was the "teleological" character of ethical reasoning of the kind we find in Aristotle. The heart of the book, chapters 14-15, are an attempt to recover Aristotle's ideas and articulate them in a way that makes them relevant to contemporary life. These chapters can be found in the chapter 6 readings of your textbook.

This first video provides the background to chapters 14-15, while the second video explains chapter 14 itself. This may help you gain greater clarity on what virtue ethics is all about by seeing it spelled out in somewhat different terms.

Background to After Virtue chp. 14
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After Virtue, chapter 14
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Other Resources on Aristotle and Virtue Ethics

These two articles by excellent and well-respected philosophers provide clear overviews of virtue ethics that go a bit deeper than we have been able to go here.  Julia Annas’s article, found here, goes into the views of some of the other ancient philosophers, and discusses how the disagreements about virtue among the ancient philosophers can help us make sense of it today. 
You can also listen to a 20 minute interview with her about virtue ethics here

Rosalind Hursthouse’s article, found here, raises some of the common objections to virtue ethics and discusses how defenders of that theory have responded to them. 

For clear and accessible examples of Aristotelian reasoning applied to some of the most pressing contemporary moral problems, the writings and lectures of Michael Sandel are a great place to look.

 “The Case Against Perfection” considers ways that various forms of enhancement technology have entered our lives, such as performing-enhancing drugs in sports, genetically engineering the characteristics of our children before they are born, ways of artificially enhancing our cognitive abilities, and other such topics. 

In “What Isn't For Sale”, he argues that there are moral limits to the free market that have been eroding in the past few decades.  Each of these articles is a condensed version of books that treat these subjects in more detail, while remaining clear and accessible works intended to bring philosophical ideas to popular audiences. 

Sandel also has a video lecture that discusses the Aristotelian conception of justice and its relevance to contemporary moral, political, and social problems. Watch or download the video here.

Even Further Inquiry

Hursthouse, R. (1999). On Virtue Ethics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • This is one of the most comprehensive and authoritative recent accounts of contemporary virtue ethics written in a clear and accessible style.

Annas, J. (2011). Intelligent Virtue.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Annas provides an account of virtue that draws upon an analogy with practical skills.  She maintains that the kind of reasoning we find in someone exercising a practical skill can helpfully illuminate the kind of reasoning involved in exercising a virtue, especially the way that there can be rational and intelligent reasoning without presupposing a need for rules or principles of the kind we find in other moral theories. 

MacIntyre, A. (1999). Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues. Chicago: Open Court.

  • In his third follow-up to After Virtue, MacIntyre provides his most straightforward account of the basis and form of the ethical life.  Instead of beginning from the notion of the full-fledged, independent rational agent as most other theories do (including Aristotle’s), he begins from the facts of human vulnerability and dependence and proceeds to argue for certain virtues and behaviors that respond to this human condition.  Includes a fascinating discussion of dolphins as exhibiting a kind of proto-rationality.

Virtue Ethics and the Environment

A Broader Community

The virtue ethical approach considers what qualities we need to flourish given the kinds of beings that we are. Since we are part of communities, virtues enable us to live well in community, nurturing and supporting those within it.  We are also part of the natural world, and so could living virtuously involve nurturing and supporting our environmental community as well?

Taking a Stand

The virtue ethical approach is concerned with more than just actions or consequences, but with the shape one’s life as a whole.  How I live my life expresses a stand on what is meaningful and valuable.  What stand are we taking in the way that we treat the environment? 

A Different Kind of Discussion

We hear a lot of talk concerning the environment, especially when it comes to issues like global warming, pollution, and the destruction of natural habitats.  But if you pay attention to how those debates and discussions proceed, they tend to almost always be framed in terms of how things impact us, and so they take a utilitarian approach.  While impacts on the environment do have an impact on us, is that the only reason we should be concerned about it?  Virtue ethics offers the basis for a different kind of discussion. 

Recap of the Consequentialist Approach

strip mining

In week 2, we looked at Peter Singer's utilitarian argument for why we should care about animal welfare, which focused primarily on the question of what kinds of consequences result from the way we treat animals, and primarily the issue that some ways of treating them cause too much suffering and harm.


A similar utilitarian approach might be taken to the environment in general: we might think about the harm that our practices cause to the environment, and find some way of measuring that harm and balancing it against the goods that might result. One worry with this, of course, is how do we measure and weigh the goods and harms?

The "environment" doesn't have "experiences", such as suffering or pleasure. We could try to weigh the consequences in terms of the costs and benefits to humans, and while that's important, it's not always clear how to weigh different things. What is the value to us of a beautiful landscape vs. the natural resources that can be taken from it?

Moreover, is it adequate to say that the value of the environment lies simply in its value to us? We are often concerned to preserve certain areas, animals that are in danger of extinction, and other things that have no utility; we simply think they are valuable and worth preserving in their own sake.

The Virtue Ethical Approach

Endangered Frog

What if instead we considered questions about our responsibility toward animals and the environment in terms of cultivating virtues such as compassion, wonder and appreciation, and humility, and avoiding vices such as greed, arrogance, insensitivity, or self-centeredness?

Bald Eagle

The impact of our activities on human life will be important, but not necessarily the only thing that matters. The virtuous person will recognize the fact that our activities have a certain impact on the environment to be, in itself, a reason for acting one way or not acting another way. It might be that those activities would be greedy, would fail to appreciate the value and wonder of a natural environment, would fail to appreciate our inter-connectedness with the environment.

Our reading by Thomas Hill unpacks and develops these ideas.

The Teleological Turn

Another feature of the virtue ethical approach that bears on animal and environmental ethics is the way it thinks about our responsibilities toward them in terms of fulfilling one's telos:

We might think that part of our function or purpose is to be good stewards of the environment which calls for nurture, care, and concern for the well-being of those in our charge.

We might think of ourselves as forming a kind of community with the environment, and just like we need virtues to be good citizens of a neighborhood, city, or country, we need virtues to be good citizens of the environmental (or "biotic") community.

We might also consider how we are, by nature, dependent and vulnerable creatures, and that this calls for moderation and restraint in our attitudes and behavior toward the environment.

We might think that a life devoid of the enjoyment and appreciation of natural beauty is a deficient life, and so certain attitudes and behavior that seek to preserve and cultivate such beauty is part of a flourishing human life.

But in living out such a life, we would also want to be concerned about the telos of other beings as well, especially other animals.

"Food With A Face"

These are central features of the approach to farming of people like Joel Salatin and Wendell Berry. In the videos below from the recommended media, Salatin discusses the way he approaches pig farming by considering the pig's natural function or telos (he calls it the pig's "piggishness"), and enabling the pig to live that out.

By doing so, he considers himself to be living out his own telos as a farmer.

Salatin is pursuing goods that we might call "internal" to the practice of farming - i.e., what farming is all about when we leave aside things like making money, which isn't specific to farming itself. These goods include special understanding of the different animals, the land, and how they can all relate together in such a way that they are helping each other - and the farmer himself - to flourish in their own characteristic way.

Compare Salatin's attitude toward animals with that of someone like Singer or Regan. What might Salatin say, for example, about the issue of speciesism?

For some thoughts on this, including a critique of Singer, look at this piece by Michael Pollan called "An Animal's Place". In what way is Pollan's piece an Aristotelian alternative to Singer's utilitarian approach to animals and eating, and Regan's deontological approach?

Joel Salatin Discusses Pigs
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A similar kind of approach to farming that is concerned more with crops than with animals can be seen in the documentary "Under Cover Farmers". This short film follows farmers as they begin using cover crops in their planting.  Cover crops are offseason crops that farmers plant that they then later plant through when they plant their cash crops.  This video demonstrates new methods of farming that enhance production through diversification and conservation of the soil.  As with Salatin, these farmers are concerned with how to best enable the plants under their care to flourish given their natural characteristics, which in turn is a display of the virtues of being a good farmer.

Under Cover Farmers
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More Recommended Resources on Environmental Ethics

If you are interested in pursuing these ideas further, the article "Environmental Virtue Ethics" by Rosalind Hursthouse also takes a virtue ethical approach to environmental issues, but is somewhat different than Hill's, and includes some critiques of Hill's view. It can be found in the book, Working Virtue: Virtue Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems (edited by Rebecca L. Walker and Philip J. Ivanhoe), which is available through the Ashford Library's Ebook collection.

The highly influential article, "The Land Ethic" was written not by a professional philosopher but by an employee of the Forest Service, Aldo Leopold, in 1949. Leopold proposes that just as human societies have expanded the notion of the “moral community” over time to include other races and cultures, women and children, etc., we are at a point where we must recognize the land and environment as more than just raw material for our own use.  Notions of community and belonging are central components of an Aristotelian approach to ethics.

Wendell Berry is a writer and farmer who also advocates for certain kinds of attitudes toward the environment and toward animals that could readily fall into a virtue ethics kind of approach. In both his fiction and non-fiction writings and in interviews, he expresses the concern that vices like greed and pride have displaced the virtues needed to sustain and nurture our environment, and offers a different point of view.

Click here to watch an interview with him, and you can find some of his best essays in the 2003 book Art of the commonplace (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint Press), found in the Ashford Library's Ebook collection (start with the essays “The Unsettling of America,” “Agrarian Economics,” and “The Body and the Earth.”).

Web Resources

These are all excellent resources for information, statistics, and further resources on environmental philosophy and related issues. 

Even Further Inquiry

Sandler, R. (2007). Character and Environment: A Virtue-Oriented Approach to Environmental Ethics, New York: Columbia University Press
Cafaro, P. and R. Sandler (Eds.) (2010). Virtue Ethics and the Environment.  Dordrecht; New York: Springer.

  • These are a book (2007) and anthology of articles from various authors (2010) discussing various aspects of how virtue ethics applies to environmental concerns.  Available in the Ashford University Library Ebook Collection. 

Wirzba, N. (Ed.). (2010). Essential agrarian reader: The future of culture, community, and the land. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

  • This book can be found in the Ashford University Library Ebook Collection.  It is a collection of classic essays in the history of agrarianism.  The “Introduction” is a good place to start here.  These essays deal with the place for humanity in the natural world while also attempting to define an ethically virtuous life within that world.

Virtue Ethics and the Military

Important point 1

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Important point 2

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Important point 3

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The Virtues of a Soldier

In our discussion of Aristotle and virtue ethics above, we often raised examples of soldiers and the military to illustrate the notion of virtue.  This is because soldiers, sailors, airmen and other members of the military exhibit certain key elements of the notion of virtue:

  • The Teleological Character:
    Because of what it means to be a soldier and the nature of what soldiers do, there is a strong understanding of the need for them to have certain qualities in order to perform their characteristic activities well.
  • The Need for Practical Wisdom:
    The more experienced one is, and especially as one ascends in rank, the more one requires that special kind of “practical wisdom” that is guided by reason but cannot be reduced to following rules.  Sometimes the wisdom of the experienced person cannot be grasped by someone who lacks their experience and character. 
  • Virtues as Settled Habits:
    Soldiers go through intense training designed to instill certain good habits and break the bad ones, and good soldiers are ones in whom these character traits are settled and steady, which means they manifest themselves across every area of life.

These features of the virtues are expressed well in the following clip, taken from the movie Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957).  In this film, which is set during World War 2, a group of British Army prisoners of war are building a bridge for their Japanese captors. Rather than do a "shoddy" job as the doctor in the clip suggests, the Colonel (played by Alec Guinness) insists that the soldiers put their finest efforts into the project:

Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957)
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Did the Colonel insist on the soldiers building the best bridge they can in order to produce the best overall consequences? Clearly not: this bridge was intended to aid the Japanese military in their efforts, and the British were opposing the Japanese. Nor did he think that it would necessarily benefit them (the British soldiers) in any way.

If all that mattered was the best consequences, that would be produced by building a shoddy bridge, as the doctor thought they should do.  Was he simply following orders, doing his duty? No, because his orders were simply to build a bridge, and he could have fulfilled them by building a shoddy one; and anyway there certainly seems to be much more behind his words than that. 

Why, then, did he insist that the soldiers put in such an effort?

Perhaps it had to do with his understanding of what it means to be a soldier, or “a British soldier” as he puts it.  To be a solider is to put one's best efforts into whatever one does; it’s to exhibit honor and dignity in all circumstances, because these are ingrained into the soldier’s character.  And people like the doctor, who lack the experience and character of the Colonel, might not be able to grasp this kind of reasoning.

Examining the Military Virtues

What other virtues are part of being a good soldier?

Courage is an obvious one, as we have mentioned several times. Loyalty, discipline, and many others will also be an essential part of a good soldier's character.

Virtue ethics is put into action when to try to understand why, exactly, these things are valuable, and what they mean in practical circumstances. 

For example, what happens when loyalty comes into conflict with integrity, as when one finds oneself torn between staying true to one’s team and doing what’s honorable when the team is doing something dishonorable? 

Or what is it that we mean when we speak of “honor” as a virtue?  Is honor really the kind of thing that we can cultivate as a character trait?  If not, what is it, and why does it matter?

Our reading from Paul Robinson entitled, “Magnanimity and Integrity as Military Virtues” addresses these kinds of questions, and also explores what implications they have for both military policy and the decisions soldiers make.

Recommended Resources on Virtues and the Military

In required reading above, you may have noticed Paul Robinson refer to cases in which the ideal of "integrity" promoted by the military comes into conflict with a soldier's orders. He examines this problem in more detail in his 2009 article, “Integrity and Selective Conscientious Objection.” Journal of Military Ethics, 8(1), 34-47. Retrieved through the Ashford Library from the EBSCOhost database.

One of the most challenging aspects of human life for ethics to consider is anger, and this is especially challenging when we are interested in the characteristics of a good soldier. The philosopher Nancy Sherman (2007) looks deeply into this issue in her article, "Virtue and a Warrior’s Anger," found through the Ashford University Library Ebook Collection in the book Working Virtue: Virtue Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 262-277.

The Journal of Military Ethics devoted an issue in 2007 (vol. 6, number 4) to the role of virtues within the military, and contains numerous penetrating and important discussions.  This can be accessed through the Ashford Library.



There are two discussions this week. The requirements for each of the discussions this week are a minimum of four posts on four separate days. For each discussion, the total word count on all of your posts combined should be over 600 words. Be sure to answer all the questions in the prompt and to read any resources that are required to complete the discussion properly. In order to satisfy the posting requirements for the week, the latest day you can post would be Friday (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday). However, we recommend that you get into the discussion early and spread out your posts over the course of the week.

Additional Information:

  • When posting an independent post (i.e., not replying to your peer), please use the following heading (w/out the quotes): "Your Name 1" (for your first such post), and "Your Name 2", "Your Name 3"... for any subsequent independent posts. That will help me keep track of different threads.
  • Be sure you understand the general discussion requirements stated above, and which are explained in more detail in the Faculty Expectations (which includes video guidance and a "Frequently Asked Questions" section). If you have read that and are unclear about the requirements, be sure to read the Frequently Asked Questions section, and if you have questions not answered there, please contact me.
  • Before composing your post, be sure to read and watch the relevant text(s) and media, and be sure to also read the instructor guidance and watch any associated lectures on this topic.

Key Discussion Requirements to Remember:

  • Post at least once on four separate days during the discussion week.
  • Total word count for all posts combined should be at least 600 words.
  • Demonstrate a thoughtful engagement with the relevant resources and the instructor guidance.
  • All posts should be on-topic and contribute to the discussion topic in a meaningful and substantive way.
  • All posts should be carefully proofread for spelling, grammatical, and mechanical errors, and should cite all sources in APA format.

Discussion 1: The Experience Machine

Please carefully read and think about the entire prompt before composing your first post. This discussion will require you to have carefully read and thought about the excerpts from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, as well as the instructor guidance and related material.

If you recall from Week 2, John Stuart Mill defines happiness as the experience of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.  However, Aristotle holds a rather different view of happiness. 

One way that we think about this difference is to conduct a “thought experiment” in which we imagine that we have the same “inner” experiences, but outwardly things are quite different.  One such thought experiment is provided by the philosopher Robert Nozick in his description of the “experience machine”.  After reading about that in the instructor guidance, consider the following questions:

If you had the chance to be permanently hooked up to the experience machine, would you do it? 

If you would hook up, think about the following questions as you explain your choice:

  1. What kind of “experience” would you have them program? 
  2. When you think about what you aim at in the various aspects of your life, is there something that would be lost by being hooked up to the machine? 
  3. What does this imply about what ultimately matters about human life? 
  4. Should we as individuals or as a society strive to produce similar kinds of experiences in others, even if it means manipulating or deluding them? 

If you would not, think about the following questions as you explain your choice:

  1. Why wouldn’t you hook up? 
  2. What does your decision imply about what matters most to human life?
  3.  When people live their lives in pursuit of some kind of pre-determined inner feeling or experience, are their lives missing out on something important?  What are some examples of what that might be? 

Discussion 2: Virtue and Teleology

Aristotle’s account is “teleological”, which means that our understanding of virtue and living well is based on a sense of the “telos” (function, purpose, or end) of something (see the text and the guidance for the full account). 

Focusing on either Hill’s article on environmental ethics, or Robinson’s article on military ethics, consider how that form of reasoning factors into their account of the virtuous life.  For example, you can consider what they might have to do with the “place” of humans within the environment or the “function” of a soldier, and how that leads to an account of how one best fulfills role. 

Give examples from your own experience, or experiences you have heard about, in which certain virtues are needed to achieve the purposes of a role or activity.  

Additional References

Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state, and utopia. New York: Basic Books.