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North Park University Virtue Ethics Discussion

North Park University Virtue Ethics Discussion



Aristotle believes that beyond general wisdom about human conduct, there are no universal rules to help us make moral decisions.  Instead, we have to judge every situation to the best of our ability and try to “hit the target” of virtuous conduct.  It is also the case that each of us brings different levels of preparation, strengths and weaknesses to any ethical dilemma. 

To use the metaphor of the athlete/archer, even a professional archer will not hit a bullseye every time and will always work to improve their performance (excellence).  However, it is also case that we would expect that a professional archer would perform better than an amateur archer, because of the years of practice that not only increase their skill but make it easier for them to have ease and endurance in shooting arrows. 

Now, consider the question of courage and hitting the target of courageous action that firefighters face frequently.  They have general wisdom, but they still have to judge every fire individually to know whether a course of action would be courageous or reckless or cowardly.  To excel (be virtuous), they have practiced and learned and prepared for these situations, and, over the course of their experience, they should become wiser, more effective, and have more ease in doing the right thing. 

Aristotle is asking us to hold ourselves to the same expectations of dedicated learning and practice to improve our moral character over the course of our life. 

Examples that might make sense for you could include virtues like honesty, sensitivity, or loyalty.  Have you learned how to be a more loyal friend over your lifetime? Do you have to use your reason to know how to do the right thing for each friend, because they are individuals? Do you want to become a better friend ten years from now?  If your answer is yes, you intuitively understand Aristotle’s ethical system. Not only do we need to respect what is unique in each situation, who we are and the strengths or weaknesses we bring to the situation will also be unique. 

Finally, Aristotle thinks that we can clearly observe what it means to be a good person and how we might become a better person, the same way we can see if someone is a good athlete, builder, or musician. Virtue ethics assume that we aspire to be better: even if there are no automatic guidelines, we are still accountable for learning and essentially learning to learn as a means of ever strengthening our own character. 


Here are some SHORT background materials to get you started:

Short video: Aristotle and Virtue Ethics

Direct link:

Short video: Aristotle

Direct link:


Selections from Aristotle, pgs 63-69 and the rest is included for context.  I suggest you watch my guided reading: Aristotle: Read Along With Me.


Please choose one of these three classic virtues Aristotle discusses: courage, honesty, or loyalty.  Then, explain whether the structure of “the golden mean” or hitting the target makes sense to you.  Is it really a question of avoiding excess and deficiency, doing too much or too little? Is Aristotle right that you need to judge each situation individually? Or is this just making excuses for when you don’t act according to your principles? Why or why not?

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