Aristotle’s contributions to ethics

To speak of ethics is to receive the history of a series of postulates that Aristotle presented at the time through the knowledge of man throughout his existence. For Aristotle, the human being has to his credit the idea of ​​the pursuit of happiness and knowing what virtues he should cultivate.

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The ethics (of the Ethos Greek) is a set of customs that man begins to learn as know how to respect the space of the other. In particular, he is a being in whose habits lies how to approach the new and detect the bad in his actions; Well, it should not harm the other.

In this lies happiness and virtues are attitudes that are cultivated throughout the actions of the human being in their own context. Hence, Aristotle himself proclaims that these actions must be analyzed because reason must prevail between what is considered good or bad in order to be happy.

Here are two words that will continually take shape in the Ethics of being: virtues and happiness . The former are actions that come out in the form of good behaviors to the detriment of vices, which are bad behaviors. The second, happiness, is possible if the being respects the other and lives in conformity in making decisions between good and bad.

Analyzing the decisions

The book “Ethics for Nicomachus” written by Aristotle, states that man should work for happiness . This must be resolved by the man himself: he is a “good” or “bad” man according to his decisions. Then happiness is found as long as it is in accordance with the proper function of man: if it is good , the virtues are cultivated ; consequently, there is happiness . But if they are bad , vices are cultivated and consequently, there is no happiness .

So, for Aristotle the problem of happiness is moral due to the social nature of man. There are two types of virtues from the pursuit of happiness : ethical virtues and dianoetic virtues . The former are of the appetitive and volitional nature of man. That is, they are moved by desires and will. The second , dianoetic, are of the discursive reason between thought and the attitude intelligence of the soul.

  • Decisions on ethical virtues

The human being must appeal to his character (ethos) through his own actions for what he wants and is by will or ethical virtues. For this, Aristotle appeals to the analysis of human action for three fundamental aspects: volition , deliberation and decision .

The Volition is what moves-moves at will. It is the desire to achieve something that satisfies the being in human nature. But, there is always the deliberation (or reflection-debate) of how to achieve what is desired, and then make the decision about the action that must be taken to find the proposed end.

Thus, according to Aristotle, what moves at will is good . Therefore, deliberation is not what is desired, but deliberation is about the means of how to get that which is good. Hence the proposed end is found or away from it.

If the decision is correct , it will be repeated constantly and automated to become a habit that will be repeated in similar situations. Then a virtue will be generated . If the decision is wrong , but that decision is insisted on, what will be generated is a vice and the attitude is wrong.

Both virtues and vices are common forms of behavior. Hence, Aristotle defines ethical virtue as a habit of correct decisions and according to the rule of choosing the “optimal middle ground” between the extremes.

Aristotle says that ethical virtue is “a selective habit” whose intermediate position between the extremes of good and bad is determined by reason and prudence .

  • Decisions on dianoetic virtues

The virtues start from the analysis of the reason of the soul or dianoia. In other words, everything that we analyze is part of the knowledge that we acquire from the internal way of thinking. For this, there are three functions that arise from the reason of the soul : productive function, practical function and contemplative or theoretical function.

  • The productive function refers to the way of mastering knowledge or the art of doing things “well done”.
  • The practical function is that activity of the reason of the soul that reflects on the ethical and political life seeking to be directed by the virtue of prudence ( phronesis ) or practical reason.

The practical function is conceived by the experience that man has on particular or general matters. And prudence is a very important virtue to conceive of ethics in man. With prudence, ethical virtues are reinforced .

Being cautious is not a matter of learning its concept. Being prudent is forged with the experience of life from personal, family and political contexts. Therefore, prudence is dianoia to the same extent that the reason of the soul forces man to act sensibly.

  • The contemplative functions are those related to scientific knowledge (grammar, mathematics, physics), whose virtue is wisdom ( sophia ). Wisdom determines what is false from what is true , right from wrong . Aristotle considers wisdom the highest virtue. In it, it is possible to show how each behavior of the being is able to be demonstrated in terms of explaining between the truth or not-truth of what happens in human nature.

Wisdom, for Aristotle, is the true and highest level of happiness. With it, the nature of man is transformed if it is able to acquire knowledge as a good intangible that the same man seeks to exclude the vices and develop the virtues ethics . Having or possessing wisdom is a pleasure for each individual.


Ethics is a practical reflection that is directed by the daily action of the human being. It is in human activity where ethics is practiced. If things are good, there are virtues ( araté ); if they are contrary, they will be vices and will separate man from his own nature . The essence of ethics is to find happiness in virtues .

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