abstract: At least since Burnyeat’s “Aristotle on Learning to Be Good,” one of the most ments?3 Does Aristotle think that punishments have a positive role in the. M. F. Burnyeat, Explorations in Ancient and Modern Philosophy, ‘Virtues in action’ and ‘Aristotle on learning to be good’, is not wholly. Chapter aristotle on learning to be good university. Amelie rorty ed, essays on aristotle s ethics created date. Burnyeat dialectic, to counteract the excessive.
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Aristotle says that we learn which acts are virtuous, choose virtuous acts for their own sake, and acquire virtuous habits by performing virtuous acts. According to Burnyeat, Aristotle thinks this works successfully because virtuous acts arixtotle pleasant. Instead, I maintain that according to Aristotle moral progress is motivated by different sorts of pain associated with vicious acts.
I find a leafning of stages in Aristotle. First, the many come to choose virtuous acts for their own sake by ob punishment and becoming generous-minded. Second, motivated by shame, they gain knowledge of which acts are virtuous, becoming incontinent. Third, learners gain habits of virtuous action by regretting their vicious acts and thus become continent. Fourth, they gain habits of virtuous passions by regretting their vicious passions and become well-brought-up.
Finally, they are fully virtuous by being taught why virtuous acts are virtuous. We are inquiring not in order to know what virtue is, but in order to become good I shall try to resolve an interesting and insufficiently explored tension between two well known strands of Aristotle’s thought. On the aristote hand, Aristotle’s main piece of advice for becoming virtuous is to perform virtuous acts.
He says, “We become just by performing just acts, and temperate by performing temperate acts” a On the other hand, Aristotle says that in order to perform virtuous acts virtuously “the agent also must be in a certain condition when he does them; in the first place he must have knowledge, secondly he must choose the acts, and choose them for their own sakes, and thirdly his actions must proceed from a firm and unchangeable character” a Of course, a firm character includes not only habits of virtuous action, but also habits of virtuous passion.
It is easy enough to see how performing gopd acts can provide habits of virtuous action. And teaching provides knowledge of why certain acts are virtuous to ti with the right habits, the well-brought-up a, b, a But how can the performing of virtuous acts provide knowledge of which acts are virtuous, induce people to choose virtuous acts for their own sake or inculcate habits of virtuous passion?
Burnyeat om that according to Aristotle, “You need a good upbringing not simply in order that you may have someone around to tell you what is noble and just — you do need that. Lsarning to internalize the knowledge byrnyeat to come to choose virtuous acts for their own sake, to deliberately desire virtuous acts because they are intrinsically valuable. Burnyeat says, “I may be told, and may believe, that such and such actions are just and noble, but I have not really learned for myself taken to heart, made second nature to me that they have this intrinsic value until I have learned to value love them for it.
Now Burnyeat observes that what virtuous people enjoy about virtuous acts is that they are “the practice of the virtues undertaken for its own sake. They enjoy the virtuousness of these acts. For example, virtuous people enjoy moderate drinking because it is temperate, and not merely because it avoids hangovers. Now according to Burnyeat, when learners perform virtuous acts they enjoy these acts in the same way that virtuous people do. The learner enjoys the virtuous ln, “because it is what is truly or by nature pleasant.
And this, in pn, produces habits of virtuous passion. I must disagree with Burnyeat for several reasons.
First, Aristotle never actually says that repetition makes virtuous acts pleasant or that certain ways of acting bring about certain ways of feeling. He does say that painful things “will not be painful when they have become customary” bbut “not painful” does not mean “pleasant”. Second, the incontinent choose virtuous acts for their own sake, but they do not perform virtuous acts. So the incontinent are counter-examples to Burnyeat’s thesis that learners come to choose virtuous acts for their own sake by performing virtuous acts.
Third, the continent have habits of virtuous action, but not habits of virtuous passion. So the continent are counter-examples to Kosman’s suggestion that right action instills right passions.
Fourth, if learners enjoy virtuous acts in the way that the virtuous do, then their enjoyment depends upon the choice to perform the acts for their own sake.
Thus the enjoyment does not produce, but rather presupposes, the choice.
Aristotle on learning to be good
Fifth, Burnyeat’s explanation of how virtuous action provides the ability to choose to perform virtuous acts for their own sake fails because Aristotle is committed the view that learners do not typically enjoy virtuous acts.
Learners do not make the right choices for the right reasons. They lack the right passions. Therefore, they are not pleased by the right things.
Learners find some vicious acts pleasant, and some virtuous acts unpleasant. Medial action is not pleasant for a person with excessive or defective passions. Standing fast in battle is not pleasant for anyone experiencing excessive or defective fear.
Spending and giving the right amount of money is not pleasant for people who love money too little or too much.
Eating the right amount is not pleasant for people whose appetites are too large or too small. So learners do not learn that virtuous acts are pleasant by performing and enjoying them, because learners do not enjoy them.
Thus, Burnyeat’s explanation collapses. Virtuous action does not bring learners to choose virtuous acts for their own sake. The problem of how virtuous action makes people virtuous remains. Virtue, vice, incontinence, etc. Aristotle is giving us paradigms, not pigeon holes. Could the recommendation to perform virtuous acts be addressed to somewhat virtuous people, people who have some of the right knowledge, desires, passions, motives, etc.
After all, the closer people are to being virtuous, the more pleasure they gain from virtuous activity, but even people who are rather far from being virtuous gain some pleasure from acting virtuously. The problem with this line of thought is that in order for the somewhat virtuous person to enjoy virtuous acts, the amount of pleasure generated must exceed the amount of pain, so that the act is overall pleasant.
Yet virtuous acts are often not overall pleasant for people with somewhat virtuous tastes. There is, moreover, a deeper reason why Burnyeat’s account fails. Learners will not find all or even most virtuous acts to be pleasant because virtuous acts are not typically pleasant even for the virtuouslet alone for the learners. When he gets to the detailed treatment of the particular virtues Aristotle, himself, abandons the thesis that virtuous people find performing virtuous acts to be pleasant.
Contrary to what is usually thought, Aristotle concedes that virtuous acts are not typically pleasant at several points. The virtue of good temper involves appropriately feeling and expressing anger, yet Aristotle mentions that expressing anger is painful b Similarly, justice requires that one pay one’s debts, yet even Aristotle’s exemplars, the great-souled people megalopsychoifind it painful even to hear of, let alone to pay, their debts b Temperate people are moderately pained by the arisstotle of certain bodily pleasures a14 and sometimes this absence and therefore this pain results from a temperate act of abstention such as refraining from eating a doughnut which is beyond one’s means a Aristotle denies that liberal people find liberal acts e.
Aristotle not only concedes that courageous acts are often painful because they often lead to death, wounds, etc. He says, “it is not the case, then, with all the virtues that the exercise of them is pleasant, except in so far as it aristorle its end” b What does the qualification “except in so far as it reaches its end” mean?
Accomplishing the buryeat goal of a virtuous act yields a certain pleasure. Aristotle believes that if this pleasure is added to the pleasure of knowing that one is performing a virtuous act the combination outweighs whatever pain is involved in the act.
However, virtuous acts do not always accomplish their goals. The invaders may take the city despite the courageous efforts of the oearning. And Aristotle’s point is that when the goal is not achieved, then the pain of a virtuous act may outweigh the pleasure. In addition to Aristotle’s examples, many other painful, virtuous acts may be mentioned. Justly punishing one’s own child, arisotle a hilarious, but inappropriate joke ab3acknowledging one’s own serious faults alistening politely to a boring person, are all painful, even for just, witty, truthful, friendly people.
Virtuous action is often painful. This does not mean that the virtuous life is not a pleasant life. Burnyeat can say that virtuous acts usually have pleasant consequences. He can say that bkrnyeat virtuous person feels a certain pleasure in doing the right thing. He can say that a virtuous person finds the overall virtuous life pleasant.
But Burnyeat cannot say that virtuous acts are typically overall pleasant, even for the virtuous person.
He cannot even say that these acts are not overall painful. So how do we procure knowledge of which acts are virtuous, come to chose to perform virtuous acts for their own sake, and acquire habitual virtuous passions? There is no reason to think that we acquire these characteristics in the same way at the same time.
Instead, moral development proceeds in several stages beginning with two types of people seldom included in lists of Aristotle’s character types: For these do not by nature obey the sense of shame, but only fear, and do not abstain from bad acts because of their baseness but through fear of punishment. The many lack knowledge of which acts are virtuous for they “have not even a conception of what is noble. There is hope for the many, however.
Aristotle goes on to contrast the many with those who are incorrigible. That is why some think that legislators ought to stimulate men to virtue and urge them forward by the motive of the noble, on the assumption that those who have been well advanced by the formation of habits will attend to such influences; and that punishments and penalties should be imposed on those who disobey and are of inferior nature, while the incurably bad should be completely banished” a Here “the incurably bad” are the vicious and the brutish; “those who have been well advanced by the formation of habits” include the generous-minded, and “those who disobey and are of inferior nature” are the many.
The vicious have wicked habits of action and passion. Moreover, they believe that their wicked choices are correct.
20th WCP: To Become Good
That is why the vicious are incorrigible b The many, on the other hand, are not incurably bad. They do have wicked habits or firm false beliefs about how to act. They do not think that virtuous action is intrinsically valuable. Instead, “the many think [happiness] is some plain and obvious thing like pleasure, wealth, or honor” a They are willing and able to perform virtuous acts if threatened with “punishments and penalties.
Thus, it is not pleasure associated with virtuous acts, but rather pain and fear of punishment associated with vicious t that make the many better. Of course, many gokd the many remain fixated at the beginning stage of moral development.