Aristotle’s steps to virtue
Hamalainen, Hasse Joel
How to become morally virtuous? Among the students of Aristotle, it is often assumed that the philosopher does not have a fully worked-out theoretical answer to this question. Some interpreters (e.g. Burnyeat 1980, most recently Curzer 2012) have, however, recognised that Aristotle may have a comprehensive theory of moral development. However, even those interpreters have made only scarce attempts to study Aristotle’s theory in connection with the questions about his moral psychology. Unlike Aristotle’s theory of moral development as such, several of those questions are among the most debated issues in current Aristotle scholarship - for example, whether we need reason to identify good actions or whether habituated non-rational affects suffice; what makes us responsible for our actions, and how the philosopher conceives the relationship between phronesis and moral motivation. In my thesis, I aim at connecting these important questions with Aristotle’s theory of moral development. I hope to show that this approach will yield a picture on which Aristotle’s theory is divisible into two steps that one has to choose to take in order to become morally virtuous. I argue first that identifying good ends, and actions, requires reason. In order to become morally responsible, a person has thus to develop a rational ability to identify good actions. I show that Aristotle’s term for such ability is synesis. The first step to virtue, I conclude, is to use this ability well, to choose to become virtuous and habituate one’s character into acting well. The second step is to acquire phronesis, understanding why good actions are good, to complement a habituated character. Developing of phronesis requires both considerable experience in acting well and philosophical teaching about ethics, but it is necessary for moral virtue. Although a finely-habituated person is invulnerable to akrasia with regard to pleasures even if he did not have phronesis, Aristotle allows, I show, that he might still be prone to impetuous akrasia, whereas phronimos could avoid akratic behaviour in any situation.