Responsibility for Character: Its Scope and Significance

Susan Sauvé Meyer

in Aristotle on Moral Responsibility

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199697427
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191732072 | DOI:
Responsibility for Character: Its Scope and Significance

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This chapter considers the significance Aristotle attaches to the thesis, for which he argues in EN iii 5, that we acquire our states of character voluntarily. This thesis is not, as is often supposed, the linchpin of his account of moral responsibility. Rather, his argument for the thesis plays a subordinate, albeit important, role in a more general argument against the Socratic thesis that only our virtuous actions are voluntary. The scope of Aristotle's thesis that we are responsible for our states of character is, in any case, insufficient to provide an adequate basis for moral responsibility. It ascribes to us a degree of causal responsibility for our states of character sufficient only to make praise and blame appropriate as tools for influencing character formation rather than as attitudes of moral assessment. Once we recognize that Aristotle's argument for the voluntariness of character is not intended to establish our moral responsibility for our states of character, his argument for that claim becomes more persuasive. In particular, it is not undermined by his insistence on the importance of being properly habituated right from birth (EN 1104b11-13).

Keywords: Aristotle; causal responsibility; character; moral responsibility

Chapter.  11649 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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