Excellence of Character

in Aristotle's Dialogue with Socrates

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780226080505
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226080543 | DOI:
Excellence of Character

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Having defined eudaimonia as “an activity of soul in accordance with complete or perfect virtue” and identified it as the first principle (archē) for the sake of which everything else is done, Book I of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics seemed to promise a movement of thought that would descend from that principle to deduce what complete or perfect virtue is. Book II, however, in turning to the investigation of virtue, makes no explicit attempt to move from happiness as the first principle. The investigation of human excellence that is supposed to lead back to the question of happiness begins and ends with Socrates. In Socratic eyes, what habituation would produce looks as if it could only be “demotic virtue,” control over behavior based on the calculation of how to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. The formal definition of ethical virtue in Book II replaced the mean in relation to feelings and actions, which the phronimos chooses, with the mean state between two extremes that constitutes a disposition of character.

Keywords: eudaimonia; Aristotle; Nicomachean Ethics; happiness; virtue; human excellence; character; habituation; Socrates; pleasure

Chapter.  9226 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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