A Primer on Virtue

Aristotle, Virtue Ethics, & Human Telos

Imagine someone who is perfectly balanced. They can always cool down tense situations and they’re able to deliver even the worst news gracefully. They’re incredibly confident without breeching into arrogance, they’re always brave but never reckless, and they’re known for their generosity but never accused of being extravagant. This is someone who you and others want to be like — not for shallow reasons, but because this person has seemed to master the art of, well, being a person.

Human Telos

Aristotelian virtue ethics are a result of Aristotle’s belief that humans have a fixed nature, a natural essence. This is the telos of human beings, the end that we aspire to. In order to flourish as human beings we must adhere to that essence and strive for that telos. Aristotle called this idea “proper functioning”, claiming that everything has a function and goodness is found in the extent that functions are fulfilled.

The Golden Mean

According to Aristotle, being virtuous essentially amounted to doing the right thing at the right time in the right way in the right amount and for the right people. If you thin that this sounds like a bunch of nothing, you’re not entirely wrong; this is supposed to be vague — it’s not about a set of rules to follow, remember?

Moral Exemplars

All facets of virtue ethics are a struggle: discerning what virtue is, assessing how to act virtuously in a given situation, and living the practice of virtue are all tremendous challenges. The good news is that you don’t have to face these challenges aline.

Why Virtue?

One question that needs to be addressed regarding the pursuit of virtue and striving to fulfill ones telos is… why? Why should you do this? What if you have no motivation to become a virtuous person, a moral exemplar? What if you have zero desire to find the courage when it’s needed or to always know what to say and how to say it?

Avid reader, compulsive writer | Tolstoy, Hauerwas, & D. B. Hart | “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

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