- One of the principle attractions of Aristotle’s ethics is the way in which it encourages human flourishing. Indeed, Aristotle’s ethics is largely concerned with the question of what promotes human happiness or flourishing, about what leads to a fuller and happier human life. (The Greek word for “happiness” that Aristotle uses, eudaimonia, can also be translated as flourishing or “well being.”) Virtues and vices are understood precisely within this context. Virtues are those strengths or excellences of character that promote human flourishing, whereas vice are those weaknesses of character that impede human flourishing. Virtue, Aristotle tells us, is a habit or disposition of the soul (hexis), involving both feeling and action, to seek the mean in all things relative to us, where the mean is defined through reason as the prudent man would define it. (Nicomachean Ethics, II, 6) Habits are not something that are a matter of knowledge but of practice. Only by practicing the virtues do we acquire a virtuous hexis. Aristotle is the author of the idea, action follows being. A good person does good things, or as ForestGump famously said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” A person is honest if he/she tells the truth and a person is patient when he/she acts patiently. Likewise, a person is an adulterer when he/she commits adultery, is a murderer after murdering, is a liar when lying, and is a thief when stealing. To become something different, one’s actions must change.
You will learn much more about these principles in your readings but I also want you to note that a healthy self esteem and maintaining close friendships is also essential to the ethical life. Somehow, we have come to consider self esteem an invention of the late 20th century but this goes back to the 4th century BC.
Virtue Ethics is the oldest of the theories we will study by nearly 2,000 years; however, it is not ridiculous to contend that it still may be the most perfect theory of ethics in the West. As you will see in the later enlightenment theories that the moral philosophers gave a great deal of credence to the possibility of the human mind. Aristotle may be more realistic in his approach realizing that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Virtue Ethics is not comprised of thou shall nots or codes of rules but about happiness and human flourishing through the development of virtues and the middle path. Even the Serenity Prayer recited at Alcoholics Anonymous is Aristotelian, “God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” The middle path of Aristotle even echoes familiar tones to the Buddha’s Middle Way.
The texts for this week covers both Virtue Ethics as well as Fair Trade and issues of the common good. The book Practical Wisdom uses Aristotle to challenge our utilitarian/enlightenment/capitalist based theories of productivity. The Schwartz challenges the reader to look at quality and relationships over efficiency. It is not what we do in life but instead, how we do it. The Ethics text gives a general overview of Virtue Ethics and the principles we will apply in the cases. Everybody’s Business is an economically conservative book with a positive view of big business. The authors brag about the transformative effects of ethical businesses in the developing world. This case covers how Nike in the 2000s have done the right thing and how it has transformed the industry and communities they work in.
Aristotle (384-332 BC) Required Readings:
- Textbook: Chapter3, 59-65
- Practical Wisdom, Chapters 1-3 Download
- Everybody’s Business,
Using the vocabulary and principles found in Practical Wisdom, do an analysis of Nike using the chapter from Everybody’s Business in a 2-3 page paper. Make sure that your points are clear and supported with examples. Generalized statements will not count as an analysis. Do not Google Aristotle and Nike and try to write a paper. If you didn’t read the two assignments it will be immediately apparent. You should have quotes from both texts and from more than one section to show that you fully comprehended the texts. Do not simply summarize the two texts and repeat what you read. To help with your own clarity when writing, make sure you have one major concept per paragraph. If your essay is 5paragraphs plus an introduction and conclusion, I should be able to assume you are making 5 points. Each paragraph should include analysis from both texts. You should articulate your points clearly. When you are done with your paper check for grammar and spelling.