chapter  2
19 Pages

VIRTUE AS CHARACTER: ARISTOTLE'S ETHICS

As we have just seen, despite certain misgivings about the matter, Plato's general view of the nature of moral virtue was that it is essentially expressive of a kind of knowledge or understanding. The life of virtue is to be understood as one lived in conformity to certain rational principles reflecting the true interests of an individual, as opposed to one in which individual conduct proceeds under the influence of a range of essentially destructive natural passions and appetites; virtue, then, is the rule of natural inclination or passion by right reason and vice not so much just the straightforward defeat of reason by passion, but rather a life of ignorance of the true good in which an individual knows no better than to act at the impulse of his irrational instincts and appetites. Plato also understood knowledge of the good to be of a particularly abstract and difficult intellectual character, however – of such a nature that only a privileged elite could hope to attain any real insight into it; only the Guardians after a long course of rigorous training and education might be vouchsafed a vision of the form of the good. These are just some of the views about the nature of human moral life and virtue that are essentially controverted by that other colossus of ancient philosophy and Plato's own most famous pupil - Aristotle.