Virtue Ethics





Virtue Ethics

Question 1

Aristotle did work on ethics, known as Nichomachean ethics, and grounded his works on the assumption that everything in life has a purpose, or goal. He identified life’s main purpose is to achieve happiness, or eudemonia. For one to be happy, they must have certain virtues in life, and they can only be achieved when one knows himself or herself inwardly. According to Greek Virtue Ethics, which are also referred to as Cardinal Ethics, the following are the virtues a human being needs to acquire before achieving happiness in life:

  • Prudence

This virtue is defined as wisdom, and possessing the ability to judge actions and behaviors according to the situation at then time. Aristotle claims, “It is not practical to be wise without being good”. Prudence is the ability to govern oneself through reasoning. It is also associated with the ability to discern between actions that are virtuous or vicious, acts of courageousness and recklessness. Spiritually, it is the ability of a man to have intelligence and free will. Aristotle claims that for a human being to be happy, he must have prudence, which is the part of the spirit or soul that forms opinion based on situation presented.

  • Justice

This virtue is concerned with fairness and the ability to see things in different perspectives, and make a decision based on rationalism, and lawfulness (O’Brien, Stern-Gillet & Corrigan 45). According to Aristotle, justice can only exist when there is a mutual relationship that is controlled by the law. Therefore, a ruler should rule in all fairness and justice, and not for their own advantage.

  • Courage

This virtue means holding one’s beliefs in confidence and without fear. Aristotle claimed that courage is confidence against some of the most fearful things about life, such as death. Therefore, according to him, a courageous man, who is fearless, lives a happy life, as he is not concerned or stressed about life situations

  • Temperance

Aristotle described this as possessing self-control, restraint, and moderation. It is the ability of a man to voluntary refrain themselves form doing something. Restraint captures acts such as not seeking revenge, being humble over being arrogant, being clam and contained over being excessively angry. It is also expressed through traits such as mercy, forgiveness, and prudence.

According to Aristotle, a man who does not have temperance as a virtue leads a miserable life, as he is always concerned with other people’s lives, and seeks temporary happiness.

Question 2

Aristotle’s notion on akrasia or incontinence, explains a human being’s behavior and reaction towards various stimuli or actions. An akratic person is an individual who often acts against reason because of emotions such as anger, excitement, among other feelings (Cleary et al. 78). He claimed that then opposite of an akratic person was an enkratic person, which means one who acts according to reason, despite experiencing the feelings. The major defect with an enkratic person is that he experiences feelings that more often than not, are in sharp contrast and conflicting with rational decisions. However, an akratic person not only experiences those feelings, but additionally, he gives in to the feeling and acts irrationally, or against reason.

Aristotle further divides akrasia into two: one in which the individual acts on impetuosity and the other in weakness. Impetuous akrasia involves a person experiencing certain feelings, and does not deliberate or try to reason, but acts on impulse or under the influence of feelings or passions. On the other hand, one with weak akrasia, is one who experiences feelings, deliberates internally, makes a conscious decision, but still acts under the influence of feelings. At the time of the action, the person is not faced with internal conflicts, but it happens after, which is rather too late to save him from making regrettable decisions. Aristotle pinpoints that these are chronic conditions, where persons act emotionally, rather than stop to reason, and even when they do, they still act on their passions. Passions can arise from either pleasure or anger.

From the 1949 movie, “The Third Man”, Martins, a friend to Lime, a criminal who had promised him a job in Vienna hesitates shooting him in the last scene during the pursuit with the police. As his friend, he does not want to kill him, therefore, upon encountering him as he is escaping from the police; he first hesitates, which is enkrasia. However, after Lime nods, he shoots him, which is weak akrasia. He must have thought about shooting Lime initially, hesitated, but still shot him eventually. Another character who suffers akrasia is Anna, Lime’s girlfriend. After Lime’s real funeral, she agrees to meet with Martins, but upon seeing him, she walks past him without saying a word. She acts on the anger she feels towards Martins for killing Lime. She had agreed meeting Martins, but on second thoughts, she is overwhelmed by emotions and thus decides to ignore him and walk on.

Question 3

Friendly justice is a concept where an individual who is acting in all justice and fairness, is still able to make decisions that may favor his or her own friend or close acquaintance (Huppes-Cluysenaer and Coelho 177). Such a concept comes into play when the result judgment will save one of the parties from danger or adversity. Aristotle claims that justice, as a virtue, is compounded with prudence, which is the ability to apply reason to a situation, before making any decisions. It also involves weighing situations and their outcomes, while at the same time, being fair to other parties involved. In such a situation, one of the parties gets preferential treatment, while the other is content at the end of the resolution. This, according to Aristotle is moral and virtuous because the individual has applied virtues such as justice and prudence to the situation in order to handle it in the fairest manner possible.

Confucius approaches justice, with the aspect of impartiality, which is making decisions without prejudice and bias, or preferring to help one party benefit for the wrong reasons (Confucius. and Watson 37). Confucius argues that in the situation of a government, it should ensure that all citizens are treated equally and respectfully. However, just like Aristotle, there is an element of friendly justice, seeing as Confucius argues that the government should have more consideration for the destitute and the poor in the society. The reason behind this is because the poor in society have a low social standing, and when it comes to the distribution of resources, they may be sidelines, that they do not have a say. Therefore, Confucius found it right and prudent to give priority to the destitute in the society in order to ensure equal distribution of resources, and justice. Both philosophers support friendly justice, however, the purpose for it is to ensure equality, and not for debauched reasons.

It is human nature to favor an individual, with whom you have a relationship with, while at the same time, it is important to ensure that this is not for improper reasons. Just as Aristotle reasoned, it is prudent to ensure that both parties eventually receive justice and fairness, even though one of the parties is slightly favored more. In Confucius example of the government giving the destitute priority, over other able citizens, while at the same time distributing the resources to all, is in line with Aristotle concept of friendly justice. This concept shows that friendly justice is still considered a virtue, even though one of the parties receives preferential treatment. However, it is important to note that friendly justice should not be practiced to improper reasons.

Question 4

Kant was a German philosopher, who did works on ethics and friendship. According to Kant, friendship is an idea, and that friendship is can never be true, but the idea of a friendship is real. His approach towards friendship is more practical than emotional. He defines it as moral friendship, where people in the relationship are confident enough to disclose their deepest thoughts, secrets, and feelings, as long as such level of trust is compounded with mutual respect. He also categorizes friendship into aesthetic, which is emotional, and perfect friendship, which is only idealistic. He argues that some friendships only exist for pleasure purposes, and for utility, in the sense that people are in a friendship for the sole reason of gaining what the other person has to offer. It is considered a mutually beneficial or symbiotic friendship. However, this sharply contrasts with the Christian view of friendship in some elements. Christian friendships are unconditional, full of trustworthiness, and the parties emotionally invest.

According to Kant’s principles of a moral friendship, both parties must have similar intellectual capacities, especially if they are mutually benefiting from each other (Kant et al. 79). This condition makes it a friendship of taste, rather than a genuine friendship. Such characteristics of a friendship, as described by Kant are in contrast with the Christian teachings of how friendship should be. In Christianity, a human being is not supposed to be prejudiced, and selective on whom they choose to relate. From Jesus’ teachings of love and acceptance, Christians should embrace each other as brothers and sisters, therefore, conditions such as mutual benefits should be overlooked. Christian doctrines teach them that they are all equal before God, therefore, unlike in Kant’s theory, issues such as intellectual level should not be an issue in a friendship, as what matters is the love in their hearts.

Kant suggests that a friendship can be complete without the emotional aspect, thus making it practical. In today’s society, most people have such friendships, which essentially, make them symbiotic, as mentioned above. Christian friendships are much different in that, they have both the practical and emotional aspect. For instance, true Christian friendships advocate for setting boundaries, and having mutual respect for one another. However, most Christian friendships, unlike Kant’s have positive emotions and virtues such as love, peace, forgiveness, patience, among others. Therefore, some of Kant’s projections of friendships may be out of line with Christian doctrines, and may be considered unethical, especially if they are purely symbiotic.



Works Cited

Cleary, John J et al. Studies On Plato, Aristotle, And Proclus. Boston: Brill, 2013. Print.

Confucius. and Burton Watson. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Print.

Huppes-Cluysenaer, E. A, and Nuno M. M. S Coelho. Aristotle And The Philosophy Of Law. Dordrecht: Springer, 2013. Print.

Kant, Immanuel et al. Anthropology, History, And Education. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.

Kant, Immanuel et al. Toward Perpetual Peace And Other Writings On Politics, Peace, And History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Print.

O’Brien, Denis, Suzanne Stern-Gillet, and Kevin Corrigan. Reading Ancient Texts. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Print.



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