The Ethical Theories of Aristotle and Immanuel Kant

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08/02/20 Philosophy Reference this

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Aristotle’s definition of “happiness” includes the word “virtue”: happiness is the realistic activity of a soul that conforms to virtue. The word virtue has such an important position in the definition of happiness, and Aristotle certainly has to explain the word in detail.

According to Aristotle’s account, Socrates believes that “the virtue is knowledge,” which he believes is wrong. “Because all knowledge involves reason, and reason only exists in the cognitive part of the soul. According to his point of view, all virtues are in the rational part of the soul. Because he seems virtue as knowledge, it discards the irrational part of the soul, and thus rejects passion and morality. Therefore, it is not correct to treat virtue like this.” (Liang, 2014)

He believes that treating virtue as knowledge can lead to contradictions. Socrates believes that anything is useful, but it is useless to conclude that virtue is the subject of knowledge. Because in knowledge, as long as one knows what knowledge is, you can become a specialist in knowledge, just as someone who knows what medicine is, can become a doctor right away. But in the virtues, this result will not appear. Because people who know justice don’t immediately become fair, so are other virtues. It is thus practical to introduce virtues that are useless.

Plato wrote down a discussion about the virtues in Meno. Mano proposed many definitions, such as “seeking good things and getting it” and “the ability to get good things.” “, “the ability to justly get good things,” etc., but they were all refuted by Socrates. Socrates repeatedly stated that what he required was a complete and universal definition of virtue, which Mano has never met (Plato). This is equivalent to Plato’s own lack of a clear definition of virtue.

The virtue that Aristotle said is not the virtue of the body, but the virtue of the soul. He divides the virtues of the soul into two categories, one is intellectual virtue, such as wisdom, understanding, and wise, mostly generated by teaching; one is a moral virtue, such as generosity and humility. It is from customs and habits.

 ”Our virtues are not generated by nature, nor generated by nature. Instead, they are naturally accepted, and they are perfected through habits.” And “we naturally accept this gift, first in the form of potential. Carry it with you, and then show it in a realistic way. (It’s obvious in people. We don’t get the feeling of watching because we watched it many times. It’s been heard many times and we get the feeling of listening. Use, not used.), just like other technologies, we must first carry out real activities in order to get these virtues.” (Liang, 2014)

So, what is a virtue? He said that virtue is neither a feeling nor a potential (what we can feel from it), but a quality (we have a good or bad attitude towards those feelings), and “speaking about virtue is quality or Not enough, but also what kind of quality it is. It should be said that all virtues, if something is moral, it is not only to make this thing in good condition, but also to give it excellent functions. For example, the eyes Virtue not only makes the eyes bright but also makes it function well (the virtue of the eyes means sharp vision). Then the virtue of man is the quality that makes people good and gets their excellent results.” (Liang, 2014)

Specifically, virtue is intermediate, and excessive and inferior are evils that are opposite to good. “The two extremes are all bad, and at the right time, in the right relationship, in the proper purpose, in the proper way, it is the middle and the best, and the morality is all.” Virtue is the golden mean. “Excessive and inferior are evil, and the golden mean is a virtue.”  (Aristotle. and Miao, 1991)”

 For example, bravery is the middle of cowardice and recklessness, generosity is In the middle of jealousy and waste, humility is the middle of shamelessness and shame, and gentleness is the middle of anger and anger. He said that in fact, we sometimes couldn’t praise it, saying that it is gentle and sometimes praises those who love to lose their temper, saying that this is masculinity. Those who deviate a little from the right path are not subject to punishment.There is an intermediate in all feelings and behaviors, but it is likely to be biased too often, sometimes too biased. It is difficult for us to hit the middle and behave well. This is a more realistic attitude.

About Kant’s Interpretation of ” ethical theories”, practical reason is the dominant and leading position in Kant’s entire philosophy. In Kant’s view, morality is higher than understanding, ethics is higher than epistemology, and behavior is higher than knowledge. The word “virtue” is also an important concept in Kant’s Taoist philosophy. Kant’s definition of virtue is “self-discipline according to the principle of inner freedom, which relies on the simple idea that a person’s obligation is consistent with its formal law.”  (Allison, 2010). As a form of self-discipline, Virtue must include the power of character, which is the actual ability to control personal hobbies when hobbies and moral requirements conflict. Kant included all kinds of hobbies as part of the nature of goodness and argued that they only need to be hindered when hobbies lead us to ignore our obligations. The moral intention, that is, the state of moral health is characterized by the euphoria of fulfilling the obligation. Those who are truly ethical, those who can truly control themselves, will be regarded as such a person: they are rarely or completely tempted, rather than busy and continually fighting with temptation. It is precisely because of the temptation that it is not easy to be tempted to make the fulfillment of obligations still prosperous.

Kant’s moral discourse contains an attitude of enthusiasm when performing his duties, so those who are truly erotic are those who will not allow themselves to be tempted, or because any limited actor cannot pass the temptation So the true virtues are those who will not allow themselves to be tempted by things that ordinary people cannot resist. Kant believes that virtue is a finite existence, such as the highest moral state we can hope to achieve. But self-control is only a necessary condition for virtue, not a sufficient condition.

 In Kant’s view, the factor that distinguishes virtue from self-control is that virtue is based on the principle of “inner freedom”, that is, based on a moral principle chosen by the actor freely. Therefore, whether it is self-control based on purely tactful considerations or self-control by simple habits that do not require the use of principles, it cannot be regarded as a virtue in the sense of Kant. As Kant said, “Because this habit comes from the principles of deliberation, unwavering and constant purity, this habit will be like any other rational mechanism of mechanical practice, and it is impossible for all situations. There is no loss, and there is no guarantee that we will win the battle when we resist the many changes caused by the new temptation.”  (Allison, 2010)

Kant believes that virtue requires all kinds of correct principles, and virtue is essentially a kind of intention or way of thinking. Or the way of thinking thoroughly internalizes these principles. What morality contains is to make the respect of moral law the highest norm that governs individual behavior. There are two important related words in Kant’s concept of virtue: sin and lack of virtue. Kant believes that sin is related to virtue as a real opposite or opposite of virtue. The lack of virtue is related to morality as a logical opposite or self-contradictory. The lack of virtue refers to the lack of the understanding of the power of character or the obedience to moral law and the lack of this kind of character or determination of self-rule, which is not equal to the evil or evil of reality. Sin or evil is not only a deliberate but also a violation of one’s obligations that have become principles, and sinful people firmly agree with those immoral principles.

Kant believes that virtue can only be obtained through cultivation and practice: “But the decision of practicing virtue must be done overnight, because from time to time succumb to the intention of sin, in order to gradually break with it, for its part Is not pure or even immoral. Therefore, this attitude will not produce virtue (in terms of virtue based on a single principle).” (Liang, 2014). Kant values the role of practice in virtue, which Aristotle is the same, although Aristotle did not say so. Aristotle divides reason into rational and ethical rationality. The former is cultivated by teaching and the latter is followed by customs and habits. This is closely related to virtue and practice.

Kant criticized Aristotle’s view that virtue is seen as the middle between the two poles. He said that “the distinction between greed (as a sin) and frugality (as a virtue) is not to say greed. Excessive frugality, but greed has a completely different principle: the principle of economic saving, he is not to enjoy personal wealth but to possess this wealth, but at the same time deny any enjoyment from it.” (Liang, 2014). Their views on virtue and sin are fundamentally different. According to Aristotle, virtue is a condition, and sin is extreme. In Kant’s view, it is meaningless to look at sin in this way. Desire can be excessive, and desire can be inadequate, but the guidelines cannot be so. One cannot possibly overdo it when following its guidelines. From Kant’s point of view, distinguishing virtue from sin is not the degree to which one adheres to a certain criterion, but the nature of the norm that one follows. This can be illustrated by greedy examples. What makes greed a sin is that greedy people set pure wealth possession as the ultimate goal and make it a thing that seems to be a principle.


  • Liang, S. (2014). Zhong guo wen hua yao yi. Wuhu: An hui shi fan da xue chu ban she.
  • Joachim, H. and Rees, D. (1985). Aristotle, the Nicomachean ethics. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
  • Allison, H. (2010). Kant’s theory of taste. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • MacIntyre, A. (2006). Ethics and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Plato. and Bluck, R. (1961). Meno. Cambridge [England]: University Press.
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