I recently stumbled across a video on Aristotle’s Virtue Theory. It has been some time since I read them or even studied them so my memory on the subject was not the clearest. But as I listened to the general points of his theory. I started to realize that it seemed to fit the same mentality that I have, just in different words.
He was a nice person. But wasn’t afraid to act.
So in Aristotle’s Virtue Theory, he believed that an individual could be a good person if they just focused on being good. What but is this “being good”? He believed that being good meant being able to act virtuously. But then he gets even more broad by saying that being virtuous is simply just doing the right thing and the right moment in time. I mean come on, that is so vague.
But then I got to thinking about it. Aristotle believes we are social and rational animals. Social in the sense that we need a society and rational in the sense that we have rational thought. I saw these as politics and science. But Aristotle goes on in his theory to talk about virtues and vices and how knowing what to do in the right time, is simply a balance of these virtues and vices.
Courage for example, what is courage for Aristotle? Well courage would be the in-between point of being a coward and being stupid. Take you see someone getting mugged, Aristotle would say that if you can help that person, courage is helping them. But if you can’t help, courage would be getting more help. The vices for Aristotle would be rushing headstrong not knowing he had a gun and then getting yourself killed. And simply just running away from being a coward. Those are both vices.
Can you help? If no, get actual help. If yes, then help.
So then I thought what could possibly allow someone to do that? At first it seemed like “common sense”, but common sense is not so common. But then Aristotle said something that perked my mind. Unlike common sense, which is simply just known, Virtue is something learned from an “Exemplar” or role model. And so what in our minds is learned through experience and then turned into action? Imagine like being a carbon copy of that person, everything they do, you do. So in that case what human function acts this way? Empathy.
But then how could I prove this? Take the virtue of honesty. The virtue of honesty is being able to know when to be honest. For example, someone has a zit on their face, telling them they have a zit on their face is a vice because it is excessive. But not saying anything about it is also doing nothing, so it is a vice. When you have the virtue of honesty however, you’ll know how to tell that person they have a zit on their face without hurting their feelings. And that’s where it hit me that empathy was virtue for Aristotle.
Yeah, that’s a vice, don’t do that lol
And just like how he believed that virtue was the balance of vices, I too believe that empathy is the balance of indulgences. So as virtue is learned through experience, empathy is learned through experience. Only when you see someone being nice to someone, do you learn to be nice to people. These people are your role models, or “moral exemplars”, and in this sense just as how empathy must carbon copied, your morality becomes carbon copied.
So when it comes to originality of how you should act, there should be none. We should all be carbon copies of the same moral code. And this goes back to the whole balance thing for Aristotle. When we do things in excess, we overindulge: eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much, etc. But when we don’t do them, it is also bad: not eating anything, drinking too little, not smoking at all! Because when we don’t do virtuous acts, we become unhappy, and that is not what Eudaimonia is all about.
Aristotle believed that Eudaimonia is a life of happiness and being able to achieve difficult tasks while living a good life. And this is what it means to be empathetic! When you are an empathetic person, you realize things when they are wrong and you know when things are right. You simply just know how to read the room and how to act in certain situations. This means that you live your life in complete happiness because you are always fulfilling your virtues.
Everyone is winning!
But us being humans, we have vices, and we make mistakes. A lot, of mistakes. So then why can people not be virtuous? Well if empathy is learned, then apathy is also learned. So in this case we could view Virtue as Empathy and Vice as Apathy. When we are virtuous, we are being empathetic, we understand the situation, and we act in accordance to the well-being of everyone around us, and in by doing so everyone benefits, including yourself. When we are acting in vices, we are being apathetic, we become selfish, self-centered, unaware of other people’s feelings and thoughts. This part is such a detrimental thing and what is worse, is that it is perpetuated by experience just as Virtue is.
So then what are we supposed to do? Well Aristotle believed that we must find the “Moral Exemplar” in which will guide us. There is only so much we can learn from books, however there are people out there that believe in this and are virtuous people. Basically look on television and look for the people who care about other people and are empathetic. Those are the most genuine people who understand each other. Through them and through his teachings, he believed that people could perpetuate virtues and eventually eliminate vices. But this is only possible if we regulate and contribute to society. Without regulation and stability our vices become out of control as we probably have experience personally ourselves.
Find your “Moral Exemplar” in life…
So in this sense, living life empathetically is living a virtuous life. Which if you ask me, is quite simple. It really is not that hard to be a nice person, ffs.
I’ll write about my favorite economic system later.