Aristotle Essay, Research Paper
An ethical issue that is debated in our society is the concern of driving while intoxicated. Although this was naturally not the case during Aristotle?s time, many of his ethical beliefs can be applied to refute this dilemma. I will prove the standing issue to be unethical through Aristotle?s discussion of virtue and his concept of voluntary/involuntary actions in the Nicomachean Ethics.
Aristotle believed that of the virtues learned in our youth, each has a respective excess and deficiency. The virtue is the mean (or midpoint) of the excess and deficiency. The mean can be thought of as ?just right?, and the extremities can be labeled as ?vices?. The mean should not be thought of as the geometric middle of the two vices- it varies between the vices, depending on the person. Aristotle believed that the mean and the vices are within our control and of the two extremes (vices) we should choose the less erroneous. It is not always easy to choose the less erroneous of the two. For example, Bill decides he wants to drink this Friday night, but he has to drive himself home. His choice of how much to drink lies between two vices: sobriety and drunkenness. Although neither may be his intention for the evening, it is obvious that the less erroneous of the two is sobriety. ?So much, then, makes it plain that the intermediate state is in all things to be praised, but that we must incline sometimes towards the excess, sometimes towards the deficiency; for so shall we most easily hit the mean and what is right? (Aristotle 387).
Aristotle defines virtue (also known as excellence) of humankind as living in accordance with reason in the best kind of way. Simply put, doing what is characteristic of a thing to do. He argues that our reasoning, which is the foundation for our virtues, derives from habit and not from nature.
Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do excellences arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit. Again, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit the activity?(Aristotle 376)
Hence, all of the virtues that we believe are what we practice. The point in mind is that all of our morals are instilled in us through the process of learning. What we see others (whether adults, teachers, etc.) practice when we are children has a direct bearing on our thoughts and opinions. We simply practice these thoughts and opinions in our day to day lives. ?Thus, in one word, states arise out of like activities? (Aristotle 377). This may be the case with a child who is reared in an alcohol abusive family. Say the child?s father frequently drove while intoxicated and the child was lead to believe that this was okay. Although this does not make it ethical, or lawful for that matter, for the child to drive drunk, it simply may have been a reason why. ?It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference? (Aristotle 377). Although this may be the reason why in this situation, it does not justify the learned activity; this is the rationale of Aristotle. Aristotle believed that although our actions are the results of our learning, virtue still involves rational choice. He is saying that if we have not been taught what is the moral excellence (the ?midpoint? of the two vices), of a particular action or behavior, we still have the ability to attain excellence through choice. If a drunk driver chooses to continue driving drunk (the vice), he will never attain moral excellence.
Aristotle believed that practicing virtue leads to a virtuous circle, in which the more you abstain from a vice, the easier it becomes to abstain. Eventually, performing virtuous activities becomes habit. This again can be related to the topic at hand. If an alcoholic (I am not assuming a person is an alcoholic simply because of driving drunk) decides to quit drinking, the first few months may be hard to cope with since the alcohol was the former solution to a problem. As time goes on, alcohol is less and less thought of and has become easier to abstain from. Sometimes there is not a mean for an action or passion because its name already implies its badness. This is the case with drunk driving. There is no moderate way to drive drunk, its name implies that it is an extremity. By reason of being an extremity, Aristotle would condemn drunk driving: ?It is not possible, then, ever to be right with regard to them (the extremities); one must always be wrong? (Aristotle 383).
Further illustrating belief that driving drunk is not virtuous, Aristotle discusses the concept that in the case of drunkenness, an individual chooses the actions which affect his state of consciousness. The choice to drink alcohol is voluntary because it involves reason and thought. Therefore, virtue, and the vices of this virtue are within our power. While our actions are labeled as ?voluntary?, the outcomes can either be ?involuntary? or ?non-voluntary?. Involuntary actions involve regret for actions done out of ignorance, while non-voluntary actions do not involve regret for actions done out of ignorance.
Indeed, we punish a man for his very ignorance, if he is thought responsible for the ignorance, as then penalties are doubled in the case of drunkenness; for the moving principle is in the man himself, since he had the power of not getting drunk and his getting drunk was the cause of his ignorance. (Aristotle 396)
If a man is knowing of what he does when he is sober, the very state of drunkenness makes him unjust (in respect to virtue) since he is ignorant in this state and he has voluntarily brought himself to drink. Thus, if a man knowingly acts in a way that will result in his becoming unjust, he must be said to be voluntarily unjust (Aristotle 396).
Alcohol abuse is not debated in our society-we know it is wrong, yet this does not seem to stop our actions. Aristotle?s view of alcohol abuse in the fourth century BC is the same as the outlook of the modern world but today?s technological advancements have drastically increased the dangers of abuse. Driving while intoxicated is a deep concern that is not taken lightly. I have discussed why his ethical system proves that this is wrong, even though we know it is wrong. The point in mind is that the problem will never cease to exist, we can only derive solutions and/or repercussions to deal with it.
Aristotle, A New Aristotle Reader. Trans. J.L. Ackrill. Princeton: Princeton University