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Virtue of Character Through Habituation

Aristotle distinguishes virtue as two separate aspects being virtue of thought and virtue of character. Virtue of thought, such as intelligence, wisdom, and reasoning, can be derived mostly from teaching over time. Virtue of character grows through habituation, hence he claims that character cannot come naturally. While I agree with the general distinction between the two types of virtue, I argue that virtue of thought can also be derived from intentionally applying the virtue to the betterment of human society. Furthermore, I argue against Aristotle’s claim of character not coming naturally by asserting that virtue of character can be derived “naturally” from intuition but it’s pursuit must be chosen through habituation in order for one to be considered truly virtuous. Virtue of thought, according to Aristotle, is most often derived from teaching through experience over a period of time. The logic in his assertion is that one gains wisdom and intelligence from both applying knowledge to the development of others and through talking to others about the subject matter. Wisdom derived from others stems from Socrates’ point of view that one cannot gain wisdom from studying in solitude but by conversing with others. The same logic could be applied to an individual using their intelligence and wisdom to better society through an elected position in one's political system. For example, a U.S senator applies their academic and professional expertise to better the citizens of the society while conversing with other senators, also fellow citizens, on how the collective people in a society should live. Both positions may be considered virtuous pursuits, as honorable uses of their intellect, so long as they pursue virtue for its own sake. Virtue of character is developed through habituation, which translates to “ethos” or “ethics”. Since Aristotle argues that ethics is not natural, he claims that character cannot come naturally. While I will not address the nature of ethics directly as it has been argued back and forth amongst philosophers for centuries, I will demonstrate an example of an individual who is arguably “natural” virtue that decides not to pursue it for its own sake through habituation. Let’s consider a case where a high school student who is considered amongst his peers to be an honorable and honest individual, and generally carries out actions that demonstrates as such. Since the student acts with honor, one of the many virtues, he may be considered to be a virtuous individual by nature. However, the student is pressured by his professors who push them to get the highest grade possible in the class in order to succeed in life. The honorable student, out of a desire to succeed in life, then cheats on an exam; a form of lying that philosophers such as Immanuel Kant have extensively argued against the merit of. Feeling guilty, the student eventually confesses to the professor out of a fear of punishment rather than telling the truth for its own sake. The student, then, could be considered a “naturally” virtuous student but habituates virtue for ends alternative to the virtue in itself, leaving him unfulfilled.

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