Aristotle (384–322 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 16, 2018, from

25. Virtue, friendship and the good of others

The virtuous person’s deliberation, identifying the mean in relation to different desires and different situations, is articulated in the different virtues of character (described in Nicomachean Ethics III–V). The different virtues are concerned with the regulation of non-rational desires (for example, bravery, temperance, good temper), external goods (for example, magnificence, magnanimity) and social situations (for example, truthfulness, wit). Some concern the good of others to some degree (bravery, good temper, generosity).

Aristotle’s Greek for virtue of character, ēthikēaretē, is rendered into Latin as ‘virtus moralis’. The English rendering ‘moral virtue’ is defensible, since the virtues of character as a whole display the impartial concern for others that is often ascribed to morality. They are unified by the aim of the virtuous person, who decides on the virtuous action because it is ‘fine’ (kalon). Fine action systematically promotes the good of others; we must aim at it if we are to find the mean that is characteristic of a virtue (1122b6–7).

A second unifying element in the virtues, inseparable from concern for the fine, is their connection to justice (V 1–2). Aristotle takes justice to be multivocal (see §4), and distinguishes general justice from the specific virtue concerned with the prevention and rectification of certain specific types of injustices. General justice is the virtue of character that aims specifically at the common good of a community. Since it is not a different state of character from the other virtues, they must incorporate concern for the common good.

To explain why concern for the good of others, and for a common good, is part of the life that aims at one’s own happiness, Aristotle examines friendship (philia; Nicomachean Ethics VIII–IX). All three of the main types of friendship (for pleasure, for advantage and for the good) seek the good of the other person. Only the best type – friendship for the good between virtuous people – includes A’s concern for B’s good for B’s own sake and because of B’s essential character (Nicomachean Ethics VIII 1–4).

In the best sort of friendship, the friend is ‘another self’; A takes the sorts of attitudes to B that A also takes to A. Aristotle infers that friendship is part of a complete and self-sufficient life (IX 9–11). Friendship involves sharing the activities one counts as especially important in one’s life, and especially the sharing of reasoning and thinking. Friends cooperate in deliberation, decision and action; and the thoughts and actions of each provide reasons for the future thoughts and actions of the other. The cooperative aspects of friendship more fully realize each person’s own capacities as a rational agent, and so promote each person’s happiness. Hence the full development of a human being requires concern for the good of others.

Citing this article:
Irwin, T.H.. Virtue, friendship and the good of others. Aristotle (384–322 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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