Aristotle and Moral Realism

By Robert Heinaman | Go to book overview

Acting as the virtuous person acts
BERNARD WILLIAMSThis paper is not mainly directed to questions about moral realism in Aristotle, but it does end with a suggestion about that subject. It starts from a question that Aristotle raises about virtuous action, and gives what I think should have been Aristotle's answer to it, an answer which I think was also, broadly speaking, Aristotle's own answer. At the end I ask where (if anywhere) this leaves questions of moral realism in relation to such a theory.In Nicomachean Ethics II.4 Aristotle raises the question of how it can be true, as he claims it to be, that someone becomes (e.g.) just by doing just things: for how can someone do virtuous things without already having the appropriate virtue? His answer is that the things done by the learner, although they are in a sense virtuous things, do not yet fully display the virtue. We may say that they are minimally virtuous things: they are not done as the virtuous person does them. He holds, in effect,
(A) A (fully) V act is what a V person would do, but only if it is done as the V person does such a thing.
The conditions on an act's being done as the virtuous agent would do it are these:
i. the agent knows (eidos)
ii. he does it proairoumenos kai proairoumenos di' auto: choosing, and choosing it for its own sake
iii. he is in a steady, unchangeable state.

There is a question about how much (i) imports. There are conditions of intention here that are uncontroversially relevant. In many

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