Notes on Nic. Eth. II.

1.) Virtue is an activity learned by practice and which grows stronger by repetition. In this sense it is like exercise, which is A’s. first example of excess and defect. Both pushing oneself too hard and not pushing hard enough stall growth. In this sense, the doctrine that virtue is in the mean is the claim that one always seeks a sweet spot in the practice of virtue that promotes growth, neither trying to grow too fast nor letting habits dissipate from lack of use.

Because virtue creates bona-fide knowledge of the good life by practice, there is no upper limit on the depth of understanding one can gain from them. Virtues perpetually tend to a greater integration and illumination. The Christian notion of sanctity might do a better job at drawing out this possibility of perpetual growth through greater intensification and clarity.

2.) My students were confused by how A. could go from claiming that pleasure is the ultimate seal of virtue while still being something that we must view it suspicion and guard ourselves against it. The two claims share an integral connection if pleasure is taken as a conviction of having the ultimate end, since such a conviction both necessarily comes with the ultimate end while exposing us to the temptation to chase the feeling by any means. As A. puts it, pleasure is like Helen: if any face was worth the death toll of a nine-year war it would be hers, but that, as it turns out, is also the problem.

In any event, A. gives one a particularly clear view of pleasure by showing it as a conviction of having the ultimate end.

3.) Religion is a virtue in A’s. sense and so is also something one learns by doing. One can explain religion like he can explain how to ride a bike, but neither explanation can close the whole gap between one who knows and one who doesn’t. In either case the know-how is performative, but in the case of moral virtues this performative character has a concomitant truth value.


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