This week’s reading assignment completes our discussion of ethics by going back to the second half of chapter six and taking a look at Aristotle’s approach to ethics. As you are reading this material, note that Aristotle’s approach to ethics differs in an important way from that of the Utilitarians and Kant. For the latter, the primary question is what should my conduct be? That is, should I do action A or action B? The Utilitarian answers this question by evaluating the likely consequences of my action and picking the one that will lead to the best results (i.e., will “maximize utility”). The Kantian answers the question by attending to our moral duty, as identified with his categorical imperative.
For Aristotle, however, the primary question is, not what should my conduct be, but what kind of person should I be, what sort of character should I develop? Then my actions will following naturally from my character. You might want in this week’s Discussion Forum to think about which approach is preferable. Also, what do you think of Aristotle’s notion of happiness, or “eudaimonia” as it is called in Greek? Does his conception of virtue sound familiar and reasonable? Someone once called Aristotle the “common sense philosopher.” Do you agree?