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Aristotle on the priority of virtuous actions

Serafini, Leonardo; (2022) Aristotle on the priority of virtuous actions. Masters thesis (M.Phil.Stud), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis is about the relationship between virtuous actions and virtuous dispositions in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (NE). It argues against the family of claims on which virtuous actions are virtuous derivatively from virtuous dispositions and in favour of the converse thesis: namely, that virtuous actions are virtuous not only independently of virtuous dispositions, but also definitionally prior. To support this claim, I first analyse NE II.4, proposing that those who endorse the idea that an action counts as virtuous when, and because, it is performed by a virtuous agent face important challenges, both textually and conceptually. I argue that II.4’s distinction between ‘virtuous actions’ and ‘acting virtuously’ enables us to see that for Aristotle there is no required predicate of an agent’s character for the performed action to count as virtuous; rather, it is virtuous independently of the excellence of the person carrying it out. Second, I provide a criterion of correctness for virtuous actions by discussing the doctrine of the mean as found in NE II.6. I defend the thesis on which virtuous actions are virtuous because they hit the mean-relative-to-us – this being a notion which is not, in turn, dependent on that of the virtuous agent, as a careful reading of NE III.4 indicates. I further argue that the being mesotētes of the ethical virtues is to be explained by reference to the notion of the mean-relative-to-us as it applies to our practical and emotional responses, thereby vindicating the definitional priority of virtuous actions. Mean (sc. virtuous) dispositions inherit their intermediacy from mean (sc. virtuous) actions (and feelings). I conclude by showing that Aristotle is not a virtue ethicist in the modern sense since he does not define right action in the same distinctive way: that is, Aristotle does not appeal to aretaic notions as being ultimately right-making.

Type: Thesis (Masters)
Qualification: M.Phil.Stud
Title: Aristotle on the priority of virtuous actions
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2022. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Philosophy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10142312
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