Today, I’d like to introduce something called virtue theory, which was on of Aristotle’s ways of saying that we should be good people and happiness will follow. More specifically, virtue theory is based on the idea that nature has built into us the desire to be virtuous, and just like the innate purpose of a flower is to grow and spread its pollen and reproduce, Aristotle believed that our innate purpose can be found through virtuosity.
But what does it mean to “be virtuous”?
Virtuosity, in this case, basically means doing the right thing at the right time, treating people the right way, and knowing how to handle yourself in situations through judgment and understanding. This is, obviously, quite vague.
Let’s dig into this a little bit though… what is the “right” way to handle yourself in all situations? You would think that this could be pretty subjective. But in Aristotle’s view, there was something he called the Golden Mean, which is the midpoint between two extremes; the common example used here is the virtue of courage. A virtuous person is courageous, but in virtue theory one must sit in-between the extremes of being not courageous enough (cowardly) and being too courageous (reckless). Another example might be the midpoint between stinginess (cheapness) and prodigality (excessive spending), the virtue one would call generosity. Making millions of dollars but not helping someone who is in dire need would be cheap and cruel, while spending all of your rent money buying rounds for random people at the bar would be idiotic and irrational. Somewhere in the middle one can find the “right” generosity, giving to those in need but not spending excessively on useless things. Not that beer is useless… but you know. Not if you’re spending rent money.
But where this golden mean lies could be different in everyone’s opinion. So how does this concept help anyone? Well, understanding the virtues in the situations presented to you and being able to identify where others lie on the scale will help you to develop habits that lead you to become a virtuous person. For example, you’re at a networking event (just drawing from my experience here…) and you’re in a conversation with two people who just met each other. One person starts divulging some information about their issues in their relationship with their mother, and the other person starts being visibly uncomfortable. You can learn from this: when meeting someone new for the first time, be careful when talking about highly personal things because it might not be the right time or place for it. Through life experience and by copying those who we respect and trust, we find where our golden mean is. Extrapolating a bit from this, you could say that the entire construction of your moral compass comes from watching your parents and other influences as you approach your golden mean.
And why would you want to become virtuous? What’s the point?
Eudaimonia: nope, it’s not a deadly disease. Eudaimonia is a state of being which could be seen as the ultimate state of happiness, and sometimes is translated from Greek as “human flourishing”. Living a eudaimonistic life means that you’ll be constantly improving yourself and your way of being, but means that you will also find true happiness, according to the theory.
And why would we want that? Isn’t it easier to just live life without thinking about all this stuff? Well, yes. But that kind of life could never reach the level of satisfaction of the life of someone who practices or is at least aware of these kinds of virtues and strives to improve upon them. Also, according to Aristotle, the kind of person who tries to achieve eudaimonia is the kind of person who will do good things, help people, and make others happy. Seems to me like it’s worth thinking about, which is why I’m sharing this knowledge today.
I’ve taken a great interest in philosophy and psychology recently, and I’d like to start writing more about them. I don’t have a degree in either of those fields, but I’ve read up a lot about it and I find it useful to talk about how that learning can affect the everyday life of someone who isn’t a scholar in those subjects.
More to come!