Abstract:

Aristotle identifies the highest good for human beings with eudaimonia, and this again with virtuous activity.  My aim is to clarify the nature of this virtuous activity.

I start from the assumption that virtuous activity must satisfy two conditions: (I) the action condition (it must be right) and (II) the agent condition (it must be done knowingly, for its own sake, and from a firm disposition).  Thus, Aristotle’s ethics is not an instance of virtue ethics: the concept of virtue is secondary to and dependent on the concept of right action.

After a brief survey of some of Aristotle’s accounts of the individual ethical virtues (EN III and IV), I argue that a crucial criterion for determining whether an act is right (and hence virtuous) is the “person parameter”: the extent to which it respects the moral status of the people involved, i.e. the other person(s) affected by the action, as well as the agent himself.

A person’s moral status is defined through the practical relationships in which he or she stands to others, and represents the standing or worth that he/she has within those relationships.  This standing involves not just entitlements (rights and privileges), but also obligations and accountability.  A person’s status is the proper object of “recognition respect” (Darwall).  Such respect may have various particular practical implications, e.g. in terms of distributing benefits and burdens, but it cannot be reduced to these.