>“Virtue Makes the Goal Right”: Virtue and Phronesis in Aristotle’s Ethics

in Phronesis
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Abstract

Aristotle repeatedly claims that character-virtue “makes the goal right”, while Phronesis is responsible for working out how to achieve the goal. Many argue that these claims are misleading: it must be intellect that tells us what ends to pursue. I argue that Aristotle means just what he seems to say: despite putative textual evidence to the contrary, virtue is (a) a wholly non-intellectual state, and (b) responsible for literally supplying the contents of our goals. Furthermore, there are no good textual or philosophical reasons to reject this straightforward interpretation. Contrary to widespread opinion, Aristotle does not characterize Phronesis as supplying ends. Instead, its ethical import lies wholly in its ability to “determine the mean”. Moreover, because character involves non-rational cognition of the end as good, Aristotle can restrict practical intellect to deliberation without abandoning his anti-Humean view that we desire our ends because we find them good.

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