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An ethical issue that is debated in our
society is the concern of driving while intoxicated. Although this
was naturally not the case during Aristotle’s time, many of his ethical
beliefs can be applied to refute this dilemma. I will prove the standing
issue to be unethical through Aristotle’s discussion of virtue and his
concept of voluntary/involuntary actions in the Nicomachean Ethics.
Aristotle believed that of the virtues
learned in our youth, each has a respective excess and deficiency.
The virtue is the mean (or midpoint) of the excess and deficiency.
The mean can be thought of as "just right", and the extremities can be
labeled as "vices". The mean should not be thought of as the geometric
middle of the two vices- it varies between the vices, depending on the
person. Aristotle believed that the mean and the vices are within
our control and of the two extremes (vices) we should choose the less erroneous.
It is not always easy to choose the less erroneous of the two. For
example, Bill decides he wants to drink this Friday night, but he has to
drive himself home. His choice of how much to drink lies between
two vices: sobriety and drunkenness. Although neither may be his
intention for the evening, it is obvious that the less erroneous of the
two is sobriety. "So much, then, makes it plain that the intermediate
state is in all things to be praised, but that we must incline sometimes
towards the excess, sometimes towards the deficiency; for so shall we most
easily hit the mean and what is right" (Aristotle 387).
Aristotle defines virtue (also known as
excellence) of humankind as living in accordance with reason in the best
kind of way. Simply put, doing what is characteristic of a thing
to do. He argues that our reasoning, which is the foundation for
our virtues, derives from habit and not from nature.
Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to
nature do excellences arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive
them, and are made perfect by habit. Again, of all the things that
come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit
the activity...(Aristotle 376)
Hence, all of the virtues that we believe
are what we practice. The point in mind is that all of our morals
are instilled in us through the process of learning. What we see
others (whether adults, teachers, etc.) practice when we are children has
a direct bearing on our thoughts and opinions. We simply practice
these thoughts and opinions in our day to day lives. "Thus, in one
word, states arise out of like activities" (Aristotle 377). This
may be the case with a child who is reared in an alcohol abusive family.
Say the child’s father frequently drove while intoxicated and the child
was lead to believe that this was okay. Although this does not make
it ethical, or lawful for that matter, for the child to drive drunk, it
simply may have been a reason why. "It makes no small difference,
then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth;
it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference" (Aristotle
377). Although this may be the reason why in this situation, it does
not justify the learned activity; this is the rationale of Aristotle.
Aristotle believed that although our actions are the results of our learning,
virtue still involves rational choice. He is saying that if we have
not been taught what is the moral excellence (the "midpoint" of the two
vices), of a particular action or behavior, we still have the ability to
attain excellence through choice. If a drunk driver chooses to continue
driving drunk (the vice), he will never attain moral excellence.
Aristotle believed that practicing virtue
leads to a virtuous circle, in which the more you abstain from a vice,
the easier it becomes to abstain. Eventually, performing virtuous
activities becomes habit. This again can be related to the topic
at hand. If an alcoholic (I am not assuming a person is an alcoholic
simply because of driving drunk) decides to quit drinking, the first few
months may be hard to cope with since the alcohol was the former solution
to a problem. As time goes on, alcohol is less and less thought of
and has become easier to abstain from. Sometimes there is not a mean
for an action or passion because its name already implies its badness.
This is the case with drunk driving. There is no moderate way to
drive drunk, its name implies that it is an extremity. By reason
of being an
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Philosophy, Academia, Ethics, Social philosophy, Nicomachean Ethics, Will, Virtue, Aristotle, Jurisprudence, Reason, Vice, Politics
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