Aristotelian virtue ethics is based on the nature of man and on the circumstances relevant to the quality of actions. The goal is human happiness , which is why Immanuel Kant's Aristotelian ethics was cited as a prime example of a eudaemonistic ethic . Virtue ethics takes into account the fact that what is good depends on the circumstances and that there is therefore no uniform rule that can a priori determine each individual case. In principle, for Aristotle, ethics is a practical science that cannot do without examples and concrete studies. Because it depends on many concrete circumstances whether an action is good and increases happiness.
According to Aristotle, virtue is an excellent and sustainable attitude ( hexis ), which is determined by reason and which one must acquire through practice or education . To determine the virtues, according to Aristotle, one looks for a point of view between two extremes ( Mesotes doctrine), e.g. B. self-control (moderation), which lies between lust and dullness, or generosity as a value between prodigality and avarice, or bravery, which lies between recklessness and cowardice. These positions are not to be understood as mathematical mean values, but as the best that can be achieved in each case in the area of a character trait. It is determined individually.
"Virtue is thus a behavior (an attitude) of decision, founded in the middle in relation to us, a middle that is determined by reason and according to how it would be determined by the understanding."( Aristotle : Nicomachean Ethics)
Since Aristotle was a realist, he knew about the difficulty and variety of the concrete circumstances. That is why he also added to his definition of virtue as the right center with the addition that an intelligent or virtuous person can serve as orientation. This addition also follows from other considerations of Virtue Ethics, which is of the conviction that one can and must learn to act correctly and ethically in order to act progressively correctly and well and to develop one's judgment in relation to it.
However, in addition to the many cases in which circumstances determine a good act, for Aristotle there are also acts that are inherently bad. With these there is no middle because there is no other extreme. These include murder , adultery, and other acts that are fundamentally contrary to human nature.
Aristotle differentiates on the one hand the intellectual or dianoetic virtues (prudence, craftsmanship, reason, wisdom, scientificity), on the other hand the character or ethical virtues. With the superior virtues of the understanding, people orient themselves towards practical reason in order to find the right ways and means for their actions and in order to choose the right one in the concrete situations in which their action is required. The practice of the ethical virtues helps to control the instincts and affects and makes those acting in this way more independent of a behavior that is only aimed at satisfying pleasure and avoiding pain. To ethical behavior on the good to align, it requires education that increases our moral sensitivity and thus influences the quality of our actions. When virtues are internalized, man acts for virtue's sake and likes to do so, i.e. with pleasure in the sense of enjoyment of the activity. For Aristotle, however, it is not the aim of the action, but an accompanying phenomenon that follows. What a virtue is depends on circumstances, including historical and social. A universal, i.e. H. Nevertheless, they have a universally valid core: perfecting human nature according to its disposition and for the purpose of human harmony with himself.
Important virtues according to Aristotle are prudence (phronesis), justice (dikaiosyne), bravery (andreia), moderation (sophrosyne), generosity (eleutheriotes), helpfulness (megaloprepeia), greatness of soul (megalopsychia), gentleness (praotes), truthfulness, Courtesy (eutrapelia) and empathy (philia). According to Aristotle, the highest happiness is achieved through the virtue of wisdom (sophia). Because wisdom, in the sense of contemplation or meditation on the first things and the meaning of life, is the highest activity of the highest faculty of the spirit. It is also the purest, most permanent and most uninterrupted activity possible for a person when he is practiced in it. It grants the greatest happiness and consequently the greatest pleasure.