5: Aristotle

Lesson Objectives

Plato the teacher  points to the reality "up there," while Aristotle, his student, points to the only reality—"down here".

Key Terms

The Four Causes
Virtue Ethics
The Golden Mean

  • Read, analyze, and critique philosophical texts
  • Articulate key conceptual distinctions between classical views of reality
  • Demonstrate knowledge of teleology, entelechy, and Aristotle’s Four Causes.
  • Demonstrate an ability to discuss and reflect upon the application of the course material to various aspects of life.
  • Evaluate the personal and social responsibilities of living in a diverse world.

I. Background

  • Student of Plato
  • Alexander of Macedonia’s tutor
  • Founder of Lyceum


Plato is dear to me; but dearer still is truth.

II. On Knowledge

III. On Reality

  • A. Differences from Plato
    • No World of Being/World of Becoming
    • This devalues the world of experience
    • This makes the world less worthy of serious study
    • This keeps people from genuine knowledge
  • B. Hylomorphism - matter and form
    • Matter - common “stuff” in the universe
    • Form - essence of a thing
    • Form and matter create ‘formed matter’ or substance
    • Hylomorphism - matter has the potential to become actualized
    • The Four Causes
      • Material Cause - matter
      • Formal Cause - embedded form, structure
      • Efficient Cause - triggering action
      • Final Cause - ultimate purpose
  • C. Teleology (telos - end; logos - reason)
    • Everything has a goal, a reason for being
    • Achieving this goal is entelechy
    • The purpose of a knife is to cut. A good knife cuts well.
    • The purpose of a fire is to burn. A good fire burns hot and brightly.
    • The purpose of a person is to think. A good person learns.

IV. On Morality

  • A. Understanding Virtue Ethics
    • Wide variety of ethical approaches
    • Return to the classical approach in the mid 1900s
    • Virtue ethics is concerned with character
    • A virtuous person has to have good judgment, be able to contemplate and debate all sides of a moral issue, have the strength to act on knowledge of the right thing
    • A virtuous person has prudence, the ability to choose wisely
    • A person discovers virtue in childhood and develops virtue through a lifetime of training, experience and practice
    • One becomes virtuous by being virtuous
    • Moral virtue is a trait of character, performed habitually, that would be good for anyone to have
    • The Teleology (or purpose) of Human Life
      • Inevitably, all things are desired for something else
        • Food for health, money for security and social opportunity...
        • ...until you get to 'happiness'
      • Eudemonia (Happiness/Human Flourishing) desired for its own sake
      • This makes eudaimonia the highest good
      • Happiness is a way of being in the world
      • One seeks Happiness by being a virtuous person
      • You reach your highest potential by seeking the moral Golden Mean
  • B. Golden Mean
    • Aristotle defines Virtue as the Golden Middle State between two moral extremes
    • Greek emphasis on balance and proportion
    • The virtuous person is one who has found balance
    • The Golden Mean represents the highest quality of life and human flourishing
    • Decoding what is virtuous is prudence
    • How to Be a Moral Person
      • Know what you’re doing
      • Deliberately choose for its own sake
      • Act consistently
  • C. Advantages to Virtue Ethics
    • Moral motivation
    • Doubts the “ideal” of impartiality
  • D. Objections to Virtue Ethics
    • Founded on a tautology
    • Difficult to define character traits
    • Does not consider overall consequences 
    • Difficult to choose between opposing virtues

Logic Week 5: Reductionist Fallacy