What is an example of intellectual virtues

The Wisdom in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

Housework, 2004

11 pages, grade: 1.3

Reading sample

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. The ethical and dianoetic virtues
2.1. The cleverness
2.2. Cleverness, science and practical skill

3. Opinion on Ursula Wolf's criticism


1 Introduction

In his work "Nicomachean Ethics", Aristotle discusses the question of the highest human good and how it can be achieved. According to Aristotle, the highest good, bliss, can only be achieved if the human being “is active in the sense of its essential ability”[1] exercise for a lifetime. “Because a swallow doesn't make a spring and not even a day. So not even a day or a small period of time makes people happy and blissful "[2]. The question now arises as to which actions a person must constantly carry out if he wants to be happy. Although Aristotle clearly aligns his philosophical thoughts with practice - "we do not philosophize to find out what is ethical value, but to become valuable people"[3] - he remains, it seems, guilty of concrete instructions for action. However, because of the uniqueness of each situation, it is simply impossible to determine the appropriate virtuous response in advance. Therefore, like any other ethic, Aristotelian ethics must persist on a relatively abstract level. For this reason he introduces the concepts of ethical and intellectual virtues, the ethical and dianoetic aretai, which, despite a certain abstractness, are quite clear. He considers these to be necessary in order to become a valuable person and thus be happy. If the ethical aretai are directly linked to the ability to strive and thus act on the goals of good action, the eupraxia, parts of the intellectual virtues are decisive for the concrete planning of the respective action. For this Aristotle seems to be particularly important to the "phronesis", the cleverness. I would like to shed light on these in the present work and locate them in the Aristotelian conception of virtue. I will also go into some criticisms from secondary literature - here those from Ursula Wolf.

2. The ethical and dianoetic virtues

In order to make the interdependence of the ethical and intellectual virtues more transparent, it is worthwhile to take a look at the ethical virtues before we turn to the intellectual virtues in general, and to cleverness in particular.

First of all: what does virtue actually mean? Aristotle claims that a virtue is an ability (dynamis) that comes naturally to one and, through constant repetition and reinforcement, becomes a habitus, a basic attitude (hexis). However, this only applies to the ethical virtues, hence the name "ethical" from ethos, Greek habit. Some examples of an ethical virtue could be: bravery, prudence, generosity. The dianoetic virtues also gradually become the basic attitude in the course of a lifetime, but they are not a skill in the aforementioned sense, but rather develop largely through instruction and practice. The dianoetic aretai include, for example, wisdom (sophia) and prudence (phronesis). In order for the intellectual abilities to become a virtue, it is essential that they are oriented towards the highest good, the highest truth.

Aristotle first distinguishes between two parts of the soul (psychēe). One part is unreasonable (alogon), it contains all life-sustaining, vegative functions, as well as the ability to strive (orektikon). The aretē ethikē, which, in conjunction with prudence, enable good action, arise from the ability to strive. The prudence, however, comes from the other part of the soul, the rational part (logos). This is divided into the thinking part (logistikon), which he sometimes also calls the meaning part of the soul (doxastikon), and the thinking part (epistemonikon). The superior part of the soul is responsible for producing (poiesis) as well as acting (praxis). Prudence is decisive for action. The thinking part should not occupy us at this point, although it occupies an important place in Aristotle's overall conception, because from it arises the theoria, the contemplation / vision that arises from scientific thinking (episteme) and intuitive thinking (nous) and together with eupraxia, the good action that makes people happy. According to Aristotle, this part of the soul is also of a higher value than the practical, intellectual part. For Aristotle this is justified in the realms of being with which these parts of the soul are in contact. So episteme and nous deal with the unchangeable, the eternal, which is more divine and thus superior, while praxis and poiesis deal with the contingent, the changeable. And although the virtues of the thinking part of the soul have no direct impact on good action, they are in the Aristotelian overall conception of happiness as at least an equivalent form of eudaimonia alongside eupraxia, good action.


[1] NE, book I, chap. 6, 1098a 15

[2] NE, book I, chap. 6, 1098a 18f.

[3] NE, book II, chap. 2, 1103b 26f.

End of the excerpt from 11 pages


The Wisdom in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
Technical University of Berlin (Institute for Philosophy)
Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics
Leonard Ameln (Author)
Catalog number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
432 KB
Wisdom, Aristotle, Nicomachean, Ethics, Aristotle, Nicomachean, Ethics
Price (eBook)
£ 5,99
Cite work
Leonard Ameln (Author), 2004, Die Klugheit in Aristoteles' Nikomachischer Ethik, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/46684