Aristotle on Virtue

In fact, however, arguments seem to have enough influence to stimulate and encourage the civilized ones among the young people, and perhaps to make virtue [excellence] take possession of a well-born character that truly loves what is fine; but they seem unable to stimulate the many towards being fine and good.

For the many naturally obey fear, not shame; they avoid what is base because of the penalties, not because it is disgraceful. For since they live by their feelings, they pursue their proper pleasures and the sources of them, and avoid the opposed pains, and have not even a notion of what is fine and truly pleasant, since they have had no taste of it.

What argument could reform people like these? For it is impossible, or not easy, to alter by argument what has long been absorbed by habit [_ethos_]….

Arguments and teaching surely do not influence everyone, but the soul of the student needs to have been prepared by habits for enjoying and hating finely, like ground that is to nourish seed. For someone whose life follows his feelings would not even listen to an argument turning him away, or comprehend it; and in that state how could he be persuaded to change? And in general feelings seem to yield to force, not to argument.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, X.9

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: