Aristotle on vice and misery
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 02:30 by Jonathan Robinson
A huge body of work is devoted to understanding Aristotelian virtue. By comparison Aristotle's views on the nature of vice have been somewhat neglected. This thesis aims to develop a new approach to Aristotelian vice, outlining its peculiarities in comparison with modern conceptions of vice, delineating the boundaries between vice and other deficient character states, and discovering why it is that Aristotle believes vice to be problematic. To give some shape to the investigation, I ask a guiding question: why is Aristotle's vicious person miserable? In Book IX of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes the vicious agent as one who hates their own life because of their vice. The vicious agent is full of regret, utterly miserable, and is even suicidal according to some translators. But Aristotle does not give a detailed explanation as to why this might be the case. It is the task of this thesis to comb through Aristotle's statements about vice, piecing together an account that makes sense of this misery. First, I survey the character states who share a deficient soul in various ways and to various degrees. Here I turn to the enkratic, akratic and brutish agent to show how they fail to be virtuous and how their failure is different to that of the vicious. Second, I posit a character state in-between akrasia and vice which I will call the 'in- between state' and suggest that Aristotle himself might make room for such a person. In looking at the in-between state we see a character who behaves with remarkable surface similarities to the vicious agent and give an account of why such a person is not properly vicious. Third, I will turn more closely to Aristotle's specific discussions of the vicious agent, here outlining the badness of vice and explaining why vice is bad for the agent. The second half of this task turns to study vicious misery. Here I will offer a novel account of vicious misery, arguing that the ends of the vicious agent cannot be met for teleological reasons and moreover that the ends of the vicious person fail to satisfy an innate desire for the true human good. Finally, I look at some potential counterexamples to this thesis and attempt to defend it against them.