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Title: Aristotle on Habituation
Subtitle: The Key to Unlocking the Nicomachean Ethics
Author(s): BOWDITCH, Nathan
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 15    Issue: 3   Date: September 2008   
Pages: 309-342
DOI: 10.2143/EP.15.3.2033154

Abstract :
This paper explores Aristotle’s discussion in the Nicomachean Ethics of the relation between the rational and nonrational parts of the soul to make sense of his claim that “we cannot be fully good without prudence [practical wisdom], or prudent without virtue of character.” The significance of this interpretive project for an understanding of the Nicomachean Ethics as a whole cannot be understated. While Aristotle’s conception of human excellence clearly incorporates both cognitive and conative capacities – which he calls virtues of the intellect and virtues of character –, Aristotle’s commitment to the biconditional relation between these capacities is less obvious. It follows that to understand his account of either form of virtue is to understand both, as well as the ways in which they are related. By attending to his account of the process through which an ethically undeveloped human being becomes a virtuous person, I approach this interpretive challenge from an angle too often neglected by contemporary readers of Aristotle. Although the Nicomachean Ethics contains no sustained treatment of the virtuous person’s development through time, the text is rich with materials that emerge in a variety of contexts and indicate the extent to which the very possibility of virtue itself depends on how one is brought up. By attending to the details of the developmental story, we will put ourselves in a much better position both to make sense of Aristotle’s characterization of the fully developed virtuous person, (that is, a person whose soul ‘expresses virtue’), and to respond to the interpretive challenges articulated above.

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