Tuesday, June 26, 2012

[PL 431] Can a good man sin?

According to Aristotle, a virtue is a trait of character that is manifested in habitual action. For example, a virtuous person is someone who is generous on a regular basis, not because s/he wants to gain favor with others or because being generous is the right thing to do, but rather because that is the sort of person s/he is.

From the perspective of virtue ethics, one becomes good by doing good, and once one becomes good, one will continue to do good, since one is good.

In this clip, Everlast sings that he has seen:
  1. a good man sin;
  2. an honest man lie.
From the perspective of virtue ethics, do (1) and (2) make sense?


  1. Believe it or not, we have employed virtue ethics at my place of employment. Part of my duties are to communicate what it means to be accountable for your actions (the joys of middle management), and in a recent presentation I talked about Aristotle's virtue ethics. This is probably going to sound reductive, but it's so spot on: One can't become patient in a hurry. If you want to hone the virtue of patience, you must do patient things, patiently. Does philosophy allow for human error? If so, then sure a good man can sin and an honest man can lie, so long as the decisions they consciously make after their sins and lies are good and honest (and are performed "good-ly" and honestly). Humans of a compassionate persuasion are apt to say, "Everybody makes mistakes, it's what we do after that matters." But I'm not sure if philosophers would.

    1. Hi Meg,

      Thanks for your comment.

      It's great that you got to talk about Aristotle and virtue ethics at your workplace.

      I am very sympathetic to your remarks that a virtuous person can have lapses of virtue, as it were. But I wonder when do we say, "well, that person is not really virtuous after all." To take your example, for a person who has the virtue of patience, or a patient person, patience is supposed to be second nature (according to virtue ethics). If a character trait is second nature to you, it seems that mistakes, as far as that character trait is concerned, would be very rare, right?


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