Aristotle and Virtue Ethics
Aristotle holds that virtues originate from actions that human beings perform because one can either be a good or bad person based on actions. In his ethics, Aristotle asserts that whatever activities that human beings do ultimately lead to a good or a bad end. Desire and passion compel human beings to pursue certain activities so that they can achieve certain ends, which determine virtue. If there were no desired ends, human beings would pursue activities in vain.
Human beings seek to achieve legitimate ends so that they can obtain happiness in life. Aristotle argues that human actions determine virtues that one achieves and subsequently influence happiness1. For example, a marriage partner who has experienced an unhappy marriage will struggle extremely hard to achieve a happy life out there with friends. Therefore, how does Aristotle’s virtue theory apply to The Good Girl movie?
The Good Girl Movie
The movie shows the story of a young woman, Justine, who is so troubled in her marriage because she has no children. Justine is 30 years old and has been unable to conceive because her husband, Phil, is impotent according to the diagnosis of a doctor. Phil is sterile because he has continually abused drugs, which has permanently made him unable to make his wife conceive. Troubled by dying marriage, Justine planned to seek for a man who would make her happy in life by giving her a baby.
Luckily, Justine found a young man aged 22, Holden, who was particularly attractive and mysterious2. From then, Justine and Holden continued with their secret love affair until when her workmates and friends discovered. Discovery of their secret affair put Justine in a dilemma, as she was already pregnant and did not know what to tell Phil. Justine wanted to save her marriage and at the same time keep the baby by marrying Holden. However, Justine and Phil reconciled and lived happily after that with their daughter.
Aristotle’s Ethical Theory
According to Aristotle’s ethical theory, virtues result from human actions for the perception of the moral character of a person emanates from various activities. Human actions and activities aimed at attaining excellence, which is a virtue in every aspect of life. According to Aristotle, every art and pursuit aims at attaining good, which is a virtue that all human beings cherish3. Synchronized actions focus on achieving one objective or more objectives as ends of excellence.
The difference between plants or animals and human being is a rational principle. The rational principle makes human beings have the ability of thinking and acting. Through thoughts, a human being can coordinate actions that determine ethics because actions describe ethics. For instance, ‘a good player’ and ‘a bad player,’ in this case, good and bad are descriptions of the action of playing, and they portray the virtues of players.
Actions are imperative in achieving virtues since no one can have virtues by a mere theoretical understanding of what ethics are. Thus, due to diversity and degree of actions, it is extraordinarily complicated to attribute certain actions to specified virtues, making ethics subjective.
The ethics theory further asserts that there are two types of virtues, moral and intellectual virtues; moral virtues emanate from habits while intellectual virtue is an innate characteristic that undergoes a transformation in the course of life due to teaching and experience. Nature gives primary moral virtues, and through perfection by habitual activities, one attains given moral virtues. Since habituation is a process of achieving ethics for one to be excellent in a certain field, one should continually learn and exercise.
For example, one becomes a runner by running; likewise, people become good when they do good and bad by doing bad things. The emphasis here is that actions have a direct relation with virtues for virtues cannot occur without actions.
Then, what actions are responsible for certain virtues? Confusingly, the same action produces both a virtue and vice, for instance, in playing as an action, we have both good and bad players. Aristotle argues that virtues exist in a continuum of excess and deficiency of actions, and thus, virtue occurs as an intermediate4. It, therefore, shows that deficiency or excess of action results in vices while intermediate actions give virtues.
Application of the theory
Given that Aristotle’s ethics theory postulates that human actions determine their virtues, The Good Girl movie portrays a scenario where Justine actions led her to achieve happiness. For many years, Justine had been in a troubled marriage that was gradually dying since Phil was unable to make her conceive. In pursuit of happiness, Justine thought of the best way of achieving happiness amidst daunting challenges of her marriage that seemed not to end unless she does something about them.
According to Aristotle, actions form the basis of virtue for they determine goodness or badness as unique ends of actions, but since human beings aim at achieving a good end, happiness is then an end of actions5. Thus, Justine was struggling to achieve happiness in her marriage and life, as well.
The movie has termed her ‘good’ girl because she thought of the best way of conceiving a baby so that she could achieve happiness in marriage and life. In her troubles, Justine had three options: to tolerate hard life of marriage, to divorce her husband or to conceive through a love affair. Relating to Aristotle’s ethical theory, deficiency, and excess of action causes a vice that leads to an unhappy life.
Thus, the option of tolerating fruitless marriage life would have been a deficient action, while the option of divorce would have been an excessive action. Hence, the option of conceiving through a love affair, because her husband was sterile, enabled her to have a girl child who made their marriage happy again after reconciliation. Aristotle argues that intermediate passions and actions are the recipes to virtues that lead to happiness6. Therefore, Justine obtained happiness through intermediate passions and actions.
Aristotle’s ethical theory effectively describes how virtues occur in society. The assertion that human actions and passions aim at achieving good is a complex concept that needs elaboration since some actions ultimately lead to vice no matter their moderation. For instance, action such as killing has no moderation, hence lack virtue. Moreover, since human actions are diverse, it is difficult to classify virtues according to diverse action because it would lead to ambiguity.
Therefore, if actions only determine moral virtues according to Aristotle’s ethics theory, there could be indefinite virtues in society, proving that ethics are not only complex but also subjective. Assertions like human actions determine virtues, pose a serious threat to ethical theories because it demands continued teaching of morality. If human moral values constantly change due to the influence of actions, then it is a daunting task to control moral virtues.
Regarding Aristotle concept of moderation, it is quite evident that intermediate actions yield virtues while extreme actions cause vices. The concept is particularly valuable as it shows that the moderation of human actions plays a significant role in shaping one’s morality through habituation.
In the case study of The Good Girl movie, Justine was able to moderate her actions so that she could achieve happiness in life, and she eventually became a ‘good’ girl. Thus, deficiency and excess of action cause vice while an intermediate of an action results in virtue and happiness.
Since humans do not have stable character traits, ethical theories provide the basis of the understanding of moral virtues but achieving the virtues demands actions. Knowing what actions give certain moral virtues enables one to pursue morality by habitually exercising them. As in the case of Justine in The Good Girl movie, one needs to know that excesses or deficiencies of actions will result in vices, and moderation of actions is vital is achieving desired virtues.
Pleasures and pains accompany the pursuit of actions because excessive pleasures result in overindulgence, which is a vice, while too much pain results into serious fear, which is also a vice. Hence, moderation of actions enables one to achieve moral virtues, though it is hard to determine what are the actions, and the extent of exercising them.
Ross, William. Nicomachean Ethics: Aristotle. Kitchener: Batoche Books, 1999.
Weschler, Raymond. “The Good Girl.” Drama and Comedy, 2002: 1-23.
1 William Ross. Nicomachean Ethics: Aristotle. Kitchener: Batoche Books, 1999, 14
2, Raymond Weschler. “The Good Girl.” Drama and Comedy, 2002: 1.
3 William Ross. Nicomachean Ethics: Aristotle. Kitchener: Batoche Books, 1999.
4 William Ross. (1999): 28
5 William Ross. (1999): 10
6 William Ross. (1999): 31
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