According to Aristotle, “Virtue is a permanent state of mind, formed with the concurrence of the will and based upon an ideal of what is best in actual life, an ideal fixed by reason.” In this way, virtue is an acquired quality. It is an acquired disposition, the quality of obeying moral law. The nature of virtue will become even more evident from an analysis of the relations it bears to duty, character, habit and value.
Virtue and duty:
Virtue is created by the habit of fulfilling duty. A person given to uninterrupted fulfilment of duty has a sterling character and the virtue of duty fulfilment Thus the fulfilment of duty is intimately related to virtue but the difference between duty and virtue should not be forgotten on this account Duty implies external activity and is a part of conduct Virtue implies internal excellence, being a quality of character. In brief, duty is the external manifestation of virtue, the latter being the internal aspect of duty. The existence of one proves the existence of the other.
Virtue and Character:
It is evident from the above exposition that virtue and character are intimately related. Virtue indicates good character as vice is a sign of bad character. Virtue is the superiority of character, vice its defect a virtuous person endeavours for the development and manifestation of the complete self and controuls the baser passions. A person in vice is the slave of base passions and he does not distinguish between moral and immoral. Thus, virtue is as much a quality of character as vice is its defect Virtue and habit
Moral activities come from virtue but if an individual has done some good activity he cannot be called virtuous on the strength of it actually virtue is die habit of doing good work. In the words of Aristotle, Virtue is “a state apt to exercise deliberate choice being in the relative mean, determined by reason and as die man of practical wisdom would determine it the morality of an action depends upon the goodness of its will. The habit of such good volition is virtue. Virtue is the adoption of the Golden mean
Aristotle treats virtue as the habit of choosing the mean or middle path. According to him, a prudent act is moral. Excess is invariably bad. Intelligent people always adopt the golden mean in respect of any and everything. This habit in choice is virtue.
In this way, the virtuous person adopts the middle path in personal as well as social conduct for example he is neither a coward nor a rash man who invites dangers, he is instead brave and enterprising. He neither runs from difficulties nor wilfully creates them, but faces them adamantly. In this way a virtuous person is neither extravagant nor stringent.
He is liberal and he also conducts himself in a manner befitting his nature. This mean is right everyone but mean for everyone will be different proportionate to his capability. For example, bravery on the part of soldier may be mischief for an ordinary citizen.
In a general way, Aristotle’s theory is a supremely practical theory but it cannot be applied in all circumstances. Muirhead has said quite correctly, “Moderation in all things may be as much of a vice as immoderation in one and all.”
Virtue is knowledge:
Virtue is knowledge, at least for Socrates it is so. This statement means that most immoral activities are the result of ignorance. If some person possesses the knowledge of good he will not stop to evil doings. Thus it is as natural for a good work to take shape when there is knowledge as it is for it to take shape when there is virtue.
Thus knowledge is actually virtue. Ignorance is vice. No person consciously commits crimes. At the base of every bad work there is some ignorance. Plato, too has supported the opinion of Socrates. And many Indian thinkers have presented similar opinions.
Virtue is also a habit:
But, in actual fact a man cannot be virtuous by mere knowledge as long as he is not in the habit of performing good activities, and habit does not necessarily result from mere knowledge. Here, some people can say that if some person indulges in immoral deed even while understanding good then it means that some part of his personality is still ignorant but the use of such language is an indication of the ignorance of human psychology.
Besides the power of comprehension man has affective and volitional aspects too. This volitional aspect is often beyond the control of man’s intellectual aspect one has to inculcate the habit of controlling it this habit is virtue. Knowledge is, not action without which there can be no question of morality.
Thus, it is necessary for virtue that knowledge be converted into action. Accordingly, Mackenzie was correct in asserting that, “Virtue is a kind of knowledge as well as a kind of habit.” Actually, ethics implies that a man is capable of both good and bad, and is responsible for both. To believe that bad activities originate in ignorance is to relieve man of his responsibility in respect of them. Thus Socratic opinion is partially true.
Virtue and Happiness:
Some ethical philosophers have treated happiness as invariably conjoined to virtue. Happiness is a state of harmony of reason and sentience. Integral self realisation produces happiness. In this way, a virtuous person gets happiness inevitably. He finds happiness in doing good work and abstains from bad work.
Thus, a life of virtue is a life of happiness. Aristotle has unflinchingly supported this opinion. According to him happiness is the result of a proper use of reason. Thus, a rational person is always happy. It should here be noted that virtue itself is not happiness nor happiness itself a virtue. Happiness is an indication of virtue.
No one can doubt the intimate relation between happiness and virtue but virtue alone is not enough for happiness. May be in a lesser degree, but happiness does depend upon good results besides good volitions. As Aristotle rightly maintains, happiness necessitates too the external instruments along with virtue.
Actually, happiness is an indication of self realisation. The higher the self realisation the more will be the happiness. But self realisation is in as much need of external successes and good results as it is of virtue.
Virtue and value:
Virtue is intrinsic value. Virtues are needed for the achievement of values. In this way, virtue and value are intimately related but this is no reason for forgetting the differences between value and virtue. Value certainly requires virtue. But values are instrumental too. Virtues are subjective but values are objective also.
Virtue and Society:
Virtue is relative to time and place:
Virtues keep on changing according to traditions and customs. Thus virtues are relative to time and space. For example, in medieval Rajasthan emphasis was placed upon virile virtues. Today more emphasis is directed to non-violence, sacrifices, love, etc., or the sublime virtues.
Virtues are relative to a person’s status and role:
Different people in society occupy different status and they have different roles to concur to their respective status. Virtues are relative not only to time and place but they also change with the status and roles of person.
In this way, in society different people, men, women, young, old, rich, poor, etc., exhibit some difference in qualities, however slight As with duties of an individual which are determined by his status and role in society, so with virtues which also are determined by his status and role in society.
Ethos of Society:
It would be in keeping with the context of society and virtue to delineate upon the ethos of society. Ethos or conduct includes customs, dogmas, conventions etc. In this way every society has an ethos on the basis of which the life of that society proceeds. This conduct is the morality of the individuals in society.
Broadly has been very emphatic on this notion. According to him, an individual’s dutifulness is evinced by his concurring with the conduct of society, and in it his morality. An individual’s virtues are determined by the laws of society, institutions, ideals, patterns of conduct, dogmas and traditions, etc. All these taken together comprise the ethos of society. Bradley has gone to the extent of saying that it is immoral to pursue a moral level above the ethos of society.
But this opinion of Bradley’s places excessive emphasis upon the social aspect of ethics and virtue, besides the social aspect, ethics also has an individual aspect which is more important than the social. It is, of course, correct that every individual should attain the moral level of the ethos of his society but it would be even better to transcend that level. Secondly, the ethos of society is 110 permanent notion. It keeps on changing and the moral thinking of individuals is important addition to its change.