This module discusses two of the most important and influential moral theories in the history of philosophy. The module presents the ethical views of Aristotle and Kant by focusing on the fundamental question of normative ethics: How can we judge in a certain situation what the right thing to do is? The module will examine fundamental issues of our moral experience and will explore Aristotle’s and Kant’s answers to them. Possible topics include: the difficulty of moral choice, the role of circumstances and luck in our moral lives, emotions and the development of moral dispositions, how to lead a good life, the role of philosophical reflection in our moral lives, the actual performance of moral actions, the possibility of freedom or how to reconcile virtue and happiness.
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Module Assessment Essay (50%)
Essays and other assessment tasks
The essay title must be taken from the list specified by the Module Co-ordinator. Any other essay titles will not be marked unless prior agreement has been sought from the Module Co-ordinator.
Essay Titles You are required to write an essay of 2,000 words:
Since the advent of philosophy, one of the most important questions that is asked or seeks to answer was the morality of human kind (Gino, Kouchaki and Galinsky 2015). The judgment of the morality has been one of the elusive questions that the philosophers have wanted to answer. In the essay the concept of moral goodness is evaluated in the light of theories of Aristotle and Kant are analyzed. The essay seeks to analyze the similarities between the theories formulated by the two great philosophers. The theories by the philosophers stand ages apart in time and may or may not have any similarities among them in theory but in practice there have to be some similarities and the civilization may have developed a lot but the basic tenet remains the same.
The development of the moral virtue of Aristotle into the moral ethics of Kant has gone through a number of changes in the society. The changes in the moral virtue of a person and the judgment benchmark of the society regarding the changes ahs remained same through the time. The various moral issues arising in the society has changed with time and with it changed the perception of moral goodness in the society.
The concept of moral goodness in the society according to Aristotle is a thing of practice and acquired habits rather than theoretical implication (Hutchinson 2015). According to Aristotle, the concept of ethics is not a theoretical concept and the virtue can be acquired by a person by constant and persistent practice of the person. The changes that have been observed while the practice of the individuals helps in determining the fact that the practice is good or bad. The constant use of good practices rather than bad will make a virtual change in an individual making them adhere to the virtuous behavior. Aristotle’s definition of virtuous behavior depends mostly on the balance between the excess of extremely good behavior and the so-called bad one. The extremity of expression of a good behavior is also not ideal for the society (Sanderse 2015). Aristotle’s ideal behavior chooses to depend on the virtue of an individual who balances their deed based on the balance between the extremities of the responses in a given situation (Carr 2014). For example, Aristotle’s definition of courage (Greek: ??????? [andreia]) is a balance between excessive rashness and cowardice. Therefore, Aristotle explains that the responses of the individuals in the given scenarios of their lives should be a balance between the extremities of a reaction in a given scenario. The overall changes in the society according to him could be an amalgamation of the reactions by the majority of the population. Aristotelian philosophy is based on actions and the practical application of the philosophy to achieve the penultimate existential state ‘Eudaimonia’. The state according to Aristotle is state of complete fulfillment and can be achieved by ethical decision-making. The will of the people guide their actions and there for the actions, which are the result of good will should be repeated in the society.
The theory of Kant in the realm of moral virtues is dependent on the categorical imperatives theorized by him (Sherman 2014). The Categorical imperatives theorized by Kant are a set of moral laws that are based on moral principles that one must follow in a given situation. The categorical imperatives defined by Kant set groundwork for analyzing the morality of an individual in a given scenario. The changes in the moral and the ethical values of the person through time may be taken into consideration while setting the categorical imperative in a certain scenario. Kant divides the moral duty of a person based on two different factors, the moral duty of an individual towards oneself and towards the society (Aune 2014). Kant argues that the achievement of a perfectly virtuous as seemingly impossible but believes in the achievement of the happiness through actions as the right of an individual. Kant believes ion the establishment of a set of ethics a priori, that is, setting of set theory based philosophical laws, which is set as a benchmark to understand the deviation of the judgment of the individuals. The overall situation of the individual is taken into account while formulating the understanding of the different scenarios that the people are into and the situational response (Kant 2017). The different moral values of a person depends on a set of personal ideal and moral virtues but they seem to be deterred by a number of other different scenarios and are tested on the basis of a priori. The ground set of moral laws or categorical imperatives when followed gives a good will to a person. According to Kant, it is the duty of the person to perform actions and take decisions, which reinforce this goodwill in the society (Denis and Gregor 2017).
There are a number of stark similarities between the moral ethic’s theories of Aristotle and Kant. The basic tenets of the analysis of actions paving the ideals of the virtuous ethical and the moralistic society remain the same in the ideologies of Kant and Aristotle. The most important similarity that is observed in the moral perfection theory of the philosophers is that they accept that the perfect society cannot be achieved and the human population should follow the path of morality, which would them to happiness (Vaughn 2015). This can be considered the prime reason of the human need to achieve the morality and ethics of the society as the society seeks to achieve a moral society to have a happier environment to live in.
The Kantian and the Aristotelian concept of virtue were thought to be extremely different earlier but in due time it was realized that they explain almost the same set of ethics striving towards a common aim and include a concept of achievement of happiness in the society as the prime motive of a moral society. They may view the actions differently but have a set benchmark to assess the validity of the actions of an individual in a given scenario.
Aristotle in his theory of moral virtue seeks to achieve the perfect society that is based on happiness but the more favorable term to define Eudemonia will be flourishing (Han 2015). The flourishing society will be a better society for the sustainable development and growth of civilization. Aristotle says that a flourishing society can be achieved by the understanding the perfecting the attitudes of the responses in the similar situations. When an individual keeps on repeating the ideal reactions to a given scenario, they will get the habit of going by the virtuous behavior in that scenario. This virtuous habit makes the society more virtue and a better flourishing society.
Kant on the other hand believes that the actions of an individual should be based on practical reasoning rather than impulses or desire (Herman 2016). An action is considered right in the Kantian sense when an individual has performed them to fulfill the duty. The fulfilling of one’s duty in the Kantian sense means that the actions are performed in consonance with the moral laws of the society known as the imperatives. The categorical imperatives devised by Kant helps to understand the situation of the person in which they take the action and how the imperatives help in the development of the moral and ethical development in the society. The categorical imperative in contrast with the actions of individuals helps in the development of the individual’s knowledge of the society and the social implications of the actions of an individual. Most importantly, the Kantian philosophy seeks to explain the need of the perfect action in a practical sense to achieve the perfect society.
The similarity of the Kantian and Aristotelian moral goodness lies in the fact that they seek to achieve the virtuous society on the basis of ethical actions of individuals based on the set of ground laws, which are defined by the categorical imperatives in the Kantian logic and the balance of emotions in the philosophy of Aristotle. The two logics given by the philosophers are based on a set of groundwork moral laws, where the achievement of the perfect society is based on the fact that the response of an individual in a given set of stimuli should adhere to the moral code of conduct in the society (Steven 2014). The theories of Kant and Aristotle propounded years apart are both based on practical actions rather than the theoretical philosophical view of the situation.
Another are where the ideas merge among the two philosophers is the importance of will of the persona as the guiding force behind the actions of the individuals. The ‘good will’ in the Kantian sense cannot be achieved by an individual who has a Aristotelian weak will. Therefore, it can be said that the willpower of the individual is seen as a guiding force and the justification of their action in both the philosophies (Zigon 2014). The definition of will may be a bit different in the two philosophies but the actions of the individual are judged on the basis of will or the perceived output of their actions in the philosophies.
Both Aristotle and Kant seek the achievement of individual pleasure in the actions. The actions of the individuals may be seeing to achieve happiness but they are considered good by the philosophers based on the fact that the actions do not harm the society. The concept of moral goodness in the also depends on the basis of the actions that are considered moral in the society. there are also situations where the same action may be considered moral and immoral in the same philosophy. For example, in case of self-defense if an individual in a fit of rage kills a person. The act of killing cannot be justified in any moral law but the situation that it was done in self-defense again makes the action justified. The concept can also be questioned in the Aristotelian and Kantian philosophy since they both depend on the concept of a balance of emotions and a perfect morality in the society and the excessive rage, which leads to the action, is not advisable behavior in both the philosophies.
The theories of Kant and Aristotle depend on the concept of right action or the moral action for the development of the overall moral good in the society. the morality of the society as judged by the view of Aristotle and Kant set up norms based on which the actions of the individual are judges in the society. The philosophies in question base their actions in the theory of achievement of the perfect and happy society through the practical application of ethical and virtuous decision making (Angle and Slote 2014). The decision making of an individual is based on the ethical and moral perspectives of the society. The adherence to a set of moral norms in the society is the basic tenet of the philosophies. Both the philosophers basically seek to achieve a happy and sustainable society, which according to them can only exist if the citizen of the society adheres to ethical and moral decision making.
Thus, in this essay it is seen that the two great philosophers having a disparity of a great time span propounded the theories of moral goodness and virtuous ethics. Despite this, the theories propounded by them seek to achieve a single objective of making a virtuous and happy society. The important factors that these theories take in view to justify the moral goodness are also the same. Moreover, both the theories have a practical and action based approach of the philosophy, which makes them all the more similar. The achievement of the ideal society in the perspective of the two philosophers can only be done by ideal and perfect decision-making based on a set of moral grounds. Therefore, it can be concluded that both the theories may look different from an overview but actually seek to achieve and the same objective, a virtuous society.
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Denis, L. and Gregor, M. eds., 2017. Kant: The Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge University Press.
Gino, F., Kouchaki, M. and Galinsky, A.D., 2015. The moral virtue of authenticity: How inauthenticity produces feelings of immorality and impurity. Psychological Science, 26(7), pp.983-996.
Han, H., 2015. Purpose as a moral virtue for flourishing. Journal of Moral Education, 44(3), pp.291-309.
Herman, B., 2016. Morality as rationality: a study of Kant’s ethics (Vol. 5). Routledge.
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Steven, C., 2014. Practice and Enlightenment: Aristotle and Kant on Moral Education.
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Zigon, J., 2014. An ethics of dwelling and a politics of world?building: a critical response to ordinary ethics. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 20(4), pp.746-764.