CLASSICAL GREEK ETHICS
A. CENTRAL CONCEPTS
functional excellence, goodness of a thing, acquired skill, power,
ēthos: character, one’s habitual way of living, one’s moral
motivation or purpose
ergon: work, deed, proper function
eudaimonia: vital well-being, happiness, human flourishing, fulfillment
agathos: good, noble; to agathon: the Good
dikaiosynē (or dikaiosunē): justice,
convention, custom, law
physis (or phusis):
nature, essential reality (as opposed to appearance), whatever exists
soul, breath of life, mind, spirit, functional structure of a living
sōphrosynē (or sōphrosunē):
moderation, temperance, balanced, healthy
telos: goal, end, aim, purpose, result, completion or fulfillment of
something, final point toward which a process is directed (cf. teleology
phronēsis: prudence, practical wisdom
(value): a means to an end (e.g., money, car, tool)
(value): an end in itself (e.g., happiness, pleasure, wisdom)
pursuit of personal advantage, benefit, or profit
process oriented toward a final goal or purpose (e.g., moral perfection, wisdom)
Perfectionism (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle): human
consists in excelling at things intrinsically worth doing
Agent-based ethics: emphasizes personal character
over individual actions and rules (action-based ethics)
B. BASIC QUESTIONS
What is happiness (eudaimonia)?
How does one achieve it?
What is the highest good (agathos) for human beings?
What is virtue (aretē)?
What kind of life (bios) should I live in order to
be a morally virtuous person?
What should I aim at as my ultimate goal or aim?
C. KEY ASSUMPTIONS
1. Human beings naturally desire the good and well-being (eudaimonia).
2. Virtue (aretē)
is a means to the end (telos) of achieving the good life and
3. Like everything in the world, humans have a distinctive function
or activity (ergon) that is specific to their kind, unique to their
4. Well-being (eudaimonia)
consists in the successful performance of one’s distinctive function.
5. Nothing or no one can successfully carry out its
relevant function unless it possesses the requisite excellence or virtue (aretē).
NOTE WELL: The last three assumptions ground the
typical Greek argument (Plato, Aristotle) for the connection between aretē
(virtue) and eudaimonia (well-being):
D. TWO FUNDAMENTAL
QUESTIONS BASED ON THE ABOVE ASSUMPTIONS
1. What is the distinctive, unique function (ergon)
of human beings?
2. What are the virtues, or the highest virtue (aretē),
that enables the maximum achievement of that function?
E. GENERAL GREEK
APPROACH TO ETHICS
1. Intellectual rather than emotional
2. Philosophical rather than religious
3. Moderate rather than extreme