Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Building the Soul: Aristotle's Constitutive View of Virtue
by Olfert, Christiana, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2010, 252; 3447978
Abstract (Summary)

What is so special about being a good person? One compelling answer, both in our time and in Aristotle's, is that the good person is special in virtue of having the right motives and doing the right things. However, I argue that Aristotle's own answer in the Nicomachean Ethics is quite different: he holds the radical view that only a good person is a human agent in the full, strict sense . Only a good person is fully engaged in what she does; only she can completely perform the psychological activities associated with action; and only she acts from all of herself, as a whole, unified agent. In this way. Aristotle gives virtuous motives and actions a unique psychological explanation and this explanation, in turn, gives the good person a unique claim to being a full human agent. I call this radical view Aristotle's Constitutive View of Virtue, since the virtues turn out to be psychological traits that either bring about or constitute this new sort of agency.

The primary aim of my dissertation is to argue for this under-appreciated feature of Aristotle's theory of virtue, by showing that it follows from some of the most familiar and foundational ideas in the Nicomachean Ethics.

In addition, however, I hope to shed new light on some of the basic elements of an ‘Aristotelian’ ethical theory. I propose to re-think some aspects of our entrenched ideas about the psychology of vice, about what it means fora decision to be about the ‘overall best,’ about what Aristotle's conception of ‘character’ amounts to, about how to justify the claim that there is a distinctly practical sort of reasoning, and about the ways in which Aristotle's general metaphysical views underlie his conception of human agency. In doing so, I hope not only to contribute to the understanding of Aristotle's theory of virtue in particular, but also to show that his theory offers insights of general philosophical interest that have not often been recognized.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Mann, Wolfgang, Vogt, Katja
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 72/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Ethics, Philosophy
Keywords: Aristotle, Ethics, Nichomachean Ethics, Practical truth, Virtue
Publication Number: 3447978
ISBN: 978-1-124-53312-4
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