Aristotle’s Painful Path to Virtue: The Many and the Generous-Minded
According to Burnyeat, Aristotle thinks that people learn to identify virtuous acts by being told which acts are virtuous, habitually performing these acts, and taking pleasure in performing them. This chapter raises several objections to Burnyeat’s interpretation, including the surprising observation that Aristotle stipulates that virtuous acts are not typically pleasant for learners or even for virtuous people. According to Aristotle, pain rather than pleasure drives moral progress. People come to desire virtuous acts through internalizing punishment, that is, learning to feel shame at wrongdoing. Shame not only emphasizes that certain acts in certain situations are wrong, it also sets people thinking about which acts should be performed, instead. Shame is felt with respect to acts done by others, and acts under consideration, as well as acts done. The pain of vicarious, retrospective, and prospective shame develops the ability to identify virtuous acts.
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