Aristotle's Basic and Non-Basic Virtues

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 20:261-95 (2001)
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Abstract

The structure of Aristotelian virtue ethics has been misunderstood. Conventional wisdom has it that Aristotle, as indeed all of the major philosophers of ancient Greece, believed that the virtues are reciprocally entailing (RV): a person can have one of the virtues of character if and only if she has them all. But this is false. Instead, Aristotle distinguishes between a set of basic and a set of nonbasic virtues, and claims that only the basic virtues are reciprocally entailing. Furthermore, he believes that, given at least a moderate amount of external goods, the basic virtues are both necessary and sufficient for happiness. The nonbasic virtues are, then, separable from the basic virtues, and unnecessary for happiness, on Aristotle’s view. This insulates Aristotelian virtue ethics from the charge that it demands unreasonable knowledge and resources of agent aiming for happiness.

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Stephen M. Gardiner
University of Washington

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