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How to Distinguish Aristotle's Virtues

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This paper considers the distinctions Aristotle draws (1) between the intellectual virtue of phronêsis and the moral virtues and (2) among the moral virtues, in light of his commitment to the reciprocity of the virtues. I argue that Aristotle takes the intellectual virtues to be numerically distinct hexeis from the moral virtues. By contrast, I argue, he treats the moral virtues as numerically one hexis, although he allows that they are many hexeis 'in being'. The paper has three parts. In the first, I set out Aristotle's account of the structure of the faculties of the soul, and determine that desire is a distinct faculty. The rationality of a desire is not then a question of whether or not the faculty that produces that desire is rational, but rather a question of whether or not the object of the desire is good. In the second section I show that the reciprocity of phronêsis and the moral virtues requires this structure of the faculties. In the third section I show that the way in which Aristotle distinguishes the faculties requires that we individuate moral virtues according to the objects of the desires that enter into a given virtue, and with reference to the circumstances in which these desires are generated. I then explore what it might mean for the moral virtues to be different in being but not in number, given the way in which the moral virtues are individuated. I argue that Aristotle takes phronêsis and the political art to be a numerical unity in a particular way, and that he suggests that the moral virtues are, by analogy, the same kind of unity.

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