Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 2, Chapter 5 (1105b19-1106a13)

By Aristotle

Book 2, Chapter 5 (1105b19-1106a13)

  • But what is virtue, actually? Aristotle says that it must be part of the soul, like passions, capacities and characteristics.
  • Virtue, then, must belong to one of those categories.
  • Passions have to do with pleasure and pain and how we process them (desire, fear, joy, etc). Capacities help us deal with passions (i.e. the mechanism that helps us feel empathy, desire, etc).
  • Characteristics help us position ourselves in relation to passions. They help us respond well or badly to them.
  • So it's possible to respond badly to fear or to be reckless—or to be moderate in our response—depending on our characteristics.
  • Aristotle says that virtues can't fall under passions, since men are neither praised nor blamed for their passions as they are for virtues and vices.
  • The same is true for capacities. For one thing, we have "natural capacities" from birth—not so for virtues. Also, we aren't praised or blamed for our ability to have passions.
  • That leaves us with characteristics. This works out nicely, since it's in our characteristics that we hold the potential to behave well or badly.