Eric Massengill's Ethics Class Blog

Aristotle and Murder | December 7, 2008

Actions themselves, according to Aristotle, are not the source of immorality, but the character that commits those actions is. Thus, an action is not judged good or bad based on the action itself, but rather its relation to the virtue of the person commiting it. Aristotle would give two primary reasons why the act of murder is wrong: first, it is an act of bad character, and so certainly the action is performed by a person with bad character, thus the action is not bad but it illustrates the actor’s lack of virtue, which is what we are really punishing; second, regardless of how much virtue or vice a person has, an act of murder is an act of vice, and since virtue is a habbit (as is vice) commiting murder brings a person’s character closer to commiting murder again, since vice, like virtue, is a habbit. Thus murder is only wrong in that it shows the immorality of the character of the person murdering, and in that it increases the vice of the person murdering (since it gets them out of the habbit of not murdering, and increases habbit towards murdering).

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4 Comments »

  1. What does this say for a person who lives the life of a saint for 70 years and then one day kills someone? Has the person’s virtue disappeared at that moment? Or do we say that the murder is not immoral in this case because it was performed by someone who is full of virtue?

    Comment by Boone B. Gorges — December 9, 2008 @ 11:01 am

  2. That’s hard to determine. I think Aristotle would say that different people have stronger and weaker virtue, since they have formed stronger and weaker habits. So, I think he might say that the effect on the person’s virtue would be less. As far as how we would treat them, I think he would say that first time offenders do not have as strong a habit, and thus have better character, and so we should consider character and past crimes when determining punishment (which is exactly what we do).

    Comment by ericmassengill — December 9, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

  3. I wrote something similar and mentioned how this also takes into account when a murder may be accidental because it is not necessarily a negative on the persons character since intention was not there.

    Comment by kenjones417 — December 9, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

  4. I am in agreement with Aristole. I believe that it is not the action of murder itself that is the source of immorality, but the character that commits those actions is. For example, a Serial Killer who purposely hunts down his victims to murder them is the type of character Aristotle is talking about, and this type of character will always be bad,

    Comment by stacey k. — December 9, 2008 @ 10:21 pm


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I am a person. I am alive. I am capable of mechanical motion. My respiratory system is functional, as is my digestive, and circulatory system. My neurons operate.

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