Volume 88, 2014
Dispositions, Habits, and Virtues
Mathew. T. Lu
Hexis within Aristotelian Virtue Ethics
In Book II, Chapter 5 of the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle famously identifies the virtues as hexeis (sing. hexis). Like so many Greek philosophical terms of art, hexis admits of many translations; recent scholarly choices have included “habit,” “disposition,” “state,” “active condition.” In this paper, I argue that some of these translations have tended to obscure the active and causal role that hexeis play in Aristotle’s theory of moral action. This, in turn, has led at least some critics to misunderstand the Aristotelian virtue ethics tradition and mischaracterize virtue ethics as not properly action guiding. Ultimately, seeing the true significance of Aristotle’s claim that the virtues, both moral and intellectual, are hexeis helps us recognize just how radically different the Aristotelian conceptions of practical reason and moral action are from with those typically held by adherents of the alternative theories of normative ethics.