Document Type

Senior Thesis

Publication Date



“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This Aristotelian notion of how to lead a virtuous life is one that philosophers and scholars alike have respected and praised for centuries. Consistency in choosing the right path is the key to leading a fulfilling life, which is a notion many agree upon. While one person may hold Aristotelian notions of consistent excellence in character on a pedestal, this same person may also believe that in order for one to have free will and moral responsibility, one must have the ability at all times to choose A over B, and vice versa. This theory of absolute free will is called incompatibilism. Incompatibilists believe that one cannot have free will and moral responsibility if any of our actions are determined by our past. This leads one to realize that the Aristotelian incompatibilist is constantly at odds with himself. He cannot constantly pursue excellence because that would mean his actions are determined, and thus lacks free will and moral responsibility. Either the Aristotelian incompatibilist must concede his notions of character are much too stringent to maintain in reality, or he must accept that one can still have free will and moral responsibility while determinism exists. I will assert that it is much more important to change our conception of freedom from “absolute without any limits” to “determined by the fixity of the past but still compatible with free will and moral responsibility.” The theory of pursuing a consistently excellent character should not be discarded simply because we cannot have absolute free will. I will draw from Aristotle’s views on moral responsibility, character, ethics, and free will in order to defend my views on character. I will reference John Martin Fischer’s The Metaphysics of Free Will to prove that determinism still allows for free will and moral responsibility. There are critics who believe that constantly pursuing a virtuous character is almost psychologically impossible due to environmental situations and overall human instinct. One of these is John Doris who wrote a book called Lack of Character, which analyzes whether Aristotelian notions of character are even possible when compared with moral psychological problems and facts. I will reference his book when providing counterexamples to Aristotelian notions of character. I will also be using arguments as counter examples from Fischer's work.

Included in

Philosophy Commons