Master Class on "Virtues of Thought in Aristotle"

Feb 19 2016 12—3pm
Gavin House
1220 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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Aryeh Kosman

Haverford College


Aryeh Kosman (Haverford College)


This master class is open to graduate and undergraduate students, including non-University of Chicago students. Space is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Copies of the readings will be provided.

This seminar will discuss Aristotle’s account in Book 6 of the Nicomachean Ethics of what he there terms “virtues of thought” – ἀρετὰι τῆς διανοίας – distinguishing them from virtues τοῦ ἤθοuς – virtues of character.   Virtues of thought seem to be those cognitive states that enable us to think well – to reason correctly and to judge truly, sometimes about what is the case, sometimes about how best to make something, sometimes about how best to act. Thus the states that Aristotle proceeds to specify early in Book 6: these he designates art, understanding, prudence, wisdom and intellect. These virtues are apparently states of character enabling the kinds of activities in which we engage when we deliberate or reason or plan or develop theories. They are, to put it simply, virtues that enable us to think well. But on another interpretation, virtues of thought are not states of character enabling good thinking, but those aspects of our character by virtue of which we are in general able to reason well concerning how best to bring about the objects of our desire. On this reading Aristotle’s distinction highlights the fact that all virtuous activities in general require good thinking, rather than the fact that some virtuous activities in particular are instances of good thinking.  In addition to reading Book 6 of the Ethics and related texts of Aristotle, participants will read and discuss a short essay by Dr. Kosman on this subject, which suggests that it will be fruitful for understanding Aristotle that we keep both of these interpretations in view.


  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book 6
  • Kosman, Aryeh, Virtues of Thought (Harvard University Press, 2014) Ch. 15 on “Aristotle on the Virtues of Thought”

Aryeh Kosman is John Whitehead Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Haverford College. He is author of several books, including The Activity of Being: An Essay on Aristotle’s Ontology (Harvard, 2013) and Virtues of Thought: Essays on Plato and Aristotle (Harvard, 2014).