In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle's practical philosophy makes an important
distinction between moral virtue and intellectual virtue. Intellectual virtue, or virtue of thinking,
can be thought of something which needs teaching, experience and time to be acquired.
Moral virtue, or virtue of character, is something which comes to oneself by having the right
habits, possessing such qualities as courage, gentleness, friendliness, and generosity. By
understanding their definitions, we can discuss this distinction in further detail.
Let us first discuss moral virtue. Aristotle said it is a pre-condition for happiness and the
highest virtues. The potential for moral virtues is by nature in humans, but none of them arise in
us naturally. “Nor could habituation make fire move downwards, or bring anything that is by
nature in one condition into another condition.”(269) This means by nature, we are able to
acquire virtue, but only through habit can we completely obtain it. Since we do not already have
these virtues by nature, we must first exercise what we learn. For example, “we become just by
doing just actions, temperate by doing temperate actions, brave by doing brave actions.”(270)
These virtuous actions cannot be done without first learning them. Aristotle also speaks of moral
virtue as being the mean between two extremes, that is, what is in excess and what is in
deficiency. He writes “virtue is about feelings and actions, in which excess and deficiency are in
error and incur blame, whereas the intermediate condition is correct and wins praise, which are
both proper to virtue.”(273) A good example would be for fear and confidence. The excess of this
would be a person who exceeds in fearlessness and the the deficiency would be called cowardly.
The mean of these two extremes would be courage. Another example is anger. The mean of this
would be gentleness and this intermediate person...