Aristotle was one of the most influential philosophical writers of all time. He was the student to Plato, who was in turn the student of Socrates. Writings only exist from Plato and Aristotle because Socrates never wrote any works, however Plato’s dialogs thoroughly document conversations and arguments made by Socrates during his lifetime. When Aristotle was 17 he went to learn at the Plato’s Academy. Aristotle went on to write on a multitude of topics both in the realm of philosophy and the natural sciences (which in his time were closely related). The ethical theory he developed is the basis for many contemporary ethical theories and it consists of what he described as the cultivation of moral character through virtues. The virtues, put simply, are character traits which a morally good agent has cultivated and exercises often. Importantly, virtues are characteristics which lie between two vices, for instance Bravery is the virtuous characteristic that lies between cowardice and rashness. Aristotle held that by cultivating the means on this spectrum of character traits, a person necessarily becomes a virtuous or morally sound agent.
One interesting fact about Aristotle and Plato comes from Rafael’s painting “The School of Athens” which depicts Aristotle and Plato. In the painting they face each other, one with his hand to the sky and one with his hand out to the world. These gestures are symbolic of the diametrically opposed philosophical viewpoints to which they subscribed. Plato subscribed to a theory of the forms, in which the highest reality was found through the divine forms. This was a reality unknowable to us seen in examples such as the form of justice or beauty. Aristotle on the other hand, believed that philosophy was practical, world-based, and that its reality was all around us.