Although Greek philosophers agree that happiness requires virtue and therefore a happy man must have virtuous traits such as wisdom, bravery, moderation, and justice, they disagree on how to understand these qualities. As explained in point 2.1 above, several of Plato`s dialogues criticize the view that virtues are only a tendency to act in a certain way. Courage requires more than opposing threats against oneself and others. Bravery also requires recognizing when it is reasonable and appropriate to deal with these threats and acting on one`s own recognition. This has led Greek moralists to conclude that virtuous traits have two aspects: (a) a behavioral aspect – certain types of actions and (b) a psychological aspect – with the appropriate motivations, goals, concerns and perspectives. Greek philosophers generally disagree on what (b) contains. In particular, they differ from the role played by cognitive states (e.g.B. knowledge and faith), on the one hand, and affective states (e.g.B. desires, feelings and emotions), on the other hand, in virtuous character traits.
Socrates and the Stoics argued that only cognitive states were necessary for virtue, while Plato and Aristotle argued that both cognitive and affective states were necessary. Or think of Milgram`s experiments. During the experiments, many subjects protested, even though they continued to obey the experimenter`s orders. In interviews after the experiment with subjects, Milgram found that many were totally convinced of the falsity of what they were doing. But the presence of conflict does not need to signal an absence or loss of character. On a traditional idea of the character, as studied in this entry, many of Milgram`s subjects are best described as incontinent. They have character, but it is neither virtuous nor vicious. Many of us seem to fall into this category. We often recognize what is right, but we still don`t. In the writings of early theorists of the rights of nature, the views of Greek virtue were sometimes heavily criticized. Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), for example, opposed Aristotle`s treatment of virtue and, in particular, his attempts to find a way to understand justice.
It doesn`t matter, Grotius complains, what drives someone to act unfairly, the only thing that matters is that the unjust action violates the rights of others. Grotius recognized that one could develop emotional habits that support good deed, but he thought it was a matter of reason that controlled passions and emotions so that they did not disturb the good deed. This reason, which should control passions, indicates that the desired state is that one part of us governs the other, not that both parts, in Aristotle`s words, speak with the same voice. From this point of view, moral character is a state closer to what the Greeks considered self-control or continence than to what they considered a virtue.