Kevin LuProf. Morganna LambethSCLA 1019 Oct. 2019Have you ever seen someone who seems to have mastered the art of being a person? Imagine a person everybody wants to be around, who always knows what to say, can diffuse a tense situation, deliver tough news gracefully, confident without being arrogant, brave but not reckless, and generous but never extravagant. This is the type of person that Aristotle believes is morally virtuous and what we should all aspire to be. This may sound like an impossible feat, but Aristotle believed that these people do exist, although they’re very rare, these people do exist. There’s a whole moral theory based on the idea of virtue. Unlike most moral theories, the theory of virtue emphasizes an individual’s character rather than following a set of rules. According to Aristotle, having virtue means doing the right thing, the right time, the right way, the right amount, toward the right people. If you’re virtuous you know what is right to do, how to handle yourself, and how to get along with others. Aristotle understood virtue as a set of robust character traits that once developed will lead to predictably good behavior. Virtue is like the midpoint between two extremes or vices and this applies similarly to many values such as courage, temperance, bravery, generosity, magnificence, magnanimity, mildness, friendliness, truthfulness, wit, and shame. Hence, I would argue that Medea is not virtuous from an Aristotelian point of view since her values and actions consistently fall on the extreme ends of the spectrum. However, Medea isn’t completely vicious either, because her actions were driven by a cause, not pure evil; she just reacted to that cause in a self-destructing manner. Before we determine whether Medea is virtuous or not, it is important to understand the dynamics of her relationship with Jason. According to Aristotle, there are three types of friendships. Friendships that are based on utility, pleasure, and character. Friendship for utility is friendship formed from mutual benefit and usefulness to one another. The friendship remains as long as they are useful. In a societal context, business partners or co-workers are often friends for utility, because they cooperate and work together. In an academic context, friends from study groups are friends for utility, because studying together benefits both sides. Friendship for pleasure is friends because they find each other pleasing. The friendship is held by the pleasure of doing certain activities together. Perhaps the most common example is an erotic relationship. The mutual pleasure could be sexual, but it is not just limited to that. It could also be pleasure from their other characteristics such as looks. Those types of relationships are most common with young people. A friendship formed from doing activities like sport also counts as friendship for pleasure, because pleasure is gained by doing those activities together. Friendship for character is friends because they admire each other’s characters. There are no specific examples for those friendships, as it could be anyone who’s values are similar or likable. Aristotle thinks that those friendships are the longest lasting. This raises the question of what if both sides of the friendship have bad character, and thus they each other’s character. According to Aristotle, both sides must have good character in order for it to count: “complete friendship is friendship of good people similar in virtue; for they wish goods in the same way to each other insofar as they are good” (122). It is quite apparent in the story that there was a mismatch of friendship bond between Jason and Medea. Medea was a friend of utility from Jason’s point of view, while Jason was a friend of pleasure to Medea. Jason’s clear objective from day one was to get power. He set on his journey to steal the golden fleece because he was promised the throne by Pelias for completing the task. Jason met Medea mid-way of his journey and kept her with him because she was useful. Medea had “magic powers with which she can help or harm male heroes” (p.70), and it would have been easier to steal the fleece with her help since she is the daughter of the rulers in Colchis. In the end, Medea proved her usefulness and loyalty to Jason by “betray(ing) her own” (p.70) and successfully stealing the fleece, even killing her own brother along the way. There she continued to use her magic and to participate in intrigues within the royal house, eventually tricking the daughters of a rival king, Pelias, into poisoning their own father. After Jason and Medea settled in Corinth, Medea was no longer useful to Jason. Therefore, Jason “subsequently decided instead to marry the daughter of the king of Corinth” (p.70) to gain social status. This exposes the fact the Medea was merely just used by Jason for utility. When considering how powerful Medea is and her original social status, there is no real utility to gain from Jason. Medea instead lost her family, home, and social status by going with Jason. The fact that Medea decided to go with Jason pretty much as soon as they met also meant that Medea couldn’t have known his character enough to reasonably admire it. Besides, there is not much admirable about Jason’s character. Therefore, we could safely rule out that Jason was not a friend of utility or pleasure to Medea. Medea liked Jason because she finds him very pleasureful and attractive. According to the nurse, “Medea is “infatuated with desire” (73). Medea was so in love with Jason that she “gave support in every way to Jason” and she went on to do horrible things that cost many innocent lives. Her feelings for Jason were so strong that it dominated her decision making. When considering how immersed Medea was to Jason, it is no surprise that she did what she did when she got betrayed. That extremely powerful emotion of love can turn into extreme hatred when reversed. Most people who experienced identical situations would probably also seek terrible acts of revenge. Hence, I believe Medea is not vicious, but that doesn’t make her virtuous either. Virtue is a matter of having the appropriate attitude toward “pain and pleasure”. Humans should enjoy living and avoid pain, but not become selfish or expect a life completely void of misfortune. According to Aristotle, a life of eudaimonia can be achieved by striving to live a life of moderation. In a eudemonistic life, Human beings can find happiness and, therefore, be ethical. Medea’s tragic ending and depression suggest that she wasn’t following the guidance of virtue or striving to live a virtuous life. In my opinion, to end up like Medea, you’d have to go down the wrong path for a long way. Aristotle said your character is developed through habituation. If you do a virtuous thing repeatedly, it will become part of your character. People who already possess virtue are moral exemplars and can help others become virtuous. If we take the same logic, we could also infer that doing unvirtuous things over and over will imprint bad qualities on one’s character. Hanging with unvirtuous people will also do the same. In my opinion, Medea deviated away from the path of virtue by sticking with Jason, who is clearly not a virtuous person judging from his selfish tendencies. Medea’s unvirtuous character is even clearer when analyzing her courage, temperance, and generosity. Some would argue that Medea’s actions were courageous, but I disagree. Medea was fearless. According to Aristotle’s definition, a coward will suffer undue fear in the face of danger, whereas a rash person will not suffer enough fear. A courageous person would “stand firm against the right things and fear the right things, for the right end, in the way, at the right time, and is correspond confident” (p41.) Although Medea wasn’t a coward, she stood for the wrong things, for the wrong end, at the wrong time. She did not fear the right things such as the consequences of murdering people. A courageous person in Medea’s shoes would have considered the consequences of committing such crimes before doing so. To continue, Medea’s actions were driven by extremely strong emotions. Rationality was not in play in her fundamental decision-making process. The fact that she abandoned her life to pursue the pleasure to be with Jason clearly shows that she has no self-control or temperance. When it comes to generosity, Medea managed to land on both ends of the spectrum but miss the mean. Medea was way too generous to Jason, to the point that it’s prodigality. She basically sacrificed her well-being and gave away her life for Jason. Aristotle states that a person should only be generous to the extent that it doesn’t harm the person. On the other hand, Medea is extremely selfish in the sense that she killed many innocent people including her children to satisfy her desires to be with Jason and ultimately make him suffer.I believe that Aristotle would recommend Medea to leave for Athens instead of carrying out her murder plans because the consequences of doing so are far worse than the benefit. Medea’s murder not only resulted in the death of her children; it also took away her chance of having a peaceful second life because everyone will know about her dark past. Medea could have harmed Jason by simply taking his children away. I mostly agree with the Aristotelian assessment of Medea. In my opinion, Medea’s values are too extreme to be virtuous on any reasonable metric. Although the Aristotelian assessment isn’t perfect, it shows that Medea’s got a very long way to go before becoming a virtuous person.
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