If there is a hundred dollar bill dropped in front of us while no one is watching, would snatching the opportunity considered “smart?” If there is an opportunity for us evade taxes and take advantages of the system’s loop hole, would profitting from such tactics be “smart?” If we can cut corners and manipulate others to do the work we don’t want to do, would that be a “smart” thing to do? Here, Aristotle would not only said that it is not “smart.” But worse, giving in to our own greed and desire is what Aristotle would described as a weakness of character.
For Aristotle, a moderate man becomes moderate because his ability to abstain from his greed. A couragous man becomes couragous because in spite of his fear he is able to act in ways which opposes it. The ability to rise above one’s impulses is the essense of human is. It is what make human “excellence.”
When a group of monkeys are hungry, they do not rationalize whether the act of stealing food is moral or immoral, they do whatever their impulses demand of them. When a dog is in shock or in a state of panic, it will attack even its owner if its instinct calls for such action. A termite swarmer will fly into a bon fire if its impulse demands it to do so.
Humans have similar impulses that animals have. We sometimes desire things that are detrimental to ourselves like drugs, junk foods and alcohol. At times we can become defensive and irritated even just by talking to others. And when a hundred-dollar bill is dropped in front of us while no one is watching, we can be tempted to take it. But despite these impulses, we do not always lash out, became trapped as the slave to our own temptations, or give in to our desire of stealing.
Instead, we learn how to be a good citizen by returning the money although we could have taken the money, we learn to quit bad habits to live a better life, and we hold back on our criticism to give others respect although what he or she said might irrelevant. Humans are endowed with the capacity to be excellent. So be kind when there is no reason to be, abstain from anger even when other is at a fault, and love even though we get nothing for it because these are what humans are made of. Without them our society would be no different from that of a jungle.
Character building is the development of one’s human capacity to be excellence. There is nothing to overcome by giving in to our desire and selflshness. In fact, how would humans then be so different from animals if we becomes the slave of our own desire? Human only becomes stronger, or “excellence,” by overcoming ourselves. Being the master of our own desire is something only human can do. This development of one’s excellence is what Aristotle would have describe as the greatest and truest path toward True Happiness.