A Case for Virtue: Aristotle’s Psychology and Contemporary Accounts of Emotion Regulation

Images of Europe. Past, Present, Future: ISSEI 2014 - Conference Proceedings (2014)
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This essay argues that recent evidence in neurobiology and psychology supports Aristotle’s foundational psychology and account of self-control and demonstrates that his account of virtue is still relevant for understanding human agency. There is deep correlation between the psychological foundation of virtue that Aristotle describes in The Nicomachean Ethics (NE)—namely his distinction between the rational and nonrational parts of the soul, the way that they interact, and their respective roles in self-controlled action—and dual-process models of moral judgment. Furthermore, Aristotle’s conception of character traits requires emotion regulation, and there is growing evidence in neurobiology and psychology of this ability. Most importantly, individuals can intentionally influence and control their “emotion-generating” system, and furthermore can generate lasting neurological and behavioral changes through deliberate practice. This essay briefly reviews Aristotle’s account of the ψυχή (psyche/soul) and moral virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics, and then reviews contemporary evidence of emotional self-regulation or self-control that correlates with Aristotle’s account of virtue, demonstrating the ongoing relevance of Aristotle for understanding human agency.

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Paul E. Carron
Baylor University


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