What is a Good Man?
Aristotle thinks that a man can be a good citizen without being a good man (Book III). What makes a man good? Aristotle says that it takes three things to make a good man: “nature, habit, and reason” (Book VII::xiii). By nature, he means that he should have a human nature with body and soul. Repeated acts create habits, both good and bad. To be a good man, a man must develop moral virtue: temperance, fortitude, prudence, and others. The third part that needs cultivating is reason. Aristotle thinks that reason is the most important part of the man. He distinguishes two parts of the soul: “one intrinsically possessing reason, the other not possessing reason but capable of listening to it” (Book VII:iv).
Then Aristotle makes an interesting comment: “To these belong, we think, the virtues which qualify a man to be called in some sense good” (Book VII:xiv). Aristotle seems to be saying that the good man lives by reason. He adds that it is in reason that the highest end exists. Aristotle divides reason into two parts: theoretical reason and practical reason. The development of the good man should be the aim of education. Aristotle states that we should work “for the sake of leisure” (Book VII:xiv). He sees leisure as the higher end. Aristotle thinks that the laborer does not have the time or he is not capable of leisure. For example, he says that “it is quite impossible, while living the life of a mechanic or hireling, to occupy oneself as virtue demands” (Book III:v).
Aristotle thinks that the common laborer cannot become a good man. Why does he think this way? Is it because he does not have the time to develop the moral and intellectual virtues or is it the work or the person? Aristotle states that work is a means to a higher end, leisure. Is work just a means to an end, or can it be both? Is the good life only for the leisured class. I would say no!
There are certain problems with Aristotle’s views that need to be supplemented by Christian revelation. The Bible says that God created men and women good. Jesus came to our world in a human body. He incarnated among us. Christian revelation affirms the goodness of the body and the soul. It also affirms human work because God put Adam in the Garden to take care of it. A modern example of a good man who works with his hands is Wendell Berry. He is a novelist, an essayist, a poet, and a farmer. Berry is a person of both moral and intellectual virtues.
What is a good man? Is it possible to be both a good man and a good citizen? Aristotle thinks they are distinct virtues. The reason he believes this is that only a portion of the population has the leisure to develop this virtue. Aristotle is right about what make a good man. A good man is one who possesses both moral and intellectual virtues. He is also correct in saying that education should prepare citizens for both work and leisure. I would supplement this view by saying that this education is not for the few, but the many.