In Aristotle's best known work The Nicomachean Ethics, he elaborated on the theory of virtues (moral virtues and intellectual virtues). Here moral virtues are qualities like generosity, courage, magnanimity and gentleness; intellectual virtues are qualities of mind and character that promote intellectual flourishing, critical thinking, and the pursuit of truth.

Aristotle also pointed out that the laws should be made to let citizens have virtues. This point, as far as I think, is not feasible in modern society. However, laws are really different from countries to countries and I do not know what others think of Aristotle's point. Therefore, I want to ask the following two questions:

  • Should laws be made to let citizens have virtues?

  • What is the purpose of making laws (from a theoretical aspect)?

  • 1
    "Should" is a question of opinion, and 'what is the theoretical purpose of making laws" is either so broad that it is off-topic or (more likely) has already been answered.
    – Nij
    Dec 13, 2020 at 7:41
  • Note: the above comment was posted on Law.SE
    – Ryan M
    Dec 14, 2020 at 5:13

1 Answer 1


If the question is about a quote from Aristotle, it should include/cite the quote.

Quoting from https://iep.utm.edu/aris-pol/#SH9b, which I assume is the base for the question:

“[T]here is in everyone by nature an impulse toward this sort of partnership. And yet the one who first constituted [a city] is responsible for the greatest of goods” [1253a29]. We must figure out how to live together for ourselves through the use of reason and speech, discovering justice and creating laws that make it possible for human community to survive and for the individuals in it to live virtuous lives. A group of people that has done this is a city: “[The virtue of] justice is a thing belonging to the city. For adjudication is an arrangement of the political partnership, and adjudication is judgment as to what is just” (1253a38). And in discovering and living according to the right laws, acting with justice and exercising the virtues that allow human society to function, we make possible not only the success of the political community but also the flourishing of our own individual virtue and happiness. Without the city and its justice, human beings are the worst of animals, just as we are the best when we are completed by the right kind of life in the city. And it is the pursuit of virtue rather than the pursuit of wealth or security or safety or military strength that is the most important element of a city: “The political partnership must be regarded, therefore, as being for the sake of noble actions, not for the sake of living together” (1281a1).

In simpler terms:

  • Governments (e.g. of Greek cities) provide many laws
  • Only by being governed by some laws, humans do not fight/steal/rape/kill, but behave civil to each other (with some exceptions)
  • Being in a place of peace allows people to follow their virtuous motives

He claims that the last bit is an unavoidable reason to have some laws. To live around other people and live a virtuous life, you need some laws, it will not work without some laws.

This means some laws are necessary to live a virtuous life. But it does not mean that all laws have this purpose. It also does not mean all people want the same laws just for this purpose, it also does not mean all laws were made for just this purpose, it also does not mean any law will achieve this purpose and make all people be virtuous.

Obviously in history laws have also been made for other purposes (religion, economics, racism, ...), and have resulted in people not being able to live virtuous life. Even Aristotle knew that. But that does not contradict Aristotles main point that without any law, no virtuous life with other people would be possible at all.

  • Should laws be made to let citizens have virtues?
  • What is the purpose of making laws (from a theoretical aspect)?

There are many different types of law with many different types of purposes that were created for many types of purposes. And without a moral framework most "Should..." questions cannot be answered in a useful way.

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