Aristotle and Effective Intelligence

Aristotle’s virtues’ philosophy provides the foundation for the concept of Effective Intelligence (FI), as it connects the goals of success and happiness (or well-being) to the core virtues needed before one can be effective in their pursuit.

Effective intelligence (FI) is defined as one’s ability to set and achieve valuable and meaningful goals that contribute towards achieving success. It is one’s demonstrated ability to use their natural and developed capabilities effectively in developing enabling beliefs, make appropriate decisions and take appropriate actions that can translate who they are genetically and who they’ve become because of their environment, timing and luck, into success.

Effective Intelligence is a “meta”-intelligence and defines the degree to which we can put into productive use all of the “other intelligences” (e.g. IQ, EI, SI, etc.). It is one’s ability to capitalize on these intelligences in an effective way that will lead (via a rich journey) to achieving their goals.

What is Aristotle’s virtues philosophy all about? the_thinker_400_clr_5815

Classically, a virtue is a strength or excellence. A virtue strengthens, improves, and perfects the person who possesses it. The word ‘virtue’ represents what the classical philosophers meant by the Greek term aretê (αρετή) and the Latin term virtus.  The aim of Aristotle’s virtues’ philosophy is to help us know what we ought to do in given situations, discover the right principles of conduct and define the ultimate goal of life as well as the appropriate means for reaching it. According to Aristotle, the ultimate goal toward which all human activity is directed is happiness. One attains happiness (Gr: ευδαιμονία, eudaemonia) by living a virtuous life and by developing reason and wisdom.

“Happiness is not the reward of virtue, but is virtue itself.” – Baruch Spinoza

street_sign_success_failure_400_clr_5768Eudaemonia can equally be rendered as “success”. People who are “in success” are not in a particular emotional state so much as they are living successfully. While happiness is the act of living well, living a virtuous life gives us the potential to live well. Virtue is achieved by a combination of knowledge, habituation, and self-discipline. However, excelling in all the intellectual and moral virtues doesn’t ensure our happiness unless we actively exercise those virtues. This requires conscious choice, moral purpose and motivation, and action in a social environment in which people can live “the good life” and develop their full potential. It also requires sufficient goods to ensure health, leisure, and the opportunity for virtuous action.

“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” – Bertrand Russell

Happiness and pleasure are two different things. On the one hand, happiness refers to those enjoyments that are associated with virtue and which make for the harmonious development of one’s entire personality. On the other hand, pleasure refers to those amusements that are more directly connected to the physical aspect of one’s being.

“Happiness is the continuous contemplation of eternal and universal truth.” – Aristotle

Moral virtue is the healthy mean between extremes of excess and deficiency. This, however, is not a mathematical mean but rather a “productive” mean which will vary with individuals and their respective circumstances. This mean is not universal but it is subjective and should be determined by good judgement.brain_line_sketch_400_clr_15609

There is a distinction between the Intellectual virtues and the Moral virtues. The emphasis on the moral virtues is placed on the proper control of one’s desires and actions as a means toward the achievement of some higher and more inclusive goal. That which is a means must always be a means for a superior goal which has value in itself. This goal is what Aristotle finds in the development of one’s intellectual virtues. This goal is what Aristotle finds in the development of one’s intellectual virtues.

“Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to others.” – Buddhist Thought

What are Aristotle’s virtues? which_direction_to_go_400_clr_7583

Prudence (or practical wisdom) relates directly to the concept of Effective Intelligence (FI) as it refers to our ability to carefully consider how we can achieve our best interests which contribute to our well being. Prudence is characterized as “executive disposition” because its outcome is something to be executed. It can be examined on two levels: the level of Purpose (can we set goals that are good and according to the virtues?) and the level of Deliberation (are we able to carefully consider the course and the means of our actions so as to attain the desirable goals?).

In matters of this kind there is no substitute for sound judgement (i.e. common sense).

The virtue of Judgement refers to our ability to evaluate what is true and what is not. Judgement forms our perception about things around us, therefore it strongly affects our Prudence which in turn determines our actions. When there is a deficiency in our Judgement (e.g. due to emotional factors or past experiences), we may consider as true something that is not and vice versa (e.g. consider an act as fair while it is unfair). curiosity_enter_the_light_400_clr_5555 It is through intuitive insight that the mind grasps the principles of conduct that may point the way toward success and happiness.

The virtue of Insightfulness refers to our ability to perceive things correctly, to examine correctly the circumstances, to understand the relationships between things, to analyze and synthesize. It determines our capacity to learn what is the right thing to do and what is not, and to transfer this knowledge to various contexts in order to achieve our best interest that contributes to our well being. 

Wisdom stands highest among all virtues, as it is both a means and an end. On one hand it can be used to direct life’s activities and help one develop all other virtues. One the other hand, it’s an end in itself, as it is in contemplation that one finds their greatest happiness and the fulfillment of that which is unique in their nature.

Seven prima facie duties: fidelity; reparation; gratitude; non-maleficence; justice; beneficence; and self-improvement. – Sir William David Ross

shoot_out_of_cannon_400_clr_13993The virtue of Courage refers to the management of daring, and it is described as the mean between cowardice (deficiency) and audacity/fearlessness (excess). Courageous is someone who endures and fearCourage-Virtues the “right” things, for the “right” reasons, in the “right” way, at the “right” time and for the “right” amount of time. Therefore, a person who is courageous acts and endures whatever is logically required for the attainment of a worthy goal. Courage (which always involves a risk) is a necessary means for the further development of one’s capacities.

“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” – Bertrand Russell

The virtue of Honour refers to our disposition to seek honours and recognition from others. This virtue is defined as the mean between lack of ambition (when we seek less honour and recognition than we deserve or we have no desire for honours) and over-ambitiousness (when we have an excessive desire for honour or when we seek more honour and recognition than we deserve).

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”- Lao Tzu

stick_figure_welcome_hands_400_clr_1932Honesty refers to our ability to tell the truth about ourselves and demonstrate to others who we really are, without denying or exaggerating our qualities. This virtue is the mean between self-deprecation (deficiency) and boastfulness (excess). 

The virtue of Fairness refers to our disposition to act in such a way that allows benefit and damage to be fairly distributed to those who deserve them, either between ourselves and others or amongst others. Aristotle defines Fairness as the mother of all virtues (“superior to all virtues and excellent”). Besides, for one to be really fair he/she has to have all virtues.

“We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character.” – David Brooks

The virtue of Generosity (or Liberality) refers to the management of things that are of value (e.g. time, money, knowledge/information, etc). It is defined as the productive mean between stinginess (deficiency) and wastefulness (excess). For example, knowledge needs to be shared with the right person, at the right time, in the right quantity, and in the right way, in order for knowledge to be used in a productive way. Therefore, in meeting the needs of others, the amount of one’s generosity should be governed not only by his ability to give but also by whether this amount will be in harmony with the long-term interests of those being served. One should follow the guidance of reason, as generosity is something that needs to be exercised with wisdom if it is to promote one’s own and others’ good.

“Many are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.” –  Brad Gill

figures_huddle_team_400_clr_15777The virtue of Friendliness refers to the management of our amicability in our interactions with others. It is defined as the mean between rudeness (deficiency) and obsequiousness (excess). Rude is the person who enjoys conflict, without taking into consideration whether it displeases or embarrasses others. Obsequious is the person who demonstrates servitude and is mostly interested in being likeable to others, avoiding conflict at great personal cost.

The virtue of Humour is described as the mean between boorishness and buffoonery. The boorish person does not enjoy humour, might even be unduly upset or annoyed by it. On the other hand, the buffoon is someone who enjoys humour in excess, in an unproductive way, with inappropriate timing or frequency, possibly causing annoyance to others.

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Aristotle

The virtue of Calmness  refers to the management of anger. It is the mean between spiritlessness and irritability. Spiritlessness refers to the lack of anger (deficiency), while irritability refers to the excess of anger, regarding its duration, intensity and frequency. The calm person desires to remain calm and not get carried away by passion or rage, but always within reasonable limits.

The virtue of Temperance refers to the management of our desires and it is the mean between insensibility and intemperance. A temperate person is one who desires moderately and reasonably all those pleasures that promote health and wellness. stick_figure_in_deep_thought_400_clr_8120

The virtue of Magnificence is defined as the mean between paltriness and vulgarity. Paltriness prevails when someone contributes to a cause with a miserly disposition. On the contrary, vulgarity is displayed when someone contributes excessively, much more than is required or expected.

The virtue of Magnanimity is defined as the mean between meekness and vanity.meek person believes that they do not deserve the great goods/honours while they actually deserves them, whereas a vain person believes that they deserve great goods/honour while they actually do not deserve them. The magnanimous (magnum=great) consider they deserve the greatest goods (wealth, influence, prestige, distinctions etc.) when they indeed deserve them. 


Aristotle tells us that even when one knows the general rules concerning good conduct, they may be so consumed by their passions and desires that they fail to see when and where to apply them. A variety of techniques are necessary in dealing with our desires and achieving the mean, but first we have to acknowledge our bad tendencies and correct them.

“Eulogy virtues are much more important than the résumé ones.” – David Brooks


The moral quality of actions is relative to the situation in which one finds themselves. What is proper and right for someone in a given situation, even in similar circumstances, may be quite different from what is right to do in a different situation. Each case must be addressed on its own merits, while the function of reason will determine the productive mean which, in view of the circumstances, would promote a virtuous behaviour.

“Moral life is one of moderation in all things; all things except virtue.” – Aristotle

Virtuous people deserve honours and respect but they avoid vanity and greed, and above all, they maintain an attitude of modesty and honesty in the matter of their own achievements. They are ambitious, in the sense of making the best use of their opportunities and abilities, but they don’t boast of their own greatness nor exaggerate their accomplishments. They bestow and accept honours when these are truly deserved, but without exaggeration, but they will not claim for themselves more than what rightfully belongs to them.

They don’t seek praise and recognition from others a purpose, but neither do they accept slander and defamation without an appropriate reaction. Their ambition is to serve as an example of the good life in their society. They are kind and considerate in their dealings with others, and they live in a manner that will cause them no shame. They rejoice in others’ successes as much as in their own. They avoid violent displays of temper even when they have reasons to be angry.

As wise and prudent persons, they know when anger is appropriate and they are always able to keep it under proper control. They do not vent their feelings when they encounter difficulties but they try to meet each challenge with courage and good judgement. They place a high value on friendship, knowing that relationships of this kind will be of mutual benefit to themselves and to their friends.

“Wonderful people are made, not born. They achieve an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral accomplishments.  But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self.” – David Brooks


By Nicos Kourounakis
With the contribution of
Anastasia Moira and Argyro Gkolfi

References and further readings:



5 thoughts on “Aristotle and Effective Intelligence

  1. […] Positive externalities are “good pollution”; they are byproducts of work processes that have direct or indirect value to our system or to neighbouring systems. These can be worthy goals in themselves (e.g. developing a new competence, gaining experience or wisdom). They can also be rendered useful as inputs to other work processes, and/or contribute positively to the achievement of other worthy goals, thus indirectly resulting in an increase in our overall efficiency and effectiveness. Concluding Thoughts The concept of productive efficiency reminds us that the concept of achieving a holistically defined optimal level (a productive amount) of a variety of things (such as qualities, competences, behaviours, virtues, etc.) has a positive effect on our lives and work. This productive level is the healthy mean between unproductive extremes (see also “Aristotle and Effective Intelligence“). […]


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