Aristotle’s Role in Divergent

Kim Ruhnke

Economics Per. 4

4/21/14

Word Count: 1,471

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        Divergent is a dystopian novel written by Veronica Roth in which the run-down society is divided into five distinct factions based upon the human virtues. After taking an aptitude test when turning sixteen years of age, each citizen residing in this community is dedicated to cultivation of a particular society in which they will devote the rest of their lives. Among these virtues are: Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity, and Candor.[1] Therefore, the plot of the story comes with a compelling lesson about what it means to be virtuous. Similarly, Aristotle heavily enforces and focuses on the human virtues. Thus, the central question and main reason for writing this essay is to come to a conclusion about which faction Aristotle would choose in order to give him the most success on his endeavors to exercise his power of reason as a human being. Would he fit into one of the five factions? Become factionless? Or possibly be amongst the most rare form- Divergent?

        The type of government in the novel Divergent would best be described by Aristotle as an Aristocracy. In his book, Politics, he defines an Aristocracy as the natural and just type of government ruled by few. For, “those who care for good government take into consideration virtue and vice in states” and a perverse government would not.[2] The manifesto of the first faction, Abnegation, also known as The Selfless, is to choose to turn away from their own reflection and not to rely on themselves, but rather their brothers and sisters and to always project outwards.[3] By the way, Aristotle calls the perverse governments selfish or those only “with a view to the private interest.” He, in that sense, supports the idea of selflessness.[4]  Although there is no doubt that Aristotle highly values self-love, both the self-lover and the selfless person will look out for the benefit of others. Yet, to him, selflessness is not the only virtue that reflects the Abnegation manifesto, “Justice, I mean, and courage, and the other moral virtues are displayed in our relations towards one another by the observance, in every case, of what is due in contracts and services, and all sorts of outward acts, as well as in our inward feelings. And all these seem to be emphatically human affairs.”[5]

        The manifesto of the second faction, Erudite, also known as The Intelligent, is stated that, “Ignorance is defined not as stupidity but as lack of knowledge. Lack of knowledge inevitably leads to lack of understanding. Lack of understanding leads to a disconnect among people with differences. Disconnection among people with differences leads to conflict.”[6] The only probable solution to these problems is knowledge or the “speculative [contemplative] life” in Aristotle’s terms.[7] In fact, Aristotle believes that the application and exercise of living in accordance with reason is our function as man, which then meets our end goal: happiness.[8] It is often thought that pleasure ought to be one of the elements of happiness, “but of all virtuous exercises it is allowed that the pleasantest is the exercise of wisdom.”[9] So it follows, that the exercise of reason will be the complete happiness of man and also a matching solution to the Erudite’s manifesto.

        The manifesto of the third faction, Dauntless, also known as The Brave, is stated that, “We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another… We believe in shouting for those who can only whisper, in defending those who cannot defend themselves”.[10] As stated previously, Aristotle and similarly, Tris, one of the main characters of Divergent, not only demonstrate the practical reason that virtue requires, but this leads them to demonstrate courage in a way superior as well. In a book that was cut from class, Nicomachean Ethics, Book III, Aristotle defines a brave man as, “One who faces and fears what he should for the right reason, in the right manner and at the right time. A brave man performs his actions for the sake of what is noble”.[11] But whether or not Aristotle acts upon what he preaches, his desire for the virtue of bravery is shown in his praise for the gods’ attributes. In Nicomachean Ethics, Book X, Chapter 8, it goes on to say that gods are, of all beings, the most blessed and happy. Although it is unknown what actions are ascribed to them, they are in no doubt exemplified for their acts of justice, liberality, “or the acts of the courageous character who endures fearful things and who faces danger because it is noble to do so”.[12] Because the gods are idolized for their achievement of happiness, then the virtues of courage and bravery are something Aristotle believes in and strives to attain.

        The manifesto of the fourth faction, Amity, or The Peaceful, is to, “Give freely, trusting that you will be given what you need… Do not be angry. The opinions of others cannot damage you… The wrong is past. You must let it rest where it lies… You must no longer think cruel thoughts. Cruel thoughts lead to cruel words, and hurt you as much as they hurt their target”.[13] The famous expression by Aristotle, “We make war in order that we may enjoy peace”, is a simplified version of the meaning that fighting for something you believe in will only result in war.[14] Therefore, he warns us that war is the opposite of leisure and happiness, thus we are encouraged to be peaceful in our endeavors so that we may achieve our end goal of happiness.

        The manifesto of the final faction, Candor, also known as The Honest, is plainly stated as, “Truth makes us transparent. Truth makes us strong. Truth makes us inextricable,” thus it heavily encourages the exercise of truth and honesty.[15] Likewise, Aristotle believes that the honest person behaves honestly for “the right reason,” not for admiration or praise or to feel better about themselves, but they are honest because it is on the way to eudaimonia, or the end goal of happiness.[16] In addition, acts of virtue bring honor to an individual, while acts of vice brings dishonor to an individual.[17]

                The entire novel, Divergent, is a metaphor for what it means to be a virtuous, or excellent, human being as the Greeks would say. Notably, virtues are deeply entrenched in a person’s character and shape who they are and how they act. For Aristotle, the cultivation of all the virtues of character is required to lead a virtuous life because indeed all the virtues exhibit the same intellectual disposition toward practical reason.[18] For example, it takes the virtue of courage (Dauntless) to live as an Erudite, who uses their knowledge to exercise their power of reason as humans. In conclusion, Aristotle’s response would bethat you either have all of the virtues or none of them, so the answer lies in moderation. The novel seems to agree with this in the sense that the main character does not belong to a faction, but is in fact a divergent. And this is where Aristotle himself introduces and becomes the definition of divergent. A divergent is one who exemplifies all of the factions: Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity, and Candor. Aristotle reinforces the attributes of a divergent through his belief in moderation because “virtue, then, is a kind of moderation” and “has to deal with feelings or passions and with outward acts, in which excess is wrong and deficiency also is blamed”.[19] Therefore, an excess of belonging to just one faction is considered wrong, yet being factionless is also blameworthy. Thus, Aristotle is a divergent who attains all virtues, but in a moderate amount. 

 

[1]“Factions,” Wikipedia, April 20, 2014, accessed April 21, 2014, http://divergent.wikia.com/wiki/Factions.   

[2]Aristotle, The Politics, Book III, Ch. 9.

[3]“Factions,” Wikipedia, April 20, 2014, accessed April 21, 2014, http://divergent.wikia.com/wiki/Factions.   

[4]Aristotle, The Politics, Book III, Ch. 7.

[5]Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book IX.

[6]“Factions,” Wikipedia, April 20, 2014, accessed April 21, 2014, http://divergent.wikia.com/wiki/Factions.   

[7]Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book X, Ch. 7.

[8]Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, Ch. 7.

[9]Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book X, Ch. 7.

[10]“Factions,” Wikipedia, April 20, 2014, accessed April 21, 2014, http://divergent.wikia.com/wiki/Factions.  

[11] “Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Summary and Analysis”, Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Study Guide: Summary and Analysis of Book Three, April 21, 2014, accessed April 21, 2014, http://www.gradesaver.com/aristotles-ethics/study-guide/section3/.

[12] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book X, Ch. 8

[13]“Factions,” Wikipedia, April 20, 2014, accessed April 21, 2014, http://divergent.wikia.com/wiki/Factions.

[14] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book X, Ch. 7.

[15] “Factions,” Wikipedia, April 20, 2014, accessed April 21, 2014, http://divergent.wikia.com/wiki/Factions.

[16] “Philosophy- Ethics,” PHILOSOPHY — Ethics, April 21, 2014, Accessed April 21, 2014, http://www.sevenoaksphilosophy.org/ethics/virtue.html.

[17] “Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics,” Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, April 21, 2014, accessed April 21, 2014 http://www.angelfire.com/md2/timewarp/ethics.html.

[18] “Divergent: Aristotle’s Ethics Would Be Proud,” Popcornpunch, April 21, 2014, accessed April 21, 2014, http://popcornpunch.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/divergent-aristotles-ethics-   would-be-proud-but-his-poetics/.

[19] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Ch. 6.

Bibliography:

“Factions.” Wikipedia.  April 20, 2014. Accessed April 21, 2014. http://divergent.wikia.com/wiki/Factions.

Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics.

“Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Summary and Analysis.” Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics Study Guide:Summary and Analysis of Book Three. April 21, 2014. Accessed April 21, 2014.   http://www.gradesaver.com/aristotles-ethics/study-guide/section3/.

“Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.” Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. April 21, 2014. Accessed April 21, 2014. http://www.angelfire.com/md2/timewarp/ethics.html.

Aristotle. The Politics.

“Divergent: Aristotle’s Ethics Would Be Proud.” Popcornpunch. April 21, 2014. Accessed April 21, 2014.                 http://popcornpunch.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/divergent-aristotles-ethics-would-be-proud-but-his-poetics/.

“Philosophy — Ethics.” PHILOSOPHY — Ethics. April 21, 2014. Accessed April 21, 2014.                http://www.sevenoaksphilosophy.org/ethics/virtue.html.

“West Allis Public Library Teen Events.”Divergent Faction Event: Thursday, March 20th 7PM. April 21, 2014. Accessed April 21, 2014. http://waplteens.blogspot.com/2014/03/divergent-faction- event- thursday-march.html.

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One thought on “Aristotle’s Role in Divergent

  1. This was a really interesting application of Aristotle’s views to pop culture. Of course, when I first saw the title, I instinctively thought “oh well, Aristotle likes contemplation; of course, he would be an Erudite.” But you effectively and skillfully refuted this original assumption that I made. However, I would have to challenge your statement made at the end when you said “you either have all the virtues or none of them, so the answer lies in moderation” because if you had all the virtues would this be moderation? Would it not just be the opposite extreme of having none of the virtues? I think living in moderation in this case would be being capable of all of the virtues, but using reason to know when to apply which virtue. So in a way, I suppose living in moderation would be like the life of a divergent-as you said-but not so much for the reason of not being extreme and “belonging to just one faction” or not being the opposite extreme as a factionless but more so for the divergents’ ability to attain all the virtues yet use reason to know when to apply what such as Tris knowing when to be brave and when to be selfless. Overall, however, you did lead me to agree with your claim that Aristotle would be a divergent, and it was well done. -Jacquie E.

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