Do As I Say, Not As I Do: America’s Application of Aristotle’s “Virtue”

Cassie Fritsche, Period 5, Honorbound. –  According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, virtue is a particular moral excellence; and as far as Aristotle’s beliefs go, this assessment isn’t too far off.[1]  In his work, Aristotle equates virtue to this sort of morality or magnanimity, and even takes it a step further, claiming that “moral virtue is acquired by the repetition of the corresponding acts”; this and his later writing indicate his belief that in order to live the life the most “good” way we can, virtue must be repetitive, since habits form one’s character.[2]  An excellent example of someone living a virtuous life – and thus, according to Aristotle, someone on the proper road to happiness – is a social worker.  Social workers work with a variety of individuals facing difficult conditions, from those dealing with poverty, addiction, disability, or even mental illnesses.[3]  With thousands of college juniors and seniors alone being enrolled in both full and part-time programs, it’s a fairly common career, suggesting that the day’s youth are more morally sound than they get credit for.  A job, with a lot of qualifications, and a basis in helping the disadvantaged or those whom no one else wants to approach; surely, not many other equally-popular jobs could be so noble.  So why, then, are social workers so notorious for being underpaid?


When boiled down to a tagline, a social worker’s job is “to provide support… in order to improve outcomes in people’s lives,” which only echoes the ethical vibe from before.  Their job, despite the ability to start in later years of college, is a challenging one, as they can take on the burdens of child offenders, substance abusers, or victims or loss and disabilities, for about a 40-hour work week.  Despite this, they’re paid less at entry-level than a myriad of other careers.[4]  On average, entry-level social workers are paid $27,000 annually, whereas a quick search on a job-seeking site such as Indeed reveals thousands of other job openings, including data entry clerks in offices, management trainees, or HR and legal assistants; ironically, HR and legal assistants perform just a fraction of the work social workers can be tasked with weekly, yet they’re able to make $3,000 or more than social workers annually.[5]


While an important factor in exercising virtues includes doing them in aim of the supreme good (rather than for obtaining anything in return), it’s unreasonable that these kinds of conditions exist for hardworking, compassionate individuals in America.  Certainly people who approach this kind of career path have other humans’ goodwill at heart – particularly due to the wide knowledge of the stunted pay – but their best wishes for others aren’t going to pay their rent, or put food on the table, or support the families they may have.  As Garth Kemerling, a philosopher who analyzed Aristotle’s works, put it – “True happiness can therefore be attained only through the cultivation of the virtues that make a human life complete.”[6] Social workers will continue to support the disadvantaged members of society, but for such a trend to continue from age to age, they need to know that their work for the common good isn’t being overshadowed by less-than-magnanimous alternatives.

[1] “Virtue.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Accessed December 05, 2016.

[2] Aristotle. “Chapter 1.” In The Nichomachean Ethics. Book II.

[3] “Social Work Profession.” National Association of Social Workers. 2016. Accessed December 05, 2016.

[4] “Entry Level $30,000 Jobs.” Indeed Jobs, Employment. 2016. Accessed December 05, 2016.$30,000-jobs.html.

[5] “Social Worker Job Profile.” Prospects. 2016. Accessed December 05, 2016.

[6] Kemerling, Garth. “Aristotle: Ethics and the Virtues.” The Philosophy Pages. November 12, 2011. Accessed December 05, 2016.


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