The Stoic philosophers have a view of character that is close toSocrates’, but they reach it through agreement with Aristotle. TheStoics assume that the good life for human beings is a life in accordwith nature. They agree with Aristotle that the human being’s essenceis a life in accord with reason. So to find what accords with nature,they look to the development of the human being’s rational powers. Theythink that as a person begins to use reason instrumentally to satisfyand organize his desires and appetites, he comes to value the exerciseof reason for its own sake. He realizes that conduct that exhibits arational order is far more valuable than any of the natural advantages(such as health, friendship, or community) pursued by his individualactions. Human good, after all, as Aristotle argued, should be stable,under our control, and hard to take from us. The Stoics conclude thathuman good consists in excellent rational activity, for a person canguide his actions by rational choice, no matter what misfortunes he mayencounter. The virtuous person becomes the sage (sophos) whohas and acts on knowledge of the good. His actions are informed by hisinsights about the advantages of perfecting one’s rationality by actingin agreement with the rational order of nature. Like Socrates, theStoic view of virtue focuses on the virtuous person’s cognitive state:it is his knowledge of the rational order of the universe and hisdesire to accord with that rational order that leads him to act as hedoes.
Plato and Aristotle agree that excellent moral character involves morethan a Socratic understanding of the good. They think that virtuerequires a harmony between cognitive and affective elements of theperson. Aristotle tries to explain what this harmony consists in byexploring the psychological foundations of moral character. He thinksthat the virtuous person is characterized by a nonstereotypicalself-love that he understands as a love of the exercise of fully realized rationalactivity. Yet this self-love is not an individual achievement. Itsdevelopment and preservation require (a) friendships in whichindividuals desire the good of others for others’ own sakes and(b) political and economic arrangements that promote the conditions under whichself-love and friendship flourish.
Quotation Introduction: Many writers are tempted to start their essay with a quote. You should try to resist this temptation, as most quotes will look forced. Admissions officers will be turned off if it is apparent that you searched through a book of famous quotes and came up with a quote from some famous philosopher about whom you know nothing. The quotation introduction is most effective when the quote you choose is unusual, funny, or obscure, not too long, and from those to whom you are closest. Choose a quote with a meaning you plan to reveal to the reader as the essay progresses. The admissions committee is interested in how you respond to the quote and what that response says about you.
A character sketch is not a history of the person; however, this type of paper requires you to give only a brief glimpse of the individual. When you are preparing to write make a list of the traits or details you want to include. If you have a word limit on the assignment it is possible to assign the number of traits equal to the # of paragraphs or supporting topics needed. Or you can categorize the subjects into a broader spectrum which allows you to have multiple supporting points for each topic. It is always best to outline your writing material first so you have a good idea what you are writing.
Says: Quoting a person with whom you enjoy a close relationship is generally preferable to quoting a famous source. This passageâs strength comes from the brief, understated role that the quote plays. The short statement introduces the rest of the paragraph and presents the fundamental point, and then the essay moves on to examine specific details. This is the ideal role of a quotation.
Says: This introduction is indeed compelling, but it raises important questions about appropriate content. Be careful to avoid writing a personal essay that is far too personal. You do not want your reader to think that you might have character weaknesses that prevent you from handling stressful situations well.
The “many”’s worry about the inadequacy of knowledge toensure virtuous action suggests that virtuous character includes notonly a cognitive element, but also some affective element. Both Platoand Aristotle argue that virtuous character requires a distinctivecombination of cognitive and affective elements. Inthe Republic, Plato divides the soul into three parts andgives to each a different kind of desire (rational, appetitive, orspirited). As types of non-rational desire, appetitive and spiriteddesires can conflict with our rational desires about what contributesto our overall good, and they will sometimes move us to act in ways werecognize to be against our greater good. When that happens, we areincontinent. To be virtuous, then, we must both understand whatcontributes to our overall good and have our spirited and appetitivedesires educated properly, so that they agree with the guidanceprovided by the rational part of the soul. Plato describes theeducation of the non-rational parts of the soul in Books II and III ofthe Republic. A potentially virtuous person learns when youngto love and take pleasure in virtuous actions, but must wait untillate in life to develop the understanding that explains why what heloves is good. Once he has learned what the good is, his informed loveof the good explains why he acts as he does and why his actions arevirtuous.
How do one realize these powers fully? Not by becoming adept at everykind of activity in which deliberating and judging on the basis ofreason is called for. For then one would have to master every kind ofcultural, scientific, and philosophical activity. Rather, Aristotle’sidea is that an individual develops these abilities to the extent thathe enjoys and values the exercise of his realized rational powers in awide variety of different and even seemingly unconnectedactivities. When that happens, his exercise of these abilities is acontinuing source of self-esteem and enjoyment. He comes to like hislife and himself and is now a genuine self-lover. In NicomacheanEthics IX.8, Aristotle takes pains to distinguish true self-love,which characterizes the virtuous person, from vulgar self-love, whichcharacterizes morally defective types. Morally defective types lovethemselves in the sense that they love material goods andadvantages. They desire to secure these things even at the expense ofother people, and so they act in ways that are morallyvicious. Genuine self-lovers, on the other hand, love most theexercise of their developed human activity, which is rationalactivity. When they enjoy and recognize the value of developing theirrational powers, they can use this recognition to guide theirdecisions and to determine which actions are appropriate in whichcircumstances. This is the reasoning of those who have practicalwisdom (phronêsis). Moreover, because they now takepleasure in the right things (they enjoy most figuring things outrather than the accumulation of wealth or power), they will avoid manyof the actions, and will be unattracted to many of the pleasures,associated with the common vices. In other words, they will act as avirtuous person would.
These three well-written essays create a strong set. The first and the last would have been impressive on their own. Reading them all together magnifies their impact considerably. This student does an especially good job of targeting the school. This student focuses his first essay on his extracurriculars and relates them to why Duke would be perfect for him. He focuses the third on his Chinese background and how it relates to his career goals and academic interests. Then he also relates these interests to why Duke matches him perfectly. His favorite book provided the focus of the second essay. What makes this second essay better than others like it is that the applicant manages to put himself into the question. He does not just talk about the book, he uses it to talk about himself and stress the inquisitive nature of his personality-always a plus.
The third essay in this set stands out from the rest. Had the panel who were grading the compositions understood the context of this essay in light of the six others in the set, they probably would have given it more credit. Its strength lies in its funny, lighthearted approach-it shows a completely different aspect of the candidateâs personality. Without it, he would have appeared deadpan serious and probably a bit dull. However, showing the wittier side of himself strengthens the set considerably. It is a good example of allowing yourself to take a risk in one essay, as long as more serious approaches in the others balance it.