Law and Philosophy
Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility
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AbstractAristotle tells us, in his Nicomachean Ethics, that we become ethical by building good habits and we become unethical by building bad habits: “excellence of character results from habit, whence it has acquired its name (êthikê) by a slight modification of the word ethos (habit).” Excellence of character comes from following the right habits. Thinking of ethics as habit-forming may sound unusual to the modern mind, but not to Aristotle or the medieval thinkers who grew up in his long shadow. “Habit” in Greek is “ethos,” from which we get our modern word, “ethical.” In Latin, habits are moralis, which gives us the word, “moral.” Aristotle explains that we cannot alter nature by practice: we cannot teach or train a rock to roll up a hill no matter how often we throw it up. But we can alter ourselves by practice. We can train ourselves to be ethical by practice, just as we learn to play the harp by practice.It is a timeless adage that when analyzing the unacceptable behavior of others, one should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.This essay applies classics ethics analysis and social science principles to ask whether we can find ways to improve billing behavior in law firms.