Nicomachean Ethics

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The first page of the Nicomachean Ethics in Greek and Latin, from a 1566 edition

Nicomachean Ethics, or Ta Ethika, is a work by Aristotle on virtue and moral character which plays a prominent role in defining Aristotelian ethics. It consists of ten books based on notes said to be from his lectures at the Lyceum which were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle's son, Nicomachus. In many ways this work parallels the similar Eudemian Ethics, which has only eight books, and the two works can be fruitfully compared.

Aristotle states in the opening chapter that eudaimonia, often translated as well-being or happiness, is the highest goal of all human deliberate actions, and coincident with the aim of Politics, the subject of another closely related work of Aristotle. He takes this as a starting point, going on to describe what is necessary to be happy.

As far as the name goes, we may almost say that the great majority of mankind are agreed about this; for both the multitude and persons of refinement speak of it as Happiness, and conceive ‘the good life’ or ‘doing well’ to be the same thing as ‘being happy.’ But what constitutes happiness is a matter of dispute; and the popular account of it is not the same as that given by the philosophers.

Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1095a H. Rackham, Ed.[1]

Essential to this is the quality of a persons habits, or in other words, their character. In Greek, habitual character is êthê, the root of the words ethics, ethical and ethos. In Latin the habits are morae or mores, giving us words like "moral". A man of excellence (or more generally anything of excellence) is said to have virtue (Greek aretê), and this in its highest forms is associated with the potential for happiness.


[edit] Overview

[edit] General ethics

[edit] Book 1: Defining the subject matter

Every art and every investigation, and likewise every practical pursuit or undertaking, seems to aim at some good: hence it has been well said that the Good is That at which all things aim.

Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1094a; H. Rackham, Ed.[2]

[edit] Goal-directed ethics

Aristotle's ethics is often called teleological or goal-directed. According to Aristotle, every thing has a purpose or end. A knife, for example, has the purpose of cutting things. A good knife is good at cutting things, and therefore knives should be sharp. Similarly, people have a purpose which might be different from the purpose they think they have.

As discussed in the opening passages of the Nicomachean Ethics, people of course have many aims, but most of them are not of interest in themselves, but rather in order to achieve some higher aim. The highest of all goods a human can achieve is also the highest of goals in Politics, and this is eudaimonia, a subject which in itself raises many questions before the book can progress further. Aristotle proposes that we should start by considering what we already know ourselves. Indeed he makes a more general point about this procedure: it implies that we, the students of ethics, must already have good habits and in that respect already know something about what we are looking for[3].

Happiness thus understood is not a mood or temporary state, but a state achieved through a lifetime of virtuous action, accompanied by some measure of good fortune.[citations needed]

Indeed, living according to virtues is often not enough to guarantee a happy life. Another prerequisite (in addition to virtuous behavior) is good fortune which brings one the goods (instruments) necessary, but not sufficient, for a happy life. Another prerequisite for a happy life is health, which is also desired for its own sake. For Aristotle, even the most virtuous of men can be denied happiness through the whims of fortune. As a consequence, one cannot be sure of achieving happiness until one's life is fully played out[4]

[edit] Character-centered ethics

People who do things well and consistently are good people. Each action is not considered as an isolated act (as is often done in other ethical systems), but in relation to a virtuous ideal. This attitude toward ethics is called virtue ethics or character-centered ethics: each person's actions should make that person better and build better character. Others will recognize you as courageous (Aristotle assumed) if you generally perform courageous acts when the chance arises. The Nicomachean Ethics is considered to be one of the major instances of such ethics of virtue.[citations needed]

[edit] The essence and function of being human ("The Function Argument")

Aristotle defined the function of being human (i.e., human purpose) when he stated:

If we declare that the function of man is a certain form of life, and define that form of life as the exercise of the soul's faculties and activities in association with rational principle, and say that the function of a good man is to perform these activities well and rightly, and if a function is well performed when it is performed in accordance with its own proper excellence--from these premises it follows, that the Good of man is the active exercise of his soul’s faculties in conformity with excellence or virtue, or if there be several human excellences or virtues, in conformity with the best and most perfect among them (Book I, Ch. 7 Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1098a14-15).

In other words, the overall human function is the soul's activity in accordance with reason. The activity of reasoning is what makes you human since no other living thing has the capacity of reasoning. The essence of being human is having the ability to reason: all humans possess the essence, but not all function according to it (some have the ability, but do not use it). Furthermore, all human actions taken together comprise the good. Everything we do throughout our lives contributes to the overall function with its own individual quality.

If we live well, i.e., according to the proper virtues, this will allow us to achieve what the Greeks called 'eudaimonia'. Note that it is important that our virtuous actions be driven by the virtues and not just in line with the virtues. For example, a lawyer who argues for a poor man in order to gain a good reputation is not acting from virtue, rather he is merely acting in line with virtue.

[edit] Criticism of Plato's theory of forms

As part of the defense of his own ethical system, Aristotle criticized the main ethic prior to his: Plato's idea of a "universal good" (see Theory of forms). Aristotle believed that Plato erred in assuming that Forms were 'otherworldly'. This error was the result, Aristotle believed, of Plato's assumption that since the human mind could contemplate a particular object and its abstract form separately they both must exist separately. Aristotle claimed that the human mind naturally thought in the abstract and that the fact that a person could separate forms from objects in his or her own mind didn't necessarily mean that forms existed separately from objects (Book I, Ch. 6).

[edit] Virtue (Arete): traditional Greek virtues

“Virtue (arete) then is a settled disposition of the mind determining the choice of actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by principle, that is, as the prudent man would determine it.” (Book II, Ch. 6) Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1107a15

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle tries to address magnus the traditional Greek virtues (Greek: ἀρετή arete) of his time, in large part accepting contemporary virtues and explaining them. It is important to recognize that these virtues are not always the same as modern or Christian virtues—Aristotle views pride or magnificence (rather than humility) as a virtue, for example, at least in appropriate types of people. Arete may also be translated as excellence, and for Aristotle (as opposed to some earlier Greek philosophers) arete is limited to things which humans may excel at, but that animals, plants and inanimate objects cannot. Height and strength may be excellent physical attributes, but they are not limited to people and so Aristotle does not consider such things as virtues. He divides the virtues into virtues of thought (intellectual, wisdom, sophia, intelligence) and of character (moral virtues).

To reiterate: each of these virtues can be acquired through practice over time. A person becomes more courageous by continually choosing courageous acts over cowardly or foolhardy ones, for example.

[edit] Book 2: Moral virtue

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1103a

Moral virtues are close to what we would call personal (characteristic) virtues today. Aristotle lists the following as moral virtues: courage, temperance (moderation), liberality (moderation in giving and taking money), magnificence (correctly dealing with great wealth or power), pride (claiming what is due to you), gentleness (moderation with respect to anger), agreeableness, truthfulness, and wit. In some editions of Ethics, different words are used as translations from the original Greek. For instance, in Terence Irwin's translation, the virtues are called the following: bravery, temperance, generosity, magnificence, magnanimity, "the virtue concerned with small honors", mildness, friendliness, truthfulness, and wit. Shame is also given some attention, although Aristotle specifically states that shame is not a virtue.

[edit] The Golden Mean

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1105b

Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean consists of three pillars that work together to form a complete account. First, there is a sort of equilibrium that the good person is in (1106a). This is related to a medical idea that a healthy person is in a balanced state. For example, one’s body temperature is neither too high nor too low. Related to ethics, one’s character does not go to extremes. For example, one does not overreact to situations, but rather keeps his composure. Equilibrium is the right feelings at the right time about the right things, toward the right people, for the right end, and in the right way (1106b). The second pillar states that the mean we should strive for is relative to us. The intermediate of an object is unchanging; if twelve is excess and four is deficiency, then roughly eight is the intermediate in that object. Aristotle proposes something different for finding an intermediate relative to oneself. Aristotle’s ethics are not a one-size-fits-all system; what he is looking for is the mean that is good for a particular individual. For example, watering a small plant with a gallon of water is excessive but watering a tree with a gallon of water is deficient. This is because different plants have different needs for water intake and if the requirements for each plant are not met, the plant will die from root rot (excess) or dehydration (deficiency). The third pillar is that each virtue falls between two vices. Virtue is like the mean because it is the intermediate between two vices. On this model a triad is formed with one vice on either end (excess or deficiency) and the virtue as the intermediate. If one’s character is too near either vice, then the person will incur blame but if one’s character is near the intermediate, the person deserves praise. Proper participation in each of these three pillars is necessary for a person to lead a virtuous and therefore happy life.

As stated in the inscription at the temple at the Oracle at Delphi, a person should do nothing to excess. The inscription should have also included the words, "find the mean." Temperance is the virtue that is the mean in order to control emotions, courage is the mean when seeking honor, and wisdom is the mean when seeking knowledge.

A general must seek to find courage, the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, in order to gain honor. A person who seeks pleasure through drinking must find the mean between becoming a drunkard and not drinking at all. A person who seeks pleasure through eating must find the mean between being a glutton and starving. A person who seeks pleasure through sex must find the mean between abstinence and nymphomania. A person who seeks honor through knowledge must find the mean between ignorance and seeking knowledge to excess. Excess knowledge is not wisdom, but the mind turned to cunning.

We must not understand Aristotle to mean that virtue lies exactly at the centre of two vices. Aristotle only means that virtue is in between the two vices. Different degrees are needed for different situations. Knowing exactly what is appropriate in a given situation is difficult and that is why we need a long moral training. For example, being very angry at the fact that your wife is murdered is appropriate even though the state is closer to extreme anger (a vice) than it is to indifference (a vice). In that case, it is right for the virtuous man to be angry. However, if some water has been spilt in the garden by accident then the virtuous response is much closer to indifference.

Aristotle cited epikairekakia as part of his classifaction of virtues and emotions.[5] The philosopher uses a three part classification of virtues and emotions.[5] In this case, epicaricacy is the opposite of phthonos and nemesis occupies the mean. Nemesis is "a painful response to another's undeserved good fortune," while phthonos is "a painful response to any good fortune," deserved or not. The epikhairekakos person, actually takes pleasure in another's ill fortune.[5][6]

[edit] Book 3: Courage and temperance

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1109b

[edit] Chapters 1-5: The will

Aristotle divides actions into three categories: voluntary, involuntary (unwilling), and nonvoluntary actions. "Virtue however is concerned with emotions and actions, and it is only voluntary feelings and actions for which praise and blame are given; those that are involuntary are condoned, and sometimes even pitied." (Book III Ch 1, Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1109b30) Virtues are based on voluntary actions.

Aristotle makes a subtle distinction between involuntary and nonvoluntary actions thus: "A man who has acted through ignorance, then, if he is sorry afterwards, is held to have done the deed involuntarily or unwillingly; if he is not sorry afterwards we may say (to mark the distinction) he did the deed 'not-voluntarily;' for, as the case is different, it is better to have a distinct name." (Book III Ch 1 Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1110b20) This ignorance is ignorance of the facts of the situation, not ignorance of what is fitting, which cannot be excused.

Aristotle doesn't fully develop the concept of free will, and (following Socrates and Plato) does not mention the possibility of deliberate wrong-doing, only that "It is not about the ends, but about the means that we deliberate" (Book III Ch 3 Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1112b11) and "choice or purpose implies calculation and reasoning" (Book III Ch 2 ).

[edit] Chapters 6-12: Courage, temperance and profligacy

Aristotle next, in keeping with his aforementioned thesis, deals separately with some of the specific virtues, including courage, temperance and profligacy. Courage, Aristotle argues, is largely concerned with the feelings of confidence and fear- highlighted best in the fear of death in battle. Courage is the mean between these two vices and is generally driven by a desire for a sense of honor. Courage is also explicitly connected with pain and pleasure in the sense that it is more painful to face that which frightens us and more pleasurable to flee. It is considered always more courageous to face fears, in particular death in battle. Rashness is discouraged (although courage lies closer to this character trait than its cowardly counterpart). Temperance implies connotations of touch. In a traditionally Aristotelian manner, temperance is described first by what it is not, in negatives, rather than a positive description: it is not self-indulgence or insensibility. To highlight this, Aristotle uses the comparison of the self-indulgent man with the stereotypical portrayal of the spoiled child.

[edit] Book 4: Other virtues

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1119b

Aristotle describes other virtues, including liberality, magnanimity, amiability, sincerity, wit, and modesty.

Aristotle views magnanimity as “a sort of adornment of the moral virtues; for it makes them greater, and it does not arise without them.” (1124a). In order to be magnanimous it seems that one would have to possess a number of other virtues and act on them accordingly, otherwise it would be impossible to be a great person, and thus it would be impossible to be magnanimous. Aristotle states it is especially important to have honor since it is the greatest of the external goods and it is what great people think themselves most worthy (1123b). Magnanimity puts other virtues into their proper perspective in terms of worth. In the case of honor, it allows a magnanimous person to accept honor from an excellent person since it is the greatest thing an excellent man can give; however, if the person giving the honor is not excellent, then the magnanimous person will disdain the recognition because it is not in accordance with his worth (1124a6). Although a magnanimous person will accept the proper honor, he will not be excessively pleased by it because it is justified by his worth. Since a great person is most concerned with honor, he gives it little value, and we can assume that lesser goods will play a small role in the life of a magnanimous person (1124a19). However, these other goods are still important for Aristotle since someone who has “both virtue and these goods is more readily thought worthy of honor” (1124a22-23). Because one must already possess virtue and be a great person in order to have magnanimity, it is called the “crowning virtue.” The other virtues provide the foundation of a great and virtuous person while magnanimity allows that person to act on those virtues appropriately.

[edit] Book 5: Justice

Part of the series on:
Corpus Aristotelicum
Logic (Organon):
CategoriesPrior Analytics
Posterior Analytics
On InterpretationTopics
Sophistical Refutations
Physics or Natural philosophy:
PhysicsOn the Heavens
On Generation and Corruption
MeteorologyOn the Soul
History of Animals
Ethics and Politics:
Nicomachean Ethics
Eudemian EthicsMagna Moralia
On Virtues and Vices
Constitution of the Athenians
Rhetoric and Poetics:
Spurious Works:
On the UniverseMechanics

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1129a

Justice plays an important role in the ethics of Aristotle. It is the cornerstone of social living and demonstrates the highest comprehension of the virtues. Aristotle thought that justice is important enough to devote an entire book to it in the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle treats justice in the same way that he treats other virtues; but, it is the only virtue that has its own book. This not only signifies the importance of justice to Aristotle’s ethics but also the complexity of the topic. Aristotle finds that two distinct forms of justice are necessary to form a comprehensive theory: general (or universal) justice and particular justice. General justice deals with obeying laws and the relation of virtue to others. Particular justice is placed among the virtues and is divided into two subcategories.

Particular justice is a part of Justice that is separate from general justice and is concerned with unjust profits from an act. Aristotle begins his discussion of particular justice by providing evidence that Justice is divided into parts and that one of these parts deals with unjust profits from action. First, Aristotle makes note of several vices that are associated with certain activities. Cowardice, for example, is associated with causing a soldier to throw away his shield during a battle (1130a17-19). Aristotle cites several other examples in which a certain vice causes one to act in a way that does not accord with a virtue. However, there are some cases where a person commits an undesirable act and does not possess a corresponding vice that would usually cause that type of act. Often, Aristotle observes, these acts are caused by overreaching (pleonexia). Aristotle describes these actions as follows, “when someone acts from overreaching, in many cases his action accords with none of these vices… but it still accords with some type of wickedness…” (1130a20-22). These acts are a particular form of injustice.

This distinction between other vices and injustice is that particular injustice deals with unjust actions that are motivated by unjust gains. In the previous example, the soldier who deserts his comrades in battle and does so out of cowardice is not acting unjustly. However, if the soldier committed the same act motivated by overreaching, he would be acting out of particular injustice. If the soldier deserted his fellow for an unjust gain of safety at the expense of the other soldiers, then he would be acting in an unjust manner. Because unjust acts are a result of overreaching, they are different from unjust acts in the general sense and as such deserve their own separate place in a discussion of Justice.

Aristotle goes on to elaborate his idea of particular justice. He uses adultery as an example and states, “if A commits adultery for profit and makes a profit, but B commits adultery because of his appetite, and spends money on it to his own loss, B seems intemperate rather than overreaching, but A seems unjust, not intemperate.” (1130a25-29). Person A is unjust because he made an unfair gain as a result of his actions. Here, Aristotle takes the intentions of the agent into account. Since A committed adultery with the intent of making a profit of some sort out of the actions, he was acting unjustly because he made an unfair gain. It is questionable what type of profit person A would gain as a result of these actions, it is doubtful that he is only concerned with wealth and perhaps a more broad definition of profit is appropriate. Person A may be making an unjust profit by seeking to advance his career by committing adultery. Since person B’s actions were caused by a vice and they were not caused by overreaching, they do not relate to particular justice. This is not to say that B’s actions were not unjust; however, B’s actions were caused by intemperance rather than overreaching. What is curious in this example is that Aristotle makes it a point to emphasize that person A commits adultery for profit and makes a profit, which raises the question of whether a person who commits adultery for profit, but fails to make a profit is acting unjustly. This example demonstrates Aristotle’s concern for the intent of the actor. Although both person A and B committed the same act, we have a different way attributing blame (although not necessarily a different name for the act) to the person based upon his motivation.

Aristotle is satisfied that his description of acts of overreaching that produce unjust gain are a different sort than those that fall under general justice and so he concludes that particular justice is distinct from general justice. Particular justice, however, is not different from Justice as a whole. Neither is particular justice only a part of Justice, it is the same as Justice but since it has a different focus, we give it a different name (1130a34-1130b2). Particular justice deals with what is unfair whereas general justice deals with lawless. Aristotle points out that "whatever is unfair is lawless, but not everything lawless is unfair" (1130b12-13). Aristotle divides particular justice in two parts: distribution of divisible goods and rectification in transactions. The first part relates to members of a community in which it is possible for one person to have more or less of a good than another person. Aristotle cites wealth and honor as two of several divisible goods (1130b31). The second part of particular justice deals with rectification in transactions and this part is itself divided into two parts: voluntary and involuntary.

For Aristotle, the correct distribution of goods is the mean between the extremes of too much and too little, this intermediate is called the fair (1131a11-12). The just must fall between what is too much and what is too little and the just requires the distribution to be made between people of equal stature. Aristotle is concerned that, “if the people involved are not equal, they will not [justly] receive equal shares… that is the source of quarrels and accusations.” (1131a23-24). In addition, what is just in distribution must also take into account some sort of worth. The worth of the parties involved is a key difference between distributive justice and rectificatory justice because distribution can only take place among equals. Aristotle does not state what counts as worth, rather, he states it is some sort of proportion in which the just is an intermediate between all four elements (2 for the goods and 2 for the people). A final point that Aristotle makes in his discussion of distributive justice is that when two evils must be distributed, the lesser of the evils is the more choiceworthy and as such is the greater good (1131b21-25).

The second part of particular justice is rectificatory and it consists of the voluntary and involuntary. This sort of justice deals with transactions between people who are not equals and looks only at the harm or suffering caused to an individual. This is a sort of blind justice since it treats both parties as if they were equal regardless of their actual worth. The goal of the judge in rectificatory cases is to restore equality and make both parties whole as they were before the unjust act occurred. The just in rectificatory cases is the intermediate between the loss of the victim and the profit of the offender (1132a13-15). It is somewhat straightforward to measure loss in distributive cases since the loss is of a quantifiable good; however, it is not clear for Aristotle’s account how we should measure the loss of the victim in cases where, for instance, bodily harm was done and it is also difficult to say that the offender made a profit from such an offence. To restore both parties to equality, a judge must take the amount that is greater than the equal that the offender possesses and give that part to the victim so that both have no more and no less than the equal. This rule should be applied to rectify both voluntary and involuntary transactions.

Particular justice is a part of the whole Justice. It is not a different sort of thing from general justice since justice is good at all times and injustice is bad at all times. There is not a qualitative difference between one unjust and another unjust act, likewise, Justice is the same for all things. Since Aristotle describes particular justice as a part of justice, one may mistakenly believe that an injustice under the terms of particular justice is less severe than an injustice under the terms of Justice as a whole because it is not wholly unjust. Particular justice is not a fraction of Justice and any injustice is wholly unjust. Rather, it is more appropriate to think of Justice as a whole and particular justice is how Justice relates to certain cases of distribution and rectification.

A separate description of particular justice is required because the virtues do not form a complete system of justice. General justice is the whole of Justice and each of the virtues fall under general justice. Particular justice fits under the whole of Justice alongside the virtues. This is a good model because particular justice is like other virtues in that Aristotle describes it is a mean between two extremes; however, particular justice is perhaps a little more complicated than a normal virtue. The reason particular justice is necessary is because not all unjust acts are illegal and not all legal acts are just. Particular justice deals with such cases by providing a separate system for determining whether acts are just or not regardless of law. General justice deals with a state of lawfulness. A just person on these conditions is one who follows the law and an unjust person is one who overreaches for goods that involve good or bad fortune (1129b3-5). All well-written laws, if followed, will lead a person to be just on the terms of general justice. Aristotle describes general justice as a complete virtue in relation to other virtues (1129b27-28) because it requires all virtues (done well and finely). A just person is able to exercise complete virtue not only towards herself, but to others as well and for this reason it is the only virtue that is other-directed (1129b31-1130a6). Particular justice takes part in general justice in the same way a virtue takes part in the whole.

Aristotle needs particular justice to cover cases in which one person makes an unfair profit as a result of overreaching. Many of these cases may not be covered by law but are nonetheless unjust. Particular justice allows Aristotle to account for cases in which an injustice has occurred, but the act is not necessarily prohibited by law. For general justice, to be unjust is to act on the whole of vice (and against law). Particular justice does not depend upon a standard vice, rather, it seems that any unjust act that cannot be attributed to a standard vice is associated with overreaching one’s mean. Particular justice completes the whole of Justice for Aristotle because it allows him to discuss Justice both in terms of written law and virtue as well as justice in distribution and rectification independent of written law and virtue.

Aristotle treats Justice the same way in which he treats other virtues. He uses the Doctrine of the Mean and supposes that Justice is the mean between two vices. The vice on either end is called injustice and they are caused by overreaching (pleonexia). The excess of Justice is doing injustice and the deficiency of Justice is suffering injustice (1133b31-32). The excess is doing injustice because the actor is taking more of a thing than what is right. A person who awards too much of a good thing or too little of a bad thing is doing an injustice to another person. The deficiency of Justice is suffering injustice because the victim is awarded less than is right. A person who is given too little of a good thing or too much of a bad thing is said to be suffering an injustice.

[edit] Book 6: Intellectual virtue

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1138b

The previous chapters have depending upon the concept of aiming at the mean. This now raises the question of how we find that mean.

Aristotle enumerates five intellectual virtues: Knowledge, art, prudence, intuition, and wisdom. Most of these would not be called virtues today, but they are important because they allow us to recognize the golden mean in a particular situation and then to behave according to it. Prudence or phronesis means behaving according to the golden mean generally, and is used to find the moral virtues, each of which is a golden mean between two imprudent behaviors or vices.

[edit] Book 7: Evil and pleasure

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1145a

[edit] Chapters 1-10: Evil

There are three 'undesirable forms of moral character', or evils, namely: vice, incontinence and brutality. Vices are extreme behaviors between which lies virtuous behavior (see earlier section, The Golden Mean). Brutality is often used as a term of reproach ("you brute!"), but in actuality instinctual undesirable animal-like behavior is (Aristotle believed) quite rare in humans. Not all types of brutality are bad; for example, nail-biting is a brutish behavior which may be uncouth, but doesn't really affect morals. Behaving excellently means rising above our brutal animal natures, however, as the heroes and gods did.[citations needed]

Incontinence is bad behavior motivated by passion for immediate pleasure, whereas continence (which is preferable) means rationally calculating actions and so withholding from doing bad things. A hot temper is a form of incontinence. Aristotle noted that Socrates held that there was no such thing as incontinence, but this seems counter to common sense (see the section on Justice, above). While people often realize that incontinent acts are bad, they give in to weakness and immediate pleasure anyway.[citations needed]

Incontinence may be contrasted with the vice of profligacy, in which a person sees no reason to avoid excessive amounts of pleasurable activities. Aristotle claimed that incontinence is better than profligacy because of its fleeting nature and naturalness rather than premeditation. He asserted that while profligacy was chronic and incurable, incontinence was intermittent behavior, and curable.[citations needed]

[edit] Chapters 11-14: Pleasure

Aristotle discusses pleasure in two separate parts of the Nicomachean Ethics (book 7 chapters 11-14 and book 10 chapters 1-5), but both are integrated here for clarity's sake.[citations needed]

According to Aristotle, pleasure (which includes intellectual pleasure) is not simply caused by lack of pain or relief from pain. In fact, the use of pleasure solely as an antidote to pain can lead to addiction and a worthless personality.[citations needed]

Furthermore, pleasure is not the same thing as happiness. Pleasure is regarded like satisfaction as a positive effect which reinforces an activity. While some pleasures lead to (long-term) happiness, others do not. There are good and bad forms of pleasure depending on the sort of activity they are associated with. Of course, virtuous activity is associated with the good type of pleasure, and vice is associated with the bad type. "Pleasures of a certain kind are pursued by brutes and children, and ... freedom from the corresponding pains is pursued by the prudent man" (Book 7, ch 12). This is why acts should be done for their own good, rather than for the pleasure which may result directly from them.[citations needed]

Aristotle’s conclusion in Book VII chapter 12 that pleasure is an unimpeded activity of the natural state (hédoné = energeia, or at least a type of energeia) refutes earlier claims that pleasure is a process. This is because, for Aristotle, activity (energeia) and process (kinesis) are different. Activities have an end in themselves and they arise when we exercise a certain capacity (1153a10-11, also Met. IX 6 1048b18-36). For example, walking or learning are not activities because they are not an end in themselves (for Aristotle) but thinking and seeing are activities because their start and finish at the same time and are ends in themselves. In this section Aristotle makes the following claims: (1) pleasure requires that we exercise a certain capacity, (2) pleasure is identical to activity of the natural state, (3) pleasure is an end in itself (it is complete), and (4) the activity cannot be obstructed. On this definition, pleasure occurs when a person (or animal) performs an activity of the natural state without any obstruction. For example, if one sees a beautiful piece of art and finds pleasure in it that is because seeing is an activity of the natural human state and that person was not impeded from exercising that activity (e.g. no one walked between the viewer and the art). On this account, it seems that pleasure is identical to activity of the natural state.[citations needed]

Aristotle gives a slightly different account of pleasure in Book X and makes no reference to his earlier treatment of the subject. He states, “Pleasure completes the activity… as a sort of consequent end, like the bloom on youths” (1174b33-35). This is because a complete activity is a perceptual capacity in relation to its perceptible object when both are in perfect condition (1174b15-17) and so the “best activity is the activity of the subject in the best condition in relation to the best object of the capacity.” (1174b19-21). The most complete activity will be the most pleasant and every sort of capacity has its pleasure (1174b20-22). Since every capacity (perceptual or thought process) has a pleasure associated with it, Aristotle concludes the pleasure completes the activity. On this model it seems that there are three different components: the perceptual object (e.g. beautiful music), the perceptual capacity (e.g. hearing), and pleasure– which only arises as a result of the first two components being perfect (being done best). For example, if one attends a concert where fine music is performed by great performers and one’s hearing is unimpeded, then one will find pleasure. Here, there are two kinds of ends: (1) the activity between the object and capacity being completed perfectly and (2) the corresponding pleasure.[citations needed]

These two accounts of pleasure at first seem to contradict one another since one identifies pleasure with activity (hédoné = energeia) in Book VII and the account in Book X describes pleasure as a separate actualization that arises from the completion of certain activities. Each account seems to call hédoné something different and says that it comes about in a different way; in addition, neither account makes reference to the other. The account in Book VII seems to be aimed at describing pleasurable activities while the account in Book X seems more concerned with the nature of pleasure. As such, these two accounts are not at all incompatible since Book X should be taken as a refinement of Book VII. The earlier account describes the process that must take place to have pleasure, it draws a connection between activity of the natural state and pleasure and for the purpose of defining what activities are pleasurable, and this connection seems sufficient. However, Aristotle turns to describe the nature of pleasure in Book X and uses these chapters to refine his original model. The account in Book X explains how and why pleasure comes from an activity, this does not replace the previous model, rather, it adds details that were lacking. Aristotle was perhaps a bit careless in making sure his accounts were consistent throughout the text; however, a generous reading that looks at Aristotle’s goal in each book will allow us to compensate for the apparent inconsistency and form a complete model of both pleasant things and the nature of pleasure.[citations needed]

[edit] Books 8 and 9: Friendship

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1155a

Aristotle argues that friends can be viewed as second selves. Just as virtuous behavior improves oneself, friends can improve each other--this is the importance of friendship, and the reason it may be regarded as a type of virtue. The success or failure of a friend can be like one’s own success or failure. Aristotle divides friendships into three types, that of utility, that of pleasure and that of the good. Two are inferior to the other because of the motive; friendships of utility and pleasure do not regard friends as people but what they can give in return.[citations needed]

Friendships of utility are relationships formed without regard to the other person at all. Buying merchandise, for example, may require meeting another person but usually needs only a very shallow relationship between the buyer and seller. In modern English, people in such a relationship would not even be called friends, but acquaintances (if they even remembered each other afterwards). The only reason these people are communicating is in order to buy or sell things, which is not a bad thing, but as soon as that motivation is gone, so goes the relationship between the two people unless another motivation is found. Complaints and quarrels generally only arise in this type of friendship.[citations needed]

At the next level, friendships of pleasure are based on pure delight in the company of other people. People who drink together or share a hobby may have such friendships. However, these friends may also part--in this case if they no longer enjoy the shared activity, or can no longer participate in it together.[citations needed]

Friendships of the good are ones where both friends enjoy each other's characters. As long as both friends keep similar characters, the relationship will endure since the motive behind it is care for the friend. This is the highest level of relationship, and in modern English might be called true friendship.[citations needed]

[edit] Book 10: Pleasure and politics

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1172a

[edit] Chapters 1-5: Pleasure (part 2)

See book 7, chapters 11-14 for a complete discussion.

[edit] Chapters 6-9: Politics

“For though this good is the same for the individual and the state, yet the good of the state seems a grander and more perfect thing both to attain and to secure; and glad as one would be to do this service for a single individual, to do it for a people and for a number of states is nobler and more divine.” Nicomachean Ethics, Book I Ch ii, translated F.H. Peters (1893: Oxford)

Here Aristotle describes the relationship between ethics and politics, saying that politics is essentially ethics on a larger scale (cf. Socrates' suggestion in Plato's Republic, Book II, that he discuss the justice of the state, rather than of the individual, since the former "is likely to be larger and more easily discernible").

Indeed, Aristotle believes that politics should be a noble pursuit to which ethics is an introduction. The last chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics states “Since then our predecessors have left this matter of legislation uninvestigated, it will perhaps be better ourselves to inquire into it, and indeed into the whole question of the management of a state, in order that our philosophy of human life may be completed to the best of our power.” Nicomachean Ethics, Book X Ch ix, translated F.H. Peters (1893: Oxford). He continues his discussion in the Politics.

[edit] Important quotes

  • "Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." - 1094a (Book I, Chapter 1)
  • "We have found, then, that the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason or requiring reason." - 1098a (Book I, Chapter 7)
  • "For one swallow does not make a spring, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy." - 1098a (Book I, Chapter 6)
  • "And happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we are busy that we may have leisure, and make war that we may live in peace." - (Book X, Chapter 7)

[edit] Further reading

  • Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Terence Irwin. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1985.
  • Nicomachean Ethics: Aristotle with an introduction by Hye-Kyung Kim, translated by F.H. Peters in Oxford, 1893. (Barnes & Noble, 2004)
  • Adler, Mortimer J. The Time of Our Lives: The Ethics of Common Sense. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970. A 20th-century version of Aristotle's ethics, interpreting eudaimonia as "a whole life well lived".
  • Pangle, Lorraine (2003). Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN-13: 978-0521817455. 
  • Pedrick, Victoria; Oberhelman, Steven M. (2006). The Soul of Tragedy: Essays on Athenian Drama. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. ISBN-13: 978-0226653068. 

[edit] See also

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[edit] References

  1. ^ ὀνόματι μὲν οὖν σχεδὸν ὑπὸ τῶν πλείστων ὁμολογεῖται: τὴν γὰρ εὐδαιμονίαν καὶ οἱ πολλοὶ καὶ οἱ χαρίεντες λέγουσιν, τὸ δ᾽ εὖ ζῆν καὶ τὸ εὖ πράττειν ταὐτὸν ὑπολαμβάνουσι τῷ εὐδαιμονεῖν: περὶ δὲ τῆς εὐδαιμονίας, τί ἐστιν, ἀμφισβητοῦσι καὶ οὐχ ὁμοίως οἱ πολλοὶ τοῖς σοφοῖς ἀποδιδόασιν. See for example Perseus Project
  2. ^ πᾶσα τέχνη καὶ πᾶσα μέθοδος, ὁμοίως δὲ πρᾶξίς τε καὶ προαίρεσις, ἀγαθοῦ τινὸς ἐφίεσθαι δοκεῖ: διὸ καλῶς ἀπεφήναντο τἀγαθόν, οὗ πάντ᾽ ἐφίεται. Perseus Project
  3. ^ 1095b
  4. ^ "Book I, Ch. 9". Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Terence Irwin (2nd ed ed.). indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co. pp. 12. ISBN 0-87220-464-2. 
  5. ^ a b c Pedrick, Victoria; Oberhelman, Steven M. (2006). The Soul of Tragedy: Essays on Athenian Drama. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. ISBN-13: 978-0226653068. 
  6. ^ 2.7.1108b1-10

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