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- by Aristotle
- On the Relationship between Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics - PhilEvents
- The Panpsycast Philosophy Podcast
Aristotle then turns to examples, reviewing some of the specific ways that people are thought worthy of blame or praise. As he proceeds, he describes how the highest types of praise, so the highest types of virtue, imply having all the virtues of character at once, and these in turn imply not just good character, but a kind of wisdom. In the Eudemian Ethics Book VIII, chapter 3 Aristotle also uses the word " kalokagathia ", the nobility of a gentleman kalokagathos , to describe this same concept of a virtue containing all the moral virtues.
This style of building up a picture wherein it becomes clear that praiseworthy virtues in their highest form, even virtues like courage, seem to require intellectual virtue, is a theme of discussion Aristotle chooses to associate in the Nicomachean Ethics with Socrates, and indeed it is an approach we find portrayed in the Socratic dialogues of Plato. But achieving this supreme condition is inseparable from achieving all the virtues of character, or "moral virtues". The way Aristotle sketches the highest good for man as involving both a practical and theoretical side, with the two sides necessary for each other, is also in the tradition of Socrates and Plato —as opposed to pre-Socratic philosophy.
As Burger points out p. Book I attempts to both define the subject matter itself and justify the method that has been chosen in chapters 3, 4, 6 and 7. As part of this, Aristotle considers common opinions along with the opinions of poets and philosophers.
Concerning accuracy and whether ethics can be treated in an objective way, Aristotle points out that the "things that are beautiful and just, about which politics investigates, involve great disagreement and inconsistency, so that they are thought to belong only to convention and not to nature ". For this reason Aristotle claims it is important not to demand too much precision, like the demonstrations we would demand from a mathematician, but rather to treat the beautiful and the just as "things that are so for the most part.
Chapter 6 contains a famous digression in which Aristotle appears to question his "friends" who "introduced the forms". This is understood to be referring to Plato and his school, famous for what is now known as the Theory of Forms. Aristotle says that while both "the truth and one's friends" are loved, "it is a sacred thing to give the highest honor to the truth". The section is yet another explanation of why the Ethics will not start from first principles, which would mean starting out by trying to discuss "The Good" as a universal thing that all things called good have in common.
Aristotle says that while all the different things called good do not seem to have the same name by chance, it is perhaps better to "let go for now" because this attempt at precision "would be more at home in another type of philosophic inquiry", and would not seem to be helpful for discussing how particular humans should act, in the same way that doctors do not need to philosophize over the definition of health in order to treat each case. The main stream of discussion starts from the well-known opening of Chapter 1, with the assertion that all technical arts, all investigations every methodos , including the Ethics itself , indeed all deliberate actions and choice, all aim at some good apart from themselves.
Aristotle points to the fact that many aims are really only intermediate aims, and are desired only because they make the achievement of higher aims possible. In chapter 2, Aristotle asserts that there is only one highest aim, eudaimonia traditionally translated as "happiness" , and it must be the same as the aim politics should have, because what is best for an individual is less beautiful kalos and divine theios than what is good for a people ethnos or city polis.
The human good is a practical target, and contrasts with Plato's references to "the Good itself". He concludes what is now known as Chapter 2 of Book 1 by stating that ethics "our investigation" or methodos is "in a certain way political". Chapter 3 goes on to elaborate on the methodological concern with exactness. Ethics, unlike some other types of philosophy, is inexact and uncertain. Aristotle says that it would be unreasonable to expect strict mathematical style demonstrations, but "each man judges correctly those matters with which he is acquainted". Chapter 4 states that while most would agree to call the highest aim of humanity eudaimonia , and also to equate this with both living well and doing things well, there is dispute between people, and between the majority hoi polloi and "the wise".
Each of these three commonly proposed happy ways of life represents targets that some people aim at for their own sake, just like they aim at happiness itself for its own sake. Concerning honor, pleasure, and intelligence nous and also every virtue, though they lead to happiness, even if they did not we would still pursue them.
Happiness in life then, includes the virtues, and Aristotle adds that it would include self-sufficiency autarkeia , not the self-sufficiency of a hermit, but of someone with a family, friends and community. By itself this would make life choiceworthy and lacking nothing. To describe more clearly what happiness is like, Aristotle next asks what the work ergon of a human is.
All living things have nutrition and growth as a work, all animals according to the definition of animal Aristotle used would have perceiving as part of their work, but what is more particularly human? The answer according to Aristotle is that it must involve articulate speech logos , including both being open to persuasion by reasoning, and thinking things through. Not only will human happiness involve reason, but it will also be an active being-at-work energeia , not just potential happiness. And it will be over a lifetime, because "one swallow does not make a spring".
The definition given is therefore:. 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. Moreover, to be happy takes a complete lifetime; for one swallow does not make a spring. And because happiness is being described as a work or function of humans, we can say that just as we contrast harpists with serious harpists, the person who lives well and beautifully in this actively rational and virtuous way will be a "serious" spoudaios human.
As an example of popular opinions about happiness, Aristotle cites an "ancient one and agreed to by the philosophers". According to this opinion, which he says is right, the good things associated with the soul are most governing and especially good, when compared to the good things of the body, or good external things. Aristotle says that virtue, practical judgment and wisdom, and also pleasure, all associated with happiness, and indeed an association with external abundance, are all consistent with this definition.
If happiness is virtue, or a certain virtue, then it must not just be a condition of being virtuous, potentially, but an actual way of virtuously " being at work " as a human. For as in the Ancient Olympic Games , "it is not the most beautiful or the strongest who are crowned, but those who compete". And such virtue will be good, beautiful and pleasant, indeed Aristotle asserts that in most people different pleasures are in conflict with each other while "the things that are pleasant to those who are passionately devoted to what is beautiful are the things that are pleasant by nature and of this sort are actions in accordance with virtue".
External goods are also necessary in such a virtuous life, because a person who lacks things such as good family and friends might find it difficult to be happy.
In chapters , Aristotle addresses some objections or questions that might be raised against his definition of happiness thus far. Aristotle asserts that we can usefully accept some things said about the soul clearly a cross reference to Plato again , including the division of the soul into rational and irrational parts, and the further division of the irrational parts into two parts also:. The virtues then are similarly divided, into intellectual dianoetic virtues, and the virtues of character ethical or moral virtues pertaining to the irrational part of the soul, which can take part in reason.
These virtues of character, or "moral virtues" as they are often translated, become the central topic in Book II. The intellectual aspect of virtue will be discussed in Book VI. Aristotle says that whereas virtue of thinking needs teaching, experience and time, virtue of character moral virtue comes about as a consequence of following the right habits. According to Aristotle the potential for this virtue is by nature in humans, but whether virtues come to be present or not is not determined by human nature.
Trying to follow the method of starting with approximate things gentlemen can agree on, and looking at all circumstances, Aristotle says that we can describe virtues as things that are destroyed by deficiency or excess.
On the Relationship between Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics - PhilEvents
Someone who runs away becomes a coward, while someone who fears nothing is rash. In this way the virtue "bravery" can be seen as depending upon a "mean" between two extremes. For this reason, Aristotle is sometimes considered a proponent of a doctrine of a golden mean. According to Aristotle, character properly understood i.
A virtuous person feels pleasure when she performs the most beautiful or noble kalos actions. A person who is not virtuous will often find his or her perceptions of what is most pleasant to be misleading. For this reason, any concern with virtue or politics requires consideration of pleasure and pain.