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Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
Transcript of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
Book I: The Good Life
"Every craft and every method and likewise every action and deliberate choice seems to seek some good. That is why they correctly declare that the good is 'that which all seek'" (1094a.1-4).
"For the things we cannot produce without learning to do so are the very ones we learn to produce by producing them—for example, we become builders by building houses and lyre players by playing the lyre. Similarly, then, we become just people by doing just actions, temperate people by doing temperate actions, and courageous people by doing courageous actions" (1103a.35-1103b.2).
"Since virtue is concerned with feelings and actions, then, and it is the voluntary ones that are praised and blamed, while the involuntary ones elicit sympathetic consideration and are sometimes even pitied, it is perhaps necessary for those who are investigating issues relating to virtue to make some determinations about what is voluntary and what involuntary. This is also useful to legislators regarding honors and punishments" (1109b.29-35).
"In all the states of character we have mentioned, as in all other matters, there is a mark to which the man who has the rule looks, and heightens or relaxes his activity accordingly, and there is a standard which determines the mean states which we say are intermediate between excess and defect, being in accordance with the right rule" (1138b.20-24).
"We see that all men mean by justice that kind of state of character (
) which makes people disposed to do what is just and makes them act justly and wish for what is just; and similarly by injustice that state which makes them act unjustly and wish for what is unjust" (1129a.8-10).
"Next we must make a fresh start and say that things having to do with character that are to be avoided are of three forms: vice (
: badness), lack of self-control (
: bad mixture, ill-tempered, unwholesome), and beastliness (
wild animal: brutality, animal-like; having the nature of a beast). It is clear what the contraries of two of these are, since we call the one virtue (
) and the other self-control (
: mastery over something; self-control). Where the contrary of beastliness is concerned, it would most fit the case to speak of a virtue that is beyond us, one of a heroic even a divine sort... (1145a.14-20).
"After what we have said, a discussion of friendship would naturally follow, since it is a virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living. For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends" (1155a.1-6)?
"After these matters we ought perhaps next to discuss pleasure (
). For it is thought to be most intimately connected with our human nature, which is the reason why in educating the young we steer them by the rudders of pleasure and pain; it is thought, too, that
to enjoy the things we ought and to hate the things we ought has the greatest bearing on virtue of character
. For these things extend right through life, with a weight and power of their own in respect both to virtue and to the happy life, since men choose what is pleasant and avoid what is painful; and such things, it will be thought, we should least of all omit to discuss, especially since they admit of much dispute" (1172a.17-20).
One should not expect mathematical exactness and clarity from ethical or political discourse (1094b.24-25).
The study of politics requires good judgment that is developed from education and practical experience, but since young people are largely inexperienced, typically lack self-discipline, and aim at action rather than knowing, the study of politics will not benefit them (1095a.7-8).
Belongs to the soul (1098b12-20)
The happy person (
) lives well (
) and acts well (
The virtuous person is one who acts well (1099a5).
The life of the virtuous person is pleasant, because whatever one is passionately devoted to is pleasant to do (1099a9).
Virtuous or excellent actions are pleasant by nature (for themselves and not for what comes form them) and what is pleasant in itself is beautiful (1098a15).
Best, most pleasant, and most beautiful (1098a25).
Does not come about by chance (1099b26).
The end of politics
It aims to produce good citizens that "perform beautiful actions" (1099b30).
Animals and children are not happy because they cannot choose beautiful actions recommended by reason. (1100a1-3).
Requires complete virtue and a complete life (1100a4-5)
Results from virtuous activities which endure through changes in fortune (1100b17).
The good person will always bear fortune and misfortune in a beautiful way (because of good breeding and greatness of soul), and therefore could never become miserable (1101a).
Belongs to the blessed and continues to belong to them.
Happiness is blessed and divine and therefore is honored (1102a).
The Chief Human End
Goods are ends, but not all ends are the same (1094a.10). Some ends are activities , while others are products of activities.
Subordinate goods (i.e., pleasure, wealth, or honor) are pursued for the sake of the chief good (happiness) (1094a.17-18)
Politics: The Master Art
"If, then, there is some end of the things doable in action that we wish for because of itself, and the others because of it, and we do not choose everything because of something else (since if
is the case, it will go on without limit so that the desire will be empty and pointless), it is clear that this will be the good—that is, the best good" (1094a.18-19).
Knowledge comes to those who have rational control over their impulses and act in accordance with this self-restraint. So the student of politics should have the following qualities:
• Good judgment
• Practical experience
"It would seem to be the one with the most control, and the most architechtonic one. And politics seems to be like this, since it is the one that prescribes which of the sciences need to exist in cities and which ones each group in cities should learn and up to what point. Indeed, we see that even the capacities that are generally most honored are under it—for example, generalship, household management, and rhetoric. And since it uses the other practical sciences and, furthermore, legislates about what must be done and what avoided, its end will circumscribe those of others, so that it will be the human good" (1094a.25-1094b.7).
Politics aims at the highest good, and the highest good is "happiness" (1095a12).
Virtue and the Anatomy of the Soul
): the life of the philosopher.
): the life of an active citizen or civil servant, politician, all of whom aim at honor and virtue, but virtue is greater than honor (1095b.31).
): the pursuit of money is not an end, but only an instrument used to obtain other ends.
Life of Enjoyment
): aims at the good of pleasure and happiness
"... the human good (happiness:
) turns out to be activity (
) of soul in accord with virtue (
) and, if there are more virtues than one, then in accord with the best and most complete. Furthermore, in a complete life, for one swallow does not make a spring, nor does one day. Nor, similarly, does one day or a short time make someone blessed and happy" (1098a.15-16).
(1096a.17): There cannot be a common universal Good that explains the goodness of all particular things.
(1096a.24): Good is predicated in each of the categories of being.
(1096a.30): If there was a single form of the Good, there would have to be a single field of knowledge, but instead there are many.
(1096a.37): The Good has not been properly defined, and therefore nothing can be gained by pursuing the form of the Good.
(1096b.8): There are two kinds of goods, those that are good in themselves and those that promote those that are good in themselves. If there is a single form of the Good it would only apply to the latter, but if that is the case then the form should be able to explain why all them, being different, are good in the same way, and it cannot.
(1096b.30): If the Good exists, it is not the chief good that can be done and possessed, which is the object of Aristotle's inquiry.
(1096b.35): If the Good exists it does not help the expert, because the expert deals with particulars, not universals.
Related to action (1097a.23)
Pursued for its own sake (1097a.28)
The Ways of Life
Intellectual Virtues (1103a5)
: quick comprehension; faculty of uniting)
Practical judgment (
Moral Virtues (1103a7)
"It is clear that the virtue we must investigate is human virtue. For it is in fact the human good we are looking for, and human happiness. By 'human virtue,' though, we mean not that of the body but that of the soul; and happiness, we say, is an
activity of the soul
). But if all this is so, it is clear that a politician must in a way know about what pertains to the soul..." (1102a.14-16).
Critique of Plato's Good
Characteristics of Happiness
Virtue, then, is twofold, of thought and of character. That of thought both comes about and grows mostly as a result of teaching, which is why it requires experience and time. That of character (
), on the other hand, results from habit (
)—indeed, this is the source of the name
which derives with a minor variation from
... From this it is also clear that none of the virtues of character comes about in us naturally; since nothing natural can be habituated to be otherwise" (1103a.15-19).
2 Types of Virtue
excellence of thinking (1103a 12)
comes about through teaching (1103a 14)
excellence of action
comes about through habit (1103a 15
they are not present in us by nature (1103a 20)
they come to be in those persons who are by nature capable of taking them on and in whom they can be brought to completion through habit (
: custom, habit) (1103a 28)
Aristotle's criteria for moral virtue
: "The agent also must be in a certain condition (
, to have, hold) when he does them; in the first place he must have
, secondly he must choose the acts, and
choose them for their own sakes
, and thirdly his action must proceed from a firm and unchangeable
Virtues are taken on by working at them (1103a 32)
Virtues are not like the senses, which are in us by nature as potentialities that we actualize (for example, activating the capacity for sight in seeing).
We become virtuous through acting virtuously habitually. (1103b)
Summary of Book I
Everything aims a some good.
Politics aims at the highest good for human beings.
The highest good for human beings is happiness.
Happiness is an activity (work within) of the soul in accordance with complete virtue in a complete life.
To know happiness requires the study of virtue.
Virtues of character are concerned with the way in which we relate to pleasure and pain (1104b 9).
Education trains us to feel pleasure and pain in the things that we ought (1104b 13).
Virtue is concerned with pleasure and pain, because the pursuit and avoidance of pleasure and pain determine our character, which determines whether we are vicious or virtuous (1104b 20).
The virtuous person knows what to choose and what to avoid, the vicious person doesn't (1104b 35).
Pain and Pleasure
Virtue is a mean between two dispositions of excess an deficiency.
But virtue is concerned with feelings and actions in which excess is in error and subject to blame, as is deficiency, whereas the mean is subject to praise and is on the correct path (and both of these features are characteristic of virtue). Hence virtue is a sort of medial condition because it is able to aim at and hit the mean" (1106b.24-29).
Greatness of Soul
Smallness of Soul
: In order to hit the mean, pull back from its contrary (1109a 31)
Virtue and Character
"We should not say only that virtue is a state, however, but also what sort of state it is... We should say, then, that every virtue, regardless of what thing it is the virtue of, both completes the good state of that thing and makes it perform its function well—as, for example, the virtue of an eye makes both the eye and its function excellent; since it is by dint of the eye's virtue that we see well. Similarly the virtue of a horse makes a horse excellent—that is, good at running, carrying its rider, and standing firm against enemies. If, then, this holds in every case, the virtue of of a human being will also be the state by dint of which he becomes a good human being and will perform his function well" (1106a.12-20).
Stable Character (
Working at the virtues
seeing an end (
deliberating about means (
choosing an action (
Informs desire and becomes thinking infused with desire.
The active choice between extremes that involves the unity of right reason and right desire that can be judged as beautiful.
pleasure in beautiful (virtuous) acts
The Habit Loop
Dr. BJ Fogg at Stanford University has developed the B=MAT model that proposes that new behaviors (B) are more likely to become lasting habits or lifestyles when people are motivated to do the new behavior (M), have the ability to do it (A), and are triggered to do it (T). Surprisingly, the model works best in reverse: setting triggers first, then harnessing the ability, and then generating motivation.
“Th[e] process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges” (Charles Duhigg,
The Power of Habit
The benefit you gain from the habitual action
The trigger that leads to the habit
The habitual action you take as a result of the trigger
Coach me is an excellent tool for cultivating new habits or lifestyles. It uses the B=MAT model developed by Dr. BJ Fogg and helps users develop motivation, ability, and triggers. You can set reminders each day to do the behavior you want, connect with others who are practicing these behaviors for tips, resources, and motivation to continue developing your new habit or lifestyle. Coach me is available on the web, iOS, and Android.
"We must take pleasures and pains that supervene on a person's works as an indication of his states. For someone who abstains from bodily pleasures and enjoys doing just this is temperate, whereas someone who is annoyed is intemperate, and someone who endures terrible things and enjoys doing so—or at least is not pained by it—is courageous, whereas someone who is pained is cowardly. For virtue of character is concerned with pleasures and pains. Indeed, it is because of pleasure that we do base actions and because of pain that we abstain from doing noble ones" (1104b.1-10).
3 Things We Choose (1104b 31)
3 Things We Avoid (1104b 32)
We come into the world with ingrained habit patterns for responding to pain and pleasure. We seek the beautiful, pleasant, and advantageous and avoid the ugly, harmful, and painful (like animals). (1105a)
But, given that our relationship to pain and pleasure directly determines whether we act virtuously or viciously, we must rehabituate ourselves from our first nature (initial habits) to our second nature (virtue).
"In everything continuous and divisible, then, it is possible to take more, less, and equal, and these either in
relation to the thing itself
relation to us
—where equal is some sort of mean between excess and deficiency. By "the mean in relation to the thing," I mean what is equidistant from each of its two extremes, which is precisely one in number and the same for all. The mean in relation to us, by contrast, is what takes neither too much nor too little. It is not one thing and is not the same for all" (1106a.25-30).
The judgment of the mean is qualitative (aesthetic), not quantitative (calculative). It is an aesthetic judgment (sense-perception) (not by an appeal to the form of the Good) (1109b 23, 1126b 3-4) that looks to what is beautiful (1115b 12-13, 1122b 6-7).
Main Points of Book II
• Virtues are acquired by working at them, not by nature.
• Virtues are destroyed by excess and deficiency.
• Virtue is a mean condition between excess and deficiency.
• Virtues are active conditions of the soul.
• Virtue is an active condition that enables one to choose the mean between two vices (deficiency and excess) in relation to oneself through practical judgment.
• Hitting the mean, being virtuous, is an aesthetic judgment concerned with what is beautiful.
Voluntary and Involuntary Action
"Now what is involuntary seems to be what comes about by force or because of ignorance. Also, what is forced is what has an external starting-point, that is, the sort of starting-point where the agent, or the one being affected, contributes nothing—as, for example, if the wind or human beings with control over him took him off somewhere" (1109b.35).
involves the voluntary, but is not the same as the voluntary (1111b8)
not appetite (1111b 13)
not acting from lack of self-control (1111b17)
The self-controlled person chooses to act in a particular way without appetite (1111b18).
Desire is concerned with pain and pleasure, but choice is not (1111b19).
not anger (1111b19)
not wish (1111b20)
not opinion (1111b32)
Opinion is divided into 'true' and 'false' opinion, while choice is divided into 'good' and 'bad' choices (1112a).
Choices determine our character, not the opinions we hold (1112a5).
the subject matter of deliberation (1112a18-b15):
about things that are up to us and are matters of action (1112a30)
We deliberate about means, not ends (1112b10).
the process of deliberation (1112b15-1113a2):
tries to discover the best means for the easiest and most beautiful end (1112b15)
The first thing responsible for an end is the last thing discovered in deliberation (1112b20).
concerned with what is possible (1112b25)
not about particulars, like choice (1113a)
Deliberation terminates in decision (1113a2-9).
Whatever is chosen has been previously deliberated about.
Choice aims at ends and deliberation at the means to accomplish that end (1113a3).
choice=the deliberate desire
deliberation=the thinking prior to choice that informs desire
Virtues are a mean condition between extremes and result from a stable character that makes us capable of doing the things that make us virtuous. These acts are deliberated about and chosen by us and are therefore voluntary, and we are responsible for them.
Sensation is common to all animals, specifically touch (1118b1-4).
Appetites follow upon sensation (1118b8-1119a20).
Unchecked appetite is like a beast or an unchecked child (1119a33-b18).
Forgiveness and pity are attributed to involuntary actions (1109b32).
occurs through force or ignorance (1110a)
Involuntary acts (by force or ignorance) are accompanied by pain (1111a34).
: Aristotle says it is not clear whether someone acts voluntarily or involuntarily when he is forced to commit a shameful act under the control of a tyrant (1110a9).
Acts done because of ignorance (
accompanied by regret, remorse, and repentance (1110b19)
result from inadequate information.
based on ignorance of the particulars involved in the situation (1111a)
Acts done in ignorance (
result from intoxication or bad character.
: a drunk person acts shamelessly because of the state of ignorance produced by drunkenness (1110 b27); or a person of bad character who has habituated themselves into a state of ignorance about what is.
"Virtue, then, is a deliberately choosing state, which is in a medial condition in relation to us, one defined by reason and the one by which a practically-wise person would define it" (1106b.35).
When shameful or painful things are endured for beautiful ends, they are praised (1110a20).
When shameful or painful acts are endured for ends that are not beautiful, they are blamed (1110a24).
When shameful or painful things are endured for which no other human being would be capable of enduring, they are forgiven (1110a27).
The source of the movement is within the agent.
Acts are preferred in accordance with the occasion.
An act occurs because an internal motion puts the instruments of the body (limbs) into the service of an end.
The act would not be chosen for itself in other circumstances.
: throwing things overboard to avoid sinking (1110a14)
: An unwilling act can be understood as willing if the acts are chosen by the agent because of circumstances (1110b5).
Praise and blame are attributed to voluntary actions (1109b32).
The source of movement is
the agent (1111a22).
caused by appetite or anger (1111a26)
involves knowledge of the circumstances of the action (1111a25)
Voluntary acts (from desire) are accompanied by pleasure (1111a34).
"Deliberate choice, then, is apparently something voluntary, although not the same as what is voluntary, which extends more broadly. For children and other animals share in what is voluntary, but not in deliberate choice, and sudden actions are voluntary, we say, but are not in accord with deliberate choice" (1111b.5-7).
belongs to virtue (1111b.4)
determines character more than action (1111b7)
concerned with things that are up to us (1111b30)
reached through deliberation (1112a13-17)
Choice is not simply picking something out of other possibilities because we desire it, but picking something because we have previously deliberated about it (
What Choice Isn't
What Choice Is
"We do deliberate, though, about things that are up to us and doable in action, and these in fact are the remaining ones. For the causes of things seems to be in nature, necessity, and luck, and furthermore, understanding and everything that comes about through a human being. Among human beings, however, each group deliberates about what is doable in action through itself" (1112a.29-30).
"For each state of character has its own ideas of the noble and the pleasant, and perhaps the good man differs from others most by seeing the truth in each class of things, being as it were the norm and measure of them" (1113a.30)
"Since, then, wish is for the end, and the proper objects of deliberation and of deliberate choice are things that further the end, actions concerned with these will be in accord with deliberate choice and voluntary. Also, the activities of the virtues are concerned with these things... Virtue too is up to us, then, and, similarly, vice. For where acting is up to us, so is not acting, and where saying 'No' is up to us, so is saying 'Yes.' Hence if acting, when it is noble, is up to us, not acting, when it is shameful, will also be up to us. And if not acting, when it is noble, is up to us, acting, when it is shameful, will also be up to us. But if doing noble actions or doing shameful actions is up to us and, similarly, also not doing them (which was what being good people and being bad people consisted in), then being decent or base will be up to us" (1113b.1-12).
"Saying that no one 'is voluntarily wicked or involuntarily blessed’ seems to be partly false and partly true, since, while no one is involuntarily blessed, depravity is a voluntary thing" (1113b.14).
People who are deformed by nature are not blamed, but people who deform themselves in body or soul are blamed (1114a25).
If we are not responsible for our character, then we are not responsible for how the good appears to us, and consequently for any actions that result from it; but then no one would be responsible for anything (1114b).
"Well, if each individual is somehow responsible for his own state of character, he is also somehow responsible for the appearance in question. If not, no one is responsible for his own evildoing, but does evil things because of ignorance of the end, thinking that because of doing them he will achieve what is best for him. His seeking of the end in question is not self-chosen, rather we must be born possessed of a sort of sight by which to discern correctly an choose what is truly good, and a person in whom this by nature operates correctly is naturally well-disposed. For this is what is greatest and noblest and is not the sort of thing we can get from someone else or learn but the sort of thing whose condition at birth is the one in which it will later be possessed and, the naturally good disposition in its complete and true form" (1114b.1-16).
getting fear and confidence right (1115b.16)
has to do with danger or death—not in all cases, but in the most beautiful, e.g. war (1115a25-1115b6)
does not imply superhuman fearlessness (1115b7-11)
beautiful to the courageous person (1115b20)
fearless regarding things not caused by oneself (poverty, disease or death), but fears those things that result from vice (i.e. loss of reputation, loss of friends) (1115a.15)
demonstrates courage in situations in which dying is a "beautiful" thing (1115b5)
has a stable character that is oriented toward what is most beautiful in each situation
gets fear and confidence right in all the many ways, and acts for the sake of the beautiful (1115b11-24)
endures for the sake of the beautiful (1115b21)
calm before a frightening event and intent during it (1116a10)
The beautiful is chosen for its own sake (1176b8-9) and determines all virtues of character (1115b12-13, 1122b6-7). The beautiful is the object of aesthetic judgment, not a calculative judgment.
• civic Courage (1116a17-29)
• fear of Punishment (1116a29-b3)
• due to experience (1116b3-23)
• due to passion (1116b23-1117a9)
• due to confidence (1117a9-27)
5 Semblances of Courage
"But the end of every activity is what is in accord with the coresponding state. This also holds, then, for a courageous person. But courage is something noble. The corresponding end, then, is also such, since each thing is defined by its end. It is for the sake of what is noble, then, that a courageous person endures things and does the actions that are in accord with courage" (1115b.20-24).
The noble or the beautiful (
) is the end that the virtue of courage aims at. The courageous person is courageous for the sake of the beautiful.
"A temperate person, however, is in a medial state concerning these matters, since he does not take pleasure in the things the intemperate person most enjoys, but is, rather, repelled by them. Neither does he take it in those things generally that he shouldn't nor get intense pleasure from anything of that sort nor become pained by its absence. He does not have an appetite for them, or only moderately, and not more than he should, when he shouldn't, or in any of those ways generally. But pleasant things that are conducive to health or a good state, these he will desire moderately and in the way he should, as he will the other pleasant things that do not impede these or are not contrary to what is noble or beyond his means" (1119a.11-19).
The sphere of temperance is among bodily pleasures instead intellectual pleasures (1117b27-1118a1).
Sensation, Appetite, and Pleasure
Deficient interest in the relevant pleasures is rare (1119a5-11).
Self-indulgence is more voluntary than cowardice because of its relation to pain and pleasure (1119a21-25).
Justice, as it relates to others is justice (civic justice), but as it relates to the state of character of oneself, it is virtue (psychic justice) (1130a14).
: illegal, violent)
: unequal, uneven)
: conformable to custom, usage, or law)
: equal, porportionate)
Whatever produces and preserves happiness for the entire political community is just (1129b.20).
Law orders virtue to produce and preserve happiness in the city (11129b22).
"And it [justice] is complete virtue in its fullest sense, because it is the actual exercise of complete virtue. It is complete because he who possesses it can exercise his virtue not only in himself but towards his neighbour also; for many men can exercise virtue in their own affairs, but not in their relations to their neighbour" (1129b.30-35).
Proportional reciprocity between individuals
Arithmetic Proportionality based on equality of gain and loss.
Individual ordered to the community
Geometric Proportionality based on merit
Community ordered to the individual
A and B are individuals of varying merit (e.g., ruler, ruled)
C and D are proportions of some distributable good (e.g., power, money)
A just distribution is one that achieves a just ratio between the amount of merit each person has and the portion of the distributable good that each person receives.
Justice as Equality
"We have shown that both the unjust man and the unjust act are unfair or unequal; now it is clear that there is also an intermediate between the two unequals involved in either case. And this is the equal; for in any kind of action in which there is a more and a less there is also what is equal. If, then, the unjust is unequal, the just is equal, as all men suppose it to be, even apart from argument. And since the equal is intermediate, the just will be an intermediate" (1131a.8-14).
"... awards should be ‘according to merit’ (
: worth, value; translated into Latin as
: dignity, worth); for all men agree that what is just in distribution must be according to merit in some sense, though they do not all specify the same sort of merit, but democrats identify it with the status of freeman, supporters of oligarchy with wealth (or with noble birth), and supporters of aristocracy with excellence" (1131a.28)
Equitability is a mean between deficient and excessive inequality.
Given that justice is equality, and equality is determined by merit, justice is a type of proportion based on merit.
Proportionality is an equality of ratios (1131a33)
When a law is unable to address a particular situation, equitability provides the necessary guideline for a qualitative judgment (1137b.5-13).
Justice is superseded in particular cases by what is equitable (1137b.31).
The equitable person is the one who acts justly in particular cases when the law does not provide adequate guidance (1138a.1).
Equitability follows from a just character (1138b.13-14).
Has the same power everywhere
Unaffected by individual perspectives
Unchangeable (1134b20), yet changeable from a human perspective (11134b.25-40)
Established by custom for particular situations
"Of political justice part is natural, part legal—natural, that which everywhere has the same force and does not exist by people’s thinking this or that; legal, that which is originally indifferent, but when it has been laid down is not indifferent" (1134b.16-21).
Just and Unjust Acts
Just or unjust acts are done voluntarily, not involuntarily (1135a18).
Praise or blame can only be applied if an act is done voluntarily, which means that the source of the movement is in the agent (1135a20).
Something can be an act of injustice, but not an unjust act (1135a25).
"Acts just and unjust being as we have described them, a man acts unjustly or justly whenever he does such acts voluntarily; when involuntarily, he acts neither unjustly nor justly except in an incidental way; for he does things which happen to be just or unjust. Whether an act is or is not one of injustice (or of justice) is determined by its voluntariness or involuntariness; for when it is voluntary it is blamed, and at the same time is then an act of injustice; so that there will be things that are unjust but not yet acts of injustice, if voluntariness be not present as well" (1135a.14-22).
"There is a difference between the act of injustice and what is unjust, and between the act of justice and what is just; for a thing is unjust by nature or by enactment; and this very thing, when it has been done, is an act of injustice, but before it is done is not yet that but is unjust. So, too, with an act of justice (though the general term is rather ‘just action’, and ‘act of justice’ is applied to the correction of the act of injustice)" (1135a.7-14).
Natural justice is a general form of political justice that is normative across political communities (e.g. equitability and reciprocity).
Legal justice is a conventional form of political justice applied to specific cases in the political community.
Aristotle seems to want to indicate that legal justice is an attempt to articulate natural justice in the political community, but he doesn't spell this out completely.
Equitability and the Law
"When the law speaks universally, then, and a case arises on it which is not covered by the universal statement, then it is right, where the legislator fails us and has erred by over—simplicity, to correct the omission—to say what the legislator himself would have said had he been present, and would have put into his law if he had known. Hence the equitable is just, and better than one kind of justice—not better than absolute justice but better than the error that arises from the absoluteness of the statement. And this is the nature of the equitable, a correction of law where it is defective owing to its universality" (1137b.19-27).
Acts of Injustice
Acts not in accordance with justice that are knowingly committed, but not done deliberately (1135b20)
When the harm results from what is contrary to what is reasonably supposed, but lacks malice (1135b18)
Acts voluntarily done with malice, deliberation, and choice (1135b25)
Is justice possible without law?
Three Kinds of Interpersonal Injury
Contemplation and Action
"And let it be assumed that there are two parts which grasp a rational principle—one by which we contemplate the kind of things whose originative causes are invariable, and one by which we contemplate variable things; for where objects differ in kind the part of the soul answering to each of the two is different in kind, since it is in virtue of a certain likeness and kinship with their objects that they have the knowledge they have. Let one of these parts be called the scientific and the other the calculative; for to deliberate and to calculate are the same thing, but no one deliberates about the invariable. Therefore the calculative is one part of the faculty which grasps a rational principle" (1139a.5-12).
"The virtue of a thing is relative to its proper work. Now there are three things in the soul which control action and sense perception, reason, desire " (1139a.15-16)
"What affirmation and negation are in thinking, pursuit and avoidance are in desire; so that since moral virtue is a state of character concerned with choice, and choice is deliberate desire, therefore both the reasoning must be true and the desire right, if the choice is to be good, and the latter must pursue just what the former asserts" (1139a.20-25).
While sense perception governs action, in that it is the beginning of awareness, it is not a source of action.
Action requires the capacity for affirming and denying (intellect), and pursuing and avoiding (desire).
In choosing a particular action we affirm one course of action that we will pursue, and deny others that we will avoid.
Aristotle refers to choice as "deliberate desire," thinking that is informed by desire. In order for a choice to be of "serious worth" it must in accordance right reason and right desire. To act well, truth and desire must be in agreement (1139a.30).
Thinking and desire comprise our character, and we choose in accordance with our character.
Thinking shapes desire
Truth, Aristotle says, is a virtuous activity of both parts of the rational soul involving knowing and calculating—excellence in desire and deliberation (1139b.1-12).
"Let it be assumed that the states by virtue of which the soul possesses truth by way of affirmation or denial are five in number, i. e. art (
), scientific knowledge (
), practical wisdom (
), philosophic wisdom (
), intuitive reason (
); we do not include judgement and opinion because in these we may be mistaken" (1139b.15-17).
Aristotle defines practical judgment as a "a true and reasoned state of capacity to act with regard to the things that are good or bad for man" and later adds "with regard to human goods" (1140b6, 20). It has its end in itself, unlike making which has its end outside of itself (what is made).
The person with practical judgment (
) is capable of "seeing what is good for themselves and for man in general" (1140b10), which typical of household managers and politicians.
Aristotle notes that the virtue of temperance is a preservation of practical judgment. To be intemperate is to be thoughtless, ill-minded, a destruction of practical judgment.
Aristotle says finally that practical judgment is a virtue of the part of the soul that forms opinion, because it is concerned with what is capable of being otherwise, possibilities (1140b25).
Wisdom can be present in persons who do not possess practical judgment. For example, a story is told of Thales falling into a well while walking and staring at the sky, so people attributed wisdom to him, but not practical judgment (1141b5).
: to lead down) reasoning draws conclusions from premises that follow necessarily—reasoning from premises that are true yields conclusions that are true by necessity; that is, they cannot be otherwise if they premises are true.
: All men are mortal.
: Socrates is a man.
: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Aristotle concludes by defining knowledge as "an active condition of the soul that governs demonstration" (1139b32).
Knowledge governs the way we dispose ourselves concerning being and appearance. In order for knowledge to be virtuous it must oriented to what is (being/truth) and not simply what appears to be (opinion).
"Therefore wisdom must plainly be the most finished of the forms of knowledge. It follows that the wise man must not only know what follows from the first principles, but must also possess truth about the first principles. Therefore wisdom must be intuitive reason combined with scientific knowledge—scientific knowledge of the highest objects which has received as it were its proper completion [Knowledge with its head on]" (1141a.15-19).
Wisdom is intuitive reason (grasping of universals;
) combined with knowledge (demonstration from universals;
"Practical wisdom on the other hand is concerned with things human and things about which it is possible to deliberate" (1141b8).
Practical judgment is concerned with universals and particulars (1141b15). With the intellect we grasp the innumerable possibilities available, and with knowledge we deliberate about actions. However, its primary concern is with action (particulars) (1141b21).
"Now what scientific knowledge is, if we are to speak exactly and not follow mere similarities, is plain from what follows. We all suppose that what we know is not even capable of being otherwise; of things capable of being otherwise we do not know, when they have passed outside our observation, whether they exist or not. Therefore the object of scientific knowledge is of necessity. Therefore it is eternal; for things that are of necessity in the unqualified sense are all eternal; and things that are eternal are ungenerated and imperishable" (1139b.19-25).
Whatever can be known is unchanging and can therefore be demonstrated. Knowledge is taught by means of examples (
-inductive reasoning) or deductive reasoning (
: to lead into) reasoning draws conclusions from premises based on probabilities—reasoning from past regularities to future regularities.
: Dr. Macready always brings a cup of coffee to class.
: We have class today.
: Therefore, Dr. Macready will bring a cup of coffee.
The conclusion is inferred from past observations of my bringing a cup of coffee to class, but it does not follow necessarily.
People who possess practical judgment are capable of deliberating well about human affairs.
Incontinence and Knowledge
The Problem of Moral Failure
"Someone might be puzzled about what sort of correct supposition a person has when he acts in a way that is not self-controlled.... Some people certainly deny that he can have scientific knowledge, for it would be terrible, as Socrates used to think, for scientific knowledge to be in someone but controlled by something else and dragged around like a slave. For Socrates used wholly to combat this account on the supposition that there is no such thing as lack of self-control. For no one, while supposing that he is doing so, acts contrary to what is best but act that way only because of ignorance.... This argument certainly contradicts what plainly appears to be the case..." (1145b.21-30).
"For a person who unconditionally lacks self-control is not concerned with all things but, rather, with the very same ones as an intemperate person, nor does he unconditionally lack self-control by having a state that is unconditionally related to these (since then it could be the same as intemperance) but, rather, by having one related to them in a certain way. For an intemperate person is deliberately choosing when he is led on, since he believes that he should always pursue what is pleasant at present. One who lacks self-control does not think this but pursues anyway" (1146b.18-23).
Having knowledge (theoretical/potential)
Exercising knowledge (practical/actuality)
The incontinent person possesses knowledge of the good, but does not exercise this knowledge because he has allowed passion to resist the exercise of this knowledge.
Socrates held that no one knowingly does wrong because all wrong acts are self-harm and no one knowingly harms himself. When people do wrong they are acting from opinion, not knowledge.
Aristotle's Central Question
: Does the person who morally fails act knowingly or unknowingly?
"... since we use the word ‘know’ in two senses (for both the man who has knowledge but is not using it and he who is using it are said to know), it will make a difference whether, when a man does what he should not, he has the knowledge but is not exercising it, or is exercising it; for the latter seems strange, but not the former" (1146b.31-35)
4 Ways of Knowing and Not-Knowing
"Further, since there are two kinds of premisses [universal and particular], there is nothing to prevent a man’s having both premises and acting against his knowledge, provided that he is using only the universal premiss and not the particular; for it is particular acts that have to be done" (1146b.35)
: Dry foods are good for human beings (universal)
: I am a human being
This is a dry food? (particular)
This food is good for me?
"... the possession of knowledge in another sense than those just named is something that happens to men; for within the case of having knowledge but not using it we see a difference of state, admitting of the possibility of having knowledge in a sense and yet not having it, as in the instance of a man asleep, mad, or drunk" (1147a.8-10)
The exercise of knowledge is prevented because of a particular state.
"... we may also view the cause as follows with reference to the facts of human nature. The one opinion is universal, the other is concerned with the particular facts, and here we come to something within the sphere of perception; when a single opinion results from the two, the soul must in one type of case affirm the conclusion, while in the case of opinions concerned with production it must immediately act (e. g. if ‘everything sweet ought to be tasted’, and ‘this is sweet’, in the sense of being one of the particular sweet things, the man who can act and is not prevented must at the same time actually act accordingly)" (1147a.24-30).
Everything sweet is pleasant to eat.
: This is sweet.
: It would be pleasant to eat this.
: Everything that contains sugar is bad for me.
: This contains sugar.
: This will be bad for me if I eat it, so I should not eat it.
Friendship provides an opportunity to use our abundance for the good of others, it is a "refuge" in the midst of "poverty and misfortune," assistance for avoiding error in young people, and guidance for older people in caring for the young (1155a13).
Loves for the sake of some derivative good (1156a.10)
Friends are useful to one another (1157a.1).
Changes frequently and lasts as long as the derivative good is available (1156a.23-24)
Loves for the sake of a derived pleasure (1156a.11)
Friends are pleasant to each other.
Loves the other for the sake of the other's character (1156b.7)
Friends are equal in virtue (1156b.6).
"For we have said at the outset that happiness is an activity; and activity plainly comes into being and is not present at the start like a piece of property. If (1) happiness lies in living and being active, and the good man’s activity is virtuous and pleasant in itself, as we have said at the outset, and (2) a thing’s being one’s own is one of the attributes that make it pleasant, and (3) we can contemplate our neighbours better than ourselves and their actions better than our own, and if the actions of virtuous men who are their friends are pleasant to good men (since these have both the attributes that are naturally pleasant— if this be so, the supremely happy man will need friends of this sort, since his purpose is to contemplate worthy actions and actions that are his own, and the actions of a good man who is his friend have both these qualities" (IX.1169b.27-35).
In friendships of superiority (father/son, older/younger, husband/wife, ruler/ruled), there is a different virtue for each relation, a different work, and a different cause for love, which makes their friendships different (1158b20).
These are asymmetrical relationships, the merit on each side of the relationship is not the same, and consequently, each person receives something different (1158b20).
Aristotle says that in order to have equality in these relationships, the better persons "ought to be loved more than he loves" (1158b28).
Equality in friendship is different than in matters of justice. In justice, merit is primary and the amount secondary, but in friendship it is the opposite (1158b30).
What Aristotle means here is that the amount of virtue or vice determines the friendship, and who owes what to the other is a secondary consideration. This allows him to claim that friendships between inferior and superior people is unthinkable (1159a2).
It is impossible to have a complete friendship with lots of friends. Given that good people are rare, it is unlikely that one could find many good people to be friends with, but one could find many that are useful or pleasurable, because people do not need to be good to be pleasing or useful (1158a.12-18).
Changes frequently and lasts as long as the derivative pleasure is available (1156a.34-35)
Last as long as both parties are good (1156b.9)
Mutual love of character (1156b.6)
Mutuality of good will (1156b.7)
Common life (1157b.19-20)
State of character resulting from choice (11557b.29-30)
Mutuality of delight (1158a.6)
Exclusive to a few (1158a.10)
Equality of virtue (1158a.34)
Love in proportion to merit (1158b.27)
We have a natural hedonistic tendency—we naturally avoid what is painful and tend towards what pleasurable. This hedonistic tendency governs our actions, so in order to develop virtue of character, we have to be conditioned to find pleasure in virtuous activities and pain in vicious activities.
Aristotle points out that there are two primary views on pleasure. It has been understood as the highest good and the basest error (1172a27-28). The first view advocates pursuing pleasure, and the second advocates avoiding it. Note that Aristotle had previously suggested austerity as a means to hitting the mean (II.1109a30), but now he says that too much austerity is not good.
Aristotle gives three arguments for his claim that pleasure is good.
(1) Pleasure is complete (1174a14-b14).
(2) Pleasure completes (
) an activity (1174b14-1175a21). Aristotle argues that there is a pleasure associated with each of the senses, as well as with "thought and contemplation" (1174b23), so when the activity of seeing or thinking or contemplation is most complete, it is pleasurable. Pleasure, you might say, is the "bloom" of activity.
(3) Pleasures differ in kind (1175a21-1176a29). Given that activities differ in kind, and pleasure completes activities, it follows that pleasure would be as diverse as the activities. To find an activity pleasurable contributes to the development of that activity—we do best, what we love best.
Pain has the opposite effect on activity, it destroys it (1175b20).
Virtue and Law
"But such a life would be too high for man; for it is not in so far as he is man that he will live so, but in so far as something divine is present in him; and by so much as this is superior to our composite nature is its activity superior to that which is the exercise of the other kind of virtue. If reason is divine, then, in comparison with man, the life according to it is divine in comparison with human life. But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth surpass everything" (1177b.34).
Aristotle reiterates that happiness is "happiness is activity in accordance with virtue," but qualifies this statement by adding that it is in accord with "in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us, which he identifies with the intellect, and the highest activity as contemplation (
) (1177a12, 20).
Contemplation is the activity of the intellect that has as its end objects that are eternal and unchanging.
The intellect is the most powerful and most divine in us and a life devoted to the cultivation of the intellect, is a life devoted to becoming divine and immortal.
The contemplative life is the most complete happiness because it no longer seeks wisdom, but possesses it and rests in it.
Contemplation is the most pleasant activity because it participates in wisdom and knowledge, and so, the contemplative life, the philosophic life, is the most self-sufficient, because all of the other virtuous activities require others upon whom to exercise the virtues, but "the philosopher, even when by himself, can contemplate truth" (1177a34).
It is the only activity loved for its own sake, and not for what comes from it (1177b5). The contemplative life is a life of leisure prepared for by the practical life, which is unleisured. Complete happiness, Aristotle says, is present in leisure (1177b7).
Given that the political life is concerned with power, honor, and the good of the city, it is not a life of leisure, but of unleisure. So, the contemplative life is the happiest life.
: a good, suitable, fitting thing)
: deliberate, purposeful choice)
: doing, transaction, business, operation)
: goal, limit, boundary, completion, fulfillment)
: a work within
: a work
"...the soul is the first grade (first grade: possession/second grade: exercise) of actuality (
) of a natural body having life potentially (
) in it (Aristotle,
On the Soul
: to be accustomed to, to be used to)
: enjoyment, pleasure, delight)
to be vexed, distressed; bodily or mental pain; grief)
: zeal, haste, earnest, serious)
: to act with knowledge of the circumstances)
: to act without knowledge of the circumstances and under external force or constraint)
: choosing one thing before another; to purposely resolve to select)
: to take counsel with oneself, to plan)
: beautiful, fine quality)
: uncovered reality)
: sense perception)
: appetite, longing)
Aristotle rejects the claim that legal justice is arbitrary or based on the interests of the strong (i.e., Thrasymachus). Its compelling feature comes from its basis in nature.
: a point of oculular fixation; a watcher, look-out
: a pillar, memorial)
: correct reason)
: affectionate regard, typically between equals)
"If happiness is an activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us. Whether it be reason or something else that is this element which is thought to be our natural ruler and guide and to take thought of things noble and divine, whether it be itself also divine or only the most divine element in us, the activity of this in accordance with its proper virtue will be perfect happiness. That this activity is contemplative we have already said" (X.1177a.12-19).
"Surely, as the saying goes, where there are things to be done the end is not to survey and recognize the various things, but rather to do them; with regard to virtue, then, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it, or try any other way there may be of becoming good" (X.1179a.35-1179b.3).
Although Aristotle designates the contemplative life as the happiest life in the most complete sense, he also points out that the practical life of virtue is a necessary prerequisite to the contemplative life, because wisdom requires good character and practical judgment. He argues that habits can teach a person what he ought to hate and enjoy, and these habits can be arranged and instituted by laws (1179b35).
Aristotle argues that the majority of people need to be compelled by penalties to habituate themselves to virtue.
"... legislators ought to stimulate men to virtue and urge them forward by the motive of the noble, on the assumption that those who have been well advanced by the formation of habits will attend to such influences; and that punishments and penalties should be imposed on those who disobey and are of inferior nature, while the incurably bad should be banished" (1180a.2-6).
The law, as a compulsory power, can legislate decency. The legislator prescribes a model for upbringing and practices for training someone in virtue (1180a28).
In the absence of a "public control" for the development of civic virtue, Aristotle says that one must assume the responsibility for training one's children and household. This responsibility requires knowledge of lawmaking (1180a34). And this training should be a private education that is tailored to individual students, rather than public education that aims at the common (1180b10). The goal of this moral education is to get the student into a "right condition" (1180b25).
Aristotle ends the
where he began, on the topic of the political art. He suggests that looking at the various constitutions, laws, customs, and civil arrangements, to determine which are the best, as the next task at hand. This examination s taken up in his
Aristotle says that experience in political life brings knowledge of lawmaking. In order to know what laws are best to bring people into a "beautiful condition" one must have knowledge of each sort of law (laws are the works of the political art), as well as an understanding of the means and manner in which each comes about (1181a20). But, Aristotle says this knowledge cannot come about solely by examining textbooks about laws and civil constitutions. One must have the "active capacity" to judge which of these laws are best (1181b10).
"With regard to virtue, then, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it" (1179b1-2).
Characteristics of the Chief Good
Born in Stagira in the region of Macedonia
Sent by parents to Athens to study in Plato's Academy
Settled in Assos at the invitation of the ruler after Plato's death
Moved to Lesbos after the death of the ruler of Assos and married his wife Pythias
Invited by Philip of Macedonia to Pella where he tutored Philip's 13 year old son, Alexander (later Alexander the Great).
Returned to Athens and founded his own academy called the Lyceum.
Son Nicomachus born and wife Pythias died.
Fled Athens for the island of Chalcis due to anti-Macedonia sentiments.
Died in exile
: flourishing, living well, doing well)
"A man is regarded as high-minded [
, "greatness of soul," "magnanimous soul"
] when he thinks he deserves great things and actually deserves them; one who thinks he deserves them but does not is a fool, and no man, insofar as he is virtuous, is either foolish or senseless... High-mindedness thus is the crown, as it were, of the virtues: it magnifies them and it cannot exist without them. Therefore, it is hard to be truly high-minded and, in fact, impossible without goodness and nobility" (Aristotle,
, IV, 1123b, 1124a)
Characteristics of the High-minded Man
Moderate toward wealth, power, fortune and misfortune
Concerned with honor
Feels deserving of the best honor
Feels superior to others (pathos of distance)
Doesn't speak of himself or gossip about others
Speaks deliberately in a deep voice
"'Serious' is a state of being in which you are fully aware of who you are, and what your place is in the world at that moment. You are also aware of who someone else is, and what their precise relationship is to you... When people say that they are searching for meaning, they are saying that they are trying to find something serious about which they can be serious. To live meaningfully is to live seriously... We want to feel that there is a purpose to our lives. We want to feel that our experiences add up to something that explains our experiences. We wish to stop thinking about our self-interest, just for a minute, and get caught up in something larger than ourselves. We want to be serious (Siegel, Lee.
Are You Serious?: How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly,
11, 12, 15).