The Nicomachean Ethics Summary
Fasten your seatbelts. Make sure the shoulder harness clicks into place. Get your crash helmet on. You're about to go for a several-thousand-year-old ride…and Aristotle ain't going to make it easy for you.
(That's what we're here for.)
Basically, we're going to get deep into the heart of what Aristotle thought made people good. And bad. And, well, not ugly—there were some differences between Aristotle and Clint Eastwood—but morally gray.
Aristotle begins by laying down the investigation at hand: what is the highest human good? He determines that it's happiness (because this is the most complete good) and has to thrash out what this means in practical terms. Toward the end of this book, he turns to the subject of virtue, since it's in virtuous action that humans find happiness in life. Good to know.
We get an overview of virtue—both intellectual and moral—and learn that we aren't really born with moral virtues. While we may have natural dispositions toward particular "characteristics," we need education and habituation to make them stick.
Aristotle warns us that this is no theoretical discussion—he's going to teach us how to be good. Thanks, A.
He describes virtue in terms of a "mean" or "middle way" between two extremes (excess and deficiency, both of which are vices) and gives a quick run-down of traits according to this spectrum. We learn that it's hard to be virtuous because it takes a lot of work to find the mean of each characteristic.
Aristotle opens with a discussion of voluntary/involuntary behavior, which segues into an explication of choice. He describes choice as voluntary, originating within ourselves, and as a product of deliberation.
Choice is different from "wish," which is a kind of longing or desire.
In each of these cases, we have to apply virtue and reason to make correct choices and to do good things. While there are certain conditions that get us off the hook—like ignorance—it's only a temporary excuse from personal responsibility for our actions. Aristotle here begins in-depth coverage of each moral virtue, starting with courage and moderation and including the vices that oppose 'em.
Aristotle deals with virtues concerning money here: liberality and magnificence. Liberality refers to the inclination to spend money properly and on the right things: being open-handed for good reason.
Magnificence is like liberality, but on a grand scale—a magnificent person has coin and isn't afraid to spend lots of it on something for the common good.
The "professional" virtues are next: greatness of soul and ambition. Both are considered people who know their own worth, even if others don't generally find them pleasant. But those who possess gentleness and friendliness are pleasant, because they're moderate in temper and open to people (respectively). Aristotle closes with an examination of good speaking: truthfulness (plain-speaking) and wittiness (appropriate and pleasant humor).
This book is dedicated entirely to justice, the crown jewel of virtues.
After defining what and who is just/unjust, Aristotle delineates two types of justice: corrective and distributive—and explains why justice only exists for people who live in community with each other.
He introduces the necessity of equality, proportion, and commensurability in the economy of a community, and how they make mutual exchange (and therefore life) possible.
Aristotle defines what it means to be a just/unjust: performing these acts voluntarily and as a product of prior deliberation. The book ends on a discussion of the differences between equity and the equitable and whether or not we can commit injustices to ourselves.
Congrats—you've made it halfway through. (Deep breath.)
We move into the intellectual virtues: art (craftsmanship or skill), science (hardcore knowledge), prudence, wisdom, and intellect (reason). He defines each virtue, beginning with prudence—the ability to deliberate well. Wisdom is the comprehension of universal and unchanging knowledge.
Aristotle also introduces related intellectual virtues: comprehension (the ability to grasp things), judgment (making equitable, fair decisions), and cleverness (which can go wrong very quickly). He ends this book with the assertion that intellect perfects our other virtues.
Aristotle devotes this book to a discussion of self-restraint (or lack thereof). He opens with difficult questions: Can a good person lack self-restraint? Can they be "knowers"? Does self-restraint apply to all pleasures or just some? He concludes that self-restraint applies to pleasures and pains, or to the same things as licentiousness does.
But lack of self-restraint is only error, not vice— people can who lack self-restraint can be cured by effort. (Phew.)
Aristotle concludes that it's important for lawgivers to understand about pain and pleasure, since they have to respond to those who transgress in response to these things. He also briefly opens discussion about pleasure.
This is all about friendship, which Aristotle first defines and then breaks down into three types: the useful, the pleasant, and the complete.
He explains what is necessary for complete friendship to exist, including the need for friends to "live together" in order to see what is lovable in each other and to become more alike. Aww, that sounds sweet.
Aristotle introduces the concept of the unequal friendship (ruler/subject, father/son), whether or not the wicked can be/have friends, and friendships in families. He theorizes that the level of justice in any political regime determines the types and quantities of friendships between individuals in that society.
Finally, Aristotle addresses how the inferior forms of friendship run into trouble and dissolve. He even advises us—all Dear Abby-like—on how best to get out of a nasty friendship break-up with our dignity and honor intact. This is a useful section, y'all.
There's more drama to be had in friendships, especially when the people involved expect different things from each other—and neither is satisfied. Aristotle also addresses the difficulty of giving people things—gifts, trust, respect—as they deserve, and of what happens when your friend changes for the worse.
Aristotle emphasizes the importance of loving yourself first in order to be good friends to others and shows us how to recognize friendship when we see it (good will vs. friendly affection and like-mindedness). He discusses the value of a gift, and how a friend is a second self.
And, finally, he determines that, yeppers—happy people do need friends, while the rest of us need them both in times of fortune and misfortune.
Aristotle wraps up with the importance of pleasure and how it might, in fact, be a pretty great good.
He points out that everything in nature tends toward it (and away from pain). Although it can be difficult to figure out the right things to enjoy and the right amounts to enjoy them, pleasure is a necessary part of happy existence.
And speaking of happiness...Aristotle finally gets down to it. He defines it as an activity of the best part of a human being (i.e. the mind) and the virtue connected with it is wisdom. In which case, the best activity is contemplation. That's right: the philosophical life is the very best for human happiness. Aristotle musters his arguments to support this.
He claims that we do have to mix pleasure in with happiness…because who are we kidding? Life wouldn't be worth living without it. At the end of this book, Aristotle segues into a discussion about lawmaking, in preparation for his lectures on politics. But that's another work entirely.
Book 1, Chapter 1 (1094a1-19)
- Aristotle opens his inquiry by contemplating what is good.
- Everything, he says, aims at what is good. Since he loves to categorize, Aristotle is going to break it down for us. (Oh, will he ever.)
- The ends (i.e. the ultimate good at which a person is aiming) differ depending on the field or activity a person is working in.
- So for military leadership ("generalship") the end would be victory.
- Within each field there are different "capacities": making horse bridles belongs to horsemanship, which in turn belongs to warfare (cavalry), which belongs to generalship.
- But of these categories, the "architectonic" ones—the ones that systematize knowledge, creating structure for the field—are the absolute best ones.
- To be more precise, the ends of the architectonic ones are the most "choiceworthy" because all the arts beneath them (i.e. bridle-making) exist for the sake of them (i.e. generalship).
- Dang, Aristotle. You're a smart dude.
Book 1, Chapter 2 (1094a20-1094b11)
- Aristotle's interested in finding out what the highest human good might be, so he sets about trying to describe the general characteristics of this good.
- The truly best good would be something that we work and wish for as an end in itself…not part of an unending cycle of desire and attainment.
- Knowing this much is a good start, but Aristotle wants to make sure that we don't waste any time on our quest for happiness—so he'll continue outlining what this "best good" is.
- By his own definition, the best good would have to be the most architectonic: whatever it is that governs all knowledge and provides a way of thinking about all things.
- Aristotle says that the "political art" is just the science (or branch of knowledge) that fits the bill.
- Politics is the overriding category of knowledge that rules everything: it determines what citizens must and must not do, and it decides what people have to learn and do.
- Also, it encompasses all the other noble arts, including things like generalship and household management (his two prime examples from Chapter 1).
- Since the ends of the political art include the ends of these other communal roles, it must be the highest human good.
- He introduces the concept of a city and its sovereignty: while the individual is important, the city (and the nation) is so much more worthy.
- Aristotle tells us that this inquiry into what brings happiness to human beings is essentially a political inquiry.
Book 1, Chapter 3 (1094b12-1095a14)
- Aristotle says that his inquiry will be a little bit general, since things that are noble and just (as the political art is) have aspects that are kind of up in the air.
- This "variability" happens for a couple of reasons. First, they rely on things like custom—always something open for debate.
- Also, good things sometimes go wrong and hurt people.
- So Aristotle is aiming to prove his ideas as a rough outline, rather than prescribing strict ideas about what's good.
- He warns us that we'll have to accept/understand the points he makes as he builds his argument—that's the job of a student who is listening to a learned teacher.
- Aristotle reminds his audience that a person is only a good judge of things that they know well. It's especially good if a person has been well educated in all things.
- Which is why, Aristotle says, that young whippersnappers are really awful students of the political art.
- They haven't seen anything of life or how things work.
- Also, a young person is after following his passions. He wants to take action, not acquire knowledge. This characterization also applies to the immature.
- A reasonable person, however, would absolutely benefit from this inquiry.
Book 1, Chapter 4 (1095a15-1095b13)
- Aristotle says that the highest good is happiness. At least, that's what everybody—educated or otherwise—says.
- Most people also understand that to be happy, we have to live and act well. But they disagree on what this actually means.
- Most would say that happiness is related to specific goods, like health, wealth or education. Others expect there is a greater good from which all the other goods flow.
- Aristotle uses this last speculation to discuss the idea of first principles, or "beginning points." He points out that one may argue from these principles or to them.
- Aristotle says that we have to begin with the things known to us, and that it's best if we've been brought up from an early age to understand things that are just and noble.
- This way, we grasp these principles without needing to question them further, since they are part of our "habits."
- But if we haven't been brought up in this manner, we shouldn't despair.
- We only need to listen to "one who speaks well" (i.e. a certain learned philosopher who will tell you how to behave and think).
- If we haven't been brought up well to understand what is noble and right and we won't listen to our wise teachers, then we're pretty much out of luck.
Book 1, Chapter 5 (1095b15-35, 1096a1-10)
- Aristotle wants to go back and speak again of "good" and "happiness."
- The majority of people believe that a happy life is one of pleasure. And he totally gets that. Everyone likes to have fun.
- He outlines three types of lives: a life of pleasure, a political one, and the contemplative life.
- Those who live for pleasure are slaves to the senses; the political aim for honor.
- But even that seems superficial, since they're seeking the approval of their virtue in other people.
- Virtue is good, but it seems incomplete—you could be virtuous without trying (i.e. while sleeping) or when bad things happen to you.
- But does this really make you happy?
- So much for the political life. Aristotle promises us to talk about the contemplative life later.
- He adds a little postscript to talk about making money.
- Money is a good that's being sought for other purposes. It isn't an end in itself.
- But neither are the other things he's discussed in this chapter, though both lives of pleasure and civic-mindedness seem to be complete, ends in themselves.
- But don't be fooled.
Book 1, Chapter 6 (1096a11-1096b14)
- Aristotle thinks it'll be best to tackle the elephant in the room: what is the universal good?
- He thinks this partially because everyone is so fond of Plato and his followers, who banged on about "forms"—which gave each thing its general character.
- But Aristotle politely sidesteps his predecessor by saying, basically, that you have to "kill your darlings" for the sake of truth.
- He's going to spend the chapter dealing with these "forms."
- Finding one idea of good is tricky. If we speak in categories (i.e. what it is or the right moment to cultivate it), it's clear that it's not possible for the good to be common and universal.
- There's another argument against one good: there is no single science of good things.
- There are many categories of good sciences (bodies of knowledge), and it changes according to circumstance (i.e. in illness, medicine; in war, generalship).
- Now hold onto your hats, folks, because Aristotle is going to turn on the philosophy-speak in order to explain how good is good, no matter how long-lasting or specific (or not).
- Just like an individual person is both a unique individual and part of the human race, so "good" is both specific (for a certain situation and category) and general (ideal, universal good).
- But something that is good in a specific situation is still categorized as good under the larger genus of Good Things.
- Those who like the idea of "forms" also posit two types of goods: things that are good in themselves, and things that are good because of these.
- Aristotle wants to examine each of these categories for now, to determine if the goods that are means (not ends) really refer back to one, single idea of goodness.
- So what might be good in itself? Can virtues be good on their own, or do they all come from a larger "idea"?
- But, Aristotle says, if only this ideal form of good is the epitome of good things by itself, then it's useless.
- If it's abstracted away from all other good things, what does it serve?
- If the virtues are then goods in themselves, they would appear to be the same in all cases.
- But that's not the case. Point? All good things don't refer back to a single idea.
- So now what? How then do we know that good things are good, if we don't have something to judge it against?
- Do all good things flow from One Thing, or do they contribute to it, like a dot that makes up a larger pointillist painting? (That's our analogy, not Aristotle's).
- If there's one idea, it hardly matters in practical terms. We can't act on an abstraction, nor can we "have" it.
- Aristotle decides we should let this conversation go—but he doesn't. He still wants to pick at the argument that there's a universal good.
- Couldn't we just posit it for convenience's sake, so that we might at least figure out what things are good for us? It's attractive, but not really part of scientific inquiry.
- For all categories of knowledge are about some good and seek to fill gaps, but don't concern themselves with some abstract form of good and what it is.
- Aristotle says that practitioners of any craft (i.e. a weaver or doctor) wouldn't really benefit from understanding an ideal form of good, since it wouldn't improve their craft in practical ways.
- He wants us to hang on to this discussion of the impracticality of a universal good while he moves on to another point.
Book 1, Chapter 7 (1097a15-1098b8)
- Whether or not there's One Good Thing from which all other good things come, Aristotle says that, in each science, the good thing is the end for which it aims.
- And sometimes that's more than one thing.
- And sometimes, we aim at those things for the sake of something else (i.e. wealth).
- Those kinds of goods are incomplete.
- The "better" good, then, is something that is complete—something that's good in itself, without the need to refer to something else.
- And if there are several complete goods, then the most complete is the best one.
- So, to recap, the complete thing is the one that's chosen for its own sake—not as a means to get at another good.
- Aristotle concludes that happiness is exactly this kind of good. We always choose happiness for its own sake.
- We choose other virtues (i.e. honor, pleasure, intellect) as ends in themselves, but also because they help us to be happy.
- On the flip side, nobody chooses happiness to become virtuous. Therefore, it's a complete end in itself.
- Aristotle introduces the concept of self-sufficiency. A complete good is self-sufficient—and not just for one person by himself, but for those around him.
- It is the thing that makes life "choiceworthy"—something we can consciously choose regardless of any other good—what Aristotle believes happiness to be.
- Further, happiness is the most choiceworthy thing, since it isn't just one good thing: it's lots of good things taken together. If you added more good things to it, you'd have a "superabundance" of good things.
- But what is happiness?
- We might agree that it's the best of all good things…but how to define it?
- To do this, we have to first define the work of humans. Since good can only be determined for specific sciences (i.e. medicine, warfare), we have to define the category to find the relevant good.
- It can't just be living—life associated with growth—since even plants do that. And it can't be sense perception, since all animals have that.
- Aristotle settles on this definition: an active life associated with reason.
- This includes not just having reason, but also applying it through thought and action.
- Further, he defines human work as "activity of the soul in accordance with reason"—and the work of a "serious man" (one dedicated to moral virtue) is to work well and nobly.
- So, human good has something to do with activity of the soul in accord with virtue.
- But not just any virtue: the most complete virtue. Remember, that which is most complete and self-sufficient is the absolute best, in any category.
- Aristotle makes one more proviso: all of this must be wrapped up in a "complete life"—not one that's too young or immature.
- So now we have a rough sketch, but a good one, concerning happiness and the purpose of human life.
- Aristotle tells us that such an outline can be filled out later, if only it's good.
- He asks us to remember what he said earlier, that sometimes it's best not to be too precise about things or seek their origin. To do so may distract from the purpose of the inquiry.
- Principles can be sought, but each according to its own nature: some through observation, others through reasoning and "habituation."
- And we should seek them, since knowing the beginning "seems to be more than half of the whole," revealing useful things once it's known.
Book 1, Chapter 8 (1098b9-1099b8)
- Aristotle categorizes the types of good things: some belong to external things, and others to body and soul.
- Those belonging to the soul are considered the best and especially good—at least according to ancient philosophers.
- The noblest aim, then, is for the actions and activities of the soul, which makes the goods related to the soul superior.
- A truly happy person, then, lives a good life, behaving and acting well.
- Which means that, for practical purposes, happiness is an activity, since it proceeds from a life of virtuous actions.
- Aristotle says that it makes a difference whether a person simply possesses virtuous characteristics or actually acts on them—since having a virtue does no good if we don't use it.
- Pleasure also proceeds from a virtuous life. Since a person feels pleasure whenever he engages in something he loves, a virtuous person will feel it whenever he acts well.
- And this kind of pleasure—taken in acting well—is complete and self-sufficient. It needs nothing added to make such actions pleasant to the noble person.
- Aristotle makes a little aside by saying that those people who don't love to behave well are simply not good. So, virtuous actions (and the people that do them) must be good and noble.
- Happiness, then, is both the best and most pleasant thing, since it is the highest good.
- Aristotle quotes the inscription at the temple of Apollo on Delos. It claims that just things are noblest of all, health is best, and pleasure is found in having what we desire.
- Aristotle says that this surely true and that all of these pleasures are happiness—which makes happiness the best of all.
- All those other actions—noble/just behavior, health, achieving passions—aren't complete goods. They rely on other things to achieve them.
- If you're without wealth, or good family connections, or lovely children you may not be able to achieve these ends and be happy.
- So it seems that even happiness requires external additions.
- Which is why, Aristotle says, that good fortune or virtue is often substituted for the idea of happiness.
Book 1, Chapter 9 (1099b10-1100a9)
- So can happiness be had through learning or becoming accustomed to good ways? Or is it fate?
- It seems that happiness is divine (and therefore God-given), so that we call some people blessed by it. But it also seems that one could cultivate it through education and diligence.
- Aristotle equivocates and says that if we think it's better to be able to achieve happiness through our own efforts rather than through divine intervention, then so be it. Let's call it that.
- Besides, it would seem a bad thing to leave the best and noblest of all ways of being to chance.
- Aristotle recaps: happiness is an activity of the soul in harmony with virtue; other goods are additions, though sometimes necessary; the political art is best, as it makes citizens good.
- Because of all this, we can't call a horse, dog, cow, or child happy.
- Child, you say? Remember that a happy person must also have the full measure of life. A child doesn't yet have that.
- And finally, a happy person cannot be one who suffers bad luck at the end of his life and is destroyed by it (like King Priam of Troy).
Book 1, Chapter 10 (1100a10-1101a22)
- Aristotle takes on Solon, who says that only the dead are truly happy.
- Ugh, morbid.
- In more practical terms, perhaps what this means is that a person can't truly be called happy until his entire life has been completed and no further bad fortune can befall him.
- But there are some people who say that both good and bad things can happen to the dead. For whatever fortunes his descendants have, the dead person can feel.
- Aristotle isn't having any of this. He thinks it's too ridiculous that a person, who's been fortunate in life, should have to suffer for his descendants.
- He says that it's also strange to think that we have to wait until the end of a person's life to decide if he's been happy or not. It's as though all happiness can be erased by one disaster at the end.
- Aristotle says that this "perplexity" is brought about because of a tension between human works and activities motivated by virtue.
- When a person engages in virtuous activities, they're more lasting in the minds of the people around them, no matter what else happens to the person.
- And no matter how bad things get, a virtuous person will always be happy because of his blameless works.
- While Aristotle won't allow that small changes in fortune will make much difference in the life of a man, he does concede that large reverses in fortune can bash a person's overall happiness.
- However, a truly noble person will come out on top, virtue shining through.
- He would also never do anything base or horrible, so technically, nothing bad should really happen to him.
- There is one proviso, of course. If something truly, cosmically catastrophic were to happen (i.e. like what happened to Priam of Troy), he couldn't possibly be happy.
- At least not right away. It's possible that, even after a catastrophic event, such a person could recover his happiness. It would just take a really long time.
- So, to sum up: if a person lives a complete live in accordance with virtue and comes to his death in a reasonable way, he's considered happy or blessed.
- But he's a blessed human being—which means that during his life, he may suffer some reverses of fortune.
Book 1, Chapter 11 (1101a22-1101b9)
- Aristotle's not willing to let go of the idea that the fortunes of a person's descendants have something to do with the person's happiness.
- He's speaking of people that are both living and dead. For the living, it certainly makes a difference whether friends and descendants are well and prospering.
- It depends, however, on when things befall them and how close they are to you.
- The same kind of thing happens with the dead.
- They're affected by the fortunes of their loved ones, but not so much that they can be made happy or miserable (if they weren't already).
Book 1, Chapter 12 (1101b10-1102a4)
- Aristotle wants to tackle a broader question: is happiness something to be praised or honored?
- He decides that we praise virtuous activity—like courage and justice—things that are related to good and serious things and can be compared between one person and another.
- Happiness, however, is a complete good in itself and as such is divine.
- And divine things, like the gods, are honored rather than praised.
- After all, how stupid would it be to praise the gods, as if they could be compared in their actions to anyone else?
Book 1, Chapter 13 (1102a5-1103a10)
- Aristotle wants to explore the concept of virtue, since he's defined happiness as the soul in accord with virtue.
- Just to be clear, he wants to think about "virtue distinctive of a human being"—which means that he wants to speak of virtues of the soul (i.e. moral virtues) rather than of the body.
- He feels that politicians ought to know something about the soul, since it's their jobs to make laws and make sure that citizens behave morally.
- Aristotle tells us that there are two parts to the soul: one part that is nonrational and another that exercises reason.
- The nonrational side is the "nutritive" part of the soul, something that is common to all things and is even present in embryos.
- It's the part of us that comes into play when we're sleeping.
- It doesn't have anything to do with virtue, since it's least distinctive to human beings.
- And there is another part of the nonrational soul: the thing that fights with reason (impulse/desire) and bears us off on the wrong path if we don't have any restraint.
- So, to recap, the nonrational soul has two parts: 1) the nutritive, vegetative bit and; 2) the impulse/desire bit.
- The nonrational soul can be swayed by reason (if only we listen to our fathers and good friends when they give advice).
- Aristotle then posits that the rational soul (reason) also has two parts.
- One is reason proper, which we possess on our own. The other is the ability to listen to the good advice of reliable people.
- As a result of this division, the virtues, too, have their categories: intellectual and moral.
- Moral virtues refer to a person's character, rather than his intellectual capacities.
Book 2, Chapter 1 (1102b11-1103b25)
- More on virtue. Intellectual virtue is the result of education, which requires experience.
- Moral virtues happen because of habits. Aristotle breaks it down for us: "moral virtues" (ēthikē) get its name from "habit" (ethos).
- This further proves that moral virtues are not "natural" for humans—it's something we acquire over time through habituation.
- But they also can't be present against the nature of a human being. If it's not innate in us to receive such training and it just isn't going to happen.
- What follows is the process of how these natures are nurtured.
- First, we have the "capacities" associated with the virtues in us. It's not until we can act on our own that those are displayed.
- We acquire virtues only by practicing the behaviors associated with them. Aristotle compares this to any skill, like house building. It's the practical experience that counts.
- This is the aim of those who create laws: to create good citizens by habituating them to follow the law.
- This is the same process that uncovers people who do not possess moral virtue. It's through our actions that we practice and define ourselves.
- For Aristotle, this just proves that we need teachers to nurture people, since we're not born already good or bad.
- This is also why it's important to make sure that the things that we do are worthy—otherwise we literally will become as degraded as our actions.
- Aristotle believes it's crucial to be habituated to doing virtuous activities from childhood, so it becomes second nature.
Book 2, Chapter 2 (1103b26-1104b4)
- Aristotle reminds us that we aren't making this inquiry into happiness/goodness just to think about it—it's meant to help us become good.
- And because becoming good means that we'll have to act in ways that are just and worthy, he wants to talk about actions.
- Remember also that our actions determine our characteristics—the virtues that we develop as we practice them.
- He introduces the idea of acting with "correct reason" (which is sometimes called "right reason" by other translators). Aristotle promises more on this later.
- He explains that all virtues either thrive or die by excesses or deficiencies.
- If we fear everything (a deficiency of courage), we become cowards. If we run toward danger (excess) we're reckless.
- We have to search for the "mean"—the equilibrium between excess and deficiency—to become a good person who acts with virtue.
- And we can only act virtuously if we cultivate the characteristics associated with each virtue. So if we want to be courageous, we have to learn to behave well in the face of fear.
Book 2, Chapter 3 (1104b5-1105a17)
- You can tell a person's characteristics by what pleases or pains them, says Aristotle.
- If they whine and complain about giving up something they like, they're not moderate in pleasure.
- This is because moral virtues deal in pleasure and pain. Pleasure makes us do some crazy, immoral things. Fear of pain keeps us from being noble.
- In order to feel pleasure in the right things (and to be pained at the right things), we have to raised well from childhood.
- Pain can also be a cure for pleasure (i.e. punishment for "loose" behavior), since we're disciplined by suffering the opposite of the thing we sought.
- So we become better (or worse) by learning what kinds of actions produce pleasure or pain.
- When we combine these experiences with reason, we should be able to figure out acceptable behaviors.
- You might see that virtue and vice have some things in common. In both, we're pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. A right thinking person just finds pleasure in virtue.
- Pleasure is a very strong motivator and very difficult to ignore—but good things happen when we do something that's hard for us.
- Aristotle believes that those who can handle the pain/pleasure experience well will be good people.
Book 2, Chapter 4 (1105a18-1105b18)
- But you might say that if you're acting in good and just ways that you're a good and just person already.
- Like an artist who produces a lovely piece of artwork: he or she must be a good artist.
- Aristotle says that virtues aren't like art. The skill of the artist is displayed in the thing he creates. It doesn't matter what state his soul is in when the artifact is created.
- But for virtues, it's not just the end action that matters; the state of the person matters as well.
- He should be consciously choosing to act virtuously, for the sake of acting well.
- A good person would also be very steady—no drama—in performing these actions.
- Aristotle says that in the end, a person can only meet these criteria if he's been habituated. That is, he has to have behaved virtuously many times over in order to make it a reflex.
- And for all this harping on about actions, we can't really say that a man is just and moderate simply because he performs justice or moderation.
- He also has to be just and moderate.
- To sum up: a person can become virtuous (i.e. just and moderate) by doing virtuous things. Those who merely philosophize about it, however, cannot. Action is the key.
Book 2, Chapter 5 (1105b19-1106a13)
- But what is virtue, actually? Aristotle says that it must be part of the soul, like passions, capacities and characteristics.
- Virtue, then, must belong to one of those categories.
- Passions have to do with pleasure and pain and how we process them (desire, fear, joy, etc). Capacities help us deal with passions (i.e. the mechanism that helps us feel empathy, desire, etc).
- Characteristics help us position ourselves in relation to passions. They help us respond well or badly to them.
- So it's possible to respond badly to fear or to be reckless—or to be moderate in our response—depending on our characteristics.
- Aristotle says that virtues can't fall under passions, since men are neither praised nor blamed for their passions as they are for virtues and vices.
- The same is true for capacities. For one thing, we have "natural capacities" from birth—not so for virtues. Also, we aren't praised or blamed for our ability to have passions.
- That leaves us with characteristics. This works out nicely, since it's in our characteristics that we hold the potential to behave well or badly.
Book 2, Chapter 6 (1106a14-1107a28)
- Aristotle wants to break virtue down further for us. What type of characteristic is it, especially with regard to human beings?
- It's the characteristic that makes human beings good and causes his actions to be done well.
- But wait: we're not done. Now Aristotle wants to discuss the nature of virtue. What's a virtue in itself?
- He posits that it's the thing that causes us to find equilibrium—to find the "mean" in our responses and actions. In his words, to find the "middle term between excess and deficiency."
- There is no universal middle term. We always have to find the mean in relation to ourselves.
- In terms of the moral virtues, which Aristotle really wants to discuss, we must always aim to avoid excess or deficiency.
- The idea is to feel our passions in the right way—neither too much nor too little. Aristotle warns us that this is super difficult.
- It's hard to hit the targeted mean precisely, but really easy to fall either on the excessive side or the deficient. Either of these errors is called vice.
- Aristotle gives us some other ways of thinking about virtue and vice. First, it's a choice, a characteristic of reason.
- Then, it's a mean between two vices (one of excess, one of deficiency). So if the virtue is courage, the excess would be recklessness while the deficiency is cowardice.
- On the other hand, virtue can be an extreme (i.e. it's the extreme of doing well).
- There are also some passions and actions that can never have a mean. You can't, for example, be moderately evil, or commit murder in exactly the middle way. Evil stuff is just evil.
Book 2, Chapter 7 (1107a29-1108b10)
- Aristotle wants to get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss his theory of excess, mean, and deficiency in detail.
- He's going to run specific characteristics through the spectrum.
- Between the extremes of fear and confidence, we have courage. An excessively confident person is reckless. Not good.
- When we speak of pleasure and pain, Aristotle says that the mean is moderation. Licentiousness is the excess.
- He can barely conceive of a person who is deficient here, especially with pleasures, so he makes up a name: the "insensibles."
- When dealing with money, the mean is liberality. The excess is prodigality (spending way too much) and deficiency is stinginess.
- Then he gets more abstract and speaks of honor/dishonor. The golden mean is "greatness of soul."
- Can you guess the deficiency? Yeah. It's "smallness of soul."
- But these terms aren't for workaday individuals—they're for heroes.
- For the rest of us there's ambition (i.e. excessive desire for honor) and being "unambitious" (the deficiency).
- There's no name for "just right ambition," though it might be either "ambitious" or "unambitious" depending on whom you ask.
- And though anger doesn't really have a name for its degrees, Aristotle will concoct some: "gentleness" (the mean), "irascible" (excess), and—wait for it—"unirascible" (deficiency).
- The last characteristics deal with conversation. Truthfulness is the mean for a truthful person. For a playful speaker, the mean is witty/wittiness. The mean for pleasant behavior is friendliness.
- Aristotle spends a very little time on the passions, which he claims also have a "middle term" to them.
- So a bashful person is just right, while shameful or shameless person is in the extreme.
- In terms of how we react to people around us? Indignation is a mean between envy and spitefulness.
Book 2, Chapter 8 (1108b11-1109a19)
- Aristotle clarifies his structure of this spectrum by calling them the "three kinds of disposition, then, two of them vices" (i.e. the excess, the mean, the deficiency).
- He speaks of their relation to each other: they're opposed. The extremes to the mean, the mean to both extremes.
- The mean is also relative to the extremes.
- So the mean is excessive when viewed from the deficient end of the spectrum, but deficient from the excessive end.
- Got that?
- So it is that the coward would see the courageous person (the mean) as reckless (the excess), and a reckless person would see the courageous as cowards.
- Yet there's a likeness between each extreme and the middle term, since they each have something in common with the mean. But the extremes are totally opposed to each other.
- So recklessness has a bit of courage in it, but has nothing in common with cowardice.
- And some virtues have either deficiencies or excesses that are more hated in society. Recklessness (the excess) isn't so blameworthy as cowardice, according to Aristotle.
- This happens for two reasons: 1) one extreme is closer to the mean than the other; 2) we incline toward one extreme, and therefore condemn it more as farther from the mean.
Book 2, Chapter 9 (1109a20-1109b29)
- Ultimately, Aristotle says, it's really hard to be a "serious man" (or one who focuses on virtuous living) because it takes work to figure out what the mean of the moral virtues is.
- While it's natural to behave in certain ways—like being angry—it takes real education and thought to figure out if one should be angry at all and how much.
- In order to hit the middle target, we have to be able to leave the extremes behind in the first place—also a hard task.
- Which is why so few people behave well.
- The only way to do this is to examine ourselves well and know how we fail in these situations. What are our usual vices? In what ways are we excessive or deficient?
- And then we have to make a beeline for the contrary.
- The mean can also be hard to hit because public perception of what is "just right" can be debatable.
- Aristotle says that we have to aim for the middle, but incline toward the more acceptable extreme if we have to err.
Book 3, Chapter 1 (1109b30-1111b3)
- Since living a life of virtue is all about making choices, Aristotle thinks we'd best discuss actions that are voluntary and that are involuntary.
- He says it will help those who make laws to figure out who they should praise and punish.
- He defines involuntary actions as those that are done under compulsion or out of ignorance. For Aristotle, involuntary behavior originates from a source external to the person compelled.
- But it's not as simple as that, since there are situations in which voluntary and involuntary actions might be mixed.
- Aristotle uses the example of a tyrant who gives a subject his choice of doing something hateful—but has the subject's family as hostage. The subject chooses, but is also compelled.
- He concludes that such actions are really quite voluntary, since the subject makes a choice based on the best outcome he can get for the moment.
- This situation makes clear that the when of an action is important in determining whether it is voluntary or involuntary.
- It also makes us think about the ends of our actions. If the end of an action is noble—i.e. saving your family—then it's up to us to endure something shameful to achieve it.
- Aristotle tells us that there are some things that we should absolutely not do, no matter how noble the ends. Death would be preferable.
- But curiously, he doesn't say what. He just leaves us hanging.
- He does say that it can be difficult to know just how far to go under compulsion. It's difficult to know where to draw the line.
- It's possible to do horrible things for a noble reason under compulsion and still be forgiven, but you've got to be sure that others will see your actions as involuntary.
- So what kinds of actions should be considered forced?
- Aristotle immediately rules out anything that's pleasant or noble as the origin of something that compels.
- He tells us that it's "laughable" to imagine that an external pleasure should "compel" us to do anything, particularly something shameful.
- So while a compelling force must be external to the person forced, the person himself can't "contribute" to the action.
- Anything done in ignorance can be considered involuntary, but only if it causes the doer shame and regret later on (we suppose Aristotle means when the person figures it all out).
- If a person does something horrible but doesn't understand the ramifications of his actions and also feels no shame (because he's just that ignorant), it's still involuntary.
- But…it's also voluntary.
- All this equivocation leads Aristotle to call this type of ignorant action "nonvoluntary"—not exactly involuntary or voluntary.
- In the case of people who do stupid things while drunk or angry, it's not exactly ignorance. Rather, those people are in altered or "corrupt" states, so they act badly.
- Corrupted people don't recognize that they're acting in unjust or stupid ways, but they aren't acting involuntarily.
- Aristotle begins to pick at the particular circumstances in which a person is blameworthy (or not) for making bad choices—and the circumstances are many.
- He articulates several categories of ignorance that could help us determine blame: who's acting, for what reason, by what means and how?
- Anyone who's ignorant of any of these things can be said to have acted involuntarily and therefore be the less to blame.
- However, the ignorant person must still feel regret in the end.
- We've finally made it to what is voluntary. Phew.
- Aristotle says simply that it is something that has its origins in ourselves.
- He questions the belief that things done out of desire or spiritedness are involuntary, since they originate within the person.
- It would mean that neither children nor animals did anything on purpose—Aristotle finds this laughable.
- He raises a few pointed questions here: do we only do noble things voluntarily?
- Are all shameful things done out of ignorance or compulsion and are therefore always involuntarily done?
- In the end, he says that this can't be. It's reasonable to desire and to be spirited (in moderation). The problem is when we willfully do the wrong things.
Book 3, Chapter 2 (1111b4-1112a17)
- Next up: choice. Choice is voluntary, but not in the same category of voluntary as things that children and animals can participate in (since children and animals are not rational).
- Aristotle says that if we think choice is related to desire, spiritedness, wish, or opinion, we're mightily mistaken. Desire deals in pleasure and pain, but choice doesn't.
- He dismisses any relationship of choice to spiritedness outright. And as for wishing...well, choice has nothing to do with impossibilities, as wishing often does.
- Choice has to be something we can bring about ourselves, and unlike wishing, has nothing to do with the end of something.
- Choice is about the means—how to achieve what we want.
- And choice is not opinion.
- On one hand "opining" about something delays choice, which is a kind of action.
- On the other, you can opine about what is best and still choose the worse thing.
- So what is choice? It's definitely voluntary, even though not all voluntary things are something to be chosen.
- Aristotle ends by saying that it might be the product of deliberation.
Book 3, Chapter 3 (1112a18-1113a14)
- Well then: what kinds of things do we deliberate about?
- Aristotle begins with the stuff that we would never waste time questioning, like math facts or the existence of the cosmos.
- We also don't deliberate about things that are unpredictable, like weather or finding a trove of treasure. And forget about things that don't concern you directly.
- In the end, we deliberate about things that concern us and that we can affect in some way. What actions can we take?
- Aristotle says that we tend to debate more about things in the arts than in the sciences, since there's more interpretation or doubt possible in the arts.
- Whenever there's something undetermined or unknown, then, more deliberation is necessary and possible.
- Also, there's usually very little deliberation about ends: we generally know what we aim to do, but not the means to achieve it.
- So our logic is a kind of backwards or teleological discovery, beginning with the end and working our way back to the first steps that have to be taken to achieve a certain result.
- When we deliberate in such a way, we're searching sometimes for the tools we need to accomplish something—or how to use what we have to get to our goal.
- Aristotle claims that deliberation shows how man is the origin of his own actions, since the thing we ponder is how to get something done.
- We reflect within ourselves how we're going to act to achieve a desired end.
- The process of deliberation helps us to choose. So choice, then, is the product of deliberated desire—something that we really want and have decided on a way to get it.
Book 3, Chapter 4 (1113a15-1113b2)
- Now onto wish. Wishing is a much more slippery term to figure out, since it relies on the moral state of the person desiring something.
- We know for sure that it is concerned with ends, rather than the means of accomplishing anything.
- Because if you're a "serious" or moral person, you will by default only wish for things that are really and truly good.
- But if you aren't so moral, you could wish for something that only appears to be good (and might in reality turn out to be horrible).
- Serious people have the gift of seeing all things as they truly are, but most people are sidetracked by the possibility of pleasure—which skews their perception.
Book 3, Chapter 5 (1113b3-1115a6)
- Aristotle's discussion of deliberation, choice and wish moves onto the next level.
- Since deliberation and choice consider means (that which is in our power to do), they're voluntary actions. So the employment of virtues applies here, since a person's will is at play.
- Of course, when we say virtues, we also mean vices—since both of these are within our choice.
- So it's up to us to choose to be good or bad, to act or not to act in either situation.
- All of this is to say one thing: we're the origin of our actions. There's no saying "the devil made me do it" in Aristotle's world.
- He says that we see this reinforced in the world of law, where a person is punished if they do "corrupt things."
- The exception? If a person is forced to do something depraved.
- Even ignorance can be punished, if such lack of knowledge or sense depends on us.
- So for instance, we can be punished by law for incidents that happen while we're drunk, since drinking to excess is a choice.
- Also, if we choose to live badly—a licentious life, as Aristotle calls it—we suffer from our "loose" behavior.
- That's ignorance, but it's something we should have taken care of and didn't.
- The same is true of an unjust person. If he behaves unjustly through ignorance, it's his fault because he does so voluntarily.
- When he has the choice to act with justice, he simply doesn't.
- Not only are we responsible for vices of the soul, we're to be held accountable for vices of the body.
- If we are disfigured in some way because we neglect ourselves, then it's our fault.
- Aristotle reiterates that things appear to people according to their moral stature. If you're a right-thinking, moral person, you'll see things as they really are.
- As a result, you'll make good choices, since you aren't being seduced by ephemeral things, like pleasure.
- But if you're "base" you won't see things as they truly are. It'll be easy for you to make poor choices because you're chasing all the wrong things.
- He challenges the idea that only people who are born with a true vision of the good and noble can make the right decisions or grasp what is truly good.
- If this were true, how could anyone ever be virtuous?
- Aristotle wants us to see that both virtues and vices are voluntary, since both have origins in ourselves.
- He also says that even if we want to argue that being able to perceive the good properly is an in-born gift (rather than something taught), we still choose to act as we do.
- The origins of these actions lie within our choice—therefore, they're voluntary.
- To recap on virtues: 1) they're a means to an end; 2) they're characteristics that a person might have; 3) they're actions which help make us virtuous; 4) they're a voluntary choice of reason.
- Characteristics may be voluntary or involuntary: we choose to set them in motion, but then they grow of their own accord.
Book 3, Chapter 6 (1115a7-1115b7)
- Aristotle wants to investigate each virtue. He begins with courage.
- It is first described as a mean between fear and confidence.
- There are things we should fear (i.e. a bad reputation, despite what Joan Jett says).
- But then, there are things we shouldn't fear, like poverty or sickness. These things are out of our control, so there's no point in worrying about them.
- The most frightening thing? Death. Of course.
- It's the point past where nothing good or bad can ever happen to us again.
- Courageous people don't fear death. It's especially noble and courageous not to fear death in war, since the danger factor is high.
- Courageous people, then, don't fear a noble death or a sudden one.
- They also act as manly men when they're faced with a death that isn't noble…or when they can't show off on the battlefield.
Book 3, Chapter 7 (1115b8-1116a16)
- Not everybody's frightened by the same things (except death). Also, not all frightening things are wicked scary. They differ in magnitude.
- A courageous person still fears things (when appropriate), but he keeps his fear under control.
- On the other side of things, there are people who fear things they shouldn't or let their fear spiral out of control.
- There are also some guys who fear nothing, and that's a whole other problem.
- These are the reckless, which Aristotle says the Celts are rumored to be.
- But a reckless person is not properly courageous: they're braggarts. They don't persevere through things that are truly frightening to them. They just have a higher tolerance for fear.
- Cowards feel fear when they shouldn't or, if they should feel fear, they feel too much.
- Using death as an escape mechanism for an unpleasant situation—like poverty or an ill-starred romance—isn't courageous. Hiding from suffering isn't brave.
Book 3, Chapter 8 (1116a17-1117a28)
There are five categories of courage.
- Courage in the citizen.
Citizens behave well because they fear the law and shame in the public eye. This is a kind of virtue in itself.
- Those compelled to fight by rulers/tyrants.
Not as courageous as #1 because they only persevere because they fear pain (rather than loss of honor).
- People who have knowledge/experience.
Some people do well in scary situations because they have experience that tells them things will be okay.
But this isn't true courage, since a person who stays calm because of knowledge will fall apart when something outside their skill/knowledge-level happens.
- The "Spirited."
These are men who act bravely when their "blood's up"—when their adrenaline's rushing. But Aristotle calls this animalistic.
But courage through "spiritedness" is natural, and, if it can be controlled by choice and an eye to a noble end, it might be true courage.
- People of good hope/high ignorance.
Those who win a lot tend not to feel danger and so appear confident.
Ignorant people similarly have confidence because they don't know how bad things really are, so they can't properly feel fear. Hardly courageous, in Aristotle's book.
Book 3, Chapter 9 (1117a29-1117b23)
- Courage deals with both confidence and fear, but mostly with fear.
- People are courageous when they persevere through fear and pain.
- So while the end of courage is pleasant (i.e. honor), getting there's pretty awful.
- A truly courageous person is noble because, although he hates the idea of being maimed and killed, he perseveres because he knows he should. He's also afraid of dishonor.
- A virtuous person—like a person of courage must be—is a happier person.
- Happier people really hate to die. But this unwillingness isn't blameworthy if he lays down his life anyway.
- Aristotle lays down a paradox: though exercising the virtues isn't always pleasant, the end result always is.
Book 3, Chapter 10 (1117b24-1118b8)
- Next in the discussion of virtues: moderation. He calls it the mean when we're talking about pleasure.
- And we're talking about pleasures of the body, since a person really can't go overboard with pleasures of the soul.
- Even all bodily or sensual pleasures aren't subject to abuse. Can we really be faulted, say, for liking the color pink too much?
- The excess of bodily pleasures is "licentiousness" and concerns sensual things that become objects of desire. This is anything that would seduce non-rational animals, too.
- Think sex and food—pleasures of touch. Because this fault isn't particularly human, Aristotle finds licentiousness to be particularly hateful.
Book 3, Chapter 11 (1118b9-1119a20)
- The desire for sex and food is natural for humans and common to all of us. But other than these, we're each unique in what we desire.
- These "natural" desires tend to be abused in one way: through excess.
- In the more bizarre desires, however, there are many ways to err. We might enjoy things we shouldn't, or just enjoy these things too much.
- A licentious person suffers pain but it isn't the same kind of pain suffered by a courageous person. Instead, they feel pain when pleasure is taken away from them.
- A moderate person is never bothered by having to give up pleasures.
- Also, a licentious person makes all of his decisions based on getting pleasure, which will lead him to bad behavior at some point.
- So here's a paradox: extreme pleasure-seekers suffer more pain than the moderates, since they are pained when they miss out on pleasure and pained when they choose badly because of it.
- A moderate person enjoys pleasure, but only the kind that leads to health and happiness.
Book 3, Chapter 12 (1119a21-1119b19)
- Licentiousness is voluntary (like all vices) and more voluntary (and worse) even than cowardice.
- This is because cowardice happens when we fear pain, which can "unhinge" just about anybody. Pleasure does no such thing.
- We can easily avoid licentiousness if we're "habituated" from childhood to resist pleasure. Since pleasures are everywhere, we also have plenty of opportunity to practice restraint.
- It is harder to get used to pain, since we aren't usually in extreme circumstances. Also, pain can break a person, so habituation is a much harder deal there.
- In the end, Aristotle says that cowardice is a far less horrible vice than licentiousness for these reasons.
- He also says that "licentiousness" can be applied to children when they make mistakes, because they are creatures of desire.
- But this also means that they can be caught and corrected early on, since this particular error makes itself known in childhood.
- Aristotle draws a parallel between the unruly child and his tutor with the soul and reason. Just as the child ought to be ruled by his tutor, the soul has to be ruled by reason.
- Or bad things happen.
Book 4, Chapter 1 (1119b20-1122a17)
- On to "liberality."
- Aristotle wants to discuss the just and proper uses of money. To be liberal means that you've got cash, and you spend it in the right ways and for the right reasons.
- If you spend too much, you are prodigal; too little, and you're stingy (think Scrooge).
- Though prodigal people run into many vices along that road, they really have one major vice: ruining their resources. It's a kind of self-destruction.
- The liberal person is known by his ability to give money where he should and not take from someone or something he shouldn't. And he does all of this with great pleasure.
- Liberality is a virtue because it is noble and is done for noble ends.
- A person who gives his money (or takes it) where he shouldn't isn't a virtuous person. This is a person more concerned with money than with virtue—hence, not liberal.
- There's a downside to the liberal person: they're apt to give away too much of their resources without taking where they should. This results in a badly managed account book.
- But, Aristotle says, if they're steering a middle course (as they should), a properly liberal person would manage his resources in the right way—otherwise he would be prodigal.
- It's possible for a person with little money to be liberal. In fact, this person might be considered more generous, since he gives from an already small pool of resources.
- Generally, it is not easy for the liberal person to build wealth. He's too busy giving it all away and won't accept money from others.
- People with access to bottomless pits of resources can't really be called prodigal, since they can never exceed the limits of their wallets. They may, however, be considered unjust (see Book 5).
- Prodigal people give too much money (and often to the wrong people). They're deficient in taking, just as the liberal are. Stingy people are the opposite: they love to take and not give.
- Prodigality is a weird vice because the balance sheet doesn't fit the actions: spending freely without the desire to accumulate wealth.
- But on balance, the prodigal person is better than the stingy one, since one who is prone to spend money freely can be brought round to the mean (liberality) much more quickly.
- Also, a prodigal person is foolish rather than corrupt. He's also good for the economy, where a stingy person worries only about his own wallet.
- But there can be a huge problem with prodigality. Running out of cash can make a person desperate, and then he might take money from places and people he shouldn't. This is injustice.
- They also really love pleasure, which can lead to hardcore vice (think licentiousness).
- Stinginess, on the other hand, is totally incurable.
- And it's an epidemic, since most people love and honor money above all things.
- There are two categories of stinginess: 1) deficiency in giving (the "thrifty" or "misers"); 2) excess of taking.
- Some fail to give when they ought to avoid the shame of poverty; others avoid taking money from others because they fear retaliation and loss of their own resources.
- And then there are people who will take money wherever they can get it (i.e. brothel keepers and usurers).
- Side note: stingy people are often controlling when it comes to small amounts. Tyrants who plunder and deal with coin on a large scale aren't simply stingy—they are wicked and unjust.
- Anyone who is up for financial gain in a shameful way may be called stingy as well.
Book 4, Chapter 2 (1122a18-1123a34)
- Now Aristotle will kick it up a notch to discuss "magnificence."
- Think of liberality times a thousand. Magnificence is spending a lot of money on a large and noble thing/cause.
- The level of magnificence is relative to the person spending the cash and to the nobility of the thing spent on. In any case, it has to be big.
- A magnificent person is liberal, but not all liberal people have the financial capacity to be magnificent.
- Magnificence is the "golden mean" between parsimony (the deficiency) and crassness/vulgarity (the excess).
- Magnificence = knowledge, since a magnificent person has a head for knowing what to spend on and how much.
- He will also make sure that the end result is noble and awesome. And he won't stop giving until it's done right. Whatever it is.
- Aristotle says that while goods/possessions can be noble, they're nothing compared to the value of what they can buy or create—when everything is done well.
- To be properly magnificent, the expenditure has to be on something noble—i.e. to honor the gods or benefit the community—and it has to come from someone who can afford it.
- It's all about having the right relationship with money. A poor person can't be magnificent (and it would be foolish for him to try) because he has no coin.
- While a magnificent person gives lavishly for the benefit of the community, he's also generous in his private lifestyle. He decks out his house beautifully—and not with stuff from IKEA.
- A magnificent person must spend his cash on things that endure. He has a social duty to be awesome in every category of things that he buys.
- Vulgar or crass people spend beyond what they need to and on all the wrong things. They overdo everything—except what they should really overdo it on.
- On the other extreme, a parsimonious person is like the stingy person on steroids. It hurts him to spend even the least penny on anything—and he continuously complains about it.
- And yet, though parsimony and vulgarity are vices, they don't much harm anyone and are not a big deal, unlike licentiousness.
Book 4, Chapter 3 (1123a36-1125a35)
- Aristotle moves on to "greatness of soul," which deals with a person's ability to value themselves properly.
- A great-souled person believes he's capable of great things—and he actually is.
- There are also those people—you probably know some—who think they're capable of doing (or being) greater things than they actually are. These people are vain.
- But if you underestimate your worth, you'd be considered "small-souled." Imagine that.
- What kind of "great things" is Aristotle speaking of here? Only the best and greatest for people and gods: honor.
- To be worthy of honor, a great-souled person has to be good and have the best of each virtue onboard. He would never be unjust.
- Greatness of the soul is the crown of all virtues. A great-souled person not only possesses all virtues, he makes them better. This, friends, is a proper gentleman.
- Clearly, this isn't easy to do. Therefore, there aren't many great-souled people running around.
- In some ways, the great-souled man has to be a snob. He's most concerned with honor—but he doesn't want to be honored in small ways by the common horde. He wants the big honors.
- These types of men go in for political power and wealth. They don't really care for the prestige—of course—but they go for it because, being morally superior, they should have it.
- Remember, Aristotle has defined the political art as the very best for humans to engage in.
- Aristotle says that being well-born often leads to great-souledness because it helps men feel that they are worthy of honor. In our day, we'd call this a sense of privilege.
- These guys are "naturally" more suited to this particular virtue and more worthy of good things than your average Joe. (And this is called a sense of entitlement. Not a problem in A's day).
- But Aristotle does step off the privilege train a bit here. He says that even with money and power, only a good person can really be honorable.
- Aristotle reels in his praise of aristocracy even further by saying that wealthy people without virtue are not worthy of honor—and therefore not great-souled.
- These types of people he calls "hubristic" because they have power and money without a moral life attached—which means they can't possibly use their position for good.
- And even without virtue, they still think they're better than everyone else.
- But even a great-souled person has his quirks: he's not careful with his life because he values nothing but honor; he won't accept help, but if he does, he has to one-up the giver in return.
- A great-souled person always wants to be the big benefactor, but will take nothing for himself.
- More on this personality: likes to procrastinate (unless honor is on the line), refuses to impress others on purpose (thinks this is "slavish").
- Because of this, the GS isn't really a person you'd want to hang out with. He himself admires very little, since he's so dang awesome himself.
- On the plus side, he doesn't hold grudges, gossip, or ask for your help when he moves to a new apartment.
- He does surround himself with the "useless and beautiful," since he already has everything he needs. Sounds like a fun roommate, really.
- What about the small-souled and the vain?
- Well, they're not all bad.
- The small-souled constantly undervalue themselves, so they're really missing out on life.
- Vain people are ignorant, since they are clueless when it comes to their own true worth. They're posers, trying to act like a great-souled person but failing miserably because they don't have it.
Book 4, Chapter 4 (1125b1-26)
- Aristotle opens with the difficulty of defining the excess, mean and deficiency related to the pursuit of honor.
- The problem hinges around the word "ambitious." This could mean that a person is too grabby for honor than he ought to be. Then again, it could designate just a person who wants honor.
- Same problem for "unambitious": could be too lazy, could be a person not overly grasping for honor.
- As a result, the golden mean has no real name—since the extremes don't have a fixed terminology.
- In which case, we have to substitute "Goldilocks language": some love honor too much, some not enough, and some just right.
Book 4, Chapter 5 (1125b27-1126b10)
- Aristotle next takes up the virtue of gentleness. It's the mean to anger, which means that it's a deficiency of anger.
- Again, we have a language problem: neither the true deficiency of anger (i.e. not gentleness) nor the excess have proper names. He does call the excess "irascibility."
- A gentle person may also get angry, but only when it's appropriate to do so.
- It is not a virtue to hold your anger back when you should be angry, even though it's generally good to keep a handle on your temper.
- If you are irascible, don't despair. You still tend to cool out pretty quickly, so there's no grudge-bearing or vengeance-seeking.
- But if you're both irascible and grudge-bearing, you run the risk of becoming bitter.
- A bitter person will seek a place to vent their displeasure, but likely never through a mediator since they don't like to talk about things. They generally go in for revenge.
- Harshness is another form of excess on the anger spectrum. No remediation for this guy, either; he can only find relief in retaliation.
- The difficulty with anger? Humans are inclined to vengeful behavior—and it can be hard to suss out how angry we should be in any given situation.
- And the thing is, sometimes we praise people who are a little on the angry side (i.e. as "masculine" or "assertive").
- Aristotle wants to be consistent, so he urges us to drive right down the middle of this road: not too angry, but not too passive, either.
Book 4, Chapter 6 (1126b11-1127a13)
- On to the virtue relating to friendship.
- If a person is a massive suck-up in relationships with others, Aristotle says that they're "obsequious."
- But if he has Oppositional Defiance Disorder, he would be "quarrelsome."
- Once again, the middle term or mean is nameless, but Aristotle takes a stab at it: "friendliness."
- This isn't quite "friendship" because a friendly person makes nice with most people, but doesn't necessarily form the kind of emotional attachment that he might have with a true friend.
- A friendly person is equally pleasant with strangers and acquaintances.
- He's careful to walk the line between antagonist and suck up, trying hard not to cause pain to anyone without being a court jester. He's "appropriate" in his behavior.
- If a person attempts to please others in order to gain something for himself, Aristotle calls him a "flatterer."
Book 4, Chapter 7 (1127a-1127b33)
- Aristotle continues with his list of "Virtues-That-Shall-Remain-Nameless." This time, he struggles to find the mean for "boasting."
- A boaster pretends to be awesome—even though he clearly isn't. He claims abilities he either doesn't have or that aren't as developed as he says.
- On the other end of the spectrum, we have the "ironist," who downplays his good qualities and abilities.
- The person who rides the line between the boaster and the ironist might be called truthful, in that he represents himself accurately.
- The boastful person enjoys lying but isn't necessarily malicious. He's just a fool.
- Aristotle has a little bit of love for this scamp: if he boasts to increase his honor, it's not as bad as lying for financial gain.
- Ironists, too, can be lovable. Because they don't jabber on, they seem more refined (not silly or crass). Aristotle reminds us that Socrates was always downplaying his abilities.
- But Aristotle, 4th century B.C. as he was, understood something of the humblebrag.
- He knew that overly downplaying yourself was a kind of boasting in itself. Not cool.
Book 4, Chapter 8 (1127b34-1128b9)
- Aristotle continues with the social graces. This installment: pleasant conversation, or how to spend leisure time with friends.
- A person who will do anything for a laugh, according to Aristotle, is a "buffoon."
- However, if we refuse to entertain anyone, we are "boorish" or "dour."
- The perfect companion for leisure time? The witty person. He's a spontaneous, playful person who can see the humor appropriate for each situation.
- If we want to walk the middle of the road here, we have to have tact—so that we know what's properly funny in every situation without being vulgar or cheap.
- The art of joking well? Knowing how not to cause pain to our audience.
- But it's often difficult to know how far is too far with any given group. It takes true social talent.
- But at the very least, a truly witty, tactful person would never stoop to slander (that's illegal, anyway).
- A buffoon, however, has no boundaries. He'll even sacrifice himself for a laugh.
- The boor is like the Grumpy Cat of the social world: he doesn't care for your entertainment.
Book 4, Chapter 9 (1128b10-35)
- A sense of shame isn't properly a virtue—since it belongs really to the body (not the soul) and the passions.
- Shame also belongs almost exclusively to the young, since they're always messing up and suffering embarrassment. There should be no call for a mature person to feel shame.
- Same thing for a good person. If you're good, you shouldn't be doing wicked things that'll make you feel poorly about yourself.
- Aristotle believes that we shouldn't be praised as decent for feeling shame (when we've done something wrong), since being naughty is a voluntarily done bad thing.
- And you shouldn't voluntarily choose to do the wrong thing, now should you?
- Aristotle points out that self-restraint isn't quite a virtue, either, and promises to discuss this in depth later.
Book 5, Chapter 1 (1128b36-1130a13)
- This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak—where Aristotle's discussion of moral virtues moves into action.
- Now we're talking about justice and injustice.
- Aristotle posits that justice is the "middle term" or golden mean—but we'll have to work a bit to get at the extremes and what sorts of actions are related to justice.
- He calls justice a "characteristic," something that disposes a person to act justly or to wish for just things.
- It can be useful to deduce what justice is by opposition (i.e. by looking at what is unjust). So he begins with a description of the unjust person.
- An unjust person might be: 1) a lawbreaker; 2) a person who wants more than his fair share; 3) an "unequal" or unfair person.
- A major problem with the unjust is that they always take the smaller share of what is bad. Which means that he always wants the lion's share of what is good.
- Aristotle deduces that if the unjust disregard the law, what is legal should also be what is just.
- Laws aim to make people good citizens (by enforcing virtuous behavior). This means that the law is primarily concerned with the common good.
- Therefore, the law is (or should be) just. Or at least, ready to serve the just cause.
- If a law is badly made, it'll try to mandate good behavior in bad ways. In ideal circumstances, the law preserves public happiness and safety in the right way.
- Aristotle calls justice a "complete" or perfect virtue, because it's the highest good in relation to how we live together in a community.
- Justice requires us to behave fairly even to people outside of our immediate circle of family and friends, which is a huge sticking point for many people.
- Aristotle calls the person who's able to exercise virtue to the advantage of others in the community not only just, but the very best of people.
- Justice, then, is virtue in a nutshell. Injustice is all of vice neatly summed up—not just one vice by itself.
- He mentions that justice can be a larger, general concept (between people in a community) or a more particular characteristic that a person can possess (as a virtue).
Book 5, Chapter 2 (1130a14-1131a9)
- For now, Aristotle wants to focus on justice as a virtue—and injustice as a vice.
- Injustice presents itself in two ways: 1) a particular type, that deals with the unequal distribution of goods; 2) a more general type, that involves lawbreaking and all other vices in general.
- Here's an equation to help: unjust = unlawful + unequal; just = lawful + equal.
- Aristotle reiterates that "unlawful" and "unequal" are two different categories. Again, "unlawful" is a general category of injustice.
- "Unequal" is a specific type of unlawfulness. It's a grasping for more of the goods in life (honor, money, security, etc) than we deserve.
- We can also think of justice in the particular (equality/fairness) or general (lawfulness) sense.
- Ready for some more hair-splitting? Particular justice can be further split into two forms.
- The first is distributive (i.e. the proper distribution of goods in a community); the second is corrective, concerning interactions between people.
- But wait! There's more!
- Corrective justice can be split into two further categories: voluntary and involuntary transactions/interactions.
- Aristotle defines voluntary transactions as mostly business ones: buying, selling, lending, etc.
- Involuntary involve violations, like theft, adultery, assault, rape, death.
- You know, the really unpleasant stuff that at least one party does not want to be involved in.
Book 5, Chapter 3 (1131a10-1131b24)
- Hang on tight, because things are about to get hairy. Aristotle wants to define the middle term for injustice. And it's going to involve mathematical equations.
- He posits that since the unjust are unequal, the middle term must be "equal." Therefore, the just are the "golden mean" in terms of social and political beings.
- But we can't stop there. Aristotle insists that the "just" involves four terms: two people involved and two "matters of concern."
- This means that there must be at least two people involved for a question of justice to arise, and that each of the two people brings an issue or need to the table.
- Everybody and everything in this equation must be equal—otherwise discord and inequality arises.
- In speaking of equal distribution, Aristotle isn't speaking of simple equality, where everyone gets the same exact thing. In this case, it's equality based on merit or worth.
- But what measures worth/merit? Aristotle proposes a certain mathematical proportion expressed as a ratio of the four terms.
- Properly speaking, the ratio is a geometric one—a proportion of lines.
- All of this is to say that the "just" is the middle term, and that it represents an equal distribution (based on the proper proportion) of things held in common.
- Things that are "unjust" or "unequal" defy this proportion—meaning that there is more on one side and proportionally less on the other.
- Aristotle says that this is an accurate reflection of actions in life: the unjust grab more of the good and those who suffer injustice are left with more than their fair share of the bad.
- If something (or someone) is to be considered just, he would need to have the lesser share of badness.
- In other words, he would have to have good things and behave fairly toward others.
- In order to right the wrongs of injustice, there has to be a correction of the unfair distribution that causes suffering.
Book 5, Chapter 4 (1131b25-1132b20)
- Here we have specifics on "corrective justice." If you recall, this involves voluntary and involuntary transactions/interactions.
- This type of justice also has to do with equality. But the proportion involved here is "arithmetic" (rather than the geometric one Aristotle proposes in Chapter 3).
- This equation deals with lawfulness and harm done. It doesn't matter who's been hurt (or who does the hurting). If a wrong has been done, the law must address it.
- It's the judge's job to make things right here—to restore the balance of justice. He does this by punishing (i.e. inflicting loss on) a person who's gained in some way from unlawful action.
- Aristotle wants to make sure we understand the terms "gain" and "loss" so that we can arrive at equality (which is the middle term here).
- "Gain" = more of the good; "loss" = less of the good (or more of the bad).
- To re-establish equilibrium, corrective justice seeks that middle place, which may mean inflicting loss on someone who has unrightfully gained something.
- Aristotle says that people go to a judge to resolve their disputes because a judge should be "the just ensouled."
- Their job is to find that place of equality to make things right.
- Aristotle uses geometry again to illustrate how a judge restores equality in each of his cases.
- If we think of a line that has been cut into unequal parts, imagine the judge as one who takes the excess from the larger line and adds it to the smaller line.
- Aristotle provides a more precise arithmetical proportion to calculate by how much a larger line should be reduced to achieve equality.
- Loss and gain belongs to voluntary transactions (i.e. business transactions, one that at least two parties can enter into voluntarily).
- When we take only exactly what we've contributed, then we can say that we have neither lost nor gained.
- Aristotle calls this just distribution: coming out with neither more nor less, but with your skin intact.
Book 5, Chapter 5 (1132b21-1134a17)
- Aristotle investigates the possibility that reciprocity (i.e. we scratch your back, you scratch ours) is a kind of justice.
- But he comes to the conclusion that reciprocity in a community is neither distributive nor corrective justice. It's a kind of "eye for an eye" type of justice.
- And in some cases, reciprocal justice just doesn't fly. Case in point? If a sovereign punches a subject, it is not okay for the subject to sock him back.
- Aristotle says that proportional reciprocity is an important kind of social justice in communities based on exchange.
- Since mutual exchange is a kind of glue that holds communities together, Aristotle adds this in to his geometric proportion as another variable: "proportionate reciprocal giving."
- He uses the example of a house builder and a shoemaker who wish to exchange goods/services. In order for the transaction to be just, they have to establish proportional equality.
- This means that they have to figure out how many shoes equal the type of house-building services at issue here.
- When this equality is reached, reciprocal giving can take place.
- Aristotle says that all work doesn't have to be equally important or valuable to be exchanged. The parties only need to work out a proper proportion for everyone to be happy.
- And so it is that communities require people of different occupations in order to thrive.
- Aristotle discusses currency ($$) as the great equalizer in commercial exchanges.
- In this way, money provides a constant variable that all goods and services can be compared to.
- Once everything has a proportional monetary value, we can see more objectively what things are equal.
- Reciprocity can only happen when all variables are somehow made equal.
- Money helps to do this by stabilizing need: it ensures that a person can buy what he needs, rather than simply hoping that he has the right goods or services to exchange.
- Aristotle says that equality (at least, financial equality) can really only be reached if all things have a value assigned to them.
- This keeps the door to exchange open—and this is the fundamental basis for a community.
- He squeezes justice back into this equation by explaining that community relies on exchange; exchange on equality; equality on the ability to figure out what things are worth.
- Nicely done.
- To recap on justice (and the just): 1) It's a middle term, and injustice is the extreme; 2) It's a characteristic which disposes people to be concerned with fairness.
- To recap on injustice (and the unjust): 1) It's both excess (taking more of the good) and deficiency (taking less of the bad); 2) It's worse to commit an injustice than to suffer one.
Book 5, Chapter 6 (1134a17-1134b18)
- Aristotle says that it's possible to commit an injustice without being an unjust person. So just how awful do you have to be in order to be called unjust?
- First, Aristotle has to figure out who is a candidate for justice (hint: it's not for everybody).
- It is only for those to whom the law applies—for those living in a community, a political entity. Without community, there is no law—and therefore, no injustice is possible.
- The law keeps things in balance—not humans.
- If humans took it into their hands without the guidance of the law, rulers would always become tyrants.
- That's because humans would choose more of the good and less of the bad for themselves if left to their own devices.
- Aristotle says that a ruler should be a "guardian of the just," distributing what is good proportionally and fairly.
- What does a ruler stand to gain if he doesn't hoard all of the good for himself? In being just, he earns honor and privilege—which are the highest goods.
- The term "just" is relative. Aristotle claims that there can be no injustice from either a father or a slavemaster, since "things" aren't part of a system of justice. Um. Yikes.
- Children are considered part of the father's body (at least, until they come of age)—and it isn't possible to be unjust to oneself.
- Justice can be applied to a man's wife, but not in the political sense as Aristotle has defined it, since there is no law in that community of two.
Book 5, Chapter 7 (1134b18-1135a16)
- Political justice has two parts: natural and conventional. Natural justice is a general concept that applies everywhere. This is a universal idea of justice, one that no one anywhere would debate.
- Conventional justice is more particular and community-specific. It regulates everyday transactions (i.e. how much to pay for ransom, when to make a sacrifice).
- Aristotle muses on the changeability of justice. Isn't all justice really merely conventional, changing with values and beliefs?
- He waffles some more by saying that there's a universal sense of what is just—but that it may also be variable.
- Aristotle compares conventional justice to the trading of wine and corn in different places. The measures of these commodities may differ in different kingdoms.
- But Aristotle says there's one regime that upholds natural justice, and it's the best one (in which the common good is promoted? In which the virtuous receive merit?).
- Justice in the general sense differs from a more particular sense in other ways. What is just by nature does not become particular (conventional) justice until a just act is done.
- So natural justice is a kind of universal idea; conventional (particular) justice is the performance of just acts, as interpreted by law.
- And injustice/unjust acts? The same ideas apply.
Book 5, Chapter 8 (1135a17-1136a9)
- A person can only do an unjust or just act if they do so voluntarily.
- If you do an unjust act involuntarily (check out Aristotle's definition of this), you might be blamed—but not considered 100% unjust.
- A quick recap of involuntary action: 1) when a person acts in ignorance; 2) when the action is not his choice; 3) when the action is forced.
- There are also incidental actions—things we do not intend to be just or unjust, but they end up being so.
- Aristotle says that what is voluntary is something deliberated on beforehand.
- He includes as involuntary the things we do in ignorance and under ignorance.
- These are three: 1) when a person doesn't realize that he'll cause harm or use a harmful instrument; 2) when the action isn't aimed at a particular person; 3) the "end" is unexpected.
- If in any of these cases, the person involuntarily acts unjustly and causes harm—it isn't what he intended. This can only be called error.
- If there's pre-meditation (i.e. deliberation), then the act is properly unjust. And if we harm someone intentionally but without deliberation, it's still unjust.
- But if these acts of injustice don't come about because of wickedness and conscious choice, the doer is not an unjust person.
- Aristotle says that in matters of judgment, it's not the result that we dispute. If there's a body lying on the ground in a pool of blood, we pretty much know that we've got a violent death.
- The real thing at issue is who is at fault. What is the just action that will set things right?
- When a person harms by choice, he behaves unjustly. And when that person seeks to gain more of anything through an unjust act, he actually becomes unjust.
- On the other side of the spectrum, a person may be called just if he performs just acts voluntarily.
- Aristotle addresses forgiveness as well. We can forgive involuntary things (or not).
- If they are done without understanding, they might be forgiven. If done in a "passion," they might not be forgiven.
Book 5, Chapter 9 (1136a10-1137a31)
- Aristotle opens with "perplexities": whether a person can suffer injustice (or justice) voluntarily, or if everyone who suffers something unjust suffers injustice (same for justice).
- Also, is it possible to do an injustice to yourself?
- Back to the first question: can a person suffer injustice voluntarily—say, by bad behavior on his part—by someone who is also acting voluntarily?
- Aristotle wonders if we shouldn't add another dimension to his definition of injustice: that it has to be done voluntarily and against the other person's wishes.
- He thinks it is a good addendum, since no one really wishes to be harmed, even if he acts self-destructively.
- He concludes that it's not up to the person suffering to determine whether or not he's been a victim of injustice.
- And so Aristotle answers his own questions: suffering injustice cannot be voluntary, since no one wishes to be harmed.
- Also, if an act is to be unjust, it has to have been voluntarily committed by a second party.
- Two more picky details to consider: 1) Can a person who gives someone more than he deserves be unjust; 2) Or is it the person who receives more than he should the unjust one?
- Aristotle answers these questions by engaging the earlier question about whether we can be unjust to ourselves.
- He says that if giving more of our own goods than is deserved is unjust, then we are unjust to ourselves.
- But since an unjust act must be against the person's wish—and the giver gives voluntarily—there can be no self-inflicted injustice.
- Neither is the receiver unjust, though it's technically an unjust thing to receive more than you're worth.
- And yet, the giver does do an unjust thing by distributing more than what a person deserves. As you can see, Aristotle does lots of fence-sitting here.
- Ultimately, it depends on the giver's intentions. If he has made an error in judgment, then he himself is not an unjust person, though the act of giving too much is unjust.
- If he has judged correctly, he's perhaps giving too much in the hopes of gaining more than his fair share of honor. And that's somehow bad.
- One thing is really clear from all this hemming and hawing: doing the just thing isn't as easy as it seems.
- It's not simply choosing the right thing to do. We also have to have the right intention.
- It's also difficult to discern between the just and unjust things, because the law tells us how to behave.
- But as Aristotle says, the law is merely the tip of the justice iceberg.
- Aristotle makes a final observation: justice is human.
- Wherever there can be excess or deficiency of good things, that's where the principles of justice apply. (Hint: not with the gods).
Book 5, Chapter 10 (1137a32-1138a34)
- On to equity and the equitable. Aristotle says that the equitable is superior to the just—though they're both in the same category.
- Therefore, it's not wrong to say that the equitable is also what is just.
- The difficulty? That which is equitable isn't always what's just according to the law.
- Because the general law may not address a particular case adequately, we need what's equitable to correct it.
- So equity arises when there's a correction of a law to address what's lacking because it's too general.
- The law in Aristotle's day has recourse to decrees that bring about equity, since they can be applied to a specific situation when it arises.
- An equitable person will choose just action and correct the law when it's not perfect in its justice. He'll even take less for himself if he sees that it'll restore social balance.
Book 5, Chapter 11 (1138a4-1138b15)
- Aristotle introduces more perplexities about doing injustice to yourself.
- While it's an unjust act to kill yourself in a fit of passion, for instance, the question remains: to whom is the injustice done?
- Aristotle judges that the injustice is done to the city, since you can't voluntarily do an unjust act to yourself.
- His proof is that suicide results in a penalty and dishonor comes to the person who kills himself (both, presumably, taken on by the remaining family).
- Also, unless a person is totally evil, he can't do an injustice to himself.
- This is because you can't gain from an action that simultaneously deprives you of something so important. Remember that to perpetrate an injustice, you have to take more of the good for yourself.
- Conclusion: matters of justice require the participation of at least two people.
- Also, in order to be unjust, an act must be: 1) voluntary; 2) a product of choice; 3) not spurred by external actions.
- A person who hurts himself is both perpetrator and victim simultaneously.
- This means that there's no moment of deliberation prior to this that makes him a pre-emptive striker.
- And anyway, if a person who harms himself commits injustice to himself, it means that he would have suffered injustice voluntarily. That is a no-go for Aristotle.
- Aristotle takes another tack and says that both doing and suffering an injustice are bad. Of course, doing is worse.
- He winds the whole discussion up by conceding that there's one way in which we can be unjust to ourselves (after all those mental gymnastics!).
- It's possible that the two parts of the soul—the rational and non-rational parts—could be at odds with each other.
Book 6, Chapter 1 (1138a19-1139a17)
- Aristotle wants to talk more specifically about the middle term, or the mean. So far, he's spoken about it as "not too much and not too little," according to correct reason.
- But now he calls out that definition as problematic, since it isn't very precise or scientific.
- So to make things clearer, Aristotle says he'll define correct reason (also called "right reason" by other scholars) to give us better tools to know how to behave well and be happy.
- To begin with, he further divides the two-part soul. The rational soul has two further divisions.
- There's the bit that comprehends fixed knowledge (things that "don't admit to being otherwise").
- And then there's the bit that deliberates about things that are debatable (things that "admit to being otherwise"). He calls this the "calculative" part of the rational soul.
- Aristotle proposes to talk about the virtues related to each of these parts of the rational soul (or reason).
Book 6, Chapter 2 (1139a18-1139b13)
- Aristotle proposes three things that the soul uses to control action and discern truth: 1) sense perception; 2) intellect; 3) longing or desire.
- Longing starts the cognitive process that ends (hopefully) in making a good choice.
- If a person longs for the right things and uses sound reasoning to think about how to fulfill desire, then he'll make a morally virtuous and conscious choice to act well.
- Aristotle distinguishes between contemplative thinking (which aims to figure out what is true or false, no actions necessary) and practical thinking, which moves truth and desire into action.
- The chain of action looks like this: choice motivates action; longing prompts choice. Reason encourages all this by helping us to see clearly why we're acting.
- No choices can be made without thought or moral character. We act well or badly based on our intellectual and moral capacities.
- Thinking isn't an action…but it can be the springboard for it.
- Choice is the product, then, of longing and intellect mixing it up.
- The intellectual bits of the soul are preoccupied with finding the truth. Each part of the soul uses its characteristics (or virtues) to get at the truth.
Book 6, Chapter 3 (1139b14-36)
- The soul has five things that help humans get at truth: art, science, prudence, wisdom, and intellect.
- Aristotle explains that "scientific knowledge" is incontestable knowledge—stuff we take for granted and accept as truth.
- It "does not admit to being otherwise" and doesn't change.
- Scientific knowledge can be taught through demonstration, either through induction or syllogism.
- If we know the principles of something and they don't change, we have scientific knowledge.
Book 6, Chapter 4 (1140a1-23)
- Aristotle differentiates between action and "making," or creating. For one thing, the characteristics involved in each are different.
- Making is an art "accompanied by reason." Art is process-oriented: it is concerned with bringing something abstract or representative into being.
- The maker is always the origin of the art—not the thing made.
- Aristotle says also that things may also be without art, if they "exist of necessity or naturally," since they don't require the intervention of a maker.
- So Aristotle's definition of art: a characteristic (or virtue) coupled with the act of creating that's governed by correct reason.
- Artlessness or lack of skill is a characteristic coupled with the act of creating, but accompanied by false or poor reasoning.
Book 6, Chapter 5 (1139b24-1140b30)
- Aristotle's going to tackle prudence first. A prudent person is able to deliberate correctly about those actions that will help him live well and happily.
- Prudence is neither science nor art. It's not a science because we don't deliberate about the stuff we know to be true. There's no debate there.
- It's not an art because it doesn't deal with making or creating. Again, prudence deals specifically with decisions about action that will lead to good ends.
- The virtue of prudence belongs to "the part of the soul dealing with opinions." This is the capacity to sift through what's known or thought to choose the best course of action.
- It's not exactly knowledge or wisdom, but rather a very limited kind of excellence in figuring out how to act so that we can get to the good ends we are aiming for.
Book 6, Chapter 6 (1140b31-1141a8)
- Aristotle demonstrates that of the five ways to attain truth (see Chapter 3), prudence, science, and wisdom belong to the intellect (i.e. are intellectual virtues).
Book 6, Chapter 7 (1141a9-1141b23)
- Aristotle moves on to wisdom—which he calls a "most precise" kind of knowledge.
- Wisdom is also universal and eternal, unchanged by any variables or opinions.
- In this, it differs from prudence and the political art, since both deliberate about how to achieve the good (which can mean lots of different things in different situations).
- Aristotle defines wisdom as "science and intellectual grasp of things most honorable by nature."
- Wisdom, unlike prudence, is concerned with hard knowledge—of things that "do not admit to being otherwise."
- Wise people aren't worried about things like practical thinking or action.
- This often makes them seem useless, since a wise person doesn't know how to act even for his own good.
- A prudent person is good at thrashing out what's best to do, according to his opinions or convictions. He's concerned with particular things rather than general, universal knowledge.
- So you can actually be without wisdom or knowledge and still be a prudent person because of experience.
Book 6, Chapter 8 (1141b24-1142a32)
- There's a similarity between prudence and political knowledge. Prudence can be involved in legislative work, or more specifically, with the "political art."
- In a more general sense, a prudent person applies his skills to himself. Aristotle also discusses other types of prudence here.
- A person who knows himself well and tends to his own business is considered prudent.
- It's possible to have scientific knowledge but not prudence, from lack of experience—kind of like an 8th grader who knows more algebra than his parents but can't figure out that taking regular showers makes him more socially acceptable.
- Aristotle emphasizes that prudence is not knowledge. Remember always that it is concerned with one narrow thing: what is best to do (i.e. action).
Book 6, Chapter 9 (1142a33-1142b35)
- What's good deliberation? First, it's not science (i.e. things we know for sure).
- Deliberation is a kind of investigation—not educated guesswork. It requires slow, careful thought.
- Good deliberation is not even shrewdness or opinion.
- It is the following: 1) correctness of thinking; 2) part of a reasoned argument; 3) an investigation/calculation.
- Aristotle wants to drive home that this is a particular kind of correctness. It isn't moral correctness.
- Even a person of poor moral character (i.e. lacking self-restraint) might be able to deliberate correctly, even if he uses his conclusions for bad purposes.
- We can also reach the good by deliberating badly—though that's really a fluke.
- And we can't tell if deliberation is good simply by how long it takes. Lengthy deliberations can still go awry.
- So in order to be done properly, deliberation must be use correct reason and arrive at good ends.
- Which means that good deliberation really does belong to the prudent person, since he'll use his reason in the right way and aim at the things that are good for human happiness.
Book 6, Chapter 10 (1142b36-1143a18)
- Aristotle wants to chat about "comprehension" and "good comprehension."
- Comprehension deals with things that stump us and about which we have to deliberate.
- It's in the same category as prudence, but they aren't the same thing. Prudence is about action; comprehension stops one step short of that and is all about making decisions.
- It is the ability to sift what's good, advantageous, and truthful from the opinions around us. We can then use that information to make decisions about the right course to take.
- Two other things: 1) "learning" and "comprehension" are interchangeably used; 2) "good comprehension" is really the same thing as "comprehension."
Book 6, Chapter 11 (1143a19-1143b18)
- Aristotle takes up the intellectual virtue of judgment or "sympathetic judgment."
- This quality belongs especially to equitable judges—ones who make decisions about righting the balance of society.
- Judgment of this kind encompasses all other intellectual virtues: comprehension, prudence, and intellect.
- Important point: Aristotle says that equitable things belong to all good human beings—not just to judges.
- Intellect allows us to understand both general defining principles (universals) and particulars in each situation (which can be variable).
- We use intellect to perceive the particulars (minor premises) that allow us to grasp larger universal principles (unchanging truths).
- Experience adds to the intellect (think prudence), which is why Aristotle says that we should listen to our elders.
- They have a better chance of perceiving truth, since they have knowledge and experience.
Book 6, Chapter 12 (1143b19-1144a37)
- Aristotle refocuses the convo: why are we talking about wisdom and prudence again? Wisdom isn't concerned with how to make a person happy. (More on this soon.)
- But prudence is directly concerned with human happiness, because it's all about noble action. However, just knowing about prudence doesn't help us to acquire or exercise it.
- And how does prudence help those who're already virtuous? Technically speaking, they just need enough intelligence to follow the advice of the prudent and do the right things.
- Note at this point that Aristotle's given us a very cagey definition of prudence.
- He admits as much by saying that we really have to investigate the "perplexities" surrounding it first.
- Now we get to the nitty-gritty.
- Though Aristotle's said that wisdom is something superior to prudence, he now says that both are "choiceworthy." So pick one: you can't go wrong.
- Wisdom produces happiness, since it's a virtue. It has prudence and the moral virtues as tools to complete its work.
- Virtue helps by making our choices the correct ones. Prudence helps us with the process of choosing correctly.
- There's also cleverness, which helps get things done once we've chosen on a course of action.
- Cleverness isn't always a positive attribute. If it helps to achieve a "noble" goal, it's a good thing. If not, it is "base."
- Aristotle reiterates the idea that corruption perverts the entire process of longing, choice, and action. It's for this reason that a bad person can't be prudent.
Book 6, Chapter 13 (1144b1-1145a11)
- Aristotle circles back to virtue. He speaks of it in two ways: the natural and the authoritative.
- He says that virtues are present in us in some form from birth, but that we seek a more definitive sense of good.
- We need intellect to perfect our virtues. Virtue without intellect is like a strong but blind person: though capable, he'll stumble without eyesight.
- But virtue in the authoritative sense needs both intellect and prudence to develop. This is because correct reason works right alongside prudence.
- Without prudence, a person can't be wholly good. And without moral virtue, there's no prudence.
- Therefore, when we call a person "good," it means that he's also prudent.
- Because prudence is in residence, so are all the other virtues. So prudence is like the King (or Queen) of virtues.
- Why? 1) Prudence is necessary for proper action. 2) It's a virtue belonging to the rational soul. 3) No correct choices can be made without it.
- But Aristotle doesn't want to overstate the importance of prudence. It is not really the boss of wisdom or the "better part of the soul."
- Prudence works for wisdom, governing actions that might then lead to the discovery of universal knowledge (i.e. wisdom).
Book 7, Chapter 1 (1145a15-1145b21)
- Aristotle turns his laser vision to lack of self-restraint, vice, and "brutishness"—all things the virtuous should avoid.
- The opposite of brutishness is a kind of divinity: super-goodness. But just as it's rare for man to become a god, it's also pretty unusual for a human to be truly brutish.
- This would be the absolutely worst person on the planet, filled with every vice.
- Aristotle wants to speak of the problems that arise from lack of backbone: no self-restraint, "softness," and "delicacy."
- Also at issue, their opposites: steadfastness and self-restraint.
- He sets up the self-restrained and the out-of-control in total opposition to each other.
- Major difference? Self-restrained people recognize that what they desire might be great for their souls and so hold themselves back. This person hangs tight to reason.
- Aristotle shares various ideas about the steadfast (are they moderate in everything?), those lacking self-restraint (the licentious), and the prudent (can they be without self-restraint?).
- He commits to no definite ideas about these categories of people yet.
Book 7, Chapter 2 (1145b22-1146b7)
- Aristotle begins with "perplexities" about self-restraint. For instance, can a learned person lack self-restraint? To Aristotle, this seems impossible.
- Socrates didn't even believe in lack of self-restraint as a thing, since he felt that no one would reasonably act against his own best interests.
- But Aristotle says that we do this kind of thing all the time—and we need an explanation for this.
- Some say that a person who gives in to wicked desires isn't a person of strong conviction. They have morals, but can't stick to them. Aristotle thinks these guys should be pitied.
- But really corrupt people can't be pitied for lack of self-restraint.
- More perplexities follow about how we resist wicked desires. Does prudence help us? Surely prudence can't come within a mile of a person without self-restraint...
- Also, there's this: only a person who has wicked desires in the first place can actually have self-restraint (otherwise, he wouldn't need it).
- Should we praise such a person when they resist as they should? It seems that moderation deserves the kudos, since the moderate person doesn't even have base desires in the first place.
- Self-restraint can also be bad if it leads us to conform to opinion unquestioningly—especially if the opinion is a bad one.
- This might be something that's culturally acceptable, but not morally.
- On the other side, a lack of self-restraint might allow a person to disregard bad opinion and make better choices. (Think of whistleblowers and rebels who advocate for social change.)
- Aristotle continues to add other perplexities concerning self-restraint from other philosophies.
- A person who behaves badly at the suggestion of others is less bad than one who lacks self-restraint. After all, he can be persuaded to behave himself better, too.
- One last question: can we lack self-restraint generally, or only toward specific things?
Book 7, Chapter 3 (1146b8-1148b14)
- What level of awareness do those who act without self-restraint have? Do they make a conscious decision to act this way?
- Other talking points for this chapter: are the steadfast and self-restrained the same person? Does self-restraint apply to all pleasures…or just to certain ones?
- Aristotle says that a person lacking self-restraint generally meddles in the same things that a licentious person does (i.e. bodily pleasures).
- But unlike the licentious person, the person lacking self-restraint (let's call this "LSR") chooses pleasure even though he thinks he shouldn't be chasing it.
- It comes down to being a "knower." It is possible that a person LSR has the right learning to know that what he's doing is wrong, but he's simply ignoring it.
- Sometimes, a person LSR does have knowledge and does have this actively in mind but still behaves in a way he shouldn't.
- Aristotle calls this "a terrible thing."
- There is also the difficulty of the universal and the particular. Perhaps a person LSR has general knowledge but fails to apply it correctly to the particular situation.
- Aristotle says that humans also "have" knowledge in different ways.
- So while we might possess understanding, all bets are off when we are in an altered state: drunk, asleep, insane.
- He displays a pretty shocking depth of understanding about how changes in our mind can affect our bodies (i.e. how passions can bring about madness/irrational behavior).
- Aristotle likens people LSR to those whose minds/bodies are in this altered state. They might still be able to display knowledge but not fully understand the implications of it.
- Even our reason and knowledge can be placed in the service of a lack of self-restraint.
- We may know that too many doughnuts are bad for us, but we may also have a competing opinion that says we should always have doughnuts when they're available.
- If our desire or longing is to indulge ourselves, it agrees with the opinion that indulgence is good and voila: diabetes.
- But how to make such an "ignorant" person back into a "knower" (someone who grasps the limits in both a universal and particular sense)?
- It's a poser of a question, because the person LSR has a perception problem: he knows what is good for him, but he can't see how to put that knowledge into action.
Book 7, Chapter 4 (1147b20-1148b14)
- Can a person lack self-restraint generally? Or does it have to be directed toward a particular something?
- Aristotle reiterates that all things relating to self-restraint have to do with pleasures and pains.
- Those who are LSR (lacking self-restraint) are usually said to err regarding something specific relating to these (i.e. money, honor, sex, etc.).
- But there are those who are obsessed with pleasures generally (especially the bodily ones). These people lack self-restraint "unqualifiedly," without further specification.
- This is why the person LSR is lumped together with the licentious person.
- The difference: the person LSR does not choose pleasure; he chases it against his better understanding.
- It's possible to desire noble things that give pleasure (honor, victory—even money) in excessive ways. Aristotle doesn't think these people are corrupt, since what they desire is good.
- However, they can still go overboard in unhealthy ways and become base. These are not people LSR, but may be perceived as such by others.
Book 7, Chapter 5 (1148b15-1149a24)
- Aristotle shifts to a discussion of brutishness. He uses the example of women who rip unborn babies from the wombs of pregnant women and eat them. Um. What? Whoa.
- Happily, this isn't the norm for the human condition. This horrifying behavior usually happens through disease or mental illness.
- But there are some habits that happen naturally or from habit, like eating non-food items, self-harming, and even homosexuality (according to Aristotle) that are considered aberrant.
- Those who are like this by nature do not lack self-restraint.
- The same is true for those who behave brutishly through illness.
- These are "outside the defining boundaries of vice."
- Excessive vice is always accompanied by illness or brutishness.
- Aristotle believes there are people who have despicable impulses but who don't act on them. Others are overcome by them.
- When speaking of lack of self-restraint, Aristotle says we have to confine ourselves to things that licentiousness and moderation deal with.
- Anything greater or lesser does not fit in this category.
Book 7, Chapter 6 (1149a25-1150a9)
- Aristotle also believes that lack of self-restraint in regards to "spiritedness" (i.e. when our "blood's up") isn't quite so bad as it is with other passions.
- This is because there is some sort of reasoning involved in outbursts, even though the reasoning is distorted.
- People also have sympathy for those who get carried away, since it's natural. Also, spiritedness doesn't act in a pre-meditated way—it's impulsive, a reaction—which is more forgivable.
- It's less deceitful than desire, which Aristotle describes as general lack of self-restraint (kind of like vice with a capital "V").
- To put the nail in this coffin, Aristotle brings in hubris. A spirited person acts out of pain, not out of conceited notions of their worth. A person driven by pleasure is "hubristic."
- Aristotle says that brutishness is "lesser than vice, but more frightening." This is because a brutish person has a destroyed soul. Dang.
- He says that any person who's the origin of his own baseness is worse than those who aren't (i.e. voluntary wickedness v. involuntary wickedness).
- So an unethical person is infinitely more harmful than a brute animal.
Book 7, Chapter 7 (1150a10-1150b29)
- In terms of pleasure and pain, it's possible to be a superhero of self-restraint (able to resist temptation better than most) or superwimp (unable to resist what most people can).
- So we can be either steadfast or soft in resisting. Most people are in between.
- A licentious person loves pleasures excessively and cannot be changed. He chooses vice and loves it. No shame there.
- Some don't choose but are overcome by pleasure (or by a desire to avoid pain).
- A person who does terrible things without being overpowered by desire is just awful and scary. How would such a person act if he were actually prompted by something?
- In this case, a licentious person is worse than a person with a lack of self-restraint. A person LSR is merely "soft."
- A steadfast person "holds out" against something; a self-restrained person kicks that something's butt. So to be self-restrained is way better.
- A soft or delicate person is a kind of wimp: he can't hold out against even the things that everyone else can withstand.
- It's the effort that matters. No one will blame you if, after a good struggle, you give in to strong pleasures or pains.
- Aristotle dissects lack of self-restraint and finds that it's part lack of impulse control, part weakness.
- People lacking self-restraint might be weak in their resolve. They deliberate and choose well, but can't stick to their resolution. Others just don't really think.
- Those who're nervous/excitable or depressive seem to be the most impetuous. They appear to follow imagination rather than reason.
Book 7, Chapter 8 (1150b30-1151a29)
- People lacking self-restraint feel regret (unlike the licentious). So it is that those LSR are "curable" but the licentious are not.
- Lack of self-restraint is not a vice, as licentiousness is. And vice has a tendency to go unnoticed by those who have it. Without the ability to self-diagnose, such things can't be cured.
- It's better to be the impetuous version of lacking self-restraint, rather than the ignoring reason type.
- Lack of self-restraint is not a vice. We repeat, lacking self-restraint is not a vice. Well, maybe it is, says Aristotle. But at least it doesn't proceed from choice, like most vices.
- It's like a vice in terms of action. Though the origins may be different, both LSR and vice lead us to do stupid things.
- To sum up: a person lacking self-restraint leaves reason behind to pursue pleasure, but he's not convinced that pleasure is life's sole aim.
- This doesn't make him bad, corrupt or licentious.
- His better half is the self-restrained person, who is BFFs with correct reason.
Book 7, Chapter 9 (1151a30-1152a7)
- More perplexities: does a self-restrained person always make good choices?
- What separates the self-restrained from those who lack self-restraint?
- Is there one supremely good choice and optimal sense of reason that the self-restrained know about but those who lack self-restraint don't?
- Does the self-restrained just pick an opinion (any opinion) and stick to it, while those who lack self-restraint abandon all convictions? Stay tuned for answers.
- It's possible to stick to an opinion too hard, Aristotle says—as in the case of the obstinate. They are non-persuadable and overly self-restrained.
- Who are the obstinate? Oh, you know them. They're your opinionated friends. But they are also often ignorant and "boorish."
- On second thought, says Aristotle, they kind of act like people without self-restraint, since they defend their points of view beyond reason.
- It's possible to abandon our convictions but not lack self-restraint. Sometimes, we do it for a noble reason. This isn't error or vice, but good judgment.
- To be self-restrained is to walk the middle line between being a party pooper and a person who's out of control.
- A person lacking self-restraint behaves badly for a couple of reasons: 1) he enjoys something too much; 2) he doesn't enjoy something as he should.
- A self-restrained person doesn't shy away from pleasure. Rather, he uses reason to steady himself.
- The self-restrained person and the moderate person are similar…except in one respect. The self-restrained has "base desires" but chooses to ignore them and to follow reason.
- The person lacking self-restraint and the licentious person are similar and different (yay, Aristotle!).
- The person lacking restraint pursues pleasure, but knows he shouldn't. He feels guilty about his behavior.
- The licentious person doesn't believe in guilt.
Book 7, Chapter 10 (1152a8-35)
- Differences between the prudent and the person lacking restraint: 1) the prudent are virtuous; 2) the prudent are "skilled in action"; 3) person lacking restraint reasons like a drunk person.
- A clever person often masquerades as a prudent person, but he can lack self-restraint and make bad choices.
- A person lacking restraint isn't a bad sort. He doesn't plan his badness. He just doesn't think at all. Or he thinks and forms convictions but doesn't stick to them.
- Both the self-restrained and those who lack self-restraint go above and beyond what's normal for most people, just on opposite sides of the spectrum from each other.
- Some people lacking self-restraint are better than others: those who just don't think and those who are uncontrolled out of habit are curable.
Book 7, Chapter 11 (1152b1-20)
- Philosophers of "political art" have to think about pleasures and pain because they create a framework to evaluate goodness and badness (i.e. laws).
- It's also important to deal with them because pleasure is said to lead to happiness. And we're still talking about how to get happy, right?
- Here's the question of the year: is pleasure good? Aristotle says that it's generally not thought to be so.
- Problems: 1) pleasure is a process, but goods are complete in themselves; 2) moderate people don't dig pleasure; 3) pleasures distract from prudent thought; 4) everything good is an art (pleasure is not an art); 5) even children and animals love pleasure (eew).
- Pleasures can also be shameful, which isn't good.
- Some also claim that pleasure isn't an end in itself, which makes it less choiceworthy than other things.
Book 7, Chapter 12 (1152b25-1153a35)
- Are you convinced that pleasure is a bad thing? Good, because neither is Aristotle.
- He explains that there are two types of good: the unqualified (pleasure in the general sense) and the particular (specific to each person).
- Things that are processes of coming-into-being—as pleasure is thought to be—also take these two forms.
- If we call pleasure wicked, it might be so in the particular sense, for a certain type of person at a certain time.
- Pleasures may be bodily, but they may also be pleasures of intellect, like the pleasure of contemplation.
- To show that pleasures may be variable and good in different ways, Aristotle explains that we enjoy different things depending on the state of our souls.
- When we're "restored" we enjoy what is generally pleasant. When we are in the process of restoring our virtues, we take pleasure in specific things.
- Aristotle argues also that pleasures might be ends in themselves, contrary to popular thought. He sees them as both an activity and an end—and therefore worthy of choice.
- It's a bad argument to say that pleasures are wicked because wicked things might come of them. That might be true of anything, really.
- Pleasure isn't necessarily an impediment to virtues (like prudence). Only those pleasures that are explicitly contrary to virtues are problematic.
- So Aristotle resolves objections against pleasure based on who enjoys and who avoids it.
- The prudent person avoids pain associated with excessive pleasures; moderate people seek out moderate-person-pleasures. This isn't the same as shunning it all together.
Book 7, Chapter 13 (1153b1-1154a7)
- Aristotle wants to go on record: pain is a bad thing and should be avoided.
- Pain is bad in a general sense. But it can also be bad because it's an impediment to other things.
- The opposite of the bad, then, is the good.
- Do you see where this is headed? (Hint: pleasure is good).
- Moreover, a pleasure might be the best thing. If pleasure is the activity of characteristics (i.e. virtues), the pursuit of pleasure might be happiness—which is the best thing ever.
- Happy life = a pleasant life. Happiness is complete in itself, but requires other things to remain unspoiled (health, enough money to feed ourselves, good fortune).
- Also, consider that everything, including animals and humans, is looking for pleasure. How, then, is this not the best thing?
- We all pursue different pleasures according to our "characteristics," but essentially, we're going after the same thing.
- It's a mistake to think that the term "pleasure" means only bodily pleasures, but it's easy to see how this happens. People like bodily pleasures above everything else.
- Aristotle ends this chapter with a zinger: if pleasure weren't good, why is it that happy people live pleasantly?
- Well, there you go.
Book 7, Chapter 14 (1154a8-1154b35)
- Okay, here's a paradox. If we say that bodily pleasures are somehow bad (think licentiousness), how is bodily pain also bad?
- Is bodily pleasure only good some of the time? Or within certain limits?
- Aristotle says that there are necessary pleasures (i.e. sex, eating), but that pursuing excessive pleasures is just wrongitty-wrong.
- On the other side, we don't simply avoid excessive pain. We like to stay away from all of it.
- So why are bodily pleasures so much better than other types of pleasures?
- Well, bodily pleasures are the opposite of pain. And we often seek them to mitigate pain. In this way, they can become addictive and problematic.
- So pleasure-seeking would be okay if we didn't use it to cover up deficiencies of character or a weak nature.
- Bodily pleasures are also intense and easy to enjoy, so those who can't feel pleasure from more refined things seek it out.
- This isn't a problem, as long as the pleasures are harmless. But people constantly seek bodily pleasures when they have nothing else to amuse them, or they're immature, or suffering mentally.
- For those who suffer from "melancholy," pleasure provides an escape from both psychological and physical pain.
- But all these find pleasure "incidentally" or as a temporary cure. When we're healthy, we recognize things that are pleasant in themselves.
- Pleasure is also relative, depending on our nature. We should find pleasure in that which doesn't change, but humans aren't perfect.
- We often love change, which Aristotle claims is a defect of character.
Book 8, Chapter 1 (1154b35-1155b15)
- Aristotle wants to discuss friendship as a virtue in this section. He begins by emphasizing how crucial it is for a happy life.
- Aww. Aristotle's such a softie.
- Friendship's necessary even for the wealthy and young, who need protection and saving from mistakes (respectively).
- The old require friends to help them get by, and the strong benefit by having friends who will help them do good things and think through difficulties.
- There is a kind of friendship between parent and child, and also for those who are like each other. Aristotle says that we naturally gravitate toward people who are most like us.
- "Like-mindedness" is like friendship and helps larger groups of unrelated people to get along for the common good (think legislators/lawgivers).
- Friendship breeds just behavior. And while those who are just are also good, they still need friendship between them to make things pleasant.
- Aristotle says that friendship is especially praiseworthy. A person with many friends is considered a worthy person.
- But some "perplexities" about friendship exist.
- Are friends alike? Or do opposites attract? Are they actually competitive with one another?
- More important and relevant to the conversation at hand: can anybody participate in friendship? Can, for instance, evil people be friends to anyone?
- Also, is there more than one type of friendship?
Book 8, Chapter 2 (1155b17-1156a5)
- Aristotle starts by defining what is lovable (or able to be loved). Basically, the good and pleasant is lovable.
- But do we love the good? Or do we love what is good for us, personally?
- Aristotle says we'll love what appears good to us. It's highly subjective.
- People ought to wish for good things for their friends and reciprocate affection and good deeds with them.
- In order for friendship to exist, friends should be aware that their buddy wishes them well—it can't be a one-sided crush thing.
- There's also a sense of good will between friends, but that's not a quality exclusive to friendship, since we can feel it for total strangers.
Book 8, Chapter 3 (1156a6-1156b32)
- Aristotle says there are three types of friendship: 1) those who love because they are useful to each other; 2) friends who love each other because of pleasure; 3) complete friendships.
- The first two are really not lasting friendships. These types of friends only hang around if their friend's useful or pleasant to them.
- Once it isn't, they drop that friendship like a hot potato.
- It's possible for the old, young and middle-aged to deal in these friendships of utility, since everybody seeks advantage.
- Such friends don't often spend time together as companions. Mostly, you only hear from them when they need something. They may not even particularly like each other.
- Young people base friendships on pleasure or in hopes of hooking up—at least generally.
- Their friends come and go quickly because their desires change quickly as well.
- On the plus side, young people do like to hang out with each other all day, which Aristotle believes is crucial to true friendships.
- Complete or true friendships can only happen between like people who are good.
- They have to be good, because people can only wish for good things for their friends if they themselves are good.
- Good (i.e. virtuous) people are both stable and pleasant, which makes them excellent friend material.
- Aristotle emphasizes how compatible friends are in a complete friendship. They each wish the best for each other and find the good (in the general and particular sense) in each other.
- This kind of relationship has it all, but it's rare. Why? First, good people are rare.
- But also, true friends have to be able to "live together"—spend quality time with each other. They can't live a continent away (remember that Aristotle couldn't Skype).
- True friends have to live together to become truly lovable to each other and to gain trust and similar habits.
Book 8, Chapter 4 (1156b33-1157b4)
- Complete friendship is awesome; friendships based on pleasure or usefulness is less so.
- But these last two types can seem like complete friendship because they're based on what's pleasant.
- And good friends are pleasant to each other.
- Good friends are also useful to each other. But friendships based only on what is useful and fun fall apart when the advantage to each friend is removed.
- Wicked people can have friendships of utility or pleasure. They can't love a person just because they're lovable and good.
- Also, trust isn't likely to spring up among the wicked—and trust is essential to a proper friendship.
- So Aristotle proclaims complete friendship the authoritative definition of friendship. The other two types are only kinda-sorta friendship.
Book 8, Chapter 5 (1157b5-35)
- As Aristotle's said, it's important for friends to "live together." While friendships won't necessarily end because of distance, they will cease to be active.
- After a long time, they'll be forgotten entirely.
- There are certain types of people who don't make good friends: the old and the "sour."
- Basically, these are the people who aren't pleasant to be with.
- If you like someone but don't spend time together, you feel something more like good will toward them, rather than friendship.
- It's not really possible to spend time with grumpy people or those who are totally unalike. Without something to enjoy about a person, it's just not going to happen.
- We have to be able to find what's lovable in a friend. And that means a potential friend has to be generally good and particularly attractive (virtue-wise) to us.
- "Friendly affection" is a passion or feeling, but friendship's a characteristic (virtue) that a person may have.
- It's the virtue that makes us able to wish for good things for a friend, rather than the passionate feeling.
- In being good in this way, we're rewarded by having a good friend in our lives. It's a reciprocal goodness fest.
- This reciprocity in friendship gives rise to equality between friends.
Book 8, Chapter 6 (1158a1-1158b11)
- Young people make friends quickly, but it's mostly good will rather than complete friendship that happens in such cases.
- We have to invest a lot of time and affection in a true friendship, so it's not possible to have lots of this type of friend at once.
- It's easier to engage in relationships that are merely useful or pleasant. On the upside, "pleasant" friendships are more like proper friendships.
- They at least have the "delight in each other" part down—and these kinds of friends may even have things in common.
- Also, pleasant friends are necessary even to the fortunate, who certainly do not need useful friends.
- People in power tend to go for the useful and pleasant friendships. Aristotle quips that their friends are often not both at the same time.
- They surround themselves with the witty and snarky, but rarely with truly good people.
- Aristotle addresses the need for equality in a friendship. A good person and a powerful person aren't usually friends—unless the powerful one is also virtuous. This almost never happens.
- Equality in friendship also involves how each person loves the other and wishes them well. If one party isn't equally good, he must bring something else to the relationship.
- These types of friendships walk the line between faux friendship and complete friendship. They aren't as stable in the face of challenges as complete friendship.
Book 8, Chapter 7 (1158b12-1159a13)
- There are unequal friendships out there: father/son, husband/wife, ruler/subject. These are friendships based on superiority.
- Each of these and their reciprocal (i.e. husband to wife, wife to husband) are different because they involve different virtues and roles.
- Each person in these friendships gets something different out of the relationship. But when each gives what they ought to, there's a kind of equity and stability.
- The affection given and received should also be proportionate. Of course, the superior person deserves more of everything.
- Equality in these relationships depends on different variables than we use to understand equality as it relates to justice.
- For friendship, we first have to consider the degree of superiority (by how much the person is superior to his friend) and then merit.
- Degree of superiority separation might make it impossible for certain people to be friends. A king cannot really be friends with a peasant, for instance.
- Aristotle says that this is why even good people don't wish for the very best thing to happen to their friends—like becoming a god.
- Deification would probably end the friendship.
Book 8, Chapter 8 (1159a14-1159b24)
- People love flattery because they want to feel loved by those who are inferior.
- Being honored by the powerful feels even better, because it's a mark of success.
- There are others who love to be honored by good people. It confirms to them that they're worth loving and honoring, and it fulfills their desire to be loved.
- Friendship, though, is more about loving others than being loved.
- Moms are a good example of this, since they love to love their children, even if their kids are total snots to them. (But seriously, you should call your mom more).
- Loving, then, is a virtue that belongs to friends. And it's through love that equality might be brought to an unequal relationship, if the difference between the two can be made up in love.
- This constitutes a likeness in terms of virtue, even if there's little else in common.
- Wicked people can't partake in this benefit. They're changeable in their ways and don't love "friends" for their goodness but only for their utility or ability to amuse.
- Relationships between the wicked often happen between opposites, since they're not really interested in loving the person for something they have in common. It's all about convenience.
- Sometimes, though, opposites attract for a different reason. Maybe each person is aiming for the "middle term" to correct their own dispositions and to stabilize themselves.
- This is why, Aristotle says, an ignorant person will seek out the wise, or the ugly person a beautiful one.
Book 8, Chapter 9 (1159b25-1160a25)
- Aristotle explains how friendship and the just are related.
- There's a political aspect to friendship, in that there's a feeling of goodwill between members of any given community.
- These friendships vary, as do members or groups in a community. What's just also changes depending on the friendship type (father/son, brothers, comrades-in-arms, etc.).
- What's unjust is relative, too, in friendships. But in friendships, the stakes are higher: it's far worse to do something unjust to a friend than it is to do so to a stranger.
- The level of justice also goes way up in friendship, since equality is essential in a relationship of this kind.
- In some ways, friendships are a microcosm of political communities. Friends come together for mutual benefit, to make life better for each other.
- And the political community is friendship in macrocosm: groups band together for immediate advantage or for a more lasting common good.
Book 8, Chapter 10 (1160a35-1161a9)
- To continue a discussion of community, Aristotle moves on to the issue of rule.
- He names three types of regimes: 1) kingship; 2) aristocracy; 3) timocracy, a type of rule of the people.
- There are also three ways these regimes can go wrong. For kingship, it's tyranny.
- A tyrant seeks only his own advantage, while a true king looks out for his subjects. Since a king needs nothing for himself, he works for the good of his people.
- Aristocracies can crumble into oligarchies—a despotic system where a group of the most powerful people runs the government.
- Aristotle says that the rise of oligarchies happens when there's an unjust distribution of goods on the part of the ruling class. In this system, wealth—not the common good—rules.
- A timocracy can morph into—gasp!—a democracy. Aristotle thinks that a democracy is the least corrupt of these deviant regime types because it's still a rule of the people.
- Why does Aristotle bring all this political stuff up? Because it's reflected in the microcosm of daily life.
- So we're meant to see each of these types of rule—and the relationships that pop up in them—even down to the level of an individual household.
- The community of a father and his family = kingship (or tyranny, depending on the dad); husband/wife = aristocracy (ruling class); brothers = timocracy (since all are equal).
- Democracy happens in households when there's no proper master around to keep everyone in line. This is a horror in Aristotle's eyes.
Book 8, Chapter 11 (1161a10-1161b10)
- As Aristotle has said, justice and friendship go hand in hand. He also posits that friendship appears in each of the three types of regimes, depending on the level of justice in each.
- In a monarchy, a king will extend friendship of superiority by doing good things for his subjects.
- Fathers offer a similar kind of friendship, though with smaller benefits. In return, children (and subjects) honor their father (ruler).
- Husbands and wives are like an aristocracy in that—and this is Aristotle speaking here, not us—the better person (i.e. the husband) gets more of what is good and just.
- Brothers are like comrades or citizens in a timocracy, since they are equals in the household. This relationship is ruled by equity.
- The same proportion of justice to friendship is found in each deviation of the regimes. Tyrants encourage scant justice and even fewer friendships.
- Because humanity is degraded in a tyranny, subjects become tools rather than people. Among things there can be no community (since the law doesn't apply to things).
- And without equity, there can be no friendships. Because oppressed people are still human, some little friendships may rise—but nothing like what happens in a democracy.
- In a democracy, there's equality and citizens have much in common, so friendships can easily blossom.
Book 8, Chapter 12 (1161b11-1162a34)
- Aristotle turns to friendship in families.
- Parents love their children because, well, they're theirs. Children love parents because they know that's where they came from.
- Parents' love is greater because they understand that the children are theirs. Mothers are more loving than fathers because they, too, are more sure that the children belong to them.
- Love for children is love for self, since parents see children as part of themselves.
- Brothers love each other because of their likenesses and what they share. They're like comrades because they get into stuff together and learn to trust each other when they don't snitch.
- The friendship of children with parents is one of superiority, rather than equality. The parents are the superior ones (just in case you missed it).
- Aristotle says that humans like to "couple up" so marital friendship is most natural for them. Couples are also proto-communities—an older, smaller version of a city.
- In marriage, we not only have children but also live our lives, sharing the burden of caring for self, house, and family.
- The marital friendship is kind of super, because it has in it both pleasant and useful aspects. It's extra super great when the couple is virtuous.
Book 8, Chapter 13 (1162a35-1163a23)
- Friendships based only on usefulness run into problems. Friends may accuse each other of not pulling their weight in the relationship if expectations aren't met.
- This is different than friendships between good people. These friends almost compete to do good turns for each other. They're never disappointed in what their friend brings to the table.
- Friendships of pleasure also have high satisfaction ratings, since it's literally all sunshine and giggles (until it isn't).
- But friendships of utility always see someone whining because they didn't get what they wanted out of the relationship.
- Aristotle says that there are two types of friendship based on usefulness: the moral and the legal.
- The legal type deals with financial transactions, complete with contracted terms of payment.
- "Friendship" arises here when the person owed extends the payment deadline because he trusts that his debtor—uh, "friend"—is good for it.
- The moral type doesn't involve contracts or payments. Instead, it's more of a reciprocal gift-giving situation. One person gives something to his friend, seeing it as a loan.
- The recipient thinks it's a gift, but the giver really expects to receive something equally good in return.
- Problems happen when the giver doesn't get what he wants or expects in return.
- Aristotle cautions us to make sure we give back an equal amount in all such relationships—and to do it voluntarily—to avoid ill will.
- But sometimes, it's hard to measure the worth of a gift in order to make a return that's equal.
- Is it determined by the actual value of the gift itself, or by how much it's helped the person who received it?
- This is slippery, since the recipient would naturally value the gift lower, so that his repayment would be less painful.
- Aristotle concludes that we have to work with how much the receiver has benefitted. He should repay that plus more, just to show that he is the bigger person.
- Your best bet? Only get involved in friendships based on virtue. No dissatisfaction there.
Book 8, Chapter 14 (1163a24-1163b32)
- Friendships of superiority also have drama. The superior person will always think he deserves the greater share of everything.
- The inferior one will complain that he never gets anything, since his superior friend is a hog.
- And there goes the friendship.
- But if the superior person gives everything to a frankly useless friend, it's less like a relationship and more like a charity.
- Aristotle circles back to the regimes here. Those who are useless in relation to the community ought to receive little honor.
- This citizen who gives so much of his good to the community that he feels it in his bank account should be honored. Not so much for the stingy or corrupt, who contribute nothing.
- It comes down to this: we all have to give back to relationships, personal or political, what we can.
- If it's honor, money, or virtue, so be it. Only then can we be stable and equal.
- Aristotle says that giving in friendship has more to do with what's "possible" rather than with merit.
- We could not, for instance, ever give back to our parents what they deserve for creating us. And yet we've got to do something to show that we acknowledge their effort.
- In terms of the parental balance sheet, Aristotle says that a father can renounce his son because he's the one who is owed. A son can't cut dad off, because he's in the red, so to speak.
Book 9, Chapter 1 (1163a34-1164b21)
- Aristotle describes "heterogeneous" friendships—relationships in which the parties are after different things.
- In commercial friendships, money's the great equalizer. It's so that a shoemaker can buy a house even if the builder doesn't need a thousand pairs of shoes.
- In erotic relationships, people get disappointed and feel played all the time. Promises are broken, expectations aren't met.
- This happens when each person loves the other at cross-purposes (i.e. one for pleasure, the other for usefulness) and neither can deliver.
- When we love a person not for who they are (their virtues) but for something that can change, we are in for a whole lot of heartache.
- And when we wish for what we don't have, there's dissatisfaction. In order to right this and to get what we want, we're often willing to "pay" in some way.
- But who gets to determine the value of what's being offered or received in a relationship? The giver or the receiver?
- Aristotle says that common wisdom sides with the receiver. It's up to him to judge the worth of the gift.
- But sometimes the one receiving the "gift" can be seriously flawed in judgment—which causes more problems.
- In a proper friendship, a giver who takes into account his friend's needs will do it right. And the person who receives a good does well when he considers the thought put into the gift.
- In that way, there's equity in giving.
- In more business-like relationships, both parties should agree on the worth of things to be exchanged.
- If this can't happen, the receiver should determine the worth, since it's the benefit that should be repaid.
- Two further difficulties: givers often value what they offer more than it's actually worth; receivers might value a gift less once they have it.
Book 9, Chapter 2 (1164b22-1165a35)
- This chapter opens with a whole slew of perplexities, all relating to whom we should give our allegiance, trust, or respect.
- Aristotle begins with the example of someone who's been ransomed from pirates (we kid you not).
- Does the freed person have to pay ransom for the guy who ransomed him, if he should be kidnapped by pirates?
- And what if the guy really does deserved to be kidnapped by pirates?
- Or should the freed man pay his friend back? Wouldn't it be better to save that money to ransom his own father? (Because, apparently, pirates are on a rampage this year.)
- Aristotle doesn't let anyone off the hook here. A debt is a debt, and it must be repaid, even if you err on the generous side.
- There are some exceptions to this reciprocity. If you take a loan from an untrustworthy person, you aren't obligated to lend him money in the future.
- So the original lender, if wicked, has no claim on favors in the future.
- Aristotle gives this general rule: we shouldn't always give back the same things to everybody—even to our dads.
- Instead, we should always give what is proper to each person, depending on merit and position in our lives.
- Aristotle cites several everyday instances when we do this: invitations to family for weddings and funerals, the care of elderly parents. Each should receive what is properly theirs.
- Distribution in the community should also be fair and proportionate.
Book 9, Chapter 3 (1165a36-1165b35)
- Should we break up a friendship because our friend has changed? If a person isn't the same cheerful person that we loved, why can't we just get rid of them?
- Aristotle says that sometimes we mistake the sort of friends we are with someone. We think they're true friends, but really they're fair weather buddies who want us only when we're useful.
- Aristotle blames us if this is the situation—he doesn't blame the shallow friend. We should have seen it coming.
- But if the other person (let's call him "The Deceiver") deliberately played you for his BFF, then The Deceiver is a jerk.
- Do we still have to love a person who was once good but has now become evil? Good one, Aristotle.
- Our philosopher says it would be better to try to reform this friend, but cutting and running is always a rational option.
- And what if our friend becomes way more awesome than us? Does he still have to be our friend?
- According to Aristotle, it depends on how big the difference of awesome is between us and them.
- If the chasm is too wide, the old friends will have nothing in common.
- The best we can do is to hang on to our memories and say "I knew him when!"
Book 9, Chapter 4 (1166a1-1166b29)
- Aristotle says that a mother exhibits all the signs of friendship toward her children: she wishes the best for them and does everything good for them.
- A friend is also someone who shares our lives and likes many of the same things.
- This is also a lot like how a good person feels about himself. He certainly wishes the best for himself and does good things for himself. He does all this to honor his rational soul.
- A good person is a good friend to himself, never wishing even to be a more fortunate person or other than he is.
- The friend is second self. So in order to be a good friend to others, we have first to be a good friend to ourselves. Cliché, yes. But Aristotle started this whole thing.
- But don't corrupt people also love themselves lots and take pleasure in their wicked ways? Aristotle denies that such people live harmoniously with themselves.
- Therefore, they can't really have the quality of true friendship with others.
- Seriously evil people also hate themselves and try to escape their own company as much as possible.
- They have nothing lovable about them, so it's really hard for them to find something to love about themselves. Harsh.
- Also, a corrupt person is totally miserable, getting no pleasure that isn't followed by regret. Aristotle's advice? Stop being a wicked person and you'll have more friends.
Book 9, Chapter 5 (1166b30-1167a20)
- Aristotle steers the convo toward marks or signs of friendship.
- Good will is like friendship, but not really. It can be felt for people we don't even know.
- Friendly affection isn't good will, since affection implies a kind of desire for someone.
- Goodwill might more properly be called the gateway to friendship—we need to be kindly disposed toward someone before becoming good friends with them.
- Goodwill may make us wish good things for others, but it doesn't really motivate us to help them to achieve those things, the way friendship does.
- It's also based on what is good or just. We're not into goodwill for what we can get out of it.
Book 9, Chapter 6 (1167a21-1167b15)
- Another sign of friendship is "like-mindedness": when we agree about action (what's to be done in order to achieve a certain end).
- Aristotle uses the example of like-minded cities that decide to make all offices elective.
- It's not just about thinking of the same things; it's about getting to your goals in the same way.
- Aristotle calls like-mindedness a "political friendship," since it is a coming together of minds for the common good.
- Good people have this trait: they're consistent within themselves and with other good people when it comes to doing what's good for the community.
- Of course, the corrupt can't be like-minded with anyone, because they're always concerned with what's best for themselves.
Book 9, Chapter 7 (1167b16-1168a28)
- Aristotle wants to investigate a paradox: givers seem to love the people they benefit more than the recipient loves his benefactor. Why is that?
- He says it is because there is a debt that exists between giver and receiver, so that the receiver can't always love the person to whom he owes something.
- The giver, on the other hand, has a vested interest in valuing the receiver. After all, he's owed to.
- Others say that this is a cynical view of things. Sometimes, benefactors just love the people they're helping without any thought of receiving something in return.
- Besides, the benefactor is already rewarded through the good work he's done. The work itself doesn't need to love him back.
- There's a kind of self-identification with our own work—whether it's a work of art or a good deed. Loving the work is like loving ourselves.
- It is less exciting for the recipient of a good deed. He neither does the good thing nor gets the honor of it.
- On top of it, the benefactor gets to think back on his lovely good deed and smile. It's always useful to him. Not some much for the recipient.
- Giving affection is a little like this, too. Being a friend is an active and noble thing. The effort we put into the relationship helps us love our friend more, since he's the work we identify with.
- We all love what's difficult to achieve more than that which is easy, which is also why benefactors love more than the recipients.
Book 9, Chapter 8 (1168a28-1169b1)
- Should we love ourselves more than anyone else? Let's face it: this type of person usually gets a bad rap.
- We know that base people think only of themselves, where the good person's generally selfless and thinks of others.
- But remember what Aristotle has just said about good people: they're their own best friends. They act toward themselves as they would to a true friend.
- Friendship, in fact, comes from us. We don't grab it out of thin air.
- Conclusion: self-love is okay. Love yourself best and first.
- But he wants to look more closely at both sides of the argument to make sure he's thoroughly right.
- If we're speaking of "self-lovers" as selfish people who grab far more than their fair share because they think they're the best, then yes: these aren't great people. Don't befriend them.
- But this isn't how we should understand the term. A person who truly loves himself will cultivate his virtues through just action—precisely because he values himself.
- He'll also always honor his rational mind and aim for the good because of it.
- And when he loves his rational mind, he's really loving himself. So there you have it.
- If we all loved ourselves as we should, then much good would be done and everybody would be happy.
- A truly good person finds pleasure in sacrificing for others. In living a noble life, sacrifice is pleasant.
- In doing this, he chooses the best thing for himself (i.e. honor). It's because he cherishes his reason and virtues so much that he does so.
- Yet he would also give up doing noble things if it would somehow give his friend the chance to do them instead and have the honor. This is because a friend is really a second self.
Book 9, Chapter 9 (1169b3-1170b19)
- Does a happy person need friends? Or are they totally self-sufficient?
- Aristotle thinks it's weird to suppose that a person could be happy without the companionship of friends.
- First of all, how would the good person have anyone to do good deeds for, if he had no friends? (Recall: happy person = good person).
- And why would you want to have so many good things without having someone to share them with?
- Human beings are political: they live in community. A happy human couldn't be solitary.
- And hey, things are always better with friends. So yes, happy dudes still need friends.
- Sure, a happy person doesn't need anyone to be useful to him—but then again, useful "friendships" aren't really friendships at all.
- He also doesn't need friends to amuse him (his life is already totally awesome).
- But he does need friends who are good around him so he can contemplate their good works and find pleasure in them.
- There is also happiness in activity, and it is hard to be active without friends to motivate.
- It's natural for a serious or virtuous person to seek out like-minded people to spend time with. And it's always good to go with nature.
- Good, happy people also take pleasure simply in existing. Because hey, life is great (but it's also part of human nature to love being alive).
- Aristotle gets all "We think, therefore we are" in order to say that we're capable of perceiving that existence is a good thing.
- And since a friend is a second self, we learn to value their existence as much as our own.
- To sum up: a friend is a choiceworthy thing simply because they exist. And existence is pleasant and good.
- It is especially good when a friend acknowledges your existence and wants to spend time with you.
Book 9, Chapter 10 (1170b20-1171a21)
- If friends are so awesome, we should have a million of them. Right?
- Aristotle says to hold your horses. We should probably limit our number of good friends to as many as we can spend quality time with and who will get along with each other.
- Also, friendly affection is hard to muster for lots of people. It's kind of like being in love with more than one person at one time. Exhausting.
- We can be friendly to many, but not intensely "in friend" with everyone we meet.
Book 9, Chapter 11 (1171a22-1171b29)
- Do we need our friends more when things go wrong? Or when everything's great?
- Aristotle is a realist: in misfortune, we really do need help from our friends. We get by with a little help from our friends. But friendship in good times is "nobler."
- Being with friends in times of disaster can lift our spirits and distract us from suffering. Knowing that they share some part of our burden is also pleasing.
- On the flip side, it can be painful to see a friend upset because we're suffering.
- A "manly man" will be careful about involving his good friends in his troubles just for this reason. Women, apparently, love to involve themselves in misery and don't spare their friends. (Misogynist much, Aristotle?)
- A good person gets pleasure from sharing his good fortune with friends.
- Still, a person should let his buds help him out when they can. It's also good to help a friend, even if he doesn't come out and ask for it.
- Remember, friends exist to do good things for each other. They won't be stopped—and you'll get a bad reputation if you refuse their help all the time.
Book 9, Chapter 12 (1171b30-1172a15)
- Aristotle sums up his commentary on friendship, emphasizing that it's a function of community: friends live together and relish each other's existence.
- Friends choose activities that best help them spend their days together.
- As for the base people: they get worse in their mingling with other base people. Good people get even better when they spend time with the virtuous.
- Friends also train each other, making each other better by commenting on which behaviors are most pleasant to them.
Book 10, Chapter 1 (1172a19-1172b8)
- We've made it all the way to the last book, and we're finally getting to pleasure.
- Which is our favorite. Obviously.
- Pleasure's very powerful for human beings, says Aristotle. We use it, along with pain, to raise our children (think "carrot" and "stick").
- The trick to pleasure is learning to enjoy the kinds of things we should (in the right amounts) and to avoid the things that might bring pleasure but might also destroy our virtue.
- Pleasure's often considered a bad thing because so many people focus all their energies on obtaining it—sometimes at any cost.
- But Aristotle isn't convinced. He knows from experience that this isn't the situation for all people and all pleasures.
- People tend to overreact, however, when they see that someone who shuns pleasure is actually seeking it out. They say that the person is corrupt without understanding human nature properly.
Book 10, Chapter 3 (1173a14-1174a13)
- He also wants to argue with those who say that the good is "limited" or defined, while pleasure is "unlimited" or undefined.
- So the good can never be more or less in degree—it always just is the good. Can't get any better or worse and remain what it is. But pleasure isn't like that. It can be more or less and still be pleasure.
- Aristotle says that this is not so of the good. Virtues can certainly appear in people to greater or lesser degrees. And while pleasure has degrees, that doesn't mean it isn't defined.
- Pleasure-haters would also say that the good is a complete thing (needing nothing else for perfection), but that pleasure is a motion or process.
- Aristotle disagrees with this labeling. If pleasure were a motion, then it would be subject to speed (quickness or slowness). One cannot feel a pleasure quickly or slowly, really.
- He argues against pleasure being a process of coming-into-being because they don't admit process—the depletion and replenishment of things in the body and mind.
- To those who consider that naughty pleasures are the only kind out there, Aristotle thumbs his nose. Those kind of "pleasures," he says, aren't really pleasures at all.
- They would only be pleasant to degenerate people. In which case, they'd be painful to decent people. Shameful things can't produce pleasure.
- He also raises an analogy used by opponents of pleasure: a true friend vs. flatterer is to the good vs. pleasure.
- This means that a true friend's actually the good thing, whereas a flatterer is all about pleasure and nothing else.
- And finally, there's the argument that we would aim at many things—including the virtues—even if they didn't give us pleasure.
- That pretty much sums up the major arguments against pleasure as a candidate for the good.
Book 10, Chapter 4 (1174a14-1175a20)
- Aristotle now musters his defenses for pleasure as the good. He begins by using a comparison to the eye. Seeing isn't incomplete just because other things may come into view.
- Pleasure is like this, whole and complete at all times. Pleasure doesn't become something else just because it lasts longer.
- For a similar reason, it's not a motion—since a motion is part of something larger and continuous.
- He uses locomotion as an example, since it's a motion. It's incomplete and differs in form and type, depending on type of movement and who's doing the moving. Pleasure isn't like this.
- Motion also takes place over time. Pleasure can as well, but it can also be complete in the present moment.
- Aristotle references sense perception to support his theory of pleasure as the good. If all our sensory organs are working well, they help us perceive the best thing in each sense category.
- When this happens—when our sensory experiences are complete--we experience pleasure.
- Pleasure doesn't happen when we perceive something horrible, dirty, or rotten. It only happens when we perceive that which is good and noble.
- And pleasure perfects or completes the sensory experience.
- Also, pleasure only works its magic when both the perceiver and the perceived are good (each in their proper way).
- If both the viewer and the object of the gaze are exactly what they should be, then, pleasure happens.
- Pleasure can't go on continuously, forever. Aristotle says that's because it's linked with activity—as in the activity of the senses, for one.
- Since living is an activity, Aristotle posits that humans might actually live for pleasure. We find it in different things—since pleasure is relative—but we do seek it in our daily lives.
- It completes our good work, and we kind of love that. It makes us glad to be alive.
- Pleasure's uniquely linked with activity—it is the happy completion of everything that we do.
Book 10, Chapter 5 (1175a21-1176a29)
- Pleasure isn't one thing: it takes different forms, depending on the activity it completes.
- So there are specific pleasures that go hand in hand with intellectual activities, sensory ones, etc.
- Pleasure makes our work and play better. When we experience pleasure while reading or practicing piano, it awakens us and makes us more apt to practice and get better.
- It happens that pleasures can come crashing in on us and distract us. So it is that our pleasure from one activity might override pleasure from an activity we think is inferior.
- Things that we feel are more pleasant win our hearts much more quickly than less pleasant or awful ones.
- Aristotle posits two types of pleasures: pleasure proper to favorite activities and alien pleasures. Any pleasure that's not attached to our favorite things to do is an alien pleasure.
- Alien pleasures are the first to go when we have the chance to do our favorite things and experience the pleasure proper to that activity.
- Alien pleasures, then, are essentially pains. They take our focus off our favorite pleasure and annoy us.
- Since pleasures are related to activities—and some activities are "base" or wicked—it follows that some pleasures will really be quite naughty.
- Since activities are so varied, so too are pleasures. They're pretty much everywhere, and their appeal is relative.
- So how do we know which pleasures are true pleasures? Just as a person of good moral character. Their perception is the clearest, and therefore, whatever they say goes.
- If something appears good to a corrupt person, we should run the other way. Those kinds of pleasures are shameful, and therefore not pleasures at all.
- If we want to know in an absolute and authoritative sense which are the pleasures belonging to humans, we need only to follow the good, happy man around.
- If we scope out his activities, we'll perceive what brings pleasure to him. Since this is the best of human beings, he sets the standard for pleasure, then.
Book 10, Chapter 6 (1176a30-1177a12)
- At the back end of this last book, Aristotle is going to address happiness—since that's the goal of all human existence.
- To recap: happiness is not a virtue. It's an activity. But it has to be the best, most complete activity, the one that we would seek out for its own sake.
- This activity would have to be associated with virtue, since these are the best types of things for humans to do.
- The "pleasures of play" also fit the bill, but can ruin a person if they pursue this and nothing else.
- All we need to do is look at the virtuous person to figure out what's the best activity. (Yeah, it has to do with virtue. Surprise!).
- In the end, Aristotle can't agree that all of life's purpose leans towards play. It just isn't serious enough.
- However, he does find value in the kind of play that helps us to be virtuous. Aristotle acknowledges that we can't be serious all the time and require relaxation.
- But relaxation isn't an end in itself—it's an activity. So Aristotle puts his foot down: happiness is serious business. It has to do with virtue, not frivolity or bodily pleasures.
Book 10, Chapter 7 (1177a13-1178a8)
- Since happiness is the ultimate thing, it can't hang out with just any activity. It has to be correlated with the best activity and the best virtue.
- Aristotle says that the best virtues belong to the intellect—or to whatever you want to call the thing that rules us and helps us contemplate life, the universe and everything.
- So there it is: the best activity would be something contemplative. Think about it.
- The intellect is the best part of us, and it contemplates some pretty high-level things. We can also think all the time. That's just awesome.
- Aristotle says that we have to sprinkle pleasure into our happy lives to keep it fresh. Since wisdom is the best of virtues, what activity is attached to that? Hmm, let's think...
- That's right: it's philosophy.
- Those knowers have such a head for knowing what is pleasant and good in life.
- So basically, Aristotle just dragged you through ten books of philosophy to tell you that philosophy is the key to a happy life.
- Hey: you've been getting happier this whole time.
- The contemplative life is the best version of this, because it's entirely self-sufficient. Because even though it's great to be just, courageous and all the rest, those guys still need an audience.
- Thinking can be done all by yourself, at home. It's also free. Bonus.
- Contemplation is also critical. We can't perceive anything or even do anything until we have thought it into being.
- The philosophical life also provides a wise person with a lot of down time, even while he's working, since the toiling takes place in the mind. That's a serious perk leading to happiness.
- Even the best jobs in Aristotle's society—those relating to politics and war—don't have benefits like that of philosophy. And they aren't pursued as ends in themselves.
- Contemplation wins, then, because it engages the virtues, has no other end than itself, allows the philosopher to be self-sufficient—and has a great vacation package (i.e. lots of leisure time).
- Aristotle is pretty sure that nothing can be better, as long as life is long and healthy as well. But it's also something closer to the divine.
- He encourages us, as human beings, to embrace the intellectual life as something that brings out our excellence and makes us closer in being to the gods.
- Every person has their inner philosopher, which is all that's good and exemplary in himself.
- Why would anyone choose any other kind of life, since it seems that the life of the mind is proper to human beings?
- And if it's naturally proper to us, it's the thing most pleasant for all people. So there you have it: the life of the mind (contemplation, intellect, philosophy) is the happiest life for a human.
Book 10, Chapter 8 (1178a9-1179a32)
- By exercising the moral virtues (courage, moderation, liberality, etc), we achieve a "secondary" kind of happiness.
- This is the kind of happiness that comes from living well and justly in relation to other people—which is quite important, and so very human.
- Because we have bodies, our virtues are tangled up with our passions. Together, they make up each person's character. Prudence also becomes part of our moral virtues.
- All of this together makes us uniquely human, and this "composite" nature of our identity shapes our experience of communal life and happiness.
- But intellectual bliss is something else all together. It is self-sufficient, requiring almost nothing (except a brain) to operate. It's easier to achieve than the happiness we get from moral virtue.
- Aristotle tells us that all the moral virtues require something fairly substantial for us to act on them (liberality needs money, courage needs strength).
- And since moral virtues require action to be complete, even more effort and expenditure is required. Frankly, it's exhausting.
- But for the philosopher?
- Life is sweet.
- He doesn't need anything extra to chase his bliss. Of course, he still has to live with people and behave in a moral way, but that isn't his thing.
- To prove his claim that the contemplative life is the best, Aristotle points to the gods.
- What actions do the gods carry out on a daily basis? None. Work of all kinds would be below them.
- Except for contemplation. Aristotle says that they may not be active in terms of virtuous work, but they certainly can't be unconscious. The only thing left for divine beings is to think.
- And since gods are hugely superior (and more blessed/happy) than any human being, their way of living must also be the best.
- Also, animals can't be happy because they can't really contemplate (i.e. can't be aware that they are aware of their existences). Hey, don't kill the messenger: we're just summing up Aristotle.
- Therefore, happiness belongs to those who think. You heard it here first.
- There is one teeny, tiny other thing necessary for happiness: "external prosperity."
- You've got to have health, (moderate) wealth and good fortune in order to sustain all that thinking.
- Since a happy life is a life of virtue, we don't need good external things in excess. Just enough to keep from worrying about the next meal or the roof over our heads.
- Furthermore, the person who lives a life of the mind must be most loved by the gods, since the gods themselves spend all their time contemplating stuff.
- And we all know by now that like loves like the most. We all recognize our tribe, right?
Book 10, Chapter 9 (1179a33-1181b24)
- Now that Aristotle's reached the final chapter of his work and has to bid us adieu, he's wondering if anything he's said to us about moral virtues will make us better people.
- He understands that speech does very little to alter the behavior of other human beings, and that what we now know about the life of virtue will do us no good if we don't act.
- Does it even matter that we've been taught to be good? Or is it more effective to have virtue by nature or through habits?
- It helps if a person is born disposed to accept the kind of discipline that'll make him into a good person.
- If he can then be raised with good habits, it makes teaching him a whole lot easier.
- Aristotle says that good laws help to make a person into a good citizen. When the framework of virtuous behavior is laid out for him, he can take his early learning and turn it into good habits.
- He says that the law is characterized in part by compulsion: it has the power to force us into sociable habits by threatening punishment or expulsion from the community.
- If that sounds too harsh, Aristotle tells us to suck it up.
- Even though a father wouldn't be so hard-nosed in his discipline, the law must oppose the baser impulses of people in order to guarantee a certain amount of equity in society.
- But Aristotle laments the feeble efforts at rule-setting by cities in his day.
- Everyone is just allowed to do whatever he wants without consequences. The horror.
- But "public care" is the responsibility of the city and in its absence, the family has to lay down some laws so that the children grow up to be virtuous.
- Aristotle claims that there's something to be said for an individualized and private education (as opposed to a public one). A more tailored experience might help habituate a young citizen better.
- And if a person's interested in molding young minds, he might take up the job of legislator so that he can best teach virtue through experience, as in an art or science.
- But that's not how things work. The politicians may practice the "political art," but they train no one. How's the next generation of legislators to come about, then?
- Aristotle's answer has common sense, even if it's a bit vague. Those who want to be lawgivers need both practical experiences and contemplative training.
- He inserts a few digs at the Sophists' expense, since they seem to be all about the theory of law rather than the actions associated with it.
- They also think that choosing laws for a community is an easy thing, which makes Aristotle laugh.
- He knows that it requires serious thought and expertise to encode just the right virtues.
- Since there's no particular course of study to train new lawgivers, Aristotle suggests that the young study laws and government, contemplating how to apply precedents to particular cases.
- He ends his study of virtue and happiness with a segue into how best to preserve the political art (which will appear in his work, Politics).