Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 1, Chapter 10 (1100a10-1101a22)

By Aristotle

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.
  • Score.
  • But he's a blessed human being—which means that during his life, he may suffer some reverses of fortune.