Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 1, Chapter 13 (1102a5-1103a10)

By Aristotle

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.