Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 1, Chapter 4 (1095a15-1095b13)

By Aristotle

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.