Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 10, Chapter 5 (1175a21-1176a29)

By Aristotle

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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.

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