Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 10, Chapter 7 (1177a13-1178a8)

By Aristotle

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.