Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 10, Chapter 8 (1178a9-1179a32)

By Aristotle

Book 10, Chapter 8 (1178a9-1179a32)

  • By exercising the moral virtues (courage, moderation, liberality, etc), we achieve a "secondary" kind of happiness.
  • This is the kind of happiness that comes from living well and justly in relation to other people—which is quite important, and so very human.
  • Because we have bodies, our virtues are tangled up with our passions. Together, they make up each person's character. Prudence also becomes part of our moral virtues.
  • All of this together makes us uniquely human, and this "composite" nature of our identity shapes our experience of communal life and happiness.
  • But intellectual bliss is something else all together. It is self-sufficient, requiring almost nothing (except a brain) to operate. It's easier to achieve than the happiness we get from moral virtue.
  • Aristotle tells us that all the moral virtues require something fairly substantial for us to act on them (liberality needs money, courage needs strength).
  • And since moral virtues require action to be complete, even more effort and expenditure is required. Frankly, it's exhausting.
  • But for the philosopher?
  • Life is sweet.
  • He doesn't need anything extra to chase his bliss. Of course, he still has to live with people and behave in a moral way, but that isn't his thing.
  • To prove his claim that the contemplative life is the best, Aristotle points to the gods.
  • What actions do the gods carry out on a daily basis? None. Work of all kinds would be below them.
  • Except for contemplation. Aristotle says that they may not be active in terms of virtuous work, but they certainly can't be unconscious. The only thing left for divine beings is to think.
  • And since gods are hugely superior (and more blessed/happy) than any human being, their way of living must also be the best.
  • Also, animals can't be happy because they can't really contemplate (i.e. can't be aware that they are aware of their existences). Hey, don't kill the messenger: we're just summing up Aristotle.
  • Therefore, happiness belongs to those who think. You heard it here first.
  • There is one teeny, tiny other thing necessary for happiness: "external prosperity."
  • You've got to have health, (moderate) wealth and good fortune in order to sustain all that thinking.
  • Since a happy life is a life of virtue, we don't need good external things in excess. Just enough to keep from worrying about the next meal or the roof over our heads.
  • Furthermore, the person who lives a life of the mind must be most loved by the gods, since the gods themselves spend all their time contemplating stuff.
  • And we all know by now that like loves like the most. We all recognize our tribe, right?