Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 9, Chapter 2 (1164b22-1165a35)

By Aristotle

Book 9, Chapter 2 (1164b22-1165a35)

  • This chapter opens with a whole slew of perplexities, all relating to whom we should give our allegiance, trust, or respect.
  • Aristotle begins with the example of someone who's been ransomed from pirates (we kid you not).
  • Does the freed person have to pay ransom for the guy who ransomed him, if he should be kidnapped by pirates?
  • And what if the guy really does deserved to be kidnapped by pirates?
  • Or should the freed man pay his friend back? Wouldn't it be better to save that money to ransom his own father? (Because, apparently, pirates are on a rampage this year.)
  • Aristotle doesn't let anyone off the hook here. A debt is a debt, and it must be repaid, even if you err on the generous side.
  • There are some exceptions to this reciprocity. If you take a loan from an untrustworthy person, you aren't obligated to lend him money in the future.
  • So the original lender, if wicked, has no claim on favors in the future.
  • Aristotle gives this general rule: we shouldn't always give back the same things to everybody—even to our dads.
  • Instead, we should always give what is proper to each person, depending on merit and position in our lives.
  • Aristotle cites several everyday instances when we do this: invitations to family for weddings and funerals, the care of elderly parents. Each should receive what is properly theirs.
  • Distribution in the community should also be fair and proportionate.