Since the Nicomachean Ethics is a work of philosophy, it's inevitable that we are going to get down to the nitty-gritty of existence.
Aristotle asks some basic questions: what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be happy as a human? A defining characteristic of being human, according to Aristotle, is that we perceive and think—and in the process of thinking, we know that we are thinking (and we know that you know that he knows).
It's an affirmation that we are self-aware, that we can acknowledge the joy of being alive. Which begs the second question: what does it mean to be happy?
Aristotle says that human existence depends upon activity of both the soul and the body. The rational soul works to make our virtues active, so that we can do the right things (and therefore be happy). In the end, the purpose of life is happiness, which we achieve through complete virtue.
Questions About Life, Consciousness and Existence
- Why is thinking considered by Aristotle to be the mark of a human being? Is this a special kind of thinking?
- What do all virtuous human beings live for, according to Aristotle?
- Why's death the worst possible thing that can happen to a human? (Hint: there's more than one reason).
- What's the best possible activity for human beings? In what way does it bring happiness?
Chew on This
Happiness may be the goal of all virtuous human beings, but it's also the aim of those who are corrupt.
Perception is not just the mark of humanity because it proves that we're self-aware; it's also because it is an activity of reason.