Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Principles

By Aristotle

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A bit of a warning: when we at Shmoop talk about principles, we're heading into moral territory: virtues, codes of honor, that kind of thing. For Aristotle, "principles" may mean the beginning of something or the first thing that motivates or sets something into action. In this sense, virtue is a principle, in that it's the origin of right actions.

The virtues Aristotle speaks of in Nicomachean Ethics are both intellectual and moral, and they appear in people first as a result of nature. Through education and "habituation," our "characteristics" (or virtues) become active and result in just behavior. Though virtues belong to individuals, Aristotle discusses them as they pertain to humans in relation to each other.

That's because humans are political creatures. As such, the good that we aim for through the exercise of our virtues is social in nature.

Questions About Principles

  1. What is the "mean" or the "golden mean" in regards to virtues and vices?
  2. Which of the virtues does Aristotle consider to be the most important? Why?
  3. How do virtues apply to the pursuit of happiness? What role do they play?
  4. Why does Aristotle say that lawmakers need to understand about pleasures and pains? How does knowledge help them to make laws?

Chew on This

Moral virtues have to be cultivated through education and habituation, but the intellectual virtue of comprehension is something we're born with—or not.

A person who is courageous is less virtuous than a person who is moderate.

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