The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
The Nicomachean Ethics
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The Nicomachean Ethics (/ˌnɪkoʊˈmækiən/; Ancient Greek: Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια, Ēthika Nikomacheia) is the name normally given to Aristotle's best-known work on ethics. The work, which plays a pre-eminent role in defining Aristotelian ethics, consists of ten books, originally separate scrolls, and is understood to be based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum. The title is often assumed to refer to his son Nicomachus, to whom the work was dedicated or who may have edited it (although his young age makes this less likely). Alternatively, the work may have been dedicated to his father, who was also called Nicomachus.

Nicomachean Ethics

Thomas Taylor

Book I

Chapter I

Every art and every method, and in like manner every action and deliberate choice, appear to aspire after a certain good. Hence, it is well said, that the good is that which all things desire. Of ends, however, there appears to be a certain difference; for some of them are energies; but others of them besides these are certain works. But in those things in which there are certain ends besides the actions, in these the works are naturally adapted to be better than the energies. Since, however, there are many actions and arts, and sciences, there will also be many ends. For the end of medicine is health; of the ship-building art, a ship; of the military art, victory; and of the economic art, wealth. But such arts as are of this kind are [arranged] under one certain power; just as the bridle-making art is arranged under the equestrian art, and such other arts as pertain to equestrian instruments. Both this art, however, and every warlike action are arranged under the military art. And after the same manner other arts are arranged under other powers. But in all these, the ends of those arts which are architectonic, or master arts, are more eligible than all the ends of the arts which are subordinate to the master arts. For the latter are pursued for the sake of the former. It makes, however, no difference, whether the energies themselves are the ends of actions, or something else besides these; in the same manner as in the above-mentioned sciences.

Chapter II

If, therefore, there is a certain end of actions, which we wish [to obtain] for its own sake, but we desire other things on account of this, and our choice is not directed to all things for the sake of something else (for thus there would be a progression to infinity, so that appetite would be empty and vain) — if this be the case, it is evident that this end will be the good, and that which is the most excellent. Will not, therefore, the knowledge of this end be of great importance with respect to life? For by having, like archers, at mark at which we may aim, we shall obtain what is fit in a greater degree, if this, however, be the case, we must endeavour to adumbrate what it is, and show to what science or power it belongs. But it would seem that it belongs to that power which is the most principal; and is especially architectonic. And the political power [or science] appears to be a thing of this kind. For this ordains what sciences ought to be instituted in cities, and which of them ought to be learnt by the several individuals, and to what extent. We likewise see that the most honourable of the powers or faculties, are arranged under this power; as, for instance, the military, the economical, and the rhetorical powers. Since, however, the remaining practical sciences use this political science, and since it also legally establishes what ought to be done, and from what it is requisite to abstain, the end of this science will comprehend in itself the ends of the other sciences; so that this will be human good itself. For though the good of an individual and a city is the same, yet to obtain and preserve the good of a city, appears to be something greater and more perfect. For we must be satisfied, indeed, if we can effect the good of an individual alone; but it is more beautiful and divine to effect the good of a nation and cities. These are the things, therefore, which political requires.

Chapter III

It will, however, be discussed sufficiently, if it is rendered perspicuous according to its subject matter. For accuracy must not be similarly investigated in all discussions, as neither in all the works of art. Things beautiful, however, and just, with which the political science is conversant, possess so great a difference, and are involved in so much ambiguity, that [to some persons] their subsistence appears to be from law only, and not from nature. What is good, likewise, possesses a certain ambiguity of this kind, because it happens that many persons are injured by it. For some have perished through wealth, but others through fortitude. We must be satisfied, therefore, in speaking about and from such things, if we can indicate the truth by a rude adumbration and if our conclusions in discussing things which have a frequency of subsistence, are similar in accuracy of the things themselves. After the same manner, likewise, it is requisite to admit everything that has been said. For it is the province of an erudite man so far to investigate the accurate in each genus of things, as the nature of the thing will admit; since it appears to be a similar thing to assent to a mathematician, when speaking probably, and to require demonstrations from a rhetorician. Every one, however, judges well of those things which he knows, and of these is a good judge. Hence, the man who is learned in any thing judges well of that thing; but he in short forms a proper judgment about every thing who is learned in every thing. Hence, a youth is not a proper auditor of the political science, for he is unskilled in the actions pertaining to life. But reasonings are from and about these. And besides this, if he yields to his passions, he will in vain, and without any advantage, be an auditor [of ethical doctrines;] since the end here is not knowledge, but action. It makes, however, no difference whether a person is a youth as to his age, or has juvenile manners. For the defect is not from time, but from living, and engaging in every pursuit from passion; since the knowledge of such persons, in the same manner as that of the intemperate is useless. But a knowledge of these things will be very advantageous to those whose appetites and actions are conformable to reason. And thus much by way of preface concerning the auditor [of ethics] how he ought to admit [discussions of this kind,] and what we propose [to consider in this treatise].

Chapter IV

Repeating, therefore, what we have said, since all knowledge and deliberate choice aspires after a certain good, let us show what that is which we say the political science desires, and what the supreme good is of all actions. By name, therefore, it is nearly acknowledged by most men; for both the vulgar and the learned call it felicity. But they conceive that to live well — and to act well, are the same thing as to be happy. Concerning felicity, however, what it is, they are dubious; and the multitude do not form the same opinion of it as the wise. For some of them indeed conceive it to rank among the number of things which are clear and evident, such as pleasure, or wealth, or honour; but others assert it to be something else. Frequently, likewise, the same person forms a different opinion of it; for when diseased he conceives it to be health, but when poor, riches. And those who are conscious of their ignorance, admire those who assert something grand, and above their comprehension. Some too, besides these many goods, are of opinion that there is another good subsisting by itself, which is the cause to all these of their being good. To examine, therefore, all the opinions, would perhaps be a vain undertaking; but it will be sufficient to consider those that are most eminent, or which appear to be in some respect reasonable. We must not, however, be ignorant that arguments from principles and to principles differ from each other. For Plato well doubts about and investigates this, whether the way is from principles or to principles; as in a race from the president of the games to the goal, or the contrary. For we must begin from things that are known. But these subsist in a twofold respect. For some things are known to us, but others are simply known. Perhaps, therefore, we should begin from things known to us. Hence, it is necessary that the auditor of discussions about and things beautiful and just, and in short about political concerns, if he is to be benefited, should be adorned with worthy manners. For the principle is this, that the thing is so [viz. that certain actions are worthy, and others are unworthy;] and if this is sufficiently apparent it is not at all requisite to know why it is so. But such a one either possesses, or will easily acquire [ethical] principles. Let him, however, who has neither of these, hear what Hesiod says:

“He the first rank of excellence maintains
Who from himself in ev’ry thing is wise,
And what ev’n to the end is best foresees:
He too is good who yields to wise advice.
But he who neither from himself is wise,
Nor to assent to others can endure,
Is but a useless, despicable man.”

Chapter V

Let us, however, return from whence we have digressed. For it seems that men do not unreasonably form an opinion of good and felicity from [the different kinds of] lives. The vulgar, indeed, and the most worthless part of mankind, place felicity in pleasure; and on this account they embrace the life which consists in the enjoyment of pleasure. For there are three kinds of lives which especially take the lead, the one we have just mentioned, the political life, and the third is the contemplative life. The multitude, therefore, appear to be perfectly servile, deliberately choosing the life of cattle; and they support their opinion by the example of many persons in power, who have preferred a voluptuous life, and have lived like Sardanapalus. But men of elegant minds, and those who are addicted to practical concerns, place felicity in honour; for this is nearly the end of the political life. This, however, appears to be more superficial than the good which is the object of our investigation. For honour seems to be rather in the persons that honour, than in him who is honoured. But we prophesy that good is something appropriate, and of which it is difficult to deprive its possessor. Farther still, it seems that men pursue honour in order that they may believe themselves to be worthy persons. They seek, therefore, to be honoured by wise men, and by those to whom they are known, and with a view to virtue. It is evident, therefore, that according to these men virtue is more excellent than honour. Perhaps, however, some one may apprehend that this [viz. virtue] is rather the end of the political life. But even this appears to be more imperfect [than the chief good ought to be]. For it appears to be possible that he who possesses virtue may sleep, or be unemployed through the whole of his life, and besides this may be afflicted with evils, and experience the greatest misfortunes. But no one would proclaim a man thus living to be happy, unless for the purpose of defending his position. And concerning these things indeed enough; for we have spoken sufficiently about them in our miscellaneous writings. But the third life is the contemplative, which we shall make the object of our consideration hereafter. The life, however, which is engaged in the acquisition of riches, is a certain violent life, and it is evident that wealth is not the good which we investigate; for wealth is useful, and for the sake of something else. Hence, the things which have been before mentioned may be considered as ends rather than wealth; for they are loved on their own account. It appears, however, that neither does felicity consist in these; though many arguments are adduced to prove that it does. These things, therefore, we shall dismiss.

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