Every human action aims at some good, and the good which is chosen for its
own sake rather than as means to an end is the highest good. Ethics is a part of
politics, which is the most authoritative and architectonic science. An inquiry
into ethics should not be expected to have the same sort of precision as a
mathematical inquiry, because the nature of the subject-matter is different. A
proper student of ethics must already have substantial life experience and
training in virtue; otherwise he will not profit from the subject because he is
more inclined to listen to his passions than to reason.
The highest good is happiness, which means living well. There is a dispute as to
what constitutes happiness‹whether it is pleasure, honor, health, wealth,
knowledge or something else. If a student's ethical habits are not good, he will
be hindered from accepting ethical knowledge.
Some think that happiness is to be found in pleasure, others that it is to be found
in honor, and others that it is to be found in contemplation. Happiness is not
found in living for pleasure because such a life is slavish. Nor is it found in
seeking honor because honor depends not on the person but on what others
think of him. The contemplative life will be examined later.
The Good cannot is not a universal Idea, as the Platonists claim, because this
universal Idea does not encompass the range of things are considered good and
had no practical ramifications.
Each actions aims at some end specific to it. Some ends are for the sake of
other things, but the highest good must be complete, an end in itself. The highest
good should also be self-sufficient. Happiness fits these criteria.
To decide what happiness is, it is necessary to determine what the function of
man is, because excellence consists in performing one's function well. Man's
function is that which sets him apart from all other beings, an action which only
human beings can perform. Thus the function of man is activity of the soul
according to reason. Acting according to reason means acting virtuously.
Therefore to good for man is activity of the soul "according to the best and most
Happiness is the first from principle from which our inquiry will advance.
Precision in its definition should be sought in accordance with the nature of the
There are three types of goods: external, those of the soul and those of the
body. Those of the soul are most important, and a person's actions fall into this
Our definition of happiness includes all the other things that people commonly
think of as the good‹virtue, prudence, wisdom, pleasure, etc. Noble actions are
inherently pleasant to a virtuous man. The good, the noble and the pleasant are
all interconnected, because they all go along with the best activities, the best of
which is happiness. Happiness also requires a minimal amount of external
The end of politics is the highest good, and consequently politics must try to
cultivate dispositions to noble actions in citizens. Strictly speaking, only human
beings with full use of reason (not animals or even small children) can be
considered happy because happiness is action in accordance with reason.
Happiness consists in a complete life lived according to virtue. It is difficult to
say whether the happiness of a person after death should depend on the
fortunes of his descendants. Another difficulty is that a noble person may suffer
external misfortunes which lessen his happiness. However, a virtuous person
will endure misfortunes much better than an ignoble one. Therefore regardless
of external circumstances no happy person will ever wretched, because to be
wretched one must do something hateful or bad.
Happiness is the principle of actions and the cause of all good things. It is thus
worthy of honor.
Because happiness is an activity of the soul according to virtue, it is necessary
to examine human virtue. Something is considered to have reason in two
senses: that which has reason in itself and that which listens to reason. These
two senses are the origin of the distinction between intellectual and ethical
Aristotle begins his study on ethics by asserting that there is some ultimate good
which is both complete and self-sufficient, and defines this good as happiness.
There must be one final end of all human actions, because a human action by
definition is one that is done on purpose and for a definite goal. Note that there
are some actions performed by human beings‹such as digestion or
respiration‹which are not human actions per se. A human action is the type of
action that separates human beings from animals, because it involves the use of
reason and intelligence. An action may be performed for a limited goal, but that
goal is a means to larger goal which is a means to another even larger goal, and
so on, until one reaches the final goal which is desired for its own sake. All
lesser goods, such as wealth, honor, fame, glory, pleasure, et cetera are not
desired for themselves but in order to attain happiness. That this supreme good
is happiness has never really been a cause of dispute, for according to Aristotle,
"we may almost say that the great majority of mankind are agreed about this;
for both the multitude and persons of refinement speak of it as Happiness, and
conceive Œthe good life' or Œdoing well' to be the same thing as being happy."
It is important to note that the Greek word "eudamonia" which is usually
translated as "happiness" has no fully accurate translation in English and is not a
state of being but an action of living well, and can also be translated as
"blessedness" or "well-being."
The debate among philosophers, however, begins when considering what
constitutes happiness. Aristotle holds that the happiness of man can be defined
by determining the function proper to man. This function cannot be one which
plants and animals also perform, because it must be particular to human beings.
Therefore, man's function must be a part of the practical life of the rational part
of man, the term practical implying purposeful conduct, which is possible only
for rational beings. It follows, then, that happiness consists in the action of the
rational part of man, the soul. The ultimate good of man should naturally flow
from performing his function well; therefore, as Aristotle theorizes, "the Good of
man [and, by extension, the definition of happiness] is the active exercise of his
soul's faculties in conformity with excellence or virtue, or if there be several
human excellences or virtues, in conformity with the best and most perfect
among them." To constitute true happiness this action must persist with
continuity throughout a lifetime.
This chapter also brings up several noteworthy features of Aristotle's thought in
general. First of all, he insists on seeking precision in an inquiry only within the
limits set by the nature of the inquiry itself. Therefore while one should expect
perfect precision in a subject like mathematics, one should not expect ethics to
be so exact, or doubt the validity of conclusions about ethics because their
precision is not at the level of mathematical precision.
Second, the idea that a person needs to be virtuous in order to understand ethics
is an important feature in Aristotle's argument. Studying ethics requires the use
of practical reason and ought to result in actions that accord with ethical
principles. If a person does not live virtuously, his reason is not disposed to
accept the logic of ethical arguments and is even less disposed to put ethical
principles into action, which is an imperative of practical reason. Practical
rationality, connected with the virtue of "phronesis," most commonly translated
as prudence, is discussed in greater depth in Chapter Six.
Finally, for those with an interest in the differences between Platonic and
Aristotelian thought, section four is particularly important. While Plato considers
the only true Good to be the universal form which exists only in the realm of
ideas, Aristotle rejects Plato's characterization. Aristotle thinks that the good is
the end of human action in general and should therefore have practical
ramifications for the way a person should act.
A final note on this chapter is to call attention to the classical conception of
virtue in general, as it is quite at odds with the modern conception. Aristotle,
along with other classical (and also medeival) philosophers saw the need to act
in accordance with virtue not as the result of external societal or cultural
constraints upon a person but rather as an integral part of the person's nature.
Acting virtuously is therefore simply acting as a human being is designed to act,
and will therefore result in that person's living well‹that is, happiness. A second
feature of the classical conception of virtue which is alluded to in the first
chapter is the idea of the unity of the virtues. All of the virtues reinforce each
other and overlap in many ways, such that growth in one virtue is to some
extent growth in all virtues and vice versa. Justice (discussed more fully in
Chapter 5) is the integration of all the virtues. Because the virtues are united,
there can never be a genuine conflict between them. Finally, virtue is
considered to be the goal of politics in Aristotle's philosophy. Aristotle's work,
The Politics, is based upon this idea and is inseparable from his entire ethical
theory. To be fully understood, The Nicomachean Ethics and The Politics must
be studied in reference to one another because each depends on and completes
Ethical virtues are acquired by habituation; they do not arise in us from birth, but
we by nature have the capacity to receive and perfect them. A good
government attempts to legislate such that it helps to habituate its citizens to act
virtuously. The way to become habituated in virtue is to perform virtuous
actions beginning from one's early youth.
Statements prescribing virtue cannot be precise because the action must be
proper to the occasion. Virtue is to be found in the mean between extremes of
vice. If a virtue truly becomes a habit, acting according to that virtue will be
pleasant. Right education should make us take pleasure in what is good and be
pained by what is bad.
Some will question how virtue can be acquired by habit because to acquire the
virtue a person will already need to act virtuously in order to become habituated
to it. Yet to act virtuously and to be virtuous are different things. Being virtuous
requires three things: 1) that a person knows what he is doing, b) that he intends
to do what is he is doing and that he intends it for its own sake, and c) that he
acts with certainty and firmness.
Virtues and vices are not feelings. They are not acquired without deliberate
choice. Neither are they powers, because we possess powers by nature.
Virtues are habits.
Virtue is what makes a thing perform its function well, so the virtue of a man is
the habit from which he becomes good. Virtue is a mean between two
extremes, and the specific mean will depend on the person. Ethical virtue is
concerned with feelings and actions. It is necessary to have the right feelings at
the right times for the right things and for the right purposes. A person can err
by going toward either excess or deficiency.
Ethical virtue "is a habit disposed toward action by deliberate choice, being at
the mean relative to us, and defined by reason as a prudent man would define
it." Some actions or feelings are simply bad, such as maliciousness, envy,
adultery, theft and murder.
Actions deal with particulars, so it necessary to consider the virtues specifically.
The mean between fear and rashness is bravery. With regard to pleasures and
pains, the mean is temperance. With regard to property the mean is
munificence or generosity. With regard to honor and dishonor, the mean is
magnanimity, the excess is vanity and the deficiency is low-mindedness. With
regard to anger, the mean is good temper, and the extremes are irascibility and
inirascibility. The mean between boastfulness and self-depreciation is truth. The
mean between buffoonery and boorishness is wit. The mean between
complaisance or flattery and quarrelsomeness is friendliness. A sense of shame
is not a virtue. Righteous indignation is a mean between envy and malicious
The person at either extreme of vice thinks that the virtuous person is at an
extreme. A rash man, for example, thinks a brave man is a coward. Of the two
vices on either extreme of virtue, one of them is more directly opposed to the
virtue, while the other is merely a deficiency or excess. For example, cowardice
is actually opposed to bravery, while rashness is an excess of bravery.
It is difficult to be virtuous. A person aiming at the mean should avoid the vice
which is more directly contrary to the mean, and also take into account the
vices to which we are more inclined. It is necessary to guard against pleasure,
because pleasure cannot be judged impartially.
Aristotle identifies ethical virtue as "a habit, disposed toward action by
deliberate choice, being at the mean relative to us, and defined by reason as a
prudent man would define it" (1107a). A crucial distinction exists between being
virtuous and acting virtuously. To qualify as virtuous, one must not merely act
virtuously, but also know he is acting virtuously, intend to do what he does for
its own sake, and act with certainty and firmness (1105b). Acting virtuously,
however, is the primary means to becoming virtuous. For, according to
Aristotle, "virtues arise in us neither by nature nor contrary to nature; but by our
nature we can receive them and perfect them by habituation" (1103a).
The necessity of forming good habits in order to become virtuous leads Aristotle
to consider law and education as crucial means of making the citizens virtuous.
While the details regarding law-making are reserved for The Politics, in
Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle provides an explanation of why good laws are
necessary to form virtuous citizens. By setting certain minimal standards of
conduct, the law provides the requisite amount of coercion essential for inducing
a man to conquer his passions and to act virtuously. As Aristotle states, "It is
difficult for one to be guided rightly towards virtue from an early age unless he
is brought up under such [i.e., right] laws; for a life of temperance and
endurance is not pleasant to most people, especially the young. For these
reasons, the nurture and pursuits of the young should be regulated by laws, for
when they become habitual they are not painful" (11079b).
Through virtuous action, one will then realize the natural pleasure concomitant
in virtue, and begin to become truly virtuous. Therefore "we should be brought
up from our early youth in such a way as to enjoy and be pained by the things
we should" (1104b). Yet laws are necessary not only for the young, but for all
people. Aristotle points out toward the end of the book that "laws would be
needed for man's entire life, for most people obey necessity rather than
argument, and penalties rather than what is noble" (1179b).
One may argue that it is not the responsibility of the city to make laws
encouraging citizens to act virtuously, but rather that moral education belongs
more properly to an individual household. Yet in Aristotle's view, "virtue must
be a care for every city," because "the city exists not only for the sake of living
but rather primarily for the sake of living well" (Politics 1280bl). In addition,
virtuous citizens are necessary for the city's stability and security. Although
Aristotle does not deny the important role of parental guidance, he asserts that
while "parental command possesses neither strength nor necessity, . . . the law
has compelling power" (1180a).
If one does not acquire the proper habits, the most eloquent attempts to
persuade and exhort him to become virtuous will simply fall on deaf ears.
Aristotle implies this idea in his choice of a virtuous audience for the
Nicomachean Ethics. The philosopher states that "he who is to listen effectively
to lectures concerning noble and just things . . . should be brought up well in
ethical habits." Without having experienced the natural pleasure of virtue, one
will simply not understand Aristotle's arguments. Law is therefore necessary
because it forces one to act virtuously, thereby making virtue's pleasantness
apparent from experience and allowing one to understand the intrinsic
choiceworthiness of virtuous action.
Yet though law is necessary, it is inherently insufficient as a means of
generating true virtuousness. After all, virtue requires that one perform noble
actions for their own sake with certainty and firmness, and be aware of the
nobility of the action. In addition, a truly virtuous person will take pleasure in
acting virtuously. Obviously, law, in the specific sense of the word, cannot go
beyond merely forcing one to act virtuously. Expanding the meaning of law to
include the education which the regime provides, however, greatly broadens its
efficacy. For once law has begun to habituate a person to acting virtuously,
education can provide a means to learn the reasons why moral actions are
choiceworthy in themselves. Law, then, prepares an audience to understand
ethical teachings by assuring that they will have experienced virtuous action,
thereby opening their minds to the persuasion of reason.
Both laws and education fall short, however, in leading people to true virtue. For
virtue "is a kind of moderation, having the mean as its aim," yet "this is neither
just one thing nor the same for everyone" (1106b). As an example, Aristotle
points out that in deciding proportions of food, the specific needs and
circumstances of the individual must be taken into account. An athlete, for
instance, obviously needs to eat more than a sedentary man does. In deciding
what is virtuous, one must likewise find a mean specific to oneself, though for
all this mean lies between the same two extremes of vice. The deficiency of
laws, then, lies in their universal nature. One simply cannot make laws which
specifically dictate the mean proper to each person; a law can only provide a
broad and general guideline. Education, though more informative than law, is
similarly inadequate. While education can provide more detailed, particularized
instruction and can also refine the student's reason to aid him in choosing the
correct mean, the individual can only find the mean through trial and error in the
experiences of his own life. The virtue which one must develop in order to
attain moral virtue and to find the correct mean in all of one's actions is
prudence, which is discussed in further detail in Chapter Six.
Since only voluntary actions can be considered virtuous, it is necessary to
examine what it means for an action to be voluntary. An involuntary action is
something done by force or through ignorance. An action done through fear or
for the sake of some noble deed is more voluntary than involuntary, although
they are mixed. For an action to be involuntary, there must be some external
principle causing the action and the person must not contribute anything to the
An action done through ignorance is not necessarily involuntary. If the person
regrets the action which he did in ignorance, it was involuntary. But if he does
not regret the action, it cannot be considered completely involuntary even if he
did it in ignorance; we will therefore call it "nonvoluntary."
A voluntary action is one in which the agent of the action knows the particulars
on which the action depends. An action performed through temper or desire is
Intention is crucial for virtuous actions and for judgment of character. Intention
is not the same as volition, because non-rational beings can act with volition but
not with intention. Intention is not a desire, a wish or an opinion. It is something
previously deliberated upon, and is formed with reason or thought. [The Greek
word which Aristotle uses for intention is "proaireton" which is compound verb
literally meaning, "to choose before."]
People don't deliberate about matters over which they have no control, but
rather about things which they themselves can do. We deliberate about things
which are possible, which have an unclear outcome and in which there is
something indeterminate. We deliberate about means, not about ends;
deliberation occurs after an end has been posited and it is necessary to
determine the means by which to achieve it. Thus not all inquiry is deliberation,
but all deliberation is a type of inquiry. The object of deliberation is the same as
that of intention, but the object of intention is the specific reason for which a
person acts. Intention is a deliberate desire of things which are in our power to
The object of a wish is, in the unqualified sense, the good, but for each person it
is the apparent good. For a virtuous man the object of the wish is the truly good,
but for a bad man it may not be. A virtuous man judges things rightly. But the
majority of people are deceived in their judgment of the good because of
pleasure‹they consider the pleasant as equivalent to the good and the painful as
equivalent to the bad.
Actions concerning the means to an end are in accordance with intention and
are voluntary; the activities of virtues are also concerned with these things.
Therefore virtue is also in our power, as is vice. It is unreasonable to think that
only good is voluntary while evil is involuntary, for that would contradict our
previous conclusion that human beings are the cause of their own actions.
Actions and habits are not voluntary in the same way, because in actions we
are in charge of what we are doing at every step of the way, but in the case of
habits we make a deliberate choice only at the beginning. Yet habits are still
voluntary because one can choose whether to act or not to act in a certain
manner from the outset.
Now we will discuss each of the virtues specifically. Bravery is the mean with
regard to fear and courage. It is noble to fear some things, such as a bad
reputation. Bravery regards the greatest of fearful things: death. But it concerns
death only on the noblest occasions, such as war, in which the dangers are both
the greatest and the noblest. A brave man is thus one who is fearless in facing
a noble death.
One may err with regard to bravery by fearing what he should not, or by
fearing something in an incorrect manner or at the wrong time. A brave man is
one who faces and fears what he should for the right reason, in the right
manner and at the right time. A brave man performs his actions for the sake of
what is noble. Those who err by excess with regard to this virtue are called
rash, but one who is exceedingly fearful is called a coward.
Thus bravery is the mean with regard to matters which inspire courage or are
fearful. Dying to avoid poverty or pain is not bravery but cowardice.
a) Political bravery is the closest thing to bravery as we have defined it. It
concerns people who face dangers to avoid legal penalties or for the sake of
honor. It resembles what we have defined as bravery because it regards a
desire of what is noble and a fear of that which is disgraceful.
b) Bravery is sometimes confused with experience and knowledge of warfare,
but an experienced soldier may still be a coward.
c) Spirit is also often confused with bravery, but brave men act for the sake of
what is noble and are helped along by their spirit. Right intention and right
purpose need to be added to spirit for it to be genuine bravery.
d) Men who show courage because they are optimistic and they think they will
win are not brave, because they do not act for the right reasons, and when the
situation does not turn out well, they end up being cowards.
e) Men who are ignorant of danger are also not brave, but only appear to be so
because they have no knowledge of the danger.
While the end of bravery is pleasant, the things that go along with it are painful
and distressing. Not every virtuous activity is pleasant, except in the attainment
of its end.
The next virtue we will discuss is temperance. Temperance is a mean with
regard to such bodily pleasures that the animals also share, which are the
pleasures of touch or taste. Some desires are common to all men, such as the
desire for nourishment or the desire for a woman's love, although the particular
type of food or the particular type of woman which a man desires varies
according to the individual. Few natural desires are in error, and they err only
the direction of excess. A man is intemperate when is he more pained than he
should by the absence of pleasurable things.
The intemperate man desires pleasurable things and chooses them because they
are pleasurable; he is pained when he fails to get what he desires. A temperate
man is moderately disposed with regard to pleasures and pains. He loves such
pleasures as right reason dictates.
Intemperance seems to be more involuntary than cowardice, because it regards
choosing pleasure; intemperance is therefore more subject to reproach. The
desiring part of the soul should not go contrary to right reason, just as a child
should live according to the direction of his tutor. The desiring part of the soul
should thus be in harmony with reason.
The premise of moral virtue is that human beings appear to be the cause of
their own actions. It is in this light that we need to look at Aristotle's lengthy
discussion of volition and intention. For if human beings act only as a response
to external stimuli or even to internal stimuli such as desires, then there can be
no such thing as virtue, nor can there be any such thing as culpability. If a
person cannot truly cause his own actions intentionally and with volition, then it
would make no more sense to reprimand a man for committing murder than to
reprimand a bolder for falling from a cliff and crushing someone when it lands.
Because it is possible to act voluntarily, moral virtue exists and is attainable.
Aristotle's emphasis on volition is also significant in contrast to Plato. For Plato,
vice is the result of ignorance, and no one ever actually intends to do evil but
only does so because he lacks knowledge of what is truly good. Aristotle,
however, believes that evil can be done by intention, not only by ignorance. If
everyone had full knowledge of the good, Plato thinks that everyone would act
according to virtue. Yet knowledge is not a matter of volition or intention, and
having knowledge of the good is not a matter of virtue, but rather a matter of
intelligence and proper education. By positing that acting according to virtue
concerns volition and intention rather than just knowledge, Aristotle makes
moral virtue possible.
The first two virtues which Aristotle examines‹bravery and
temperance‹concern the desiring or spirited part of the soul, for they deal with
the natural aversion to pain and desire for pleasure. In both cases, the virtue lies
in directing those natural fears and desires according to right reason. Thus one
needs to show courage in the face of mortal danger in order for the sake of a
noble end, such as defense of the city in battle. Likewise, one must moderate
one's desires for food or sensual pleasure so that they remain in accordance
with right reason, being used for their proper purposes. Animals also have these
desires, but their desires are kept in order by instinct. Human beings, on the
other hand, have the ability to reason and are thus supposed to moderate their
desires in accordance with reason. For example, the purpose of the desire for
food is proper nourishment and bodily health. This desire goes outside the
bounds of right reason when a person is gluttonous, eating excessively and
possibly damaging the person's health. Aristotle likens the desiring part of the
soul to a child who needs to be guided and directed by a tutor or some other
adult. Thus just as a child needs to be subject to his parents for his own good,
the desiring part of the soul needs to be subject to reason for the good of the
The next virtue we will discuss is generosity, which is a mean with regard to
property. Wastefulness is an excess while stinginess is a deficiency. It is proper
to the generous man to give to whom he should.
A generous man will give to the right person, the right amounts and at the right
times. And he will do this with pleasure or at least without pain. A generous
man will also take from the right sources, not asking for things from others but
taking them from his own possessions. He will also take proper care of his
possessions. Generosity does not depend on the quantity of the giving but on the
habit of the giver, which takes into account the amount which the giver himself
has and is able to give away.
The wasteful man errs in that he exceeds in giving but is deficient not taking,
and stingy man is deficient in giving but exceeds in taking. Wastefulness is less
of a vice than stinginess, because it is more likely to be cured naturally by age
and by lack of resources. A wasteful man is not evil, but simply foolish.
The next virtue to be discussed is munificence, which is giving in large amounts
for suitable occasions. The deficiency of this virtue is called meanness and the
excess is ostentation. A munificent man spends gladly and lavishly, not
calculating costs, but always for a noble purpose.
It would be foolish for a poor man to try to be munificent, because he doesn't
have the necessary means and it would not be suitable for him.
A man who is in excess in this regard consumes conspicuously to show off his
wealth and gain admiration, not for noble purposes.
Magnanimity, or high-mindedness, is also concerned with great things. A
magnanimous man claims and deserves great honors. Someone who deserves
honors but doesn't claim them is low-minded, and someone who claims honors
but doesn't deserve them is vain. It is better to be vain than low-minded,
because vanity will be naturally corrected by life experience. A magnanimous
man is great in each of the virtues, and is a sort of ornament of virtues because
he shows how good a virtuous life is. A magnanimous man is concerned with
honors, but not overly so. He is pleased with honors bestowed on him by
virtuous men, but realizes that no honor equals the worth of his virtue.
Good luck is thought to contribute to high-mindedness, but only a good man
should be truly honored. A high-minded man does not expose himself to danger
unnecessarily but faces danger for a great cause and in such a case is not
sparing of even his life. A magnanimous man does not receive services from
others or ask for help, but is always ready to help others. A high-minded man
will speak what he thinks because he cares for truth more than reputation. He
will not be inclined to admiration, bear grudges, or indulge in personal
conversation and will not speak evil even of his enemies except when he is
The man who is deficient with regard to this virtue is low-minded and the one
who exceeds is vain.
The next virtue concerns honor, specifically small and medium honors. It is a
mean between too much and too little ambition which can be described as right
The virtue that is a mean with respect to anger is good temper. The excesses
are irascibility or bitterness. If one is irascible he gets angry quickly and
retaliates but then forgets about it. Someone who is bitter holds anger for a long
time. A good tempered man is one who becomes angry on the right occasions,
with the right people, at the right time and for the right length of time. A
deficiency of anger is blameworthy because it is akin to slavishness, but
excesses of anger are more common than deficiencies.
The next virtue can be described as friendliness [although Aristotle does not
give it an official name]. There are two extreme types of people: those who are
quarrelsome and those who are obsequious and flattering. A friendly person is
amiable not only to his friends and without regard to whether he likes or dislikes
a person. He won't join in dishonorable pleasures and disapproves of pleasures
that give harm to the agent.
The mean between boastfulness and self-depreciation is also an unnamed virtue
but may best be described as truthfulness. Truthfulness with regard to keeping
business agreements and the like does not fall under the scope of this virtue, but
under justice. Boastfulness is a worse vice than self-depreciation.
The mean with regard to humor and amusement is wit. This virtue entails
saying the right things in the right manner and also listening to things properly.
The man who achieves proper moderation in this regard is also called tactful.
The witty and tactful man amuses others in his conversation not through
mockery of others or innuendo, but through intelligence.
Shame is not a virtue, because it is a feeling, not a disposition, and also because
a good man should have nothing to be ashamed of. A man who does a
disgraceful thing and is ashamed because of it cannot be considered good,
because a good man would not do a disgraceful thing.
In this chapter Aristotle catalogues and describes the remaining virtues, except
for justice, which he leaves for a separate discussion because of its special
character. There is no particular order or system to Aristotle's discussion of the
virtues, except with respect to the two "peak" virtues, magnanimity and justice.
The magnanimous man is one who possesses all the virtues that were discusses
previous to it‹bravery, temperance, generosity and magnificence. Because of
his virtues, this man claims and deserves great honors. While he is not vain
about his virtue, he is conscious of it and acts accordingly.
In the discussion of each of the virtues, it is clear that Aristotle is not at all
attempting to write a code of moral absolutes, but rather to describe what it
would mean for a person to excel in virtue. Aristotle was not a proponent of
rule-based, deontological ethics like Kant. His ethical system can best be
described as "casuistry," a sort of situational ethics in which the specific right
thing to do depends on a variety of circumstances. This casuistry is teleological,
in that, as was discussed at the beginning of The Ethics, virtue for human beings
is acting in such a way as to fulfill the telos‹end or purpose‹of human life. The
virtues which Aristotle enumerates are guiding principles for which one should
aim when determining one's conduct. Virtue is not a matter of following rules
but is a habit of acting according to right reason. Thus we find in the description
of each virtue that is important not only to do a certain thing or act in a certain
way, but do so at the right time, in the right manner, with the right people, with
the right intentions and even with the right feelings. For a virtuous man will not
take pleasure in vice but will find virtuous actions pleasant. The ability to decide
in each specific situation how one should actually act is an intellectual virtue,
called prudence, which will be discussed in chapter 7.
It is interesting to note that in order to be magnanimous, which is one of the
peaks of virtue, it is necessary for a person to be wealthy. While the virtues are
supposed to be both good in themselves and a means to a full and blessed life,
they are accessible only to an elite few. For Aristotle, this elitism is not at all
problematic. A belief in the equal dignity of all human beings was an outgrowth
of Christian philosophy; inequality was taken for granted by the Ancient Greeks
and was considered to be part of the natural order. Christian morality is also
significantly different from Aristotle's ethics in that humility is considered to be
a key virtue in the former while it is a vice in the latter. Nietzsche, noticing
precisely these differences between Christian morality and Aristotelian ethics,
claimed that society's acceptance of Christian ideals came about as a result of a
"slave revolt" of morality in which the Jewish people managed to turn poverty,
humility and meekness into virtues in order to exalt their own low place society
(The Genealogy of Morals). The elitism which Nietzsche saw as a strength in
Aristotelian morality was not, however, viewed so positively by Aristotle
himself. For in the end of the Ethics when Aristotle discusses the highest
life‹the contemplative life‹he bemoans the fact that this peak of human
fulfillment is largely unattainable and perhaps even impossible. More will be said
on this subject in the analysis of Chapter 10.
The commonly accepted opinion with respect to justice is that it is a disposition
to be just, to do what is just, and to wish what is just. A disposition is often only
understood by looking at its opposite, and so the discussion of justice will include
an examination of injustice as well.
The unjust man is considered to be both someone who breaks laws and also
someone who is grasping and unfair; the just man will therefore be a
law-abiding and fair man. The unjust man is grasping in the sense that he seeks
goods which are not goods in themselves, and often sacrifices higher goods for
the sake of lesser goods.
All lawful things are in some sense just. Laws deal with matters that are
commonly expedient with respect to virtue or honor; in this sense that which
preserves happiness in a political community is called Œjust.' The law orders us
to perform the actions of a virtuous man through certain commands and
Thus justice according to the law is complete virtue but not in the unqualified
sense. For this reason justice is often thought to be the best of the virtues, since
the end of justice is that of complete virtue. The just man acts for what is
expedient for someone else. The worst man is one whose evil habits affect both
himself and his friends, while the best man is one whose virtue is directed to
others rather than himself. This kind of justice is the whole of virtue, and its
contrary is the whole of vice.
The difference between this kind of justice and virtue is that justice is defined in
relation to something, but virtue in itself is without qualification.
Let us now look at justice as a part of virtue. To be unjust in the specific sense
is to act avariciously or to make undeserved gain (not out of intemperence or
anger or any other vice but out of some sort of wickedness. Both justice in the
specific sense and justice as the whole of virtue are defined in relation to other
people, but justice in the specific sense is concerned with honor, property,
safety and similar things, while justice in the larger sense is concerned with
virtue as a whole.
The just can be distinguished into the lawful and the fair. Now, most lawful
things are done by the whole of virtue, since the law orders us to live in
accordance with each virtue and prohibits us from living according to vice.
Lawful things which produce the whole of virtue are concerned with education
for the common good. It is by virtue of education that a man becomes good
without qualification. But we have to determine later whether education belongs
to politics or to another inquiry, since a good man may not always be the same
as a good citizen.
One kind of justice in the narrow sense concerns itself with the distribution of
honor and property, another kind regards paying debts and giving just restitution
for harms inflicted.
Justice (in the narrow sense) is a mean between two extremes of unfairness.
What is just in distribution should be in some way according to merit, but not all
agree what that merit should be. Advocates of mob rule say that this merit is
freedom, oligarchs say that it is wealth, others say that it is good ancestry and
aristocrats say that is virtue. What is just is to distribute things in proportion to
That which is unjust (in the narrow sense) defies the proper proportion, since
the person who acts unjustly gets a greater proportion of the good, while the
person who is treated unjustly gets a smaller proportion.
The last of kind of justice to be discussed is corrective justice. In exchanges,
the just is what is fair. It is a simply arithmetical proportion, since the both
parties are treated as equals before the law in exchanges of goods, regardless
of their merit. The judge restores equality to unequals. The just is a mean
between a gain and a loss in exchanges which violate what is voluntary, and it is
the possession of equal amounts before and after the exchange.
Some say that what is just without qualification is reciprocity. However, this
definition is not correct with regard to either distributive or corrective justice.
With regard to corrective justice, it is necessary to take into account whether it
was voluntary or involuntary, and also who is doing harm to whom. Further, in
associations that which is just is not based on arithmetical equality but on
Things that are exchanged need to be somehow comparable. This is why coins
were invented. All good which are exchanged should be measured by some sort
of standard coin, which represents a measure of human needs. The name coin
("nomisma) comes from the word for law, regulation or convention ("nomos"),
since the value of a coin is by regulation. Mutual need is the basis for
exchanges of goods. The value of money is also subject to a fluctuation in need.
Justice is a disposition to do what is just and to distribute good equitably, in
accordance with an equitable proportion.
A man may act unjustly without being unjust; for example a man who commits
adultery because of passion acts unjustly but is not unjust, but rather
Justice politically exists among men who are free and equal and share their life
for the sake of self-sufficiency. Since a ruler tends to take more than his due or
to become a tyrant, we prefer to have rule according to a written document.
The ruler by law is a guardian of what is just and a preserver of what is fair.
Rulers who act in this way are just and should be given some honor or privilege;
those who are unsatisfied with such rewards become tyrants.
What is unjust for a master or father is different, since there is no unqualified
injustice towards that which belongs to oneself. A child is like a part of oneself,
and no one intends to harm himself. Thus justice in a household is distinct from
Political justice may be natural or legal. If it has the same power everywhere
and is not subject to opinion, is natural. But if it is something like a prisoner's
ransom which could take many forms, it is legal.
Some think that the only justice which exists is legal justice, because they
observe that the things which are just seem to be subject to change. Among the
gods at least, the just is not subject to change at all. But even among us there is
something which is just by nature, even if all of what is just is subject to change.
To say that something exists by nature means that it is the same all or most of
the time. It is natural for a human being to have five fingers, because except for
rare exceptions all human beings have five fingers. The things which are just be
convention are like standard measures which can vary from place to place,
depending on the type of government. There is, however, only one form of
government which is the best by nature.
A man acts justly or unjustly when he does just or unjust things voluntarily, but
when he does them by accident he is not really acting justly or unjustly. A man
is only blamed for an unjust thing when it is done voluntarily. What is done
through ignorance, compulsion, or accident is not voluntary.
Voluntary actions can be intentional or unintentional, the difference being
whether or not we have deliberated about them. A harm done contrary to
calculation because of external source is a mishap; if the harm is unintended but
is because of miscalculation, it is an error. If the person is acting knowingly but
without previous deliberation, it is an unjust effect. But when a man does harm
by intention, he is unjust and evil. Some acts done unintentionally are not
pardonable, such as when they are done out of passion.
Is it possible for a man to voluntarily treat himself unjustly? It would seem that
the incontinent man voluntarily harms himself. Yet even so, no one wishes to be
treated unustly. In the case of the incontinent man, he actually acts against his
own wish, for no one wishes what he considers not to be good.
In case of unjust distribution, it is the distributor and not the recipient who acts
unjustly. For justice or injustice resides in the voluntarily performs the action.
Because it is easy to act unjustly, many think that to be just is also easy, and
that wisdom is not necessary in order to know what is just. Yet they are
mistaken. For to know how to be just is a greater task than to know what
produces health. To be just or unjust is not simply to act justly or unjustly, but to
have just or unjust dispositions.
Equity and the equitable are related to justice but are not the same. The
equitable is just, but better than a certain kind of justice (that is, the kind of
justice which is according to laws written universally which do not apply
perfectly to all specific cases). While all laws are stated universally, in some
cases such a universal statement is not correct. The law thus states most is
mostly right, and in cases where the statement does not apply correctly it is just
for the legislator or the judge to correct for the deficiency of the law, as long as
what is done is in accordance with the intention of the lawmaker, even if it
conflicts with the exact statement. The reason why some things do not come
under the law is that it is impossible to lay down a law for certain things, and in
these cases particular decrees may be necessary.
A man cannot act unjustly towards himself, as was previously discussed. When
a man commits suicide, he acts unjustly and breaks the law, but he does not
really act unjustly toward himself, but toward the state.
Acting unjustly is worse than being treated unjustly. By similarity, justice may
present between parts of a man or members of the same household. For the
rational part of the soul is distinguished from the nonrational part, and it is by
looking at the person in this way that some think a man may be unjust to
This chapter on justice brings together many of the key elements in The Ethics
and also has profound implications for Aristotle's political theory. First, the
discussion of justice as the whole of virtue implies the unity of the virtues. That
is, a person cannot really have one virtue in its entirety without having all of the
virtues in their entirety. Further, since the virtues are so united and
interconnected, there can be no conflict between them. In certain situations it
may seem that the action required by a certain virtue conflicts with the action
required by another virtue, yet they are only superficially in conflict, since the
virtues are ordered with relation to justice, which encompasses them all.
Another key aspect of this chapter is the distinction between natural justice and
legal justice. Natural justice is the same in all times and places. It is, in a sense,
comprised by the laws that order the universe and that order beings toward
their ends. For human beings, that which is naturally just is that which is in
accordance with right reason, that which will lead a person to his natural end of
happiness. This was discussed previously in Chapter 1. Aristotle does admit that
from observation it may difficult to see the existence of this natural justice. The
reason is that governments vary and no perfect regime exists; thus there seem
to be different definitions of justice implied by the laws of each regime. Legal
justice is that which is just according to law; it ought to be in accordance with
natural justice. These distinctions in types of justice are similar to the
distinctions made in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas states that the
positive law‹that is, the law as written by the state‹must be in accordance with
the natural law, which is universal and unchanging. Further, like Aristotle,
Aquinas points out that the laws of the state cover only those parts of the
natural law which refer to the common good. Natural justice also protects
human freedom and makes a person capable of acting well when the rules don't
In theory, then, there exists a universal standard of natural justice which is
unchangeable, but in practice there must always be a mix of natural justice and
legal justice in the laws of the city. Therefore while the principles of natural
justice don't change, natural justice in action varies because in applying natural
justice conventional justice needs to be added.
The discussion about whether or not it is possible for a man to act unjustly to
himself is highly revealing. Aristotle believes that it is impossible for a man to
act unjustly to himself because no one voluntary wishes for anything that is not
good. Implied in this belief is the idea that the human will is naturally directed
toward the good, and that human beings do not voluntary and knowingly choose
something that is an absolute evil, but rather that they choose a lesser good over
a greater good. Thus the incontinent man who harms himself by allowing his
passions to have free reign is not seeking anything evil, but is seeking goods in a
disordered way. Yet the incontinent man does not really wish to do harm to
himself; it is simply that in following his passions he is acting contrary to his own
wishes by allowing the nonrational part of the soul to rule rather than the
rational part which is supposed to direct his actions in accordance with right
Underlying the commentary about laws in this chapter is the idea‹prominent in
The Politics‹that laws have an important role in forming virtuous citizens. For
this reason, The Ethics and The Politics cannot be properly understood in
isolation from one another. Without knowledge of the virtues, and particularly of
justice, it is impossible to know what a good regime is, since the end of politics
is to live virtuously. Yet politics is important for ethics because it is only within
the polis that a person learns how to live virtuously and can attain full virtue and
In order to do what is virtuous one must act in accordance with right reason. It
is therefore necessary to specify what right reason is.
It was previously stated that some virtues are ethical and others intellectual.
Now that we have discussed the ethical virtues, we will move on to the
intellectual virtues. There are two parts of the soul, one rational and one
nonrational. We can further subdivide the rational part into that by which we
perceive unchanging principles and that by which we investigate things that
vary. The first of these we call the Œscientific' part and the other the
Œestimative' or Œdeliberative' part, because we don't deliberate about
Three parts of the soul have authority over action: sense, intellect (or intuition)
and desire. Sense is not a principle of action. For the intention to be right in an
action reason needs to be correct and the desire has to be in accordance with
right reason. In addition it is necessary to form an ethical habit in order to
acquire the actual virtue. Intention is either "desiring intellect" or "thinking
desire," and this is the principle of man, since man is defined mainly by his
intellect. Both rational parts of the soul are ordered to truth.
There are five things by which the soul may possess truth: art, knowledge
(scientific), prudence, wisdom and intuition. Something which is an object of
knowledge exists of necessity and is therefore eternal. First principles are
acquired by induction.
Art is concerned with bringing something into existence. To think by art is to
investigate how to generate something which may or may not exist. Art is
concerned with production, not with action.
Those whom we call prudent deliberate well about what is good and
advantageous to themselves and about life as a whole. One doesn't deliberate
about things which are unchanging or which are not in one's power to do.
Therefore prudence can't be scientific knowledge or an art. Prudence is a
disposition with true reason and ability for actions concerning human goods. The
word for temperance is derived from the word for prudence (in Greek).
Prudence is the virtue of that part of the soul which can form opinions.
Scientific knowledge is universal and necessary and what is scientifically known
is demonstrable, while art and prudence are changing.
Wisdom is the most accurate of all the sciences. The wise man must know both
what follows from the principles but also possess truth about the principles.
What is wise is always the same while what is prudent is changing; thus
wisdom is superior to prudence in dignity.
Prudence is concerned with the human good; it is not limited to what is
universal but must also know the particulars, for it is practical. For prudence,
particulars are more important than universals because prudence is related to
action. Prudence is generally concerned with individual matters, but other types
are financial management, legislative prudence and political prudence.
Prudence takes time to acquire because it is learned from experience.
Prudence is opposed to intuition, for intuition regards definitions for which one
Deliberation is a type of inquiry. Good deliberation is rightness of thinking. Good
deliberation means not only that instrumental reasoning of figuring out the
means to attain a certain end, but it must also have a good end in view and been
done in the proper way and at the proper time.
Intelligence is concerned with the same kind of object as prudence, but is not
the same. Prudence gives orders with regard to what should or should not be
done, but intelligence judges. Good judgment is the right judgment of an
All these faculties are concerned with the same things as prudence. By nature
man has judgment, intelligence and intuition.
Wisdom and prudence are worthy of choice for their own sake, because they
are each a virtue of the corresponding part of the soul. As a part of the whole
of virtue, wisdom produces happiness by its exercise. A man's work is
completed both prudence and ethical virtue. For virtue makes the end right
while prudence makes the means right. To be good a man must act by intention
and for the sake of the things done.
Cleverness or shrewdness enables us to act successfully upon the means
leading to an end. It presupposes and end the nobility of the end determines the
goodness of it. For a man who is not good, the correct end may not be apparent
because bad habit may corrupt him. A man cannot be prudent if he is not good.
However, without prudence there is no virtue. When prudence exists in the
complete sense, all the other virtues are present.
Some people are naturally virtuous and desire good ends. The greatest natural
virtue is wisdom.
The virtue which one must develop in order to attain moral virtue and to find the
correct mean in all of one's actions is prudence. Prudence is the ability to
deliberate well regarding human actions. Concerned with particulars of action,
prudence is absolutely necessary in order to find the mean, or in Aristotle's
words, "to know what is good for oneself" (1142a). The philosopher even goes
so far as to say that "without prudence virtues cannot exist," but that where
there is prudence, "all the others are present" (1144b). Prudence and ethical
virtue are in fact inseparable, much like two sides of the same coin, "for while
virtue makes the end in view right, prudence makes the means towards it right"
To acquire ethical virtue, several conditions are necessary: (1) the good must be
known, (2) one must deliberate properly to seek the means for it through
reason, (3) one must intend to do the good for its own sake, (4) one must desire
to do what is good, and (5) virtuous action must be repeated to produce a habit.
It seems, however, that by connecting prudence and ethical virtue so closely,
Aristotle has created a closed circle which precludes one from becoming
virtuous. Prudence concerns means, not ends. The correct end is presupposed.
But the ends themselves seem to require prudence. In stating that "a man
cannot be good in the main sense without prudence, nor can he be prudent
without ethical virtue," Aristotle seems to present a "chicken and egg" paradox:
one cannot become prudent without the experiences of virtuous action, yet one
cannot be virtuous without prudence. Perhaps the answer to this paradox is that
virtuous habits can be acquired little by little through proper education and
obedience to just laws. Those habits give rise to a certain amount of prudence
which then allows the person to be more virtuous and so on. Thus the
relationship between ethical virtue and prudence can best be characterized as
an inward spiral which little by little reaches the center, which is a virtuous life.
Wisdom is connected to prudence as health is to medicine. Wisdom is the
superior of the two, and prudence is a means to wisdom as medicine is a means
to health. The prudent man considers how wisdom is acquired and prescribes
his actions in order to acquire it.
The things which should be avoided with regard to character are vice,
incontinence and brutality. To be brutal is rare, since it means to exceed so
much in vice that one is hardly even human.
The incontinent man is disposed to do what he knows is bad because of his
passions. The continent man knows that his desires are bad but does not follow
them because of reason.
Socrates thought that incontinence as it is defined here is impossible, because
he thought that if one knew how to act rightly one would necessarily do so. Yet
this view is contrary to experience. An incontinent man is worse than one who
acts badly deliberately because the latter may at least be persuaded to change
his mind, while the incontinent man already knows what is good but is simply
not doing it because he is ruled by his passions.
The incontinent man is disposed toward the objects toward which an
intemperate man is disposed. The difference between the incontinent man and
the temperate man is that the intemperate man deliberately chooses to pursue
all pleasures, while the incontinent man thinks he should not seek after pleasure
but does so anyway.
Those under the influence of their passions are somewhat like those who are
mad or drunk, for they do not act according to the knowledge that they have.
Incontinent men are like this. In an incontinent man the desire, not the
knowledge of what is right, is contrary to right reason.
Is anyone incontinent without qualification or are people incontinent with
respect to specific things? Those who are incontinent by excessively seeking
victory, wealth, honor, or other such things are only incontinent with respect to
those things. But those who are incontinent with respect to bodily enjoyments
are incontinent in the unqualified sense. Incontinence in an unqualified way is
that which parallels human intemperance.
Incontinence with regard to desire is worse than incontinence with regard to
temper, since desire does not follow reason while temper does.
Some dispositions are human and natural, others are brutal, and others are
caused by injury or disease. Temperance and intemperance are concerned only
with the first of these.
The man who pursues the excesses of pleasurable things through intention is
intemperate. Such a man is not disposed to regret and is incurable. The
intemperate man is worse than the incontinent, since incontinence is a kind of
softness while intemperance is deliberately disgraceful.
The incontinent man is disposed to regret, and as such the incontinent man is
curable. Incontinence is not really a vice since it is contrary to one's deliberate
choice while vice is in accordance with one's deliberate choice. Incontinent men
are not unjust but they do unjust things.
Those who are obstinate are hard to persuade. They are somewhat similar to
the incontinent man, except that the reason the incontinent man will not change
is his passion, while the reason the obstinate man will not change his reasoning.
Those who are obstinate may be opinionated, ignorant or boorish. Only those
who do things for the sake of disgraceful pleasures are intemperate or
incontinent, not those who do things for the sake of noble pleasures.
The difference between a continent man and a temperate man is that a
continent man has bad desires. A temperate man is not pleased by acting
contrary to reason while a continent man would be. A man cannot be prudent
and incontinent at the same time, because a prudent man not only knows what
the good is but acts accordingly.
The study of pleasure and pain belongs to the political philosopher, for the
political philosopher directs the end of man. Some think that no pleasure is good,
others think that most pleasures are bad, and others think that even if all
pleasures are good the highest good cannot be pleasure.
It is incorrect correct to say that no pleasures are good, since there are some
pleasures which are good. The temperate man avoids excessive bodily
pleasures but pursues pleasures in moderation.
It is generally agreed that pain is bad, and so pleasure must be some sort of a
good. The highest good must involve a certain pleasure. A good man who
suffers great misfortunes cannot be completely happy. Even bodily pleasures
are not bad, but it is bad to pursue them in excess.
People pursue bodily pleasures to drive out pains. As long as these pleasures
are harmless they are not subject to censure. Because our nature is not simple
[that is, human beings are a composite of many metaphysical and physical
parts] the same thing is not always pleasurable, or may be pleasurable to a
certain part of us but not to another part. For a simple being, like God, the same
action would always be the most pleasant.
In this chapter Aristotle has added some complications to the simple distinction
between virtue and vice. Virtue and vice require that a person act deliberately,
yet there are many instances when people do not really act deliberately because
they act according to passion rather than according to reason. Virtue requires
that a person not only do the right thing but also that he act for the right reason
and that his desire should also be correct. Incontinence is knowing the better
and not acting according but rather succumbing to one's passions. Thus it is not
vice because the person does not do what is wrong deliberately. With
incontinence, a person has both the wrong desire and the wrong action even
though he has the right reason. A continent person acts according to virtue and
does so for the right reason but his desires are bad. Therefore he is not as good
as the temperate person. If one were to rank them from best to worst,
temperance would be the best, then continence, then incontinence, and finally
intemperance. Intemperance is the worst because the person has both bad
desires and bad reasoning. The reason for this lengthy discussion distinguishing
continence and incontinence from virtue and vice is that most people are
somewhere between virtue and vice, and these extra categories are necessary
in order to make sure that all human actions are included in the discussion, since
they are all a part of ethics.
Aristotle is far from a hedonist, but he also does not consider pleasure to be a
bad thing. In fact, Aristotle thinks that one of the necessary conditions for a
person to be virtuous is that he take pleasure in acting virtuously. A virtuous
person' s desires should be in line with right reason so that virtuous action is
pleasant. Further, since acting in accordance with right reason‹that is,
virtuously‹is supposed to lead to happiness, it is fitting that that acting virtuously
should also be pleasant at least in some sense, even if not in the physical sense.
Pleasure is not in itself the highest good or even an end in itself, but it
accompanies the highest good as well as most lesser goods.
Friendship is a virtue or at least involves virtue. It is necessary to life, since no
one would choose to live without friends even if he had all other material goods.
Friends are a refuge in times of poverty and misfortune, they help to guard the
young from error, they help the old in their weakness, and help those in the
prime of life to perform noble actions. Parents have a natural friendship with
their children, and to a certain degree those of the same race do as well.
Friendship unites the state. When men are friends, there is no need of justice,
but when even if men are just, friendship is still necessary. Friendship is not just
necessary, but also noble.
Can friendship be formed between any two people? Can evil men be friends? Is
there only one kind of friendship? In order to answer these questions, it is
necessary to see what makes something likeable. The three possibilities are
goodness, pleasure and usefulness. To be friends, two people need to be
well-disposed toward one another and wish each other's good, and they must
know that this is the case.
There are three reasons for friendship, just as there are three reasons for liking
something: usefulness, pleasure, or goodness. In friendship based on usefulness
or pleasure, the person is not liked in himself but because of the good or
pleasure he can provide. Such friendships are easily dissolved.
Perfect friendship exists between good men who are alike in their virtuousness.
Wishing a friend good for his own sake is the highest degree of friendship.
These friendships tend to be longlasting because virtue is something stable.
Because both friends are good their friendship is both beneficial and pleasant as
well, and thus they unite all the three reasons for friendship. Such friendships
are rare because few people have the capability for this sort of friendship and
they require time and familiarity to form.
Friendships based on pleasure can vary in their duration. With regard to lovers,
the friendship often fades away after the prime of youth is gone since the sight
of the beloved no longer brings pleasure. Yet if the lovers are alike in character
the friendship may last much longer. Love-affairs based in what is useful are
even less-enduring than those based on pleasure. Only the friendship of good
men is not harmed by slander. True friendship is that between good men just
because they are good; all other friendships are only called friendship by
Bad men are friends either for the sake of pleasure or usefulness, while good
men are friends for the sake of each other, and they are friends without
qualification. Distance does not break a friendship but impedes its exercise. For
real friendship, however, living near each is important.
Friendship in the highest degree is that between good men. Friendship is not a
feeling, but a disposition, because it requires intention. Young men become
friends much more quickly and easily than older men, although the latter may
still be well-disposed toward others. It is impossible to have a perfect friendship
with many people, because such a friendship takes a long time to build and
requires a lot of time to maintain. But one may have many friends on the basis
of usefulness or pleasure. Friendship based on pleasure is higher than that
based on usefulness.
Another kind of friendship is that in which one of the parties is superior, such as
the friendship between a parent and a child. In these relationships the two
friends give and receive different things and also have different types of
affection toward each other.
Equality according to justice and equality according to friendship are different.
In justice equality is primarily according to merit, but in friendship it is primarily
according to quantity‹that is, the more unequal two people with regard to
wealth, virtue, status, etc., the more unlikely it will be for a friendship to
develop. Because most people wish to be liked more than to like, most people
like flatterers, who are friends in an inferior position. Being liked by someone is
akin to being honored by him. People like to be honored by good men in order to
assure their own good opinion of themselves. However, people enjoy being liked
not for the sake of something else but for its own sake. Friendship also seems
to be chosen for its own sake, but it seems to depend more on liking than on
being liked, as in the case of a mother's love for a child in spite of the child's
Friendship depends more on loving than on being loved. Thus loving is the virtue
of a friend. It is those who have this disposition to love according to merit who
are enduring friends. This disposition is also that which allows unequals to be
friends, for through this disposition they can be equalized. Good men neither err
nor allow their friends to err. Wicked men tend to have short friendships based
on enjoying each other's evil habits. Friendships based on usefulness or pleasure
last only as long as the relationship is useful or pleasant. Friendships based on
useful usually arise between those of contrary needs.
Both friendship and justice seem to be concerned with the same things and the
same people, and every association involves a mix of justice and friendship. The
degree of injustice of a harm done to another depends on the degree of
friendship that exists between the two people. Political associations are formed
for the sake of the expedient, and all other associations are a subdivision of this.
The kinds of friendship that exists among those in the association corresponds
to the type of association.
There are three forms of government and their corresponding deviations. The
three good forms of government in order from best to least good are kingship,
aristocracy and timocracy (or democracy), and the three deviations are,
respectively, tyranny, oligarchy and mob rule. Of the three deviations, tyranny is
the worst, and mob rule is the least evil. Kingship is somewhat like a father's
rule of a family. Tyranny is like the rule of master over his slaves. In
aristocracy people rule based on merit, in timocracy they rule based on honor,
and in oligarchy they rule based on wealth.
Friendship in each form of government exists to the extent that justice exists. A
king is a friend to his subjects because he wishes to make them good. In
aristocracy the friendship is by virtue of a relationship of superiority based on
merit, and in timocracy there is friendship based on equality. There is little
friendship in the deviant forms of government. Of the three corrupt forms of
government, friendship is mostly likely to arise under mob rule.
Parents love their children as they love themselves, and children love their
parents because their being comes from them. Siblings love each because they
were born of the same parents. The friendship of siblings and kinsmen is like
that of comrades. Friendship between parents and children involves much more
pleasure and usefulness than other friendships because of their life in common.
Friendship between a husband and wife exists by nature for men and women
tend to form couples by nature for the sake of reproduction and for supplying
each other's needs. Children tend to keep a marriage together, because they are
a good common to both spouses.
Those who are friends by virtue of equality should be equally disposed in their
love for one another and those whose friendship is by virtue of superiority
should love each other in different ways according to their position. Quarrels
occur most of all in friendships based on usefulness because each is only using
the other for his own benefit, but in friendships based on virtue quarrels are rare
because the friends are eager to treat each other well. Friendships based on
usefulness can be ethical or legal. Legal friendships are formed based on
specified forms of exchange, while ethical ones do not have specified terms by
reciprocity in giving is expected. A person should not receive a service in this
kind of friendship unless he is able to repay it. In friendships based on virtue
quarrels over who receives more do not arise because intention is the measure.
In friendships based on superiority quarrels often arise because the person who
is superior thinks he should receive more by virtue of his superiority and the one
who is inferior thinks he should receive more because of his greater need. The
claim of each person is correct, and it is possible to fulfill both claims because
the superior should receive more honor and the needy should receive more
material gain. Thus in associations of unequals the party who is benefitted
should repay the superior party with honor, because it is impossible to give an
equal amount in return. This is especially true in the cases of honors paid to
parents or to the gods.
This chapter is the first of two chapters on the nature and purpose of friendship.
An in-depth analysis of Aristotle's view of friendship will consequently be
provided at the end of the next chapter. For now, the analysis will cover the
points in this chapter which are not directly connected with those discussed in
the next chapter.
Aristotle classifies friendships into three different types according to the basis
of the relationship. The first is friendship based on usefulness. In speaking of
this sort of friendship, Aristotle seems to have in mind primarily a sort of
business or commercial relationship. It is the lowest of the three types of
friendship and is the least enduring. The friendship ends as soon as one of the
two parties is no longer useful to the other or no longer has anything useful to
offer. The second type of friendship is that based on pleasure. This friendship
can have varying degrees of nobility and stability depending on the type of
pleasure sought and the character of the friends. Still, the aim of the relationship
is primarily selfish, and the relationship ends as soon as it stops producing
pleasure for one of the friends. It is possible for wicked men to have these first
two types of friendship. The only genuine, friendship, however, is the friendship
of good men, which is based on virtue. In this type of friendship, the each friend
wishes the genuine good for the other helps the other in the attainment of that
good. This type of friendship is stable and is not easily broken, since the basis of
the friendship‹a shared desire for what is genuinely good‹is a perfectly stable
The relationship between friendship and justice is quite intriguing. For even
though justice is, in the broad sense, the fullness and unity of all the virtues,
friendship goes beyond justice. Where there is friendship, justice is not
necessary. Yet where there is justice friendship is still necessary. This
relationship could perhaps be explained by the previously mentioned point that a
genuine friendship presupposes that the people involved are already just men.
Yet friendship can provides things which mere justice cannot. While friendship
is reciprocal, the principal virtue of a friend is to love rather than to be loved.
While justice requires a strict reciprocity according to merit, friendship can exist
in an unequal relationship because the inequality is in some way bridged by the
love of the friends.
A further relationship between friendship and justice comes to light in Aristotle's
discussion the types of government. There are three good regimes, kingship,
aristocracy, and timocracy. Their deviations are tyranny, oligarchy and mob
rule, respectively. The more just the regime is, the more friendship there will be
among the people of that regime. This idea again reinforces the point that
justice is presupposed by friendship. Moreover, it provides insight into the idea
developed in Aristotle's Politics that the city (that is, the Greek polis) exists not
merely for the sake of survival but for the sake of living well. A just regime is
one in which the laws lead the citizens be virtuous. Thus the groundwork is laid
for genuine friendships, which are a necessity for a fulfilled human life.
Conflicts often arise in friendship because on of the parties does not get what
he desires out of the friendship, usually when one person thinks that what he is
receiving is not of equal worth to what he is giving. Yet who is to decide the
worth of what is given or received? In friendships according to virtue, things are
given for the sake of the receiver and the return is made according to intention,
though it is not necessary of equal value. Yet in other friendships in which
things are given with an expectation of return, the best measure seems to be
what both parties decide to be fair.
As a general rule, people should repay debts before giving to their friends,
unless the amount used to pay the debt is need for a noble and urgent cause.
The repayment that one should make depends on the nature of the relationship
between the two parties. For example, honor should be given to parents, but not
as much as to the gods.
Should a friendship end when one of the friends changes in character or
thought? In friendship according to usefulness or pleasure, it is reasonable to
end the friendship when one of the two people changes such that the
relationship is no longer useful or pleasurable. If a good man befriends someone
on the assumption that this person is good but he turns out to be evil, he should
not immediately break off the friendship. First he should try to help the friend
correct his character. Yet if the other friend is beyond correction, it fine to end
the friendship. If one friend grows far superior to the other in character and
virtue, there will no longer be a basis for genuine friendship, but the superior
friend should maintain a certain regard for the other as a remembrance of
The dispositions, feelings and actions proper to friendship originated those
proper to a good man's relation to himself. For a virtuous man has harmonious
thoughts, the parts of the soul are in concord, and he wishes for himself what is
god. The thinking part of a person is what the person primarily is. Because a
true friend is another self, friendship shares the qualities of proper self-love.
Bad men, on the other hand, are in conflict with themselves, for they choose
what is pleasant but harmful rather than what is good. Evil men seek
companions as a distraction, to escape from themselves. Bad men are full of
regrets because they do that which the highest part of themselves does not
want to do. A bad man is thus not disposed to love himself.
Good will is similar to friendship, but it is not friendship because we can have
good will toward strangers. A feeling of love is also not friendship, because
friendship does not involve intensity or desire as a feeling of love does. Good
will is the beginning of friendship, and can lead to friendship if the good will
persists and familiarity arises. Good will toward another general arises because
of seeing some goodness in the other person.
Concord is a mark of friendship, and appears particularly to be the mark of
political friendship, because it is concerned with matters of expediency.
Concord exists among good men, for they wish what is just is and expedient.
But bad men rarely share the same thoughts because wants more than his own
share; thus they often end up in a state of discord.
Benefactors seem to love those they have benefited more than beneficiaries
love their benefactors. This occurrence may seem unnatural, but there is good
for it. A benefactor loves the person he has benefited because that person is, in
a sense, his own work, and a way to extend his own existence and action. For
the beneficiary, receiving a benefit is useful and expedient, but it is not a noble
action which he can remember with pleasure. It is more perfect to act than to
be acted upon, and thus the benefactor receives more pleasure than the
beneficiary. Furthermore, a person is fonder of something if has put effort into
acquiring than if he has simply received it.
Should a person love himself more than others? People tend to censure those
who love themselves most and it is considered noble to disregard one's own
good and act for the sake of one's friend. These arguments, however, are not
quite correct. For it is said that a person should love his best friend most, but the
attributes friendship belong most of all to a man in relation to himself. When
people use the term "self-lover" reproachfully, they are referring to those who
take more for themselves than they should. Such men are aiming to gratify their
desires and the nonrational part of their soul. When considered in this way, the
reproach is just. Yet a genuine self-lover is person who is virtuous, seeks the
genuine good and is ruled by the rational part of the soul. For each man is his
intellect, most of all. A good man is a self lover in this second sense, since he
will do what is noble for himself and also be beneficial to others. A good man
obeys his intellect. An evil man, on the other hand, is a self-lover in the first
sense. A good man prefers what is noble to everything else, and would give up
wealth or even his own life for the sake of what is noble.
A happy man needs friends. Friends are considered to be the greatest of
external goods, and if a good man is supposed to be of service to others he will
need friends to be a of service to. Most importantly, man is disposed by nature
to live with others, and thus it would seem unfitting that a blessed man would be
solitary. A blessed man will not need friends for the sake of mere usefulness or
pleasure. Even by nature, a virtuous friend is choiceworthy for a virtuous man.
For that which is good is good and pleasurable to a virtuous man. The life of a
virtuous man is good and pleasant, and they are pleased by their awareness of
that which is good in itself. A virtuous man is disposed toward himself just as he
is disposed toward his friend, since a good friend is another self. Since a
virtuous friend would be a choiceworthy object for a virtuous man, having
friends is necessary for happiness.
How many friends one should have depends on the type of friendship under
consideration. With friendships based on usefulness or pleasure, too many
friends would be laborious and bothersome. With the case of friendships based
on virtue, there seems to some sort of upper limit to the number of friends
because there is a limit to how many people one could nobly live together with.
One can only attend to so many people at a time. And all of a person's friends
will themselves need to be friends, which will become more and more difficult
in proportion to the number of people. Love is a sort of excess of friendship,
and can be felt toward one person only. Similarly, very strong friendship can
exist between only a few persons.
Friends are sought in times of both good fortune and bad fortune. Friendship is
more of a necessity in times of bad fortune, but is more noble in times of good
fortune, because in times of bad fortune friendship is based on usefulness while
in times of good fortune it is based on virtue. Better men avoid sharing their
grief with their friends, because they don't want to cause sorrow to their
friends. But weak men enjoy have others as companions in grief. We should be
eager to invite our friends to share in our good fortune but slow to have them
share in our bad fortune. Further, it is good to go uninvited to help friends in a
state of misfortune. In all cases, the presence of friends is choiceworthy.
Living together is important for friendship, so that friends can engage in
activities together. A friendship of bad men becomes evil, for they engage in
bad pursuits, and they become more evil by their mutual influence on one
another. The friendship of good men is good, and friends become better through
their good influence on one another and by correcting each other.
Aristotle's discussion of friendship implies his fundamental view of human
beings as social beings. Even if a man had everything else‹wealth, fame, virtue,
and so on‹he still could not lead a happy life without friends. Friendship is thus a
necessity for the good life in Aristotle's view. Yet friendship in the genuine
sense is not merely a superficial exchange of pleasantries; it is much deeper.
While Aristotle does discuss friendships based on usefulness or on pleasure, he
does not consider these to be friendship in the genuine sense. True friendship is
based on virtue, and requires wishing the good for the other. Wishing the good
for a person in the Aristotelian sense is not at all a vague and sentimental
concept. Primarily, wishing the good for someone means helping him to be
virtuous, for it is by being virtuous that a person will be genuinely happy, as
established in Book One. For this reason, friendship is what many natural law
theorists call a genuine human good, something in human life which it is natural
for people to seek because it fulfills an intrinsic human need and is an end in
itself. As relational beings, people need genuine friends in order to live a fulfilled
Friendship is a sort of self-love. Good self-love consists in wanting what is
genuinely good for oneself. It is a friendship between the highest part of the
soul and the lower parts, in which the highest the lower parts of the soul are
brought into harmony with the intellect, Aristotle sees as the most proper
identification of a person. A friend is another self, and thus in genuine friendship
one wishes the good for another and helps him to achieve that good, which
consists primarily in being virtuously.
How, then, do friends help one another to progress in virtue? First of all, those
who have genuine friendships must to a certain extent be virtuous already, for a
certain degree of virtue is a prerequisite for a genuine friendship, and the more
virtuous the two friends are the higher the friendship will be. A friend is another
self, and as such a genuine friend is indispensable for the attainment of
self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is indispensable for growth in virtue, and
genuine friends provides a person with a sort of mirror with which to see
himself more clearly. Further, friendship involves a sort of healthy competition
for virtue between the friends, by which each spurs the other on to greater
virtue. There is no element of antagonism in this sort of a competition, but
rather a sort of mutual encouragement. Friends also help each other to grow in
virtue by correcting one another, encouraging one another in virtue, and
providing good example to one another.
In all situations of life, friendship is choiceworthy. Friends appear to be the
greatest of human goods. Even for a man who is most blessed in terms of
virtue, wealth, honors and so on cannot be truly blessed without friends, for
such relationships are a necessity of human nature.
Pleasure is thought to be one of the things most closely associated with human
life. For this reason the education of the young is guided by means of pleasures
and pains. Further, the formation of a virtuous character perhaps depends
primarily on being formed so as to enjoy what one should and hate what one
should. There is however, a great disagreement among philosophers with regard
to pleasure. For some say it is the ultimate good while others claim it is entirely
Observation shows that both rational and nonrational animals aim at pleasure.
An object which is choiceworthy in the greatest sense is chosen for its own
sake, and pleasure seems to be such an object. Yet pleasure is not the highest
good, because it is preferable with rather than without prudence, as Plato
argues. Further, not all pleasures are worthy of choice, but only those which
come from noble actions.
What is pleasure? It is not a motion, for motion require an interval of time for
their completion. Yet pleasure is complete at every point during the time in
which one is pleased.
The best activity of each faculty of sensation is that which is the best disposed
toward the best object with which that faculty is concerned. There is pleasure
with respect to every faculty of sensation, as well as with thought and
contemplation. The most pleasant activity is the most perfect. Pleasure makes
the activity perfect, but not in the same way as a sensible object or sensation.
Activities are most pleasant when the faculty is at its best and is directed
toward its best corresponding object. Why is it impossible to be continuously
pleased? Human activities cannot be continued indefinitely, and therefore
neither can pleasure. There can be no pleasure without activity, and pleasure
perfects every activity.
Pleasure resides in the activity which is perfected by that pleasure. A pleasure
which is proper to an activity makes the activity more accurate, more enduring,
and better, while an alien pleasure impairs the activity. The pleasure proper to a
good activity is good, while the pleasure proper to a bad activity is evil.
Just as each animal is thought to have a proper function, it also has a proper
pleasure which corresponds to the activity of that function. The pleasures
proper to human beings are those which correspond to the activity of a perfect
and blessed man.
Let us review what has already been said about happiness. Happiness is an
activity of some sort which is chosen for its own sake and is self-sufficient.
Actions according to virtue are chosen for their own sake. Happiness is not
found in amusement, for it would be absurd to argue that the goal of a person's
life and work is amusement. Rather, amusement is chosen for the purpose of
relaxation, which is necessary to enable a person to engage in serious work.
Everything is thought to be chosen for the sake of something else except for
happiness. A happy life is a life according to virtue.
Since it has already been established [in Book One] that happiness is an activity
according to virtue, it is reasonable to posit that it is an activity according to the
highest virtue, which would be an activity corresponding to the best part of man.
The activity of the intellect is the best human activity, since it corresponds to the
highest part of man, is concerned with the best objects, is the most continuous
activity, is self-sufficient, and is loved for its own sake. Everything attributed to
a blessed man seems to exist in the activity of the intellect, which is
contemplation. A life of contemplation, then, would be the perfect happiness for
man. Such a life is above man, for it is possible only insofar as man has
something divine in him, since the intellect is a sort of divine element in man.
Man should thus strive to live according to the best of his soul and thus to
partake of immortality. Since the contemplative life is most proper to man, it is
also the best and most pleasant, and thus the happiest.
Life according to moral virtue is happy in a secondary way, since it is
concerned with human affairs. The virtue of the intellect, however, is separate
from the passions, and requires much fewer external resources than ethical
virtue. Another argument which demonstrates that perfect happiness is
contemplative activity is that the gods are most blessed and happy, and their
action is contemplative. The human activity closest to the activity of the gods is
the happiest, and thus contemplation is the most blessed human activity.
However, being human, a person will still need external things such as food for
the nourishment of his body. Yet a happy man does not need many external
things. As Solon stated, happy men are moderately supplied with external
means and perform the noblest actions. He whose activities are in accord with
is intellect is the best disposed and the most dear to the gods, since activity of
the intellect is closest to the gods' own activity.
It seems that merely to theorize about virtues is not enough, but that the end of
such speculation is action. However, for most men arguments are not enough to
exhort them to noble deeds, since such men are guided most by fear rather than
a love of what is noble. They abstain from what is bad because of the penalties
they would receive rather than because of the disgracefulness of such actions.
Further, it is extremely difficult by mere argument to change long-standing
habits ingrained in a person's character. In order to make a person docile to
instruction in virtue, it is necessary to habituate the person to enjoy what is good
and hate what is disgraceful. For passion seems to yield not to argument but to
force. As a result, it is necessary that the pursuits of the young should be
regulated by law such that they will be habituated to take pleasure in what is
good. Paternal command alone does not have enough power for this task. Yet if
the state is negligent in its duty to form virtuous citizens, each citizen on his own
should take care to help his children and friends to be virtuous. The person who
cares to help his children and friend toward virtue would do best by becoming a
lawgiver. For a person to be a good lawgiver, experience is necessary along
with intelligence. Laws are like works of political art. [This discussion of laws is
continued in The Politics.]
The first two topics dealt with in Book Ten‹pleasure and contemplation‹will be
analyzed individually. For an analysis of Aristotle's closing comments on the
necessity of proper laws to help citizens lead virtuous lives, see the analysis of
Book Two, which addresses this topic in depth.
As already discussed in the analysis of Book Seven, Aristotle has highly
nuanced view of pleasure and its role in human life. He recognizes that
attraction to pleasure and repulsion from pain are natural and instinctive to
human beings, and that as such they often act as the motivating force behind a
person's actions. While disagreeing with the philosophers who consider pleasure
to be an evil on the count that such a view is not in accord with the experience
of human nature, Aristotle is also careful to qualify the ways in which pleasure
is a good and the reason for its goodness. Pleasure is not the ultimate good,
because one of the characteristics of the ultimate good is that it admits of no
improvement and needs nothing to supplement it. Pleasure, on the other hand, is
not sufficient on its own for a good life. For the pursuit of pleasure without
regard to reason or virtue would lead to a slavish and bestial life. Pleasure, then,
is a part of the good life, but is not its aim or definition. Rather, good actions,
because they are good and in accord with judgments of the highest part of the
soul, are naturally accompanied by pleasure, though not necessarily physical or
sensible pleasure. This pleasure is perhaps best described as an inner pleasure
produced by the harmony within the soul of a virtuous person. Good pleasures
accompany good actions, while bad pleasures accompany bad actions. Pleasure
in itself is neutral, but its goodness is determined by the goodness of the action,
by whether or not the action is in accord with human nature.
Aristotle waits until Book Ten to complete the logic set forth in Book One with
regard to determining the ultimate good for man by examining a human being's
highest capacities. As already mentioned in the analysis of Book One, Aristotle
holds that the happiness of man can be defined by determining the function
proper to man. This function cannot be one which plants and animals also
perform, because it must be particular to human beings. Therefore, man's
function must be a part of the practical life of the rational part of man, the term
practical implying purposeful conduct, which is possible only for rational beings.
It follows, then, that happiness consists in the action of the rational part of man,
the soul. The ultimate good of man should naturally flow from performing his
function well; therefore, as Aristotle theorizes, "the Good of man [and, by
extension, the definition of happiness] is the active exercise of his soul's
faculties in conformity with excellence or virtue, or if there be several human
excellences or virtues, in conformity with the best and most perfect among
them" (Book One, Section 7). To constitute true happiness this action must
persist with continuity throughout a lifetime. While ethical virtue is action in
accord with reason, intellectual virtue is superior because it employs reason‹the
highest part of man‹in contemplation of the best objects which man has the
ability to know. Since it is the most continuous activity, the most pleasant
virtuous activity, the most self-sufficient activity, and the only activity which is
loved for its own sake, contemplation is the sole operation which meets all of
the qualifications of happiness. Aristotle thereby provides the final revision of
his definition: "Happiness is a bringing of the soul to the act according to the
habit of the best and most perfect virtue, that is, the virtue of the speculative
intellect, borne out by easy surroundings and enduring to the length of days"
(Book One, Section 7).
Man, however, lives in a real world where he cannot spend his entire life in
continuous contemplation. Realizing this problem, Aristotle concedes, "But such
a life would be too high for man; for it is not in so far as he is man that he will
live so, but in so far as something divine is present in him" (Book Ten, Section
7). For the times when, out of the necessities of human life, man must forego
his contemplation, living in accordance with the moral virtues provides a
secondary, less divine, happiness. In addition, the Aristotelian theory posits that,
in order to be happy, it necessary to have sufficient external prosperity, such as
health, good birth, satisfactory children, food, shelter, and freedom from
suffering, although even in the most dire circumstances the virtuous man can
maintain some semblance of happiness by bearing his trials nobly and with
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