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Political Thoughts, Quotes and Comment
Aristotle

Quote -----------------------------------------Comment

Nicomachean Ethics
 
On the Good

1. "If then, there is some end of the things we do,which we desire for its own sake, and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else, clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life?"

2. "all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good... the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise.

3. "men of the most vulgar type, seem to identify the good, or happiness, with pleasure; which is the reason why they love the life of enjoyment. For there are, we may say, three prominent types of life -- that just mentioned, the political, and thirdly the contemplative life."

4. "people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honor; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political life. But it seems too superficial... since it is thought to depend on those who bestow honor rather than on him who receives it,"

5. "The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful for the sake of something else."

6. "goods must be spoken of in two ways, and some must be good in themselves, the other by reason of these."

7. "Is it those (goods) that are pursued even when isolated from others, such as intelligence, sight, and certain pleasures and honors? Certainly, if we pursue these also for the sake of something else, yet one would place them among things good in themselves."

8. "clearly not all ends are final ends; but the chief good is evidently something final."

9. "we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else."

10. "Now such a thing as happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honor, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves, but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself."

11. "of goods the greater is always more desirable. Happiness, then, is something final and self-sufficient, and is an end of action."

12. "human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete."

13. "goods have been divided into three classes, and some are described as external, others as relating to soul or to body; we call those that relate to soul most properly and truly goods, and psychical actions and activities we class as relating to soul."

14. "some identify happiness with virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophic wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity."

15. "With those who identify happiness with virtue or some one virtue our account is in harmony; for to virtue belongs virtuous activity."

16. "the man who does not rejoice in noble actions is not even good; since no one would call a man just who did not enjoy acting justly,"

17. "some things the lackof which takes the lustre from happiness, as good birth, goodly children, beauty; for the man who is very ugly in appearance or ill born or solitary and childless is not very likely to be happy,"

18. "happiness seems to need this sort of prosperity in addition; for which reason some identify happiness with good fortune, though others identify it with virtue."

19. "happiness seems however, even if it is not god-sent but comes as a result of virtue and some process of learning or training, to be among the most god-like things; for that which is the prize and end of virtue seems to be the best thing in the world, and something godlike and blessed."

20. "The attribute in question (virtue), then, will belong to the happy man, and he will be happy throughout his life; .... he will be engaged in virtuous action and contemplation, and he will bear the chances of life most nobly and altogether decorously, if he is "truly good" and foursquare beyond reproach."

21. "the man who is truly good and wise, we think, bears all the chances of life becommingly and always makes the best of circumstances,"

22. "Why then should we not say that he is happy who is active in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life? ....Certainly the future is obscure to us, while happiness, we claim, is an end and something in every way final. If so, we call happy those among living men in whom these conditions are, and are to be, fulfilled -- but happy men."

Aristotle's Golden Mean

1. "Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching, while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit,"

2. "all the things that come to us by nature we first aquire the potentiality and later exhibit the activity"

3. "virtues we get by first exercising them,... For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building... so to we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts."

4. "legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them,... and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one."

5. "It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference."

6. "the whole account of matters of conduct must be given in outline and not precisely, as we said at the very beginning that the accounts we demand must be in accordance with the subject matter;"

7. "it is the nature of such things to be destroyed by defect and excess, as we see in the case of strength and of health; both excessive and defective exercise destroys the strength, and similarly drink or food which is above or below a certain amount destroys the health,"

8. "So too is it, then, in the case of temperance and courage and the other virtues.... temperance and courage, then, are destroyed by excess and defect, and preserved by the mean."

9. "we must consider what virtue is. Since the things that are found in the soul are of three kinds -- passion, faculties, states of character, virtue must be one of these.

10. "By passions I mean appetite, anger, fear, confidence, envy, joy, friendly feeling, hatred, longing, emulation, pity, and in general the feelings that are accompanied by pleasure or pain;"

11. "by faculties the things in virtue of which we are said to be capable of feeling these, e.g. of becoming angry, being pained or feeling pity;"

12. "by states of character the things in virtue of which we stand well or badly with reference to the passions, e.g. with reference to anger we stand badly if we feel it violently or too weakly, and well if we feel it moderately; and similarly with reference to the other passions."

13. "we are not called good or bad on the grounds of our passions,....but for our virtues and our vices we are praised or blamed."

14. "virtues are neither passions or faculties, all that remains is that they should be states of character.... the virtue of a man also will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well."

15. "virtue is concerned with passions and actions, in which excess is a form of failure, and so is defect, while the intermediate is praised and is a form of success; and being praised and being successful are both characteristics of virtue. Therefore virtue is a kind of mean, since, as we have seen, it aims at what is intermediate."

16. "With regard to anger also there is an excess, a deficiency, and a mean.... it is not easy to determine how and with whom and on what provocation and how long one should be angry; ...The man, however, who deviates little from goodness is not blamed,...the man who deviates more widely; for he does not fail to be noticed."

17. "But up to what point and to what extent a man must deviate before he becomes blameworthy it is not easy to determine by reasoning,... such things depend on particular facts, and the decision rests with perception. So much, then, is plain, that the intermediate state is in all things to be praised,"

 

 

 

 
 

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Aristotle (384 - 322 BC)

The Good

Aristotle was one of the most brilliant minds of ancient times.  His knowledge was not limited to philosophy but included rhetoric, logic, biology, mathematics, astronomy, physics, ethics, politics and even poetry.  Nicomachean Ethics was the title that he gave to his work on ethics. In this work, Aristotle attempts to uncover the truth concerning how man should live his life in order to achieve lasting happiness.  Aristotle believed that all human beings pursue what they believe to be good for them. Unfortunately, what they perceive to be good, does not always lead to the happiness which they seek.  Aristotle found that when people were asked what they believed to be the good in life, the answers varied depending upon the circumstances of the individuals involved. According to him, the most vulgar individuals saw pleasure as the greatest good.  These individuals pursued a life that placed enjoyment above all else.  Such a life did not always lead to the happiness that they wished.  Others saw whatever they lacked as the good -- if they were poor, the good was wealth; if they were sick, the good was health; if weak, then strength was the greatest good.  In all cases, they wanted these goods because they believed that, if they had them, they would be happy. Some individuals believed that it was wealth that would make them happy.  Aristotle noted that wealth, more often than not, did not lead to the happiness that the individual sought. On the contrary, in some cases, wealth led to over indulgence in the good life and ultimately, failing of the individuals health, good name, or fortune.  Some of these people saw their lives end in poverty and despair.  Aristotle saw wealth, as an external good, never desired for itself but for the other good things that it could buy.  Furthermore, the good things that it could buy were desired for another good -- the happiness of the people involved.

Aristotle believed that there was a chief good, which humans wished to possess solely for itself -- a good that was self-sufficient and not dependent upon other goods.  Aristotle found three different categories of goods: external goods like wealth, and other goods related to both the body and the soul.  The goods pertaining to the soul such as honor, courage, wisdom, virtue, etc., he believed to be the finest of goods.  Aristotle viewed these as good in themselves and, to be pursued for their own value and benefit.  He noted however, that even these goods were pursued for another purpose -- the happiness of the individual. From this discovery, it follows that he found happiness to be the chief good and the end of action.  While honor, wisdom, temperance, courage, etc. are all goods worthy of pursuit, they are also pursued for the individuals happiness.  Happiness, on the other hand, is never pursued for these other goods.  No individual pursues happiness for anything other than itself.

Aristotle sees the key to happiness is living a virtuous life (moral virtue) in a well-ordered state.  The virtuous life can be either active as in a political life -- the most virtuous of an active life (according to Aristotle) -- or more passive as a contemplative life of virtue.  He believes that the man who is virtuous performs virtuous activities and is best prepared to deal with the occasional misfortunes that visit themselves randomly upon both good and bad people.  He believes that the virtuous, happy man is best equipped to deal with these set backs and misfortunes and will not be undone by them.  It is the virtuous activity that the individual exercises in his daily life that leads to ultimate happiness.  Aristotle concedes that certain mishaps of nature work against an individuals happiness.  He believed it unlikely that a poor man, without any means of support or, one who is raised poorly, or who lacks friends or family, will ever be capable of achieving happiness.

To Aristotle, virtue (moral virtue) is something that is learned and is perfected through practice.  One becomes virtuous through virtuous activity the same as one becomes just through just activity or a builder through building things.  If an individual is raised in a virtuous family and taught proper morals and ethics, that individual is armed with the tools necessary to live a virtuous and happy life. Children who are not brought up exposed to virtue are less likely to be virtuous or happy as adults, according to Aristotle.  Aristotle seems to believe a virtuous individual of high ethical standards and, of modest but self-sufficient means will be the happiest of individuals found in this life.

The Golden Mean

So what is this virtue that Aristotle believes to be the key to a happy life? Aristotle believes that, by nature, humans are driven by their passions (appetite, anger, fear, friendliness, desire, pity, etc.). Humans are also born with the faculties to use these passions properly or improperly. It is the proper use and control of these passions that leads an individual to a virtuous and happy life. It seems that virtue has two segments -- Intellectual virtue and moral virtue. Intellectual virtue owes its beginning to teaching and instruction. Later, moral virtue comes to the individual through forces of habit. The exercise of virtuous habits then, lead to the development of an individual's character. In other words, intellectual virtue begins to be taught at a young age and continues to be learned by experience throughout the individuals life. It is the habit of conducting one's self in accordance with this teaching and experience which leads to the development of moral virtue and the individuals character. Intellectual virtue therefore is knowing what is right. Acting upon this knowledge is what Aristotle calls moral virtue. According to Aristotle, the virtuous and therefore happy man is one who conducts himself in a virtuous manner, thus developing good character and the respect of his fellow citizens. So what must we do to act in a virtuous manner? It appears that most activities of life can be virtuous by holding to what many call Aristotle's golden mean. The golden mean seems to operate in most of life's activities such as the passions addressed earlier. In all of these activities of life, one is to follow the middle ground, or mean, if one is to be happy. Aristotle is quick to point out that there is no mean in non-virtuous activity like murder, theft, adultery, etc. In other words, there is no proper way to murder an individual or to steal his property. Also, it is not a matter of committing adultery with the right women and, at the right time, so that it would become virtuous. These activities could never be virtuous because they have no virtue in them -- they are simply wrong. There is, however, virtue in most of our passions. Even eating is an activity that can be performed properly or improperly. While this activity has a virtuous position (moderation), either excess or deficiency destroys that position. The virtuous position is to eat to maintain the body's health. To become a glutton (excess) or anorexic (deficient) is to destroy the health of the body. The two destructive positions destroy the very purpose of eating -- the maintenance of health and strength. Another example is courage. The object of courage is to maintain ones position or ground when challenged. In battle, for example, a courageous man is one who holds his position with his comrades and uses his skills to defeat the enemy. Courage is a virtuous activity but also contains destructive extremes. The brash individual (excess) chooses to fight or hold his ground under conditions where defeat is certain. The individual who would choose to fight in such a situation is not courageous but brash because he is not using his intelligence in support of his courage. Such an individual would face certain defeat and likely death charging blindly into a situation where he can not win. On the deficient side we have the coward who is afraid of everything and who would flee from any enemy under any circumstances. In this case as well, the two destructive positions do not meet the goal of courage -- holding to ones position when challenged. Only the intermediate position, or mean, is virtuous and can truly be called courage. Many other examples can be sited where it is the mean of an activity that is the best and the most virtuous.

The virtuous mean can not be established with mathematical precision because each situation requires an appropriate response -- the mean must be adjusted for each situation. In a minor argument proper anger would not be as great as proper anger when an enemy threatens ones property or life. The mean response to the former might be a mild anger while the mean response to the latter would be much stronger anger. In both cases however, Aristotle believes that the least deviation from the virtuous mean is desirable.

Aristotle sees little difference between virtue in ethics and in politics. He sees politics as the highest form of virtuous activity. This is because Aristotle views the state as a virtuous entity that was not only formed to assist individuals in trade and protection but for the development and improvement of the citizens. It was through the state, or polity, that man was to achieve his highest potential. To accomplish this, the representatives of the people, or legislators, were to be what Plato would call men of gold or Philosopher Kings. These were individuals who were selfless in their duty to the citizens producing laws for the continuing perfection of the citizens and the state itself. Rousseau would possibly say that these legislators were following the general will of the citizens. To Aristotle, it was through the state and the virtuous activity of the state's legislators that man would become a more perfect and happy being.

 

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