Aristotle’s Style 10/16/2013
• Open with a literary review
• Cycle: Premise ▯ expansion ▯ problem ▯ revision of premise, etc.
• More natural science than Plato, softer view of democracy than Plato
• Not Athenian, foreigner
• Can’t have knowledge about particulars because there is no way to establish the rule of one particular thing, but you can have knowledge
at the formal level
• Try to group little things together to form a unit, move our way up forming bigger and bigger units until we have a general large
• Can only experience a particular as a parallel of fundamental facts or truths of main idea
• Idea is to create a chain of truths from the general main idea to the particular
• What does humanity aim at?
• Can be easy to answer based on particular goals, desires
• But want to find the functions and virtues for humanity – what are the human virtues? (question expected of a book on ethics)
• What distinguishes virtue ethics from other kinds is that instead of establishing a particular rule, Aristotle differs
• Aristotle’s virtue ethics say that we can really only give a limited level of precision from our ethical rules, we have to cultivate
right propensities to behavior, desires will even line up with what we are supposed to do
o Knowing what is right alone will not make you live right, need to practice – living in a good manner will make you a
good person – Habit is huge
What is happiness/ what makes for a good life?
• Happiness in the sense we know can be short, punctuated, sharp pleasures, but Aristotle talks about eudemonia
• Eudemonia = good spirit
o What would be a way of living your life that made it choice worthy – would you say you did something well, would
you do it again? The idea is about getting the whole of a human life. Happiness is a global question – looking at the
life as a whole, what would make it good?
• Because of discussion on habit and action – action theory – What is responsibility?
• Where we should attribute causes for activity, breaks down everything into components we can analyze, how do we get credit
or lose credit for our behavior.
• Concerned with character combined w beliefs, allow us to interpret situations in skillfully moral way, what characteristics we can
habituate into ourselves, not just being able to figure out the account or explanation we can give, but finding in you the right
decision for action Pages 115 10/16/2013
Note: outline before text Pages 115 10/16/2013
Be on the lookout for:
1. Criticism of Plato
2. Search for man’s function
3. Criticism of traditional answers
a. Pleasure, wealth, honor, virtue all good, but none of them are happiness, all fall short
b. In order to be happy cannot be tortured, the happy life brings everything together
Chapters 1 8
• Question of decision
• Virtue is knowledge based on principles of the matter, it is a science
• Obvious that ethics does not offer the same precision as natural sciences
• Can’t specify precisely what everyone should do in every circumstance
Can only give an answer as precise as the material will allow
• The measure of the mean – every virtue lies between two extremes, 0 and infinity (ie. Courage lies somewhere between
coward and rashness) – there must be some right amount. Is there one measure of the virtue (ie. one measure of courage),
one precise amount? (ie. If it is you vs. 100 people, it is ok to lie toward cowardice [this comes up later in text]
• Finding a balance along this spectrum helps us get closer to the aim which is Good
Everything we do is for the sake of some Good
• Things are Good because they perform the function that they are supposed to
• A Good that is separate from the world would be more appropriate for a god than a human being, a Good or a
happiness must be attainable to a human being. Therefore, we do not talk about the platonic good – instead, want
to know what the function of the person is. What is the happiness of a human being?
• Search for man’s function (#2) Pages 115 10/16/2013
• Whatever the goods are for motion and perception are specific to each animal – so this cannot be the unique
function of man (ie. human nutrition different from lion nutrition, human feeling about a painting is different from a
mole rat’s perspective on a painting)
What special activity turns out to be the point of being a reasoning creature?
o Activity must be based on reason and done well
• Virtues are things necessary for performing human activities well
o Moral virtues are required to be a serious human being, to do well at being a human being
• Criticism of traditional answers
No clear argument to any, just suggestive
o Pleasure = regular Joes say pleasure is human happiness, actually just ruled over by desire,
o Wealth = not wanted for itself, but for other stuff. The other things may conceivably be human
happiness, but wealth is not the answer because we only want it for the sake of other stuff
o Honor = more likely argument, can’t really be honor because honor the power of honor seems to reside
more with other people than the person who receives it, the power of happiness lies in the spectators
Human happiness has to be something we hold on to, cannot be taken away arbitrarily,
because honor is in the control of others, honor cannot be happiness Up to End Book II 10/16/2013
“We are conducting an examination, not so that we may know what virtue is, but so that we may become good.” 113062530
• Emphasis on what we will become, not what we know
• Differentiates between knowing and being, knowing it enough to get you to goodness
Happiness is activity in accord with complete virtue over a complete life.
• Book 1: What is a complete life?
• Book 2: what are the activities of complete virtue?
• Book I
• If miserable surroundings can destroy the benefits of virtue, wouldn’t it be better to just screw virtue and enjoy the
• To call anyone blessed, need:
• External goods
o Harder to be honest when you’re on the brink of starving – strong incentives to cheat or steal – ability to
put your own life on a stable foundation allows you to pull others up
The just man loves justice
• Lovers of X take pleasure in X
• The just man takes pleasure in justice
• If you manage all your life to bitterly be moderate, Aristotle still does not believe it equates to the value of moderation
• Because you don’t take pleasure in it
• Chapter 10/11: we are looking for happiness, happiness has to do with living a choice worthy life, Can we deem a
person happy while alive?
• Can a person’s happiness change once they are dead?
o ie. After you die, a wild boar accident wipes out most of your family, jumping from happy to sad after
death? Up to End Book II 10/16/2013
o It seems like the worth of your life is in some sense dependent on external goods and your own fortune
o After death external good depends on your remaining friends and family fortunes, which are variable, so
your happiness must be an unstable thing as well.
o External goods are not weighted the same way as human happiness, fortune