PHI 205 Lecture Notes - Lecture 6: Nicomachean Ethics

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26 Jan 2017
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: Book II
“Well, perhaps we shall find the best good if we first find the function of a human being. For just
as the good, i.e. doing well, for a flautist, a sculptor, and every craftsman, and, in general, for
whatever has a function and characteristic action, seems to depend on its function, the same
seems to be true for a human being, if a human being has some function.”
Aristotle believes if we can find out what human function is, we can determine the
“good” of human life
o Our purpose, our “highest good”
o What makes humans happy or have a good life
“The life next in order is some sort of life of sense-perception; but this too is apparently shared,
with horse, ox, and every animal. The remaining possibility, then, is some sort of life of action of
the part of the soul that has reason.”
Aristotle is hypothesizing about our “function”
o What makes us different from animals and all other beings of life
First hypothesis: living life as a human involves stages of growth and development
o “Growth and development” could be our purpose
o However, this is not unique to humans.
o This is shared with plants and animals, and thus cannot be our primary, highest
Second hypothesis: living life engaged in sense-capacities
o However, this is also shared with animals.
Third hypothesis: life of action of the part of the soul that has reason
o Aristotle is not thinking of “soul” in terms of otherworldly spiritual things (or
things of the afterlife)
o To Aristotle, “soul” refers to our cognitive/mental capacities for reasoning in
certain ways
o Basically, Aristotle is saying our functions are the following things distinctive to
We have reasons for our actions
We are rational
o Reworded hypothesis: living a life that is reasonable/rational
“Now we take the human function to be a certain kind of life, and take this life to be the soul’s
activity and actions that express reason. Hence…the excellent man’s function is to do this finely
and well. Each function is completed well when its completion expresses the proper virtue.
Therefore the human good turns out to be the soul’s activity that expresses virtue.”
Virtue: generic designation of the kind of conduct that is reasonable/rational
Vice: unreasonable, irrational conduct
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