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PHIL 2070 Chapter Notes - Chapter Assigned book: Habituation, Quasi, Pained

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PHIL 2070
Julie Allen
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Aristotle: The Nichomachean Ethics
Outline of the Nichomachean Ethics (Book I)
Note: Aristotle starts off book I by stating that all human activities aim at some good and that the
science of the human good is politics
Note: the human good is generally agreed to be happiness (but happiness is in contention)
Popular views of good include: pleasure, honour, wealth, and a life of contemplation
Philosophical views of what is good: there is a Form of good
Note: a proper definition of happiness can be attained by considering the characteristic function
of human beings
“Virtue is praiseworthy, but happiness is above praise”
Book I: The Human Good
All human activities aim at some good: some goods subordinate to others
Good: the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim
- every good has its own aim (eg. shipbuilding leading to a ship)
Note: some goods constitute smaller goods within themselves – such as military actions taken in
a war
The science of the human good is politics
Note: there are some things we do which are for the sake of themselves
- this is considered the “chief good”
Note: Aristotle later goes on to say that Politics is the most authoritative art, by which we can
determine which of the sciences should be studied in a state and what citizens should learn
- politics also tells us what we can and cannot do in a society
- “the end of this science must include those of the others, so that this end must be the
human good” (p. 4)
Nature of the Science
Note: Aristotle distinguishes here that noble and just actions are not concrete terms but contain
variety – some people might think this means that these are not natural things, but good things
can also bring harm to people and we wouldn’t say that they are then bad
- it is therefore honest to admit that we can come up with a rough outline of what these
terms are and should not expect perfection
Note: Aristotle summarizes his point as follows – “it is evidently equally foolish to accept
probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician demonstrative proofs
Note: Aristotle on young people and their aims: “for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur
in life… and since he tends to follow his passion, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because
the end aimed at is not knowledge but action… for to such persons, knowledge brings no profit”.
(p. 5)
What is the Human Good?
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It is generally agreed to be happiness, but there are various views as to what happiness is.
What is required at the start is an unreasoned conviction about the facts such as is produced
by a good upbringing
Note: all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good (p. 5)
Note: there are two ways in which things are evident – some to us and some without qualification
- we will first start with what is evident to us
“Hence anyone who is to listen intelligently to lectures about what is noble and just and,
generally, about the subjects of political science must have been brought up in good habits. For
the fact is a starting-point, and if this is sufficiently plain to him, he will not need the reason as
well; and the man who has been well brought up has or can easily get starting-points” (p. 6)
Discussion of the popular views that the good is pleasure, honour, wealth; a fourth kind of life,
that of contemplation, deferred for future discussion
Note: Aristotle says here that most men, especially those of the vulgar type think of the good (or
happiness) as pleasure
- this is the reason they live the way they do – a life of enjoyment
Note: there are 3 prominent types of life
1) the life in pursuit of pleasure (mentioned above)
2) the political
3) the contemplative
Note: most people would fall into the first category (life suitable to beasts), but the end for the
political life would be honour
- it could also be said that virtue is the end of the political life as well
Aristotle on money and wealth: “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 and for
the sake of something else” (p. 7)
Discussion of the philosophical view that there is a form of good
Note: Piety requires us to honour truth above our friends
Note: goods must be spoken of in two different ways
1) some goods are good in and of themselves
2) some good things are the products of other good things
- the former being reference to a single idea
“with regard to the idea; even if there is some one good which is universally predicable of goods,
or is capable or separate and independent existence, clearly it could not be achieved or attained
by man; but we are now seeking something attainable” (p. 9)
The good must be something final and self-sufficient. Definition of happiness reached by
considering the characteristic function of man
Note: the good seems different in different actions and arts – it is different in medicine, in
strategy, and in others arts as well
- is there one good that all the arts have in common?
“clearly not all ends are final ends; but the chief good is evidently something final. Therefore, if
there is only on final end, this will be what we are seeking, and if there are more than one, the
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most final of these will be what we are seeking… therefore we call final without qualification
that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else” (p. 10)
- happiness seems to fit well into this category – something we do for the sake of itself and
not for anything else
- the final good is thought to be self-sufficient – defined as that which when isolated makes
life desirable and lacking in nothing; and such a thing we find happiness to be
- happiness stands on its own for if it were counted among other good things then those
things in principle should add to happiness and it wouldn’t make sense since happiness is
the final end (or chief good)
Our definition is confirmed by current beliefs about happiness
Note: the happy man lives well and fares well
“Now for most men their pleasures are in conflict with one another because these are not by
nature pleasant, but the lovers of what is noble find pleasant the things that are by nature
pleasant; and virtuous actions are such, so that these are pleasant for such men as well as in their
own nature” (p. 14)
“Happiness then is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world” (p. 14)
Is happiness acquired by learning or habituation, or sent by god or by chance?
Note: Aristotle says here that if there is any gift of the gods to men, then it should be happiness
(because it is the best thing imaginable to us)
- even if it is not, happiness still seems god-like
- it can also be attained through study and care
definition of happiness: a virtuous activity of soul (of a certain kind)
- it is for this reason that only humans can be happy (excluding the rest of animals)
- also boys cannot be happy by reason of their young age
- happiness also entails a “complete life” in the sense that since many changes may occur
over the lifespan, we might have to wait until someone has died in order to examine their
Should no man be called happy while he lives? (p. 16)
Note: both good and evil are thought to exist for a dead man, as well as when he is alive
- can men be happy once they alive or is that only reserved for after they die?
- Living men cannot always be happy because they are apt to go through life-altering
events which can change the course of their lives drastically at any moment
- If virtuous activities do not lead to happiness then what is the point of them?
- Do activities and solely activities determine the character of one’s life?
- If this is so then no man can become miserable if he were to only practice virtuous things
Note: this type of man would never do the things which are hateful and mean
- If this is not true then “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?” (p. 18)
Do the fortunes of the living affect the dead?
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