Book 1 02/11/2014
1. 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 subjectmatter 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.
2. The highest good is happiness, which means living well. There is a dispute as to what constitutes
happiness hether 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 selfsufficient.
Happiness fits these criteria.
6. 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 complete virtue."
7. 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 concept.
8. 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 category.
9. 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 goods.
10. 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. 11. 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.
12. Happiness is the principle of actions and the cause of all good things. It is thus worthy of honor.
13. 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 virtues, respectively. Book 2 02/11/2014
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 lowmindedness. With regard to anger, the
mean is good temper, and the extremes are irascibility and inirascibility. The mean between
boastfulness and selfdepreciation 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 gladness.
8. 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. Book 2 02/11/2014
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. Book 3
1. 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 action.
2. 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."
3. 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 still voluntary.
4. Intention is crucial for virtuous actions and for judgment of character. Intention is not the same as
volition, because nonrational 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."]
5. 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 bring about.
6. 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 t ey consider the pleasant as equivalent to the good and the painful as equivalent
to the bad.
7. 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.
8. 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. Book 3
9. 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
10. 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.
11. 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
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.
12. 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.
13. 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. Book 3
14. 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. Book 4 02/11/2014
1. 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 sh