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Nicomachean
Ethics
Aristotle
Translated by W. D. Ross
Batoche Books
Kitchener
1999
Contents
BOOK I …………………………………………………………….. 3
BOOK II …………………………………………………………. 20
BOOK III ………………………………………………………… 33
BOOK IV ………………………………………………………… 53
BOOK V …………………………………………………………. 71
BOOK VI ………………………………………………………… 91
BOOK VII……………………………………………………… 105
BOOK VIII ……………………………………………………. 127
BOOK IX ………………………………………………………. 145
BOOK X ……………………………………………………….. 163
BOOK I
1
Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is
thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly
been declared to be that at which all things aim. But a certain difference
is found among ends; some are activities, others are products apart from
the activities that produce them. Where there are ends apart from the
actions, it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities.
Now, as there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are
many; the end of the medical art is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel,
that of strategy victory, that of economics wealth. But where such arts
fall under a single capacity—as bridle-making and the other arts concerned with the equipment of horses fall under the art of riding, and this
and every military action under strategy, in the same way other arts fall
under yet others—in all of these the ends of the master arts are to be
preferred to all the subordinate ends; for it is for the sake of the former
that the latter are pursued. It makes no difference whether the activities
themselves are the ends of the actions, or something else apart from the
activities, as in the case of the sciences just mentioned.
2
If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its
own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we
do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate
the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty
and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the
knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like
4/Aristotle
archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is
right? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is, and
of which of the sciences or capacities it is the object. It would seem to
belong to the most authoritative art and that which is most truly the
master art. And politics appears to be of this nature; for it is this that
ordains which of the sciences should be studied in a state, and which
each class of citizens should learn and up to what point they should
learn them; and we see even the most highly esteemed of capacities to
fall under this, e.g., strategy, economics, rhetoric; now, since politics
uses the rest of the sciences, and since, again, it legislates as to what we
are to do and what we are to abstain from, the end of this science must
include those of the others, so that this end must be the good for man.
For even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state, that of
the state seems at all events something greater and more complete whether
to attain or to preserve; though it is worth while to attain the end merely
for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for
city-states. These, then, are the ends at which our inquiry aims, since it
is political science, in one sense of that term.
3
Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all
discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine
and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much
variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist
only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a
similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before
now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by
reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such
subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in
outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part
true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are
no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be
received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in
each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is
evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.
Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a
good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a
Nicomachean Ethics/5
good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round
education is a good judge in general. Hence a young man is not a proper
hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the
actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are
about these; and, further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study
will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge
but action. And it makes no difference whether he is young in years or
youthful in character; the defect does not depend on time, but on his
living, and pursuing each successive object, as passion directs. For to
such persons, as to the incontinent, knowledge brings no profit; but to
those who desire and act in accordance with a rational principle knowledge about such matters will be of great benefit.
These remarks about the student, the sort of treatment to be expected, and the purpose of the inquiry, may be taken as our preface.
4
Let us resume our inquiry and state, in view of the fact that all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good, what it is that we say political science aims at and what is the highest of all goods achievable by
action. Verbally there is very general agreement; for both 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. For the former think it is some plain and obvious
thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honour; they differ, however, from one
another—and often even the same man identifies it with different things,
with health when he is ill, with wealth when he is poor; but, conscious of
their ignorance, they admire those who proclaim some great ideal that is
above their comprehension. Now some thought that apart from these
many goods there is another which is self-subsistent and causes the goodness of all these as well. To examine all the opinions that have been held
were perhaps somewhat fruitless; enough to examine those that are most
prevalent or that seem to be arguable.
Let us not fail to notice, however, that there is a difference between
arguments from and those to the first principles. For Plato, too, was
right in raising this question and asking, as he used to do, ‘are we on the
way from or to the first principles?’ There is a difference, as there is in
a race-course between the course from the judges to the turning-point
and the way back. For, while we must begin with what is known, things
6/Aristotle
are objects of knowledge in two senses—some to us, some without qualification. Presumably, then, we must begin with things known to us.
Hence any one 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 the startingpoint, and if this is sufficiently plain to him, he will not at the start need
the reason as well; and the man who has been well brought up has or can
easily get starting-points. And as for him who neither has nor can get
them, let him hear the words of Hesiod:
Far best is he who knows all things himself;
Good, he that hearkens when men counsel right;
But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
Another’s wisdom, is a useless wight.
5
Let us, however, resume our discussion from the point at which we
digressed. To judge from the lives that men lead, most men, and men of
the most vulgar type, seem (not without some ground) 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. Now the mass of mankind are evidently quite slavish in their tastes,
preferring a life suitable to beasts, but they get some ground for their
view from the fact that many of those in high places share the tastes of
Sardanapallus. A consideration of the prominent types of life shows
that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political
life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is
thought to depend on those who bestow honour rather than on him who
receives it, but the good we divine to be something proper to a man and
not easily taken from him. Further, men seem to pursue honour in order
that they may be assured of their goodness; at least it is by men of
practical wisdom that they seek to be honoured, and among those who
know them, and on the ground of their virtue; clearly, then, according to
them, at any rate, virtue is better. And perhaps one might even suppose
this to be, rather than honour, the end of the political life. But even this
appears somewhat incomplete; for possession of virtue seems actually
compatible with being asleep, or with lifelong inactivity, and, further,
Nicomachean Ethics/7
with the greatest sufferings and misfortunes; but a man who was living
so no one would call happy, unless he were maintaining a thesis at all
costs. But enough of this; for the subject has been sufficiently treated
even in the current discussions. Third comes the contemplative life, which
we shall consider later.
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. And so one might rather take the
aforenamed objects to be ends; for they are loved for themselves. But it
is evident that not even these are ends; yet many arguments have been
thrown away in support of them. Let us leave this subject, then.
6
We had perhaps better consider the universal good and discuss thoroughly what is meant by it, although such an inquiry is made an uphill
one by the fact that the Forms have been introduced by friends of our
own. Yet it would perhaps be thought to be better, indeed to be our duty,
for the sake of maintaining the truth even to destroy what touches us
closely, especially as we are philosophers or lovers of wisdom; for, while
both are dear, piety requires us to honour truth above our friends.
The men who introduced this doctrine did not posit Ideas of classes
within which they recognized priority and posteriority (which is the reason why they did not maintain the existence of an Idea embracing all
numbers); but the term ‘good’ is used both in the category of substance
and in that of quality and in that of relation, and that which is per se,
i.e., substance, is prior in nature to the relative (for the latter is like an
off shoot and accident of being); so that there could not be a common
Idea set over all these goods. Further, since ‘good’ has as many senses
as ‘being’ (for it is predicated both in the category of substance, as of
God and of reason, and in quality, i.e., of the virtues, and in quantity,
i.e., of that which is moderate, and in relation, i.e., of the useful, and in
time, i.e., of the right opportunity, and in place, i.e., of the right locality
and the like), clearly it cannot be something universally present in all
cases and single; for then it could not have been predicated in all the
categories but in one only. Further, since of the things answering to one
Idea there is one science, there would have been one science of all the
goods; but as it is there are many sciences even of the things that fall
under one category, e.g., of opportunity, for opportunity in war is studied by strategics and in disease by medicine, and the moderate in food is
8/Aristotle
studied by medicine and in exercise by the science of gymnastics. And
one might ask the question, what in the world they mean by ‘a thing
itself,’ is (as is the case) in ‘man himself’ and in a particular man the
account of man is one and the same. For in so far as they are man, they
will in no respect differ; and if this is so, neither will ‘good itself’ and
particular goods, in so far as they are good. But again it will not be good
any the more for being eternal, since that which lasts long is no whiter
than that which perishes in a day. The Pythagoreans seem to give a more
plausible account of the good, when they place the one in the column of
goods; and it is they that Speusippus seems to have followed.
But let us discuss these matters elsewhere; an objection to what we
have said, however, may be discerned in the fact that the Platonists have
not been speaking about all goods, and that the goods that are pursued
and loved for themselves are called good by reference to a single Form,
while those which tend to produce or to preserve these somehow or to
prevent their contraries are called so by reference to these, and in a
secondary sense. Clearly, then, goods must be spoken of in two ways,
and some must be good in themselves, the others by reason of these. Let
us separate, then, things good in themselves from things useful, and
consider whether the former are called good by reference to a single
Idea. What sort of goods would one call good in themselves? Is it those
that are pursued even when isolated from others, such as intelligence,
sight, and certain pleasures and honours? Certainly, if we pursue these
also for the sake of something else, yet one would place them among
things good in themselves. Or is nothing other than the Idea of good
good in itself? In that case the Form will be empty. But if the things we
have named are also things good in themselves, the account of the good
will have to appear as something identical in them all, as that of whiteness is identical in snow and in white lead. But of honour, wisdom, and
pleasure, just in respect of their goodness, the accounts are distinct and
diverse. The good, therefore, is not some common element answering to
one Idea.
But what then do we mean by the good? It is surely not like the
things that only chance to have the same name. Are goods one, then, by
being derived from one good or by all contributing to one good, or are
they rather one by analogy? Certainly as sight is in the body, so is reason in the soul, and so on in other cases. But perhaps these subjects had
better be dismissed for the present; for perfect precision about them
would be more appropriate to another branch of philosophy. And simi-
Nicomachean Ethics/9
larly with regard to the Idea; even if there is some one good which is
universally predicable of goods or is capable of separate and independent existence, clearly it could not be achieved or attained by man; but
we are now seeking something attainable. Perhaps, however, some one
might think it worth while to recognize this with a view to the goods that
are attainable and achievable; for having this as a sort of pattern we
shall know better the goods that are good for us, and if we know them
shall attain them. This argument has some plausibility, but seems to
clash with the procedure of the sciences; for all of these, though they
aim at some good and seek to supply the deficiency of it, leave on one
side the knowledge of the good. Yet that all the exponents of the arts
should be ignorant of, and should not even seek, so great an aid is not
probable. It is hard, too, to see how a weaver or a carpenter will be
benefited in regard to his own craft by knowing this ‘good itself,’ or
how the man who has viewed the Idea itself will be a better doctor or
general thereby. For a doctor seems not even to study health in this way,
but the health of man, or perhaps rather the health of a particular man;
it is individuals that he is healing. But enough of these topics.
7
Let us again return to the good we are seeking, and ask what it can be.
It seems different in different actions and arts; it is different in medicine,
in strategy, and in the other arts likewise. What then is the good of each?
Surely that for whose sake everything else is done. In medicine this is
health, in strategy victory, in architecture a house, in any other sphere
something else, and in every action and pursuit the end; for it is for the
sake of this that all men do whatever else they do. Therefore, if there is
an end for all that we do, this will be the good achievable by action, and
if there are more than one, these will be the goods achievable by action.
So the argument has by a different course reached the same point;
but we must try to state this even more clearly. Since there are evidently
more than one end, and we choose some of these (e.g., wealth, flutes,
and in general instruments) for the sake of something else, clearly not
all ends are final ends; but the chief good is evidently something final.
Therefore, if there is only one final end, this will be what we are seeking, and if there are more than one, the most final of these will be what
we are seeking. Now we call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit
more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something
10/Aristotle
else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and
for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of
something else.
Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we
choose always for self and never for the sake of something else, but
honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of
them), 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.
From the point of view of self-sufficiency the same result seems to
follow; for the final good is thought to be self-sufficient. Now by selfsufficient we do not mean that which is sufficient for a man by himself,
for one who lives a solitary life, but also for parents, children, wife, and
in general for his friends and fellow citizens, since man is born for citizenship. But some limit must be set to this; for if we extend our requirement to ancestors and descendants and friends’ friends we are in for an
infinite series. Let us examine this question, however, on another occasion; the self-sufficient we now define as that which when isolated makes
life desirable and lacking in nothing; and such we think happiness to be;
and further we think it most desirable of all things, without being counted
as one good thing among others—if it were so counted it would clearly
be m …
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