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Happiness is the noblest, the best, and the most pleasant of human goods*

  • 1214a Link 1. There is an inscription on the porch of the temple of Leto in
  • the shrine at Delos* that runs as follows:

  • 5      Noblest of all* is perfect justice, best of all is a life of health;
  •       Most pleasant of all is to win one's heart's desire.

  • Link The man who composed those verses was expressing his view that
  • Link goodness, nobility, and pleasure belong to different things. But we
  • Link cannot agree with him. For happiness, being the noblest and best of
  • things, is the most pleasant of all as well.
  • There are many matters and features of nature that present problems
  • 10and need to be investigated. Some of the disciplines that treat of these
  • contribute simply to the acquisition of knowledge; others are concerned
  • also with getting things and doing things. From time to time we shall
  • have occasion to treat of matters of purely theoretical philosophy, in so
  • Link far as they are relevant to our inquiry; but our first concern is to inves-
  • tigate what constitutes a good life, and how it is to be attained.*
  • When people chance to be called 'happy', is this something they
  • 15owe to nature, like tall people, or short people, or people of colour? Or
  • has it been acquired by learning, so that happiness is a form of knowl-
  • edge? Or by a kind of training? After all, human beings acquire many
  • characteristics neither from nature nor by learning, but by habitu-
  • Link 20ation—bad characteristics by bad habituation, and good characteris-
  • Link tics by good habituation. Perhaps people are made happy in none of
  • the above ways, but in one or other different manner. Are they like
  • Link people possessed by a nymph or a divinity, getting carried away by the
  • 25inspiration of some kind of spirit?* Or is happiness a matter of for-
  • tune? After all, many people are willing to identify happiness with
  • good luck. What is clear is that it is in all or some or one of these ways
  • that happiness comes to people. For almost every change originates
  • from one or other of these sources (provided we use 'knowledge' in a
  • Link 30broad sense * to include all activity arising from thinking).
  • pg 4 Link Happiness, and a blissful and noble life, would seem to consist
  • above all in three things that appear to be of all things the most
  • worth choosing. Some say that the greatest good is wisdom;* others
  • 1214bsay it is virtue,* and others again say pleasure. People disagree about
  • the size of the contribution that each of these makes to happiness,
  • Link and claim that one element offers more than another. Some rate
  • Link wisdom as a greater good than virtue, while others rate virtue above
  • wisdom, and others again rate pleasure above the other two. Some
  • 5say that a happy life is an amalgam of all three elements, or of some
  • Link pair of them, while others think it consists in just one of them.

The nature of happiness and its preconditions

  • 2. All this considered, everyone who has the power to live according
  • Link to his own choice should set up for himself* some object for a noble
  • life—whether honour, or reputation, or wealth, or culture—with a
  • Link 10view to which he will govern all his conduct, since not to have one's
  • Link life organized with reference to some end is a mark of great folly.
  • Above all, he must first determine in his own mind, with care and
  • without haste, where in our human condition the good life resides,
  • Link and what are the necessary conditions for people to possess it. For a
  • healthy life is not the same thing as the necessary conditions for
  • 15healthy living, and there are many other cases where a like distinc-
  • tion holds. So a noble life is not the same as those things whose lack
  • would make nobility of life impossible. (Some of these necessary
  • conditions are not specific to health or to life, but are more or less
  • common to any and every state or activity; for instance, unless we
  • 20are breathing and awake and capable of moving there is hardly
  • anything, whether good or bad, that we can take any part in. Other
  • conditions—and they are important to notice—are specific to indi-
  • vidual natures. In the case of physical well-being, eating meat and
  • Link taking exercise after meals are conditions of a kind quite different
  • from the above.) Here is the root of the controversies about the
  • 25nature and causes of happiness: some people treat as parts of happi-
  • Link ness items that are no more than its necessary conditions.*

Opinions about happiness

  • 3. It would be a waste of time to examine all the opinions about hap-
  • Link piness held by different people. Children, invalids, and lunatics have
  • 30many views, but no sane person would trouble himself about them.
  • pg 5What such people need is not argument but something else: either
  • time for their opinions to mature, or else medical or penal correction—
  • for medical treatment is no less correctional than flogging. Likewise,
  • Link we do not need to consider the opinions of the multitude, who speak
  • 1215aat a venture on almost every topic and especially on this one. On this
  • topic, at least, only the opinions of philosophers need to be taken
  • Link into account, for it is absurd to offer reasoning to those who need
  • not reasoning but chastisement. Every inquiry, however, and not
  • least the quest for the highest and best life, throws up its own prob-
  • Link 5lems, and so it is well to place these latter opinions under scrutiny.
  • Link For one way of proving a thesis that is contested is to refute the
  • Link arguments of its opponents.
  • Moreover, such considerations should especially be borne in
  • Link mind with respect to the matters to which our entire investigation
  • must be directed. We are looking for the things that enable us to live
  • 10a noble and happy life ('blissful life' is perhaps presumptuous*) and
  • what prospects decent people will have of acquiring any of them.
  • For if a noble life is something that results from chance or the course
  • of nature, it would be a hopeless dream for many people; its acquisi-
  • tion would be beyond their powers no matter how strenuous their
  • 15endeavours. But if it is something that depends on a person's char-
  • acter and conduct, then it will be a good both more widespread and
  • more divine: more widespread because it will be accessible to more
  • people, and more divine because happiness will reside in the per-
  • sonal development of character and conduct.

The three lives of philosophy, virtue, and pleasure

  • Link 204. Most of the controversies and difficulties will become clear if we
  • offer an appropriate definition of how to think of happiness. Does it
  • consist only in a particular character of one's soul, as some senior
  • philosophers have thought?* Or is it necessary for one not only to
  • have a particular character, but more importantly to exhibit that
  • character in one's actions?
  • 25We can distinguish different kinds of life. Some of them, such as
  • lives spent in the vulgar arts, or commerce, or in servile occupations,
  • make no claim to be a flourishing existence, but are pursued only out
  • of need.* (By vulgar arts I mean arts pursued only for the sake
  • Link 30of celebrity, by servile occupations I mean the work of sedentary
  • wage-earners, and by commerce I mean buying and selling by retail.)
  • pg 6 Link But just as there are three items reckoned as elements of a happy
  • life—the three mentioned earlier as the greatest of human goods,
  • Link 35namely, virtue and wisdom and pleasure—so too we see three lives
  • that all who have the opportunity for choice choose to live, namely,
  • the political life, the philosophical life, and the hedonistic life.*
  • 1215bThe philosopher aims to devote his life to wisdom and the con-
  • templation of truth, the politician to noble deeds (conduct that
  • manifests virtue), and the hedonist to the pleasures of the body. And
  • 5so, as we have said before, different people call different people
  • happy. Anaxagoras of Clazomenae* was once asked who was the
  • happiest person. 'Not anyone that you would think,' he replied, 'but
  • someone who would seem very odd to you.' He gave this answer
  • because he could tell that the man who asked the question thought
  • 10it was impossible for anyone to be called happy unless he was great
  • Link and beautiful or rich. But he himself, no doubt, believed that any
  • man who leads a painless, blameless, and upright life, or is engaged
  • in some divine contemplation, is as blissful as the human condition
  • allows.

Opinions about what is worthwhile in life

  • Link 155. There are many problems on which it is difficult to make a sound
  • judgement, and none more so than one that everyone thinks is so
  • Link easy that they need no special qualification to solve it: namely, what
  • in life is worth choosing, and what is there whose attainment would
  • totally satisfy one's desire.* There are many contingencies of life
  • 20that make people want to throw it away: diseases, torments, tem-
  • pests, and so on. Clearly, right from the start, if given the choice,
  • Link people in such straits would have preferred not to be born at all.
  • Then there is the kind of life that people lead as children; no one in
  • his right mind could tolerate returning to such a state. Moreover,
  • there are many events that involve neither pleasure nor pain, or in-
  • 25volve pleasure only of an ignoble kind; episodes of such a kind make
  • non-existence preferable to life. Altogether, if we were to heap up all
  • the things that people do and undergo involuntarily (in the sense
  • that nothing of them is wanted for its own sake), we would be offer-
  • Link ing no reason for choosing to be alive rather than not, even if we
  • were to throw in an infinite stretch of time.
  • 30Further, no one who was not an utter slave would put any value
  • on existence solely for the pleasures of food and sex, in the absence
  • pg 7of all the other pleasures that are provided to humans by knowing
  • and seeing and using any of their other senses. It is clear that for
  • 35a person making such a choice there would be no difference
  • between being born a beast or a human. Certainly the ox in Egypt,
  • 1216awhom they venerate under the name of Apis,* has access to more of
  • these pleasures than many a monarch. The same goes for the pleas-
  • ures of sleep: what difference is there between sleeping an uninter-
  • rupted sleep from one's first day to one's last, for a thousand years
  • 5or more, and living the life of a plant? Certainly plants do seem to
  • share some such kind of life, and so do babies, for babies when they
  • first come into existence within their mothers have a continuous life
  • but sleep all the time. From all this it is obvious that inquirers have
  • little success in finding out what is well-being and what is the good
  • in life.
  • Link 10Someone who was puzzled about these matters once asked
  • Link Anaxagoras, was there any reason why one should choose to be born
  • Link rather than not? He is said to have replied, 'To survey the heavens
  • and the order of the whole cosmos.' So for him it was knowledge or
  • 15science that made the choice of life worthwhile. On the other hand,
  • people who celebrate Sardanapallus or Smindyrides of Sybara,* or
  • some other dedicated hedonist, appear to equate happiness with
  • enjoyment. There are others again who would choose no kind of
  • 20wisdom nor any bodily pleasures in preference to deeds of virtue.
  • Not everyone makes this choice for the sake of reputation; some act
  • well even when they are not going to get any credit. However, most
  • Link statesmen do not deserve the name, for they are not truly statesmen.
  • Link 25A statesman is someone who chooses noble deeds for their own sake,
  • whereas most politicians take up their career for personal gain and
  • Link advancement.
  • From what has been said it is clear that everyone relates happi-
  • ness to one or other of three lives: the political life, the philosophical
  • 30life, and the hedonistic life. If we take the last first, there is no prob-
  • lem in identifying the nature and quality and sources of the pleas-
  • ures associated with the body. The question is not what such
  • pleasures are, but whether and how far they contribute to happiness.
  • Suppose that a noble life should indeed have certain pleasures asso-
  • ciated with it: what we have to ask is whether it is these bodily pleas-
  • ures that we should associate with it. No doubt the happy person
  • 35must share them in some way or other, but perhaps it is on account
  • pg 8of quite different pleasures that he is rightly thought to live a life
  • Link that is pleasant and not merely painless. But these matters must be
  • investigated further later on.*
  • Link First, we must consider virtue and wisdom, and discover the
  • nature of each of them.* Are they parts of the good life, either in
  • 1216bthemselves or through the conduct to which they give rise? After all,
  • Link even if not everyone links them to happiness, they are so linked by
  • Link all people who are worth taking into account.
  • The elder Socrates* believed that the goal of life was to know
  • virtue, and he used to ask what justice is, what courage is, and so
  • 5with every part of virtue. This was an intelligible way to proceed,
  • since he thought that the virtues themselves were pieces of
  • knowledge, so that once you know what justice is, you are a just
  • person.* After all, as soon as we have learnt geometry and architec-
  • ture, we become geometers and architects. And so he used to
  • 10ask what virtue is, rather than how or whence it comes into being.
  • This is appropriate in the case of the theoretical sciences, because
  • there is nothing else to astronomy or physics or geometry over and
  • above the knowledge and understanding of the subject matter of
  • these disciplines. Nothing indeed prevents them being useful to us
  • 15for many of our needs; but that is something coincidental. In the
  • Link case of productive sciences, however, the aim of the science is differ-
  • ent from the science itself and not a mere matter of knowledge:
  • health is different from medicine, and law and order (or the like) is
  • not the same as political science. The knowledge of what is noble is
  • Link 20indeed a noble thing; but in the case of virtue the most valuable
  • thing is to know whence it arises rather than to know its nature. For
  • what we want is not simply to know what courage is, but actually to
  • be courageous; and we do not want simply to know what justice is,
  • but rather to be just ourselves. It is parallel to the way in which we
  • want to be healthy rather than simply to know what health is, and to
  • 25the way we aim at physical well-being rather than at mere knowledge
  • Link of its nature.

The method of inquiry

  • Link 6. About all these matters we must seek conviction through argu-
  • Link ment, using people's perceptions* as evidence and example. The
  • Link best thing would be if everyone turned out to be in agreement with
  • Link 30what we are going to say; if not so, that all should, on reflection,
  • pg 9 Link reach at least partial agreement. After all, everyone has something
  • Link of their own to contribute to the truth, and we must start our proof
  • Link from such points. If we begin with things that are said in a manner
  • Link that is true but unenlightening, we shall make progress towards en-
  • lightenment, constantly substituting more perspicuous expressions
  • for ones that are more familiar but confused.
  • Link 35In every discipline there is a difference between philosophical
  • Link and unphilosophical manners of expression. Even in political think-
  • Link ing it is misguided to treat as irrelevant an inquiry into not only
  • what is the case, but why it is the case.* In every discipline that is the
  • Link way a philosopher proceeds: but great caution is needed here. Since
  • it seems that a philosopher should never speak at a venture, but
  • 1217a Link always with reason, some people offer reasons that are irrelevant or
  • unsound, and often get away with it. (Some people do this in error;
  • others are sheer charlatans.) By such arguments even people of
  • experience and practical ability can be caught out by people who
  • 5lack even the capability for practical or strategic thinking. This
  • comes about through want of culture: for want of culture is pre-
  • Link cisely the inability to distinguish between arguments that are appro-
  • priate, and those that are inappropriate, to a given subject matter.
  • Link 10It is well to make a separate judgement about a conclusion and
  • Link the explanations on which it is based, because, as we have just said,
  • Link there are often cases where one should attend not just to the results
  • Link of arguments, but rather to people's perceptions. (As things are, if
  • Link people cannot see a flaw in the argument, they cannot help believing
  • 15what has been said.) Moreover, it often happens that what appears
  • to have been shown by argument is in fact true, but not for the
  • reason offered by the argument. (There can be a proof of a truth
  • Link from a falsehood, as is clear from the Analytics.)

The greatest of human goods

  • 7. So much by way of prologue. Let us begin our discussion by
  • 20starting, as was said, from the first, unclarified, opinions, and seek
  • Link then to gain* a clear view of what happiness is. It is generally agreed
  • Link that it is the greatest and best of all human goods. We say 'human',
  • because there may well be happiness for some higher form of being,
  • say for a god. None of the other animals that are by nature inferior
  • 25to human beings have any claim to this title: no horse or bird or fish
  • is happy. Nor are any other beings, unless they have by definition
  • pg 10some share of the divine in their nature.* To be sure, they can have
  • a better or worse life, but it is by sharing in good things in some
  • Link 30manner that is different from happiness.*
  • That this is the case is something to be examined later. For the
  • present let us say that among good things there are some that fall
  • within the scope of human action and some that do not. Why do we
  • make this point? Well, there are some things, including some good
  • things,* that are not susceptible to change at all, and these things
  • may well by nature be the best things of all. Then again, there are
  • Link 35some things that fall within the scope of action, but only for agents
  • Link more powerful than us.
  • Link There are two ways in which things fall within the scope of action.
  • There are the things that are the purposes of our action, and the
  • Link things that we do in order to bring them about: thus, we count health
  • and wealth as being within the scope of action, and also the things
  • we undertake in order to produce them, such as a healthy lifestyle or
  • a commercial venture.
  • Link 40It is evident that we must lay it down that happiness is the chief
  • good among the things that fall within the scope of human action.

What is the chief good?

  • 1217b Link 8. So we must inquire what this chief good is,* and in how many
  • Link senses the expression is used. People's perceptions about this can be
  • summed up in three opinions.
  • Link Some say that the chief good is Goodness itself,* and Goodness
  • Itself has the properties of being the first of goods and of causing by
  • 5its presence the goodness of all other good things. Both these prop-
  • Link erties—I mean, being the first of goods, and causing by its presence
  • the goodness of all other goods—belong, it is claimed, to the Idea of
  • Good.* For, they say, it is of this Idea that good is most truly predi-
  • cated, while other things are called good because they participate in
  • Link 10it or resemble it. If this shared Idea were eliminated, so too would be
  • all the things that participate in it and thus share its name. That is
  • the way in which what comes first is related to what comes after. So
  • Goodness Itself is the Idea of Good; and, moreover, it, like any other
  • 15Idea, is separable from what participates in it.
  • Link A thorough investigation of this belief belongs to a different dis-
  • cussion, which would inevitably bear a closer resemblance to
  • logic*—for that is the only discipline that deals with destructive
  • pg 1120arguments of general application. But if we must make a summary
  • Link judgement, let us make two remarks. First, the claim that there is
  • Link an Idea of Good, or for that matter an Idea of anything else, is too
  • Link abstract and vacuous; the thesis has been examined in many
  • ways, both in our popular and in our philosophical works.* Secondly,
  • even if there really are such things as Ideas, including the Idea of
  • Good, they are altogether useless either for a good life or for
  • actions.
  • Link 25For good is predicated in many ways—in as many ways, indeed,
  • Link as being.* Being, as has been explained elsewhere, signifies essence,
  • or quality, or quantity, or time, and in addition active or passive
  • change. Good occurs in each of these categories. In the category of
  • 30substance there is mind and God, in the category of quality there is
  • justice, in the category of quantity there is proportion, in the cat-
  • egory of time there is opportunity, and in the matter of change there
  • is teaching and being taught. Just as being is not a single thing
  • Link including all the things mentioned, neither is goodness.
  • Nor is there a single science* of being or goodness. Even goods
  • 35classified in parallel categories (e.g. opportunity and proportion) are
  • Link not subjects of the same science: different sciences investigate
  • opportunity and proportion in different cases. Thus, in nutrition it
  • Link is medicine and gymnastics that determine opportunity and pro-
  • portion, but in the conduct of warfare it is strategy. Thus, for each
  • 1218a Link different kind of activity there is a different science. So there could
  • hardly be a single science whose province was Goodness itself.
  • Again, where things can be ranked as prior and posterior,* there
  • is not in addition some common thing that is separate from them all.
  • That would mean that there was something prior to the first of the
  • series: the common separate thing would have priority since if that
  • 5common element were eliminated, the first item would be elimin-
  • ated also. Take the case of multiplication, and let us suppose that the
  • first case of multiplication is multiplication by two. Then there
  • Link cannot be some separate element, multiplication tout court, that is
  • common to all cases of multiplication. For that would then be prior
  • to multiplication by two.
  • Alternatively, even if one were to say that the common element is
  • Link 10separable, does it turn out to be the Idea? They say that if justice is
  • a good, and courage too, there is also Goodness itself.* 'Itself' thus
  • gets added to the definition of what is common. What would that
  • pg 12mean except that it is eternal and separate? But a thing that is white
  • for many days is no whiter than something that is white for only one,
  • so that what is good would not become more good by being eternal.
  • Nor is the common good identical with the Idea because the common
  • good belongs to all goods.
  • Link 15Goodness itself should be demonstrated in a manner quite oppo-
  • site to the way in which they do it nowadays. Nowadays they start
  • from objects whose goodness is a matter of controversy, and go on to
  • demonstrate goods whose goodness is uncontroversial. Thus, they
  • start with numbers,* and go on to demonstrate that justice and
  • health are goods, on the grounds that these latter are orders and
  • Link 20numbers, and goodness belongs to numbers and units, because the
  • One is Goodness itself. But they should start with the uncontrover-
  • sial goods like health and strength and temperance, and go on to
  • show the greater nobility of what is unchanging. For all these things
  • exemplify order and repose; so if they are good, the latter things are
  • even more good, since they exemplify them to a greater degree.
  • Link 25There is also something wrong with the proof that the One is
  • Goodness itself, on the grounds that it is something that the num-
  • bers tend towards. This is far too bald an assertion without any clear
  • statement of what this tending consists in. How can there be any
  • desire in things that lack life? People should take more trouble, and
  • not maintain without argument things that even if argued for are
  • 30not easy to believe. And to say that all things tend towards some one
  • good is not true: for each thing has a desire for its own special good,
  • the eye for sight, the body for health, and so on.
  • The problems just listed urge us to deny that there is any such
  • Link thing as Goodness itself, and to say that if there were, it would be no
  • use to political science. That, like other disciplines, has its own par-
  • Link 35ticular good, in the way that physical well-being is the particular
  • good of gymnastics. Further, there is what is written in the text:* the
  • Link Form of Good is either useful to no discipline or useful to all in the
  • Link same way. Further, it is not within the scope of action.
  • 1218b Link Likewise, the common good is not identical with Goodness itself
  • (for this common element would be present even in a tiny good), nor
  • is it within the scope of action. For the task of medicine is not to
  • Link ensure that any old good should be where it belongs, but that health
  • should be. So too with all the other arts. Goodness is manifold, and
  • 5one part of it is nobility. Some parts of goodness are within the scope
  • pg 13of action and others are not. What is within the scope of action is the
  • Link kind of good that provides a purpose, and nothing of the kind is to
  • Link be found in things that are unchanging.
  • Link It is obvious, then, that neither the Idea of Good, nor the good
  • that is common, is the chief good that we are looking for: for the one
  • is unchangeable and unattainable by action; the other, while it is
  • changeable, is not attainable by action. What really is the chief good
  • Link 10is the purpose or end that is the cause of what leads to it and is
  • the first of all goods. It is this, then, that goodness itself must be: the
  • Link end of everything attainable by human action. It is that which is the
  • Link object of the science which is supreme over all others, namely polit-
  • ical and economic science and wisdom. This supremacy marks off
  • these disciplines from others: whether they differ from each other is
  • 15something that will have to be explained later.*
  • Link An end stands in a causal relation to the means subordinate to it:
  • Link that is shown by the method of teaching. Teachers prove that the
  • means are severally good by giving a definition of the end, because
  • Link the purpose is one form of cause. They say, for instance, that since
  • to be healthy is such-and-such, necessarily what conduces to health
  • Link 20must be so-and-so. Healthy items, for instance, are an efficient cause
  • of health; but it is only the cause of health's coming into existence;
  • Link it is not the cause of its being a good. No science proves its own first
  • principles, and no one demonstrates that health is good, unless he is
  • Link a sophist rather than a doctor—for sophists will prove anything by
  • inappropriate arguments.
  • Link 25The good as the end of man and the best of things attainable by
  • Link action: that is the object of our study. We must now inquire in how
  • many ways this chief good is realized; that is what is best.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1214a 1 book i: the first seven chapters of this book form a prologue to the entire treatise, composed in a more literary style than is typical of Aristotle's technical works.
Editor’s Note
2 temple of Leto in the shrine at Delos: in Greek mythology, Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis on the island of Delos.
Editor’s Note
5 Noblest of all: the Greek word 'kalon', which here and elsewhere I translate 'noble', also means 'beautiful'. This does not mean that in ancient Greek thought ethics and aesthetics were the same thing, but it is an indication that the boundary between the two was not as sharp as it became in the Christian era.
Editor’s Note
15 and how it is to be attained: this sentence indicates the structure of what follows. The rest of chapter 1 responds to the theoretical question 'what is happiness and what is its origin?', whereas chapter 2 concerns the practical question 'what goal in life should I pursue?' The two questions are connected, but not identical.
Editor’s Note
23 some kind of spirit: it was believed that a man who saw a nymph became possessed by her—a belief alluded to by Socrates in Plato's Phaedrus 238c–d. In English the word 'nymphomaniac' is most unfairly restricted to sexual obsession in females. The word translated 'spirit' is 'daimon', the word used by Plato for beings intermediate between gods and men, with some of the functions Christians were later to attribute to guardian angels.
Editor’s Note
30 in a broad sense: the Greek word 'epistēmē' is used by Aristotle sometimes as a very general term covering all kinds of knowledge; sometimes it is restricted to strictly scientific knowledge. This passage hints at the ambiguity of the word.
Editor’s Note
32 the greatest good is wisdom: 'wisdom' here and throughout my translation renders the Greek 'phronēsis'. Later, in Book V, Aristotle will give the word the restricted meaning of practical knowledge; here, and in general when discussing the opinions of his predecessors, he uses it in a general sense including theoretical knowledge.
Editor’s Note
32 others say it is virtue: the Greek word translated 'virtue', namely 'aretē', is the abstract noun corresponding to 'good'. Anything that is good has an aretē but it sounds archaic in English to speak of the virtues of a good knife or a good strawberry. However, the traditional translation, 'virtue', is to be preferred to the one proposed by some recent commentators, 'excellence', which carries irrelevant overtones of competition.
Editor’s Note
1214b 7 should set up for himself: in place of OCT's 'thesthai' I read 'dei thesthai'.
Editor’s Note
26 necessary conditions: controversies about the distinction between components of happiness and its necessary preconditions continue. To this day some commentators wrongly argue that in Aristotle's ethical system the possession of a modicum of worldly goods constitutes an element of the happy life, whereas, as will be seen later, that is no more than a prerequisite for happiness.
Editor’s Note
1215a 10 perhaps presumptuous: the Greek word corresponding to 'blissful' is the one commonly used to describe the happiness of the immortal gods.
Editor’s Note
23 as some senior philosophers have thought: no one quite knows who the senior philosophers are. Speusippus and Xenocrates believed that happiness consisted in virtue—but as Aristotle's contemporaries they are hardly senior enough. Possibly Socrates and Plato are meant—but it seems an odd way to refer to philosophers whom Aristotle frequently quotes by name. Aristotle's own view is that you need to exhibit the character in action—hence the transition to the discussion of different forms of life.
Editor’s Note
27 pursued only out of need: I retain the MSS reading, needlessly excised by OCT.
Editor’s Note
37 and the hedonistic life: Aristotle's list of the three candidates for a happy life is drawn from a Greek tradition that apparently goes back to Pythagoras. It seems an excessively short list. Even though 'philosophy' is to be understood broadly to include scientific research, where are we to place the life of a poet or a musician, or of medical and legal practitioners? Elsewhere Aristotle seems to make room for other types of worthwhile elements in happiness (e.g. I.2, 1214b8, VII.12, 1245a22).
Editor’s Note
1215b 6 Anaxagoras of Clazomenae: Anaxagoras (c.500–428) was the first notable Athenian philosopher, a client of the statesman Pericles and an early proponent of big bang cosmology.
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18 totally satisfy one's desire: it is at first surprising that Aristotle devotes a chapter to popular valuations of life, since he said earlier (1214b35) that we do not have to consider the opinions of the multitude. But he was rejecting only the theoretical opinions of the many about the nature and origin of happiness: what he here treats as data worthy of consideration are the everyday choices and decisions (actual and hypothetical) of the ordinary person. We return to consideration of the philosophers at 1216b2.
Editor’s Note
1216a 1 Apis: Apis was a sacred bull venerated at Memphis.
Editor’s Note
16 Sardanapallus or Smindyrides of Sybara: 'Sardanapallus' is the Greek name for Ashur-bani-pal, king of Nineveh 667–647. He and Smindyrides were proverbial examples of luxurious living, and the home of the latter gave us our word 'sybarite'.
Editor’s Note
37 investigated further later on: the different kinds of pleasure are discussed in Book VI, 1152b1–1154b35. The way in which pleasure is woven into happiness is explained in the final book, at 1249a17–21.
Editor’s Note
38 discover the nature of each of them: the inquiry into virtue and wisdom is not a matter of two wholly separate inquiries. The division between virtue and wisdom presupposed in the traditional trichotomy is something Aristotle is going to correct, substituting for it the distinction between moral and intellectual virtues.
Editor’s Note
1216b 3 The elder Socrates: this is of course the famous Socrates, the iconic philosopher of ancient Athens. But who is he being distinguished from? Socrates the younger figures in Metaphysics Z.11, 1036a25, as the proponent of a naive view of definition, but is not otherwise known.
Editor’s Note
8 you are a just person: Socrates, like Aristotle, was unhappy with the dichotomy between virtue and wisdom, but for an opposite reason: he thought that the two were identical.
Editor’s Note
28 perceptions: 'perceptions' renders the Greek word 'phainomena', which, like it, can mean either sense-perceptions or opinions. The context here and in similar passages in Aristotle makes clear that the latter is what he has in mind. The methodological advice presented here is repeated in Book VI (1145b2 ff.). Aristotle has already been acting upon it since the beginning of the EE, since the traditional opinions about the three lives are the true but unenlightening statements that are the starting point of the inquiry. However, he makes his use of it explicit only at 1217a20, in connection with the statement that happiness is the greatest and best of human goods.
Editor’s Note
38 what is the case, but why it is the case: unlike OCT, I accept the emendation of 'to ti' to 'to hoti'.
Editor’s Note
1217a 20 and seek then to gain: I accept Solomon's emendation of 'epeita' for 'epi to'.
Editor’s Note
27 some share of the divine in their nature: commentators are not agreed who, if any, are the beings who by definition have some share of the divine in their nature. Most likely, Aristotle is referring to the ensouled heavenly bodies whose superiority to humans is emphasized at V.7, 1141b2.
Editor’s Note
30 different from happiness: the topic of non-human animals' relationship to pleasure and happiness is resumed at VI.7, 1153b7–25.
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33 including some good things: I translate the MSS reading, not the emendation accepted by OCT.
Editor’s Note
1217b 1 we must inquire what this chief good is: at this point the EE and the NE begin to converge in structure, having hitherto followed different courses. The EE begins with the concept of happiness, and goes on to discuss the nature of goodness; the NE begins with the notion of the supreme good and goes on to consider happiness as the most popular candidate for the title. But both treatises contain a criticism of the Platonic Idea of Good; the one in NE I.6, unlike this chapter, begins with an apology for disagreeing with Plato.
Editor’s Note
3 that the chief good is Goodness Itself: I translate 'ariston' as 'chief good', 'auto to agathon' as 'Goodness Itself', and 'idea tou agathou' as Idea of Good'. In the NE Aristotle rejects the notion of Goodness Itself; here he accepts it but denies that it is any kind of Platonic Idea. The three opinions about the chief good mentioned here are that it is (1) the Idea of Good, (2) an element common to everything that is good, (3) the end of what is attainable by human action. Aristotle rejects (1) and (2) and accepts (3) (1218b7–11).
Editor’s Note
8 the Idea of Good: the Theory of Ideas, presented in a number of Plato's dialogues, especially the Phaedo, the Meno, and the Republic, offers among other things a theory of predication. Socrates, Simmias, and Cebes are all called 'men': now, when we say 'Socrates is a man', does the word 'man' stand for anything in the way that 'Socrates' stands for 'Socrates'? Plato introduces the Idea of Man as the prime bearer of the name 'Man'. In general, where a common predicate is true of many individuals, Plato will say they are all related to a certain supersensible, unchanging, Idea or Form: where A, B, C are all F, they are related to a single Form of F. Sometimes he will describe the relation as one of imitation: A, B, C all resemble F; sometimes he will talk rather of participation: A, B, C all share in F, they have F in common between them. In Plato's later dialogues (perhaps dating from the time when Aristotle was a member of his Academy) the theory is subjected to searching criticism. Aristotle in his own works repeatedly attacks it, sometimes with contempt. In his ethical treatises the criticism is directed particularly to the Idea of Good, which in the Republic is placed at the summit of the ethical universe.
Editor’s Note
17 bear a closer resemblance to logic: the discipline to which Aristotle refers here is dialectic, as described in his Topics 101b2. This deals with the exposure of fallacies, ambiguities, and the like, and ranges across many disciplines, not just ethics alone.
Editor’s Note
23 in our popular and our philosophical works: the word translated 'popular' is often just transliterated into English as 'exoteric'. Aristotle is referring to non-technical works to be read outside the Lyceum. No one knows whether any of his surviving works belong in that class.
Editor’s Note
25 in as many ways … as being: Aristotle put forward a theory of categories in a work of that name. It involves listing ten different kinds of expression that might appear as predicates in a statement about an individual. We might say of Socrates, for instance, that he was a man, that he was five feet tall, that he was wise, and that he was older than Plato. Aristotle would say that these statements are in the categories, respectively, of substance (or essence), quantity, quality, and relation. Here he applies the theory to the predicate 'good'. Justice is a good quality to have, proportion is goodness in the category of quantity, opportunity is goodness in the category of quality, teaching and learning are good things to do. All these goodnesses are radically different kinds of thing. What of goodness in the category of substance? Only God is essentially good, nothing else has goodness as its essence. ('Mind and God' is probably a hendiadys here.)
Editor’s Note
34 Nor is there a single science: apparently it was a Platonist thesis that there was a one–one correspondence between Ideas and sciences (NE 1096a30). Against this Aristotle argues that goodnesses of different kinds are studied by different sciences. Scholars have been shocked by the statement here that there is no single science of being. Does not Aristotle devote his Metaphysics to first philosophy, the science that studies being qua being? The astonishment is due to a misunderstanding of the nature of this science. It is not the study of a mysterious object called 'being qua being'; rather, it studies being (i.e. all there is) from the point of view of being, that is to say from the point of view of ultimate and universal explanation. There are many sciences of being: thus, biology studies being qua living, physics studies being qua changeable, and metaphysics studies it qua being. Similarly, there are many sciences of the good—even of human good. Medicine studies the good of health and gymnastics the good of fitness. The contents of the EE give instruction in the most important science of human good—a science for which Aristotle's most general name is 'politikē'.
Editor’s Note
1218a 2 where things can be ranked as prior and posterior: for Aristotle, A is prior to B if you can have A without B but you cannot have B without A. Thus, 2 is prior to 3 because you can have two things without having three things, but if you have three things a fortiori you have two. On Platonic theory an Idea is prior to whatever falls under it. Aristotle argues that this will make nonsense of ordinary series: instead of multiplication by two being the first and basic form of multiplication, there will be Pure Multiplication ahead of it in the series.
Editor’s Note
11 there is also Goodness itself: Aristotle is not arguing here that there is no such thing as Goodness itself (there is, and he is going to tell us what it is at 1218b11); he is arguing that 'itself' does not signify the eternity and separability characteristic of Ideas. (Note that I adopt a punctuation of the text different from OCT.)
Editor’s Note
18 they start with numbers: in the dialogues of Plato there is no identification of Ideas with numbers, but several texts of Aristotle (e.g. Metaphysics Α‎.7, 991b1–10) suggest that Plato at some stage made such an identification. 'Nowadays' perhaps indicates that the reference here is to some follower of Plato such as Xenocrates, the head of the Academy from 339.
Editor’s Note
36 what is written in the text: this is the first of several references in the EE to a text or handout that seems to have accompanied the lectures (cf. II.2, 1220b11, VII.12, 1244b29–45). Attempts to identify the text are pure speculation (including my own earlier suggestion that the references are to the NE; see my Aristotelian Ethics (Oxford 1978), 225–9).
Editor’s Note
1218b 15 something that will have to be explained later: in Book V Aristotle explains that wisdom is the intellectual virtue that finds expression in the discipline of political science. This has three main parts: one concerns the human as an individual, one as a member of a household, and one as a member of a city (1141b23–1142a11).
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