Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics (Summary)

aristotle ethics

The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle is the most influential book of the moral philosophy. From Kant to John Rawls, all philosophers have discussed the issue with Aristotle on the good life and on happiness.

To summarize, Aristotle raises the question of virtue: How should we act? How to live ? The man, he said, must act according to reason. The moral of Aristotle is an ethics based on actions, the outcome  (“good is the end”) override the intention, contrary to the kantian ethics.

Aristotle, politics and morality: What is the purpose of life?

Aristotle posits that the Good is the supreme goal of life:

And because politics  uses the other practical sciences and, moreover, to legislate on what to do and what we must abstain, the end of this science will encompass the purposes of other sciences, where it follows that the end of the politics will be strictly human well Even if, in fact, there is identity between the good of the individual and that of the city, anyway it is a task obviously greater and more perfect for apprehend and safeguard the welfare of the city, although decay is certainly nice for even a single individual, but it is finer and more divine applied to a nation or city.therefore are the aims of our investigation, which is a form of politics

Aristotle and happiness:

The Aristotle distinguished three kinds of happiness: pleasure (life as the body), politics (and life according to the rhetoric of honor) and meditation (life according to reason).

Aristotle establishes a hierarchy between these three forms of life: the pursuit of pleasure is a form of “bestial life,” bringing a man to his primitive state, pre-civilization.

Similarly, Aristotle condemns life based on honor for this life depends on others, the merit that we are given another. However, true happiness must be independent, it must depend upon yourself. In addition, honor is ephemeral, whereas happiness is to be sustainable.

“Honor appears as something too superficial to be the object sought for, the general opinion, it depends rather on those who honor as one who is honored, yet we know instinctively that the property is approximately something personal to everyone and we can hardly take away from us

The contemplative life can only please the wise because it allows people to live according to reason, in harmony with the nature of man and the universe.

Happiness for Aristotle is not a commodity among others, it is the Supreme Good, guide our actions?

We will add that happiness is the most desirable thing of all, while not listed among the goods, however, since it was part of it is clear that it would be even more desirable by adding even the tiniest of property: indeed, this addition produced a higher amount of property, and two goods the greater is always more desirable. This shows that happiness is something perfect and that is sufficient unto himself, and it is the end of our actions”


Aristotle, wealth and money:

The money can not be an end of life, it can be a means. Wealth is stored in the category of useful and not necessary: ​​”the life of the businessman is a life force, and wealth is evidently not the good we seek c It is only a useful thing, a means to something else

How to find happiness?

Happiness is the result of an activity according to virtue. Point of destiny or serendipity, so. The man is totally responsible for your happiness. Virtue must be practiced on a continuous, not episodic. Virtue is an act, not a being. Basically, man must develop the habit of doing right, developing the potential moral power it holds (note difference / power recurs in Aristotle):

Virtue is of two kinds, intellectual virtue and moral virtue. The intellectual virtue depends to a large extent on the education received, both for its production for its increase, so does it need experience and time. The moral virtue, by contrast, is the product of habit

Aristotle and the middle ground:

The Practical Guide to Aristotle follows a simple rule: avoid excess, follow the golden mean. Courage, temperance, prudence, liberality, magnanimity, meekness, gentleness are the traits of the wise Aristotle.

Aristotle and Justice:

Aristotle distinguishes two aspects of the concept of justice: individual justice, which depends on others and global justice and community. The first is a virtue, and the second relates to the laws and is the reason. In ideal, justice becomes political. Aristotle says of the dike (“justice”) that it is the objective order of the political community. The injustice of the just differs by the fact that it is “that which produces and maintains happiness and its parts for the political community.” A community unjust can not be happy, in other words.

Aristotle does not include only the idea of ​​Plato (in The Republic) that justice is the principal virtue. For him: “The virtue of justice is the virtue by which humans perform its ethical purpose.” Unlike Plato, he does depend on the virtue of a situation and, accordingly, factors external to the action of a virtuous man. If Plato is to give justice to every part of society (and every man) its rightful place in the whole, for Aristotle it amounts to conform our actions to the laws to preserve the happiness of the political community ” The fair is good policy, namely the common advantage

Justice, with Aristotle, becomes political and realistic.

Aristotle and Friendship:

It is what is most necessary for life. For without friends no one would choose to live, would he have any other property

Aristotle distinguished three kinds of friendships: interest, pleasure or virtue. Of course, only the friendship based on virtue is true, because the holders of virtue itself is good, is good for others, and consequently pleasing. This type of lasting friendship and perfect suits only men of property:

Friendship is the most righteous people

This report is linked to the human form of the political community in Aristotle. Indeed, only the Republic is a system of virtue. However, friendship and creates a report based much between individuals. So, friendship can not flourish in the Republic, and conversely, only the Republic can give rise to true friendship.

The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle is a great book, evryone one should read it because Aristotle manages to think of individual happiness in connection with the happiness of the city.


Cite this article as: Tim, "Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics (Summary), April 24, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 24, 2012,

Leave a Reply