Aristotle and Happiness of the Soul

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One of Aristotle’s conclusions in the first book of Nicomachean Ethics is that “human good turns out to be the soul’s activity that expresses virtue”(EN 1.7.1098a17). This conclusion can be explicated with Aristotle’s definitions and reasonings concerning good, activity of soul, and excellence through virtue; all with respect to happiness.

Aristotle opens his argument with the statement: “the good has been well described as that at which everything aims”(1.1.1094a2). This premise means that all actions aim at an end that is good. Moreover, through this definition of good, there are numerous goods corresponding to numerous actions. How can we know which good is the best, or highest good? Aristotle introduces a hierarchy of goods. In order to have an end there must be an activity, yet “the product (of the activity) is by nature better than the activity”(1.1.1094a6). Rather, each end in turn aims for something else: another end. It seems that this hierarchy would perpetuate into infinity, however Aristotle establishes that there is an action that has an absolute end, meaning that the end aims at nothing else. The action that produces the absolute end is pursued “because of itself;” thus this end will be the highest and best good (1.2.1094a18-22).

Further, Aristotle parallels the highest good with happiness: “As far as its name goes, most people virtually agree [about what the good is] … (and) call it happiness”(1.4.1095a17-19). In order for happiness to fit Aristotle’s definition of the good it must be “unconditionally complete” meaning “choiceworthy in itself”(1.7.1097a34) and “self-sufficient” meaning “lacking nothing”(1.7.1097b15). To be the highest good happiness will need to be the “mos...

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...Aristotle’s conclusion relates human good, activity of soul and excellence. It is this expression of virtue through action that allows happiness to be obtained. Such dependence on virtue sets the scene for Aristotle to examine virtue more closely. He will elaborate on the two parts of reasoning well (virtue). The first part of reasoning well is having the right desires to aim oneself at the right good and not just the apparent good. The second part of reasoning well is knowing how to get to this proper desire. This will be further elaborated in book two where Aristotle will explore what it means to reason well and what is means to be virtuous.

Work Cited

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Terence Irwin. Hackett Publishing Company: Indianapolis. 1985.

Note: In citations, [] indicate translators additions, while ( ) indicate my own additions.

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