After nine books of contemplating different aspects of the human good, Aristotle uses this opportunity to claim contemplation as the highest form of pleasure. The final book in Nicomachean Ethics is concerned with pleasures: the understanding of each kind, and why some pleasures are better than other pleasures. The book is essentially divided into two main parts, being pleasure and happiness. I will use Terence Irwin’s translation and subdivisions as a guiding map for my own enquiry, and any quotation from will be taken from this text. Irwin divides the book into three sections: Pleasure, Happiness: Further discussion, and Ethics, Moral Education and Politics. With this order in place, I will go chronologically through each claim and argument, using both the text and commentaries on the text to provide an understanding and clarify any misconceptions of the arguments presented.
At 1172a20 Aristotle makes his case for the ethical importance of pleasure. He says that not only do “we educate children…by pleasure and pain, [but] enjoying and hating the right things seems to be most important for virtue of character”. It because of this importance that pleasure needs to be considered. Aristotle also cites the importance of pleasure because of the controversy that surrounds it with regards to the dispute about whether pleasure is the good or it is altogether base (1172a 28).
The question as to whether or not pleasure is altogether base lies in the argument that “since the many lean towards pleasure and are slaves to pleasures, we must lead them in the contrary direction, because that is the way to reach the intermediate condition” (1172a 30). Anyone who offers the claim that...
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... be that there remains a fear of the philosopher that cannot be overcome. Plato may have had something with the Philosopher Kings.
Aquinas, St. Thomas. Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, volII. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1964.
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. Terence Irwin. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1985.
Burger, Ronna. “Aristotle’s ‘Exclusive’ Account of Happiness: Contemplative Wisdom as a Guise of the Political Philosopher” in The Crossroads of Norm and Nature. Ed. May Sim. Maryland: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 1995.
Rorty, Amelie. “The Place of Contemplation in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics” in Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics. Berkeley: Regents of the University of California, 1980.
Stewart, J. A. Notes on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle Vol. II. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892.
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