Chapter 22. "What is the Life of Excellence?" by Aristotle

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from the Nichomachean Ethics
The Reading Selection from the Nichomachean Ethics
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Aristotle, Thoemmes

About the author…

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) studied at Plato's Academy for twenty years. After a few years in Macedonia as a tutor to the future Alexander the Great, Aristotle returned to Athens and established his own school, the Lyceum. His presentation of courses was encyclopedic. Unlike Plato, Aristotle had an abiding interest in natural science and wrote extensively in physics, zoology, and psychology. Much as Socrates had been charged with impiety, so also Aristotle was charged—in large measure due to his former relationship with Alexander. Unlike Socrates, Aristotle fled Athens, "lest," as he is quoted, "the Athenians sin twice against philosophy." His work in logic was not significantly improved upon until the development of symbolic logic in the twenienth century. The central concepts of his poetics and ethics still remain influential. Charles Darwin once wrote, "Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods…but they were mere schoolboys [compared to] Aristotle."

About the work…

In the Nichomachean Ethics,[1] Aristotle argues that what we seek is eudaimonia, a term unfortunately translated in this reading as "happiness." is better expressed as the "well-being" or the "excellence of performing the proper function." When Aristotle explains human virtue, he is not discussing what we now refer to as Victorian virtue. He is clarifying the peculiar excellence of human beings in the same manner as we often speak of the peculiar excellence attributable to the nature of a thing. For example, a tool is useful in virtue of the fact that it performs its function well. Aristotle's purpose in the Nichomachean Ethics is not just to explain the philosophy of the excellence for human beings but also to demonstrate specifically how human beings can lead lives of excellence as activity in accordance with practical and theoretical reason.

Ideas of Interest from the Nichomachean Ethics

  1. According to Aristotle, what is happiness (eudaimonia)? How does Aristotle's definition of happiness differ from the account given by most people?

  2. What does Aristotle mean when he writes that the good for man is self-sufficient?

  3. How does Aristotle prove that the final good for human beings is "activity of the soul in accordance with [the best and most complete] virtue"?

  4. Explain and trace out some examples of Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean.

  5. What is the difference between theoretical and practical knowledge? Which kind is the more important for Aristotle?

  6. According to Aristotle, how are the habits and character of excellence in human beings attained?

  7. What is the relation between the passions and the virtues according to Aristotle?

  8. In the Nichomachean Ethics, does Aristotle trace out a method whereby human beings can change their character? If so, what are the main outlines of his program for change?



Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Translated by W. D. Ross. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1925.