Pupil of Plato, Aristotle was one of the great polymath's of the ancient world. He wrote on virtually every subject imaginable--physics, metaphysics, rhetoric, biology, logic, and drama, among others. He also wrote one of the most important works in the history of ethics--The Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle concern in the text initially is focused on the question of human happiness--what is it and how it is attained. It quickly becomes clear that Aristotle believed that only by living a life of virtue could one ultimately become happy. But what is virtue, and it's opposite, vice and how does one go about living a life of true virtue in order to live the happy life. These are the questions that are at the heart of the Nicomachean Ethics--and they are questions that still have tremendous relevance for those of us living today.
As you read, be sure that you are able to answer the following questions:
What does Aristotle believe to be the end of all human action? (§ I. 4)
What are some of the mistaken views that some people have regarding happiness? (§ I. 5)
When Aristotle observes that the question of happiness must be connected to our "function" as human beings, what does he mean? (§ I. 7)
Why does Aristotle believe that we also need to consider external goods (§ I. 8; 10b) and the course of our entire lifetimes (§ I.10a) in determining whether we are happy or not?
How does one become virtuous, according to Aristotle? What role do pleasure and pain and habit play in the acquisition of virtue? (§ II.1-4)
What is the "golden mean"? How is this mean used to define virtue, according to Aristotle? (§ II.6a-7)
If you think that you understand the basic ideas in the text, take the quiz for this unit.