The End of Human Life There must be some end to human life That is the reason for which we do all other things Politics – Includes the good for all areas of human life This inquiry into the good of man is a kind of political enquiry
Preface: The exactness of knowledge Various disciplines admit different degrees of certainty. We should not expect from ethics and politics the exactitude of physics. But we should not therefore think it is only a matter of convention.
Happiness as the greatest human good There is wide agreement that happiness is the greatest human good. But there is little agreement about what happiness (or a well-lived life) consists in.
What is happiness?
Aristotle lays out the view of classes embraced by Plato (that some are dominated by desire, some by spiritedness, some by reason)
Some say it consists in a life of pleasure
This is the view of the masses
Some say it is the life of honor
This is the view of statesmen
Some say it consists in virtue
This is the view of the wise
The final good as self-sufficing Our true good can scarce be taken away from us. Many goods, however, are only conditional and partial; they aim at something beyond themselves. Moneymaking – ultimately aims at happiness These thus cannot be confused with the final good, which is self-sufficing.
Contingent goods and a happy life
These various partial, contingent goods contribute to a good life.
Contingent goods, which can come and go, are still goods. It is better to have them, than not to have them.
Thus one living a fully good life has friends, a certain wealth, physical beauty, etc. Some external goods are necessary. (See also Bk. X, Ch. 8)
More fundamental, however: What is our function? The human function is a kind of life. It is to exercise one’s vital faculties in accord with reason. It is act and live well and beautifully, as an excellent, exemplary human. This means it is to act virtuously.
Human nature Humans have three parts constituting their nature: Vegetative soul Appetite He says these listen to reason Reason Reason plays a role in controlling appetites: If we do this, then we develop character virtues
Two kinds of virtue Intellectual virtue This consists in developing intellectual abilities (including the ability to judge how a virtuous person should act—i.e., phronesis, or practical wisdom/prudence. Character virtue These are moral excellencies—habits of character cultivated in those who live excellently
The development of character
Virtues are not natural.
They must be acquired by training.
Just as we become pianists by playing piano, we become just by acting justly, courageous by acting courageously, etc.
So, too, we become unjust by practicing injustices, cowards by practicing cowardice, etc.
Context sensitive action The goal is not to follow a principle that applies equally in every situation. It is to develop a character that allows us to judge what action is appropriate in each different kind of situation
Taking pleasure in the right things Humans are malleable. We can take pleasure and find pain in very different things The virtuous person learns to take pleasure in good things and to find pain in bad things. We also want to avoid finding pleasure at the wrong times or in the wrong manner
The virtuous takes pleasure
In the right things
At the right time
Toward the right persons
In the right manner
To the right degree
We take the pleasure or pain that we derive from moral actions as a test of our character.
Hamartanein Hamartanein is the Greek for missing the mark. Our goal is to hit it. It is difficult, however, because there are many ways of missing it, and few of hitting it.
The golden mean
The goal in virtues of character is to achieve a mean between two extreme forms of character.
We want to avoid both a deficiency and an excess of a certain characteristic.
The mean, however, is relative
The right amount of food for Milo, the wrestler, is different than the right amount of food for me.
“Virtue, then, is a habit or trained faculty of choice, the characteristic of which lies in moderation or observance of the mean relatively to the persons concerned, as determined by reason, i.e., as the prudent man would determine it.” (NE, Bk II, Ch. 6)
Not all things admit of a mean
One can’t commit too little adultery, or just enough – only too much.
One can’t commit adultery with the right person, in the right way, at the right time, etc.
Nor can there be an excess of the virtues – i.e., to much justice, too much moderation, etc.
The golden mean
In feelings of fear and confidence
Mean = courage
Deficiency of confidence = cowardliness.
Excess of confidence = foolhardiness
In taking money (small and large sums)
Mean = Liberality, magnificence
Excess in spending = prodigality, bad taste
Deficiency in giving = Illiberality, meanness
With regard to honor and disgrace
Mean = high mindedness
Excess = vanity
Deficiency = low mindedness
Mean in nearly all things
Excess = wrathfulness
Deficiency = wrathlessness
Pleasantness in amusement
Mean = wittiness
Excess = buffoonery
Deficiency = boorishness
Pleasantness in other affairs
Mean = friendliness
Excess = obsequious or flattery
Deficiency = disagreeableness, quarrelsomeness
Life of moral virtue is happy in a secondary sense
The development of character virtues is related to intellectual virtue.
In living in accord with virtue, we do develop the intellectual virtue of prudence
The development of this virtue stands in a feedback relationship with the development of virtues of character.
The more virtuous we become, the better we see what virtue calls for in a particular situation.
External goods and the virtues of character
Basic necessities in life must be met to have a good life.
They are also necessary for the exercise of character virtues.
Strength is necessary to express bravery.
Some money is needed to be liberal.
But we only need moderate amounts of these things to live a life of virtue.
This consists in the fullest expression of reason in us.
It requires speculation or contemplation, since that is how we most fully express reason.
The life of contemplation is the only life pursued completely for itself.
It alone is the life of leisure.
All toil is done in the hope that we can find peace/leisure – even the toil of the statesman.
But the life of contemplation surpasses what is possible for us – it is more of a divine life.
We ought, however, to exercise our reason in contemplation as much as possible.
The wise person is the happiest of all.
Political Thought Moral education is important. A good polity: supports the development of good citizenry (the cultivation of the virutes). The best polity: one of virtuous citizens.
Development of Virtue as Human Goal. Development of Virtue as Political Goal. Humans are rational animals. Humans are political animals (zoon politikon). Human Telos: Happiness (Eudaimonia) is the goal of action. It requires a certain material basis, but mainly a rational life in combination with the cultivation of the virtues. The goal of the polity is (among other things) to support this natural goal. That means the polity must create the basis favorable for the individual development of reasons, education, virtue.
Ethics and Politics Humans are social animals. One living outside of the state is “either an animal or a God.“ Aim of a good polity to enable citizens a complete human life. The Polis exists naturally. Each person shares the aim of pursuing Eudaimonia. The state is necessary for achieving this goal.
A virtuous character is an individual and social product Humans are social beings. Although reason is essential to humans, it is developed better in some societies than in others. A rational society creates rational citizens.
Legislation Law is to secure the conditions needed for individuals to maintain a well-lived life. A well-lived life is an exemplary one. The measure of an exemplary life is passed on in the polity. The polity thus also assumes the right to help decide what good life of the citizens consists in. Education is an essential governmental duty. A well-educated (virtuous) citizenry is needed to maintain a just state.