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Aristotle's Ethics

From Londonhua WIKI

Nicomachean Ethics

by Milap Patel

Aristotle
Aristotle.jpeg
Aristotle

Born: 384 BC, Stagira, Greece

Died: 322 BC, Chalcis, Greece
Aristotle's Work Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, and Metaphysics
Education

Studied Under Pluto at Platonic Academy

367 BC–347 BC


Abstract


This milestone focuses on understanding Aristotle's philosophical work, Nicomachean Ethics, and how it compares to modern society. The first section of this milestone will discuss in depth, Aristotle's central thesis regarding individual's happiness as outlined in Nicomachean Ethics. In the second section of this milestone, Aristotle's philosophy will then be compared to modern society. According to Aristotle, to truly become a happy society, everyone within that society must possess only virtuous qualities; for reasons I will demonstrate below, I believe this is unachievable in modern society where individuals only possess virtuous qualities. I have had very little experience in the field of philosophy, with no prior classes taken in this field, but doing this milestone has allowed me to understand what dictates our happiness.

Introduction


This milestone discusses Aristotle's philosophical work, Nicomachean Ethics, and how it relates to modern society. Aristotle begins the Nicomachean Ethics by saying that one must understand what makes individuals happy before one can understand what makes the community happy. For this reason, Aristotle pursues understanding the essence of an individual's happiness. He records is finding in a series of ten books called Nicomachean Ethics which are discussed in depth in this milestone. Aristotle's philosophies are then compared with modern society to evaluate if people are truly happy today.

Section 1: Background


Aristotle's ethics were written to explore and understand what it means to achieve ultimate happiness. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, determines that human virtues, habits, and his surroundings play a key role in how a person defines happiness. He also states that there is no single definite answer to achieve happiness, but instead there are infinite solutions that vary depending on the individual and his unique situations. Aristotle, however, does state that for a person to be truly happy, he must choose the correct and rational action in a given situation without having any regrets doing so. It is then that he will feel true happiness knowing that he has done the right thing. [1]

What is Nicomachean Ethics

Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotle's study on how people live and their purpose in life. His study consists of looking at human behavior and analyzing their motives behind them. The goal of Aristotle's study is to determine what makes a person happy. Aristotle records his findings in a series of ten books which were named "Nicomachean Ethics." [2]

The Composition of Nicomachean Ethics


Nicomachean Ethics begins by discussing the link between political philosophy and Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle says that in order to understand what makes a community happy, one must first understand what makes an individual happy. According to Nicomachean Ethics, what one person considers "happiness" or "good" is not the same for another person. Nicomachean Ethics, therefore, explores three major fields; the definition of happiness, virtue, and achieving true happiness. Through this study, Aristotle hopes to unlock what is considered true happiness or what he considers the ultimate "good". [3]

Definition of Happiness

Happiness
Article Image
Picture Sadness To Happiness


Aristotle considered happiness to live a life that is blessed. A life that other right-thinking people admire and wish to live themselves. According to Aristotle, being rich and famous does not mean that the person in question is happy. In actuality, a person who is pursuing wealth does not actually want money but what the money can buy. Therefore, that person is not truly happy as he is still pursuing some other "good" that comes from it. Same with honor. Aristotle also believes that honor and fame don't bring true happiness. According to him they are just mediums that get people to the awards that accompany after.
Furthermore, Aristotle also explored the definition of happiness presented by his predecessor Plato. Plato’s "Theory of Forms" says that there is only a single form of "good" where all the good things are good in the same way. Aristotle states that this theory is flawed when considering the diversity of what we call "good" and the ways in which we consider "goodness". He says that even if there was a single form of "good", getting to that "good" and being "good" varies from person to person. According to Aristotle, happiness is the highest form of "good" where the end is sufficient in itself. He also points out what we consider "good". According to him we relate "good" with someone who performs their function "well," such as a good flutist who plays his flute well. Aristotle says that for a person to perform "well" they must be rational, virtuous, and active. This in turn will lead that person to be happy by honing their good qualities. [4]

Virtue

Habits
Article Image
Picture Intellectual and Moral Virtues


Aristotle defines human virtue as a disposition to behave in the right manner. This means that a virtuous person's mindset would be in between extremes of deficiency and excess. This kind of mindset would dictate the right actions and reactions made by that virtuous person regardless of how severe of a situation he faces.
Aristotle points out that there are two types of virtues: intellectual and moral. Intellectual virtues are learned through teachings while moral virtues are honed through habits and constant practice. Aristotle says that all people are born with the potential to be morally virtuous, but only if we train ourselves to behave in the right way. This idea is analogous to the way a musician would learn to play his instrument. For the musician to get better and reach perfection, he must constantly practice playing his instrument. In the same way, a person must constantly practice being "good", not just think about it, for them to act virtuously. Aristotle lays out three criteria that distinguish virtuous people from people who accidentally behave in the right way. The first criteria says that virtuous people are conscious of them behaving in the right way. The second criteria says that virtuous people choose to behave in the right way for the sake of being virtuous, and finally the third criteria says that virtuous people's behavior manifests itself as part of a fixed virtuous disposition. According to Aristotle, virtue is not a feeling. As he puts it, feelings move people to act in a certain way as opposed to virtue which compels people to act in a certain way. Aristotle suggests three rules of conduct to stay virtuous: first, avoid the extremes and try to stay close to the mean; second, notice the errors that we are susceptible to and try to avoid them; and third, be cautious of pleasure as it often impedes our judgment. [5]

Actions


We determine the virtuousness of a person through observing their actions. To come to a conclusion, we must first analyze the action taken by that person. Aristotle says that there are three categories of action taken by people: voluntary, involuntary, and non-voluntary. An action is voluntary if the person in question has control of their desired action. An action is involuntary if it is performed under compulsion. If an action is taken in ignorance, it is still considered involuntary if the person recognizes their ignorance at a later time. However, if a person acts in ignorance but does not recognize or suffer for their ignorance, then it is considered non-voluntary. Aristotle says a "bad" person is a person who shows ignorance in his general behavior. At this point that person is ignorant of what is good which is precisely what makes a person "bad".
Aristotle further says that choices are the best measure of moral goodness. As he puts it, choices, unlike actions, are always made voluntarily. Those of good character will always make choices that aim for the good while those who are not of good character may misunderstand and wish for only the apparent good. As such, both virtue and vice are related to choices made by people voluntarily and deliberately. Through observing the choices made by people, we can determine their true character. [6]

"Mean"


Aristotle says that for a person to be virtuous, they must possess intelligence and habits that fall in between the extremes. Aristotle defines these extremes, or "vice", as either excess of a particular character or deficiency of a particular character. For a person to be virtuous, they must possess habits that cover the middle ground, or mean, between the two extremes. [7] Aristotle points out a few virtuous characteristics in the Nicomachean Ethics.

Courage


Aristotle defines courage as an appropriate attitude toward fear. Courage does not mean fearlessness but instead it involves confidence in the face of fear. An excess of fearfulness constitutes the vice of cowardice, and a deficiency constitutes the vice of rashness. Courage, therefore as a virtue, falls in between the two as a mean. Courage is best displayed on the battlefield but it can also be displayed in the day to day life given appropriate situations. Courage, as a result of its complex nature, is often misunderstood for someone who takes action in fear of being dishonored, showing no fear in non-threatening situations, taking action under the influence of anger or pain, taking action with overconfidence, and finally taking action with ignorance of the danger. As Aristotle puts it, true courage involves enduring pain, not showing off. [8]

Temperance


Aristotle defines temperance as a virtue in regard to physical pleasure. An excess of pleasure constitutes the vice of licentiousness, while the dearth of pleasure has no given name because of its rarity. Licentious person usually gains pleasure from taste and touch. Licentious person also feels the most pleasure from physical sensations along with most pain when deprived of them. Aristotle says for a person to be temperate, they must show feelings of appropriate pleasures that are related to health and fitness. [9]

Liberality
Liberality And Magnificence
Article Image
Picture Spending Money


Liberality is the virtue related to spending money. An excess amount of liberality will constitute the vice of prodigality while a deficiency will constitute the vice of illiberality. Aristotle says that a liberal person will give the right amount of money to right people at the right times. In other words, a liberal person will manage his resources and spend only what is needed unlike a prodigal person who would squander money at his leisure. [10]

Magnificence


Magnificence is also a virtue of spending money but, unlike liberality, magnificence is about properly spending money. An excess of magnificence will constitute the vice of vulgarity, where a person spends too much money on unneeded things, while the deficiency will constitute the vice of pettiness, where a person barely spends any money on essential things. [11]

Magnanimity


Magnanimity is quality of a person who knows himself to be worthy of great honor. An excess of magnanimity will result in the person being conceited while dearth will result in the person being timid. As Aristotle puts it, a magnanimous person knows he is great and accepts his honors knowing they are deserved without taking excessive pleasures from them. [12]

Amiability


Amiability is a social virtue which is shown in a person with proper social conduct. An excess of amiability will constitute the vice of flattery while the deficiency will constitute the vice of quarrelsome. [13] An example of this can be seen in social gatherings where having the virtue of amiability will serve to improve conversations.

Truthfulness


Truthfulness is a virtue of being accepted by others. An excess of truthfulness will constitute the vice of boastfulness, where a person pretends to have qualities or achievements that he does not possess, while deficiency will constitute the vice of irony, where a person is self-deprecating by underestimating himself. [14] An example of this can be seen in school where people have ample opportunities to display the virtue of truthfulness. People will also have just as many opportunities to display the vices of truthfulness in the same situation where they will falsely better or worsen their reputation in others views.

Wit


Wit is a virtue required for a good conversation. An excess of wit will cause the person to seem boorish while the deficiency will constitute the vice of buffoonery. [15] An example of this can be seen in social events. A person who possesses the virtue of wit will hold engaging conversation while a person who possesses the vices will struggle to maintain their audience.

Government and Laws


Aristotle ends his Nicomachean Ethics describing the need for a governing factor to help promote virtuous actions and discourage vicious actions. He says that laws will help improve the character of individuals by helping them make the progression from a state of worse to better. Obeying the laws will help individuals build good habits overtime and ultimately achieve happiness in their day to day life. [16]

Section 2: Deliverable


How Aristotle's Philosophy Is Seen Today


Aristotle's philosophy can be related to the modern society. There are many instances where his philosophy has been proven correct by observing the choices made by people in modern society. According to Aristotle, to truly become a happy society, everyone within that society must possess only virtuous qualities; for reasons I will demonstrate below, I believe individuals with only virtuous qualities is impossible to achieve in modern society. These observations will be discussed and compared with Aristotle's philosophy in this section.

Modern Definition Of Happiness Pursuing Money


Aristotle’s philosophy, displayed in Nicomachean Ethics, can be related to the modern world. Let's begin by understanding what people consider happiness today. Majority of the people consider happiness to be rich. They believe that attaining large sum of money and property will make them happy. [17] This can be observed in our society where people dream of buying large houses, fast cars, and living a life in luxury. However, Aristotle does not consider this to be happiness. As explained earlier, these views of theirs regarding happiness are only momentary. They do not provide them with the ultimate good as outlined by Aristotle.
Let’s examine someone winning a lottery as an example. People in society today believe that winning a lottery will make them happy. This can be observed in society where thousands upon thousands rush to play lottery every day. Their goal in doing this is to become rich and achieve happiness in life. [18] However, when the value of money is taken away and demoted to just being a piece of paper, then will the people still pursue it by playing lottery in hopes of becoming happy? I say not. People don’t want the money but what the money can buy. [19] As such, money does not provide the people with true happiness. Instead, it is a medium that gets them to higher form of happiness just as Aristotle explained in the Nicomachean Ethics. For this reason, I believe that our views on true happiness seen today are distorted where we are pursuing the wrong form of happiness.

Pursuing Fame


It is the same with fame as it is with money. People believe that being famous grants them happiness through the honors provided by the people in society. [20] This can be observed in society were many artists, such as musicians, directors, and stage performers, pursue fame as a way to become happy. However, the artists are not pursuing fame itself, but what accompanies fame, like respect and money. [21]

Vice And Virtue Observed In Society

Display Of Vices In Modern Society
Article Image
Picture Obesity


Now let’s examine how virtues are seen today. Majority of the people observed today tend to harbor vices in society. This is mostly because of the freedom granted to them where they can do as they see fit to a legal extent. [22] To demonstrate this, let’s examine consumption of food. One can observe that food provides people with momentary happiness. This is especially true if the food is of high quality. However, with freedom, people submit to the pleasures provided by the food where they consume large amounts which are usually not necessary. This can be observed in America and throughout various parts of the world where obesity has become a crisis. People consider obesity to be bad where it causes complications in health and negatively impacts how a person looks. [23] Aristotle’s philosophy supports this where he says that taking excess pleasure from a certain characteristic, also known as vice, is considered bad. He cautioned people to be aware of pleasure where it often impedes our judgment.
The modern society also display many virtues. While there are many who submit to pleasure, there just as many who resist it. Let’s consider consumption of food again to exemplify this. Many individuals throughout the world consume just the needed amount of food to stay healthy. Celebrities are among these many individuals who perfectly exemplify this. It can be observed that celebrities show considerable restraint regarding the consumption of food. This results in them having virtuous characteristic that reward them with true happiness by having their desired body form. Furthermore, their virtuous characteristics are also exemplary where many follow their example regarding diets to gain the same happiness for themselves. This is precisely what Aristotle pointed out in his philosophy to attain true happiness.

Promote Virtue In Our Modern Society


The modern society overall, displays many vices and many virtues as exemplified above. To truly become a happy society, everyone within that society must possess only virtuous qualities as described by Aristotle. I believe this is impossible to achieve in modern society because everyone in this society possesses freedom to pursue their self-interest. As a result, modern society, as seen today, will always contain people with vice like characteristics. The only counter to this situation is providing the people with good education and creating laws that promote virtuous characteristics. People, however, will oppose these actions in modern society because it will restrict the people’s freedom. According to them, freedom is the basis for modern society. [24]

Conclusion


This milestone has discussed Aristotle's philosophy on true happiness and how it relates to modern society. Aristotle defines true happiness, described in Nicomachean Ethics, as achieving the highest form of "good" where the end is sufficient in itself. He says that true happiness can only be achieved by individuals who behave virtuously. Virtue, as defined by Aristotle, is an individual's character that is the mean in between two extremes of excess and deficiency, also known as vices. Virtuous character will then dictate the choices made by individuals where it will influence their actions in life. To truly become a happy society, according to Aristotle, everyone within that society must possess only virtuous character. However, this is impossible to achieve in modern society, for the reasons demonstrated above, where people possess both virtue and vice like characteristics. Further research can be done on this topic to better understand why people possess vice like characteristics in modern society and how it can be prevented in the future to achieve a happy community as defined by Aristotle.

References


  1. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. xi-xv, xxiii , 1-26
  2. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. vii- xv, xxiii, 26
  3. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. xxiii
  4. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 1-26
  5. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 27-42
  6. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 43-67
  7. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 30-37
  8. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 57-61
  9. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 63-66
  10. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 67-69
  11. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 72-77,
  12. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 73, 75
  13. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 81-82
  14. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 79, 85
  15. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 38
  16. Bartlett, R. C., & Collins, S. D. (2011). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago : University of Chicago Press., pp. 52
  17. Mitchell, T., & Mickel, A. (1999). The Meaning of Money: An Individual-Difference Perspective. The Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 568-578. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/259143
  18. Lee, Y., & Chang, C. (2005). The Social Impacts of the Public Welfare Lottery: An Empirical Study in Taiwan. Modern Asian Studies, 39(1), 133-153. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/3876509
  19. Mitchell, T., & Mickel, A. (1999). The Meaning of Money: An Individual-Difference Perspective. The Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 568-578. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/259143
  20. Halberstam, J. (1984). Fame. American Philosophical Quarterly, 21(1), 93-99. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/20014032
  21. Halberstam, J. (1984). Fame. American Philosophical Quarterly, 21(1), 93-99. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/20014032
  22. Hirschmann, N. (2008). Jean-Jacques Rousseau: FORCE, FREEDOM, AND FAMILY. In Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory (pp. 118-167). PRINCETON; OXFORD: Princeton University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/j.ctt7s271.7
  23. Bhattacharya, J., & Sood, N. (2011). Who Pays for Obesity? The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(1), 139-157. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/23049442
  24. BAUM, B. (2000). Political Freedom. In Rereading Power and Freedom in J.S. Mill (pp. 228-266). University of Toronto Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/10.3138/9781442679269.13


Image References

  1. Flannery, M. (2016). Unlocking Happiness in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2016/04/19/happiness-in-the-classroom/
  2. Surprenant, C. (2015). Eudaimomia. Retrieved from https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/UTBzKo0RhYwFq1c2QOaC9szUV4qtejFaTLkN79Z9cr99jcNmUpEB72xLOexOM-zrsDGWHIelqN0SI6Tv8U6idvHKWg
  3. Sweeney, D. (2012). 5 Questions Small Businesses Should Ask Before Spending. Retrieved from https://blog.mycorporation.com/2012/08/5-questions-small-businesses-should-ask-before-spending/
  4. Cartwright, M. (2016). THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC & CAREERS TO SHRINK IT. Retrieved from http://www.learnhowtobecome.org/make-a-difference-careers/obesity/



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