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Classical Ethics, Lesson 04. Book I, Chapter 4

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Lesson

Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle (bust)
Aristotle (384-322 BC)

Repeating, therefore, what we have said, since all knowledge and deliberate choice aspires after a certain good, let us show what that is which we say the political science desires, and what the supreme good is of all actions. By name, therefore, it is nearly acknowledged by most men; for both the vulgar and the learned call it happiness. But they conceive that to live well and to act well, are the same thing as to be happy.

Concerning happiness, however, what it is, they are dubious; and the multitude do not form the same opinion of it as the wise. For some of them indeed conceive it to rank among the number of things which are clear and evident, such as pleasure, or wealth, or honour; but others assert it to be something else.

Frequently, likewise, the same person forms a different opinion of it; for when diseased he conceives it to be health, but when poor, riches.

And those who are conscious of their ignorance, admire those who assert something grand, and above their comprehension.

Some too, besides these many goods, are of opinion that there is another good subsisting by itself, which is the cause to all these of their being good.

To examine, therefore, all the opinions, would perhaps be a vain undertaking; but it will be sufficient to consider those that are most eminent, or which appear to be in some respect reasonable. We must not, however, be ignorant that arguments from principles and to principles differ from each other. For Plato well doubts about and investigates this, whether the way is from principles or to principles; as in a race from the president of the games to the goal, or the contrary.

For we must begin from things that that are known, but these subsist in a twofold respect. For some things are known to us, but others are simply known. Perhaps, therefore, we should begin from things known to us. Hence, it is necessary that the auditor of discussions about things beautiful and just, and in short about political concerns, if he is to be benefited, should be adorned with worthy manners. For the principle is this, that the thing is so; and if this is sufficiently apparent, it is not at all requisite to know why it is so. But such a one either possesses, or will easily acquire ethical principles.

Let him, however, who has neither of these, hear what Hesiod says:

“He the first rank of excellence maintains
Who from himself in ev’ry thing is wise,
And what ev’n to the end is best foresees:
He too is good who yields to wise advice.
But he who neither from himself is wise,
Nor to assent to others can endure,
Is but a useless, despicable man.”

Assessment

Classical Ethics Recitation