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Classical Ethics, Lesson 05. Book I, Chapter 5

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by Aristotle, translated by Thomas Taylor

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

Let us, however, return from whence we have digressed.

For it seems that men do not unreasonably form an opinion of good and felicity from the different kinds of lives. The vulgar, indeed, and the most worthless part of mankind, place felicity in pleasure; and on this account they embrace the life which consists in the enjoyment of pleasure.

For there are three kinds of lives which especially take the lead, the vulgar life, the political life, and the third is the contemplative life.

The multitude, therefore, appear to be perfectly servile, deliberately choosing the life of cattle; and they support their opinion by the example of many persons in power, who have preferred a voluptuous life, and have lived like Sardanapalus.

But men of elegant minds, and those who are addicted to practical concerns, place felicity in honour; for this is nearly the end of the political life. This, however, appears to be more superficial than the good which is the object of our investigation. For honour seems to be rather in the persons that honour, than in him who is honoured. But we prophesy that good is something appropriate, and of which it is difficult to deprive its possessor. Farther still, it seems that men pursue honour in order that they may believe themselves to be worthy persons. They seek, therefore, to be honoured by wise men,, and by those to whom they are known, and with a view to virtue. It is evident, therefore, that according to these men virtue is more excellent than honour. Perhaps, however, some one may apprehend that this [viz. virtue] is rather the end of the political life. But even this appears to be more imperfect [than the chief good ought to be}. For it appears to be possible that he who possesses virtue may sleep, or be unemployed through the whole of his life, and besides this may be afflicted, with evils, and experience the greatest misfortunes. But no one would proclaim a man thus living to be happy, unless for the purpose of defending his position. And concerning these things indeed enough; for we have spoken sufficiently about them in our miscellaneous writings.

But the third life is the contemplative, which we shall make the object of our consideration hereafter.

The life, however, which is engaged in the acquisition of riches, is a certain violent life, and it is evident that wealth is not the good which we investigate; for wealth is useful, and for the sake of something else. Hence, the things which have been before mentioned may be considered as ends rather than wealth; for they are loved on their own account. It appears, however, that neither does felicity consist in these; though many arguments are adduced to prove that it does. These things, therefore, we shall dismiss.


Classical Ethics Recitation