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Classical Ethics, Lesson 06. Book I, Chapter 6

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

Perhaps, however, it is better to consider universal good, and enquire how it is said to subsist, though such an enquiry as this will be arduous, because the men who have introduced ideas are our friends.

But it may perhaps seem to be better, and indeed necessary to the salvation of truth, to subvert the opinions even of our friends. For both being our friends [i. e. Plato and truth,] it is holy to give the preference to truth. Those, however, who have introduced this opinion, do not make ideas of things in which they admit there are the prior and the posterior. Hence, neither do they establish an idea of numbers. But good is predicated of essence, of quality, and of relation. That, however, which has a subsistence per se, and essence, are naturally prior to that which subsists as a relative. For this [i. e. a relative] resembles the branch of a tree, and an accident of being; so that there will not be a common idea in these. Again, good is predicated in as many ways as being ; for it is predicated in essence, as god and intellect, [which are essences and are said to be good;] and in quality, as the virtues; in quantity, as the moderate; in relation, as utility; in time, as occasion, and in place, as a habitation, and after the same manner in the other predicaments. It is evident, therefore, that there will not be a certain common universal and one good; for it would not be predicated in all the categories, but in one alone \ Farther still, since of things which subsist according to one idea, there is also one science, of all goods there would be one certain science; but now there are many sciences of things which are under one. category. Thus, for instance, with occasion the art of commanding an army is conversant in war, but the medical art in disease. And with the moderate indeed, the medical art is conversant in food, but the gymnastic art in labour.

It may, however, be doubted what their intention is in denominating every idea itself\ since in man itself, and in man, there is one and the same definition of man; for so far as man there is no difference between them. But if this be the case, neither so far as good [will good itself and goods differ;] nor will it be in a greater degree good, from being eternal; since neither is that which is white for a long time, more white than that which is white only for one day. The Pythagoreans, however, appear to speak more probably concerning the good; for they place the one in the co-ordination of tilings good; whom Speusippus also seems to have followed. But the discussion of these things pertains to another treatise5. A certain doubt, however, presents itself concerning the particulars we have just mentioned, because reasons are not assigned concerning every good; but things which are of themselves the objects of pursuit and love, are predicated according to one species; and those things which are effective of these, or in a certain respect preserve tlicm, or impede their contraries, are predicated on account of these, and after another manner. It is evident, therefore, that goods may be predicated in two ways; and that some things, indeed, arc good per se, but others are good on account .of these. Separating, therefore, goods per se from things useful, let us consider whether they arc predicated according to one idea. But what kind of goods can be said to be good per se? Are they such as are pursued alone, apart from other things, such as to be wise, to see, and some pleasures and honours? For these, though we pursue them on account of something else, yet at the same time may be ranked by some one among goods which arc good per se. Or is the good per se nothing else except idea? Form, therefore, or idea, will be vain6. But if these also rank among goods which are good per se, it will be requisite that the same definition of the good should be conspicuous in all of them, just as there is the same definition of whiteness in snow and ceruse; but of honour, and prudence, and pleasure, there will be other and different definitions, so far as they are goods. The good, therefore, is not something common according to one idea. In what manner, however, is it said that there is one idea of the good? For it does not resemble things which are fortuitously homonymous. Is it because all gods are from one and are referred to one good? Or is it rather according to analogy? For as sight is in the body, so is intellect in the soul, and another thing in another8. Perhaps, however, these things must be omitted at present; for the accurate discussion of them will be better adapted to another philosophy. And in a similar manner concerning idea. For even if there is some one good which is predicated in common, or which is something itself separate by itself, it is evident that it can neither be practicable, nor acquired by man. But now that which is practicable by man, and which he may obtain, is the object of investigation. Perhaps, however, the knowledge of this separate good may to some one appear to be better with respect to those goods which may be acquired, and which are practicable. For having this as an exatnplar, we may in a greater degree know those things which are good for us, and by knowing may more easily obtain them. This assertion, therefore, has iudced a certain probability, but it seems to be dissonant to the sciences. For all the sciences aspire after a certain good, and investigate that which is wanting, omitting the knowledge of it; though it is not reasonable to suppose that all artists are ignorant of and do not search for an aid of such great importance. It is likewise dubious what advantage a weaver or a carpenter would derive to their arts from the knowledge of the good itself; or how he who surveys the idea itself of the good, will become more more skilled in medicine, or in commanding an army”. For it appears that the physician does not in this way consider health, but that he considers the health of man, and perhaps rather the health of this particular man. For he restores to health an individual. And thus much concerning these things.


Classical Ethics Recitation