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Classical Ethics, Lesson 08. Book I, Chapter 8

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

Happiness, therefore, must be considered by us, not only from the conclusion, and the particulars from which its definition consists, but also from the assertions of others concerning it. For everything which is inherent in a thing accords with the truth; but what is true is rapidly dissonant with what is false. Since goods, therefore, have a twofold distribution, and some of them are said to be external, but others pertain to the soul and the body, we call those pertaining to the soul, the most proper and principal goods; but we place the psychical actions and energies about the soul. Hence, it is well said, according to this opinion, which is ancient, and assented to by those who philosophize (that happiness is the energy of the soul according to virtue). It is also rightly said, that certain actions and energies constitute the end (i.e., happiness;) for thus happiness will consist in the goods pertaining to the soul, and not in external goods. With this reasoning, likewise, the assertions accord, that the happy man lives well, and acts well; for nearly happiness will be a certain living well and acting well. It appears, moreover, that everything which is sought for in happiness is inherent in the definition we have given of it. For to some, indeed, happiness appears to be virtue, to others prudence, and to others a certain wisdom; but to others it appears to be these things, or some one of these, accompanied with pleasure, or not without pleasure. Others, also, comprehend (in the definition of happiness,) external affluence. But of these opinions, some are supported by the authority of many and ancient men, and others by a few and renowned men. It is not, however, reasonable to suppose that either of these have wholly erred, but that they have erred in some one particular, and are right in most things. With those, therefore, who say that happiness is every virtue, or a certain virtue, our assertion accords; for it is the energy of the soul according to virtue. Perhaps, however, it differs in no small degree to conceive that what is most excellent consists in possession, or to conceive that it consists in use, and that it consists in habit, or in energy. For it is possible that habit when inherent, may be effective of no good, as in him who is asleep, or who in some other way is inactive; but this cannot be the case with energy. For he (who possesses virtue in energy) necessarily acts and acts well. But as in the Olympic games, not the most beautiful and the strongest are crowned, but those who contend; for some of these are victorious; so those who act rightly obtain those things in life which are beautiful and good. The life also of these is in itself delectable (independent of external pleasure). For to be delighted, is among the number of things pertaining to the soul. But to every one that is delightful of which he is said to be a lover; as a horse, to a lover of horses, and a spectacle, to a lover of spectacles. After the same manner, also, just things are delightful to a lover of justice, and in short what pertains to virtue to a lover of virtue. Things, therefore, delectable to the multitude are hostile to each other, because they are not naturally delightful; but to the lovers of what is beautiful in conduct, those things are delectable which are delectable by nature; and such are the actions according to virtue; so that they are delectable to these, and are so per se. The life also of these, is not at all in want of pleasure, as a certain appendage, but contains pleasure in itself. For in addition to what has been said, he is not a good man who does not rejoice in beautiful actions; for neither would any one call him just who does not rejoice in acting justly, nor him liberal, who does not rejoice in liberal actions; and in a similar manner in the other virtues. If this, however, be the case, actions according to virtue will be of themselves delectable, but they are also good and beautiful, and especially each of these, if the worthy man judges well concerning them; but he judges in the way we have said. Happiness, therefore, is a thing most excellent, most beautiful, and most delectable. Nor are these to be separated from each other according to the Delian inscription: “That which is most just is most beautiful; but to be well is the best of things: and for a man to obtain the object of his love, is the most delectable of things.” For all these are inherent in the best energies; but we say that happiness is all these, or one of them, and that the most excellent.

At the same time, however, it appears, as we have said, that external goods are requisite to happiness; for it is impossible, or not easy to perform beautiful actions without the assistance of externals; since many things are indeed performed as it were through instruments, by means means of friends, and wealth, and political power. The privation also, of some things, such as nobility, a good offspring, and beauty, defile a blessed condition of being; for he cannot be entirely happy who is very deformed in his body, or of ignoble birth, or who leads a solitary life, and is deprived of children. And perhaps he can in a still less degree be entirely happy, if his children are very vicious, or, being good, die. As we have said, therefore, (a completely happy life,) requires such a prosperity as this; whence also some arrange prosperity, but others virtue, in the same place with happiness.


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