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Classical Ethics, Lesson 09. Book I, Chapter 9

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

Hence, also, it is doubted whether happiness is a thing which may be acquired by discipline, or custom, or in some other way by exercise; or whether it accedes by a certain divine allotment, or from fortune. If, therefore, any other thing is the gift of the gods to men, it is reasonable to suppose that happiness also is the gift of divinity, and especially because it is the best of human concerns. This, however, will perhaps be more adapted to another discussion. But it appears, that though it should not be sent by divinity (to men,) but is procured through virtue, and a certain discipline, or exercise, it belongs to the most divine of things; for the reward and end of virtue appears to be most excellent, and something divine and blessed. Happiness also will be a thing very common; for it is able to be present, through a certain discipline and attention, to all men who are not mutilated with respect to virtue. But if it is better that happiness should be acquired after this manner, rather than from fortune, it is reasonable that it should be so acquired; since natural productions subsist in such a way as it is most beautiful for them to subsist; and in a similar manner things which are produced by art, or by any other cause, and especially such as are produced by the most excellent cause. To commit, however, the greatest and most beautiful of things to fortune, would be very lawless and reprehensible. The object of investigation, likewise, is apparent from the definition of happiness; for we have said that it is a certain energy of the soul according to virtue. But of the remaining goods, some indeed are present from necessity, but others co-operate, and are naturally adapted to be useful organically. These things, also, will accord with what we have said in the beginning. For we established the end of the political science as the best end; but this pays the greatest attention to the citizens, in order to render them characters of a certain description, and that they may be good men, and practisers of beautiful actions. Reasonably, therefore, do we neither call an ox, nor a horse, nor any other (irrational) animal happy; for it is not possible that any one of them, can partake of such an energy as this. Through this cause, likewise, neither is a child happy; for he is not yet, on account of his age, a practiser of things of this kind. But those children who are said to be happy, are proclaimed to be blessed through hope, (that when they become men they will obtain the rational energy in perfection). For happiness, as we have said, requires perfect virtue, and a perfect life. For many mutations and all-various fortunes happen in life; and it is possible that he whose affairs are in the most prosperous condition, may in old age fall into the greatest calamities, us in heroic poems it is fabled concerning Priam. But no one would call him happy who experiences such misfortunes, and who dies miserably.


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