Previously published as Ethics, Aristotle's The Nicomachean Ethics addresses the question of how to live well, and originates the concept of cultivating a virtuous character as the basis of his ethical system.
This Penguin Classics edition is translated from the Greek by J.A.K.
Thomson with revisions and notes by Hugh Tredennick, and an introduction and bibliography by Jonathan Barnes. 'One swallow does not make a summer; neither does one day.
Similarly neither can one day, or a brief space of time, make a man blessed and happy' In The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle sets out to examine the nature of happiness.
He argues that happiness consists in 'activity of the soul in accordance with virtue', for example with moral virtues, such as courage, generosity and justice, and intellectual virtues, such as knowledge, wisdom and insight.
The Ethics also discusses the nature of practical reasoning, the value and the objects of pleasure, the different forms of friendship, and the relationship between individual virtue, society and the State.
Aristotle's work has had a profound and lasting influence on all subsequent Western thought about ethical matters. Aristotle (384-22 BC) studied at the Academy of Plato for 20 years and then established his own school and research institute, 'The Lyceum'.
His writings, which were of extraordinary range, profoundly affected the whole course of ancient and medieval philosophy and are still eagerly studied and debated by philosophers today. If you enjoyed The Nicomachean Ethics, you might like Plato's The Symposium, also available in Penguin Classics.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 400 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 29/01/2004
- Category: Western philosophy: Ancient, to c 500
- ISBN: 9780140449495
Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.
Review by LisaMaria_C
Plato and Aristotle between them not only laid the foundations for Western philosophy, many would argue they divided it neatly between them: Plato the one who with his "Allegory of the Cave" gave birth to the idea of an existence beyond our senses, giving a rational gloss to mysticism. Aristotle, the father of logic and a scientist, with a this-world orientation. There's a famous fresco by Raphael, "The School of Athens," where that's illustrated, where the figure meant to be Plato points to the sky--the heavens--while Aristotle points to the ground--to this Earth. If you're going to ask me which school I belong to--at least as so categorized, Aristotle wins, hands down. Yet if you ask me which philosopher I found a joy to read, which a slog--well, Plato wins.Unfortunately, much of Aristotle's works were lost, and what remains I've seen described as not his polished material, but "lecture notes." Plato's dialogues are like little plays, and reading them often are, I daresay, fun. Yes, really. So it was disappointing not to find Aristotle as lively a read. This is dry stuff. But then there are the ideas, which fully earn the five stars. Back when I was introduced to ethics in school, about the only two choices we were given was Utilitarianism--the "greatest good for the greatest number" or Kant and his "categorical imperative" with examples contrasting them such as, under Utilitarianism, if torture leads to good for the greatest number, then by all means, let the water boarding begin! Under the categorical imperative, on the other hand, rules... well, rule. It doesn't matter if there's a ticking atomic bomb, you don't use torture. You're not supposed to care about practical consequences, to yourself or others. What's left out of both philosophies is the individual and his or her happiness. But that's not left out with Aristotle. For him ethics is <i>practical</i> and about the pursuit of happiness. It's for that and from that virtues flow. It's in <i>our personal</i> interest to be virtuous, to practice habits of character that lead to a good life for a human being. Those ethics that appeal and resonate to me come from this school of thought. It's philosophy for human beings, on a human level. So, Plato for style--Aristotle for substance. For me, anyway.
Review by booksontrial
Having just finished and enjoyed Plato's complete works, I find this book a bit annoying and uninspiring in comparison. Aristotle seems to take every opportunity to "correct" Plato, when in fact he is only attacking a strawman. His arguments, sometimes self-contradictory, often support and clarify Plato's ideas, albeit using his own terminology.
Aristotle seems to have great difficulty appreciating or understanding Plato’s abstractions (from species to genus, from the individual instances to the common patterns, i.e. Idea or Form). This is the cause of the majority of his attacks against Plato, as “piety requires us to honour truth above our friends.” How very noble of him!
I don't know whether the Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum charged their students fees. If not, there were no financial incentives in disparaging their rival. If it was purely intellectual rivalry, using straw man is often a sign of an inferior intellect or character. Since both Plato and Aristotle believed that the intellect was the best part of man or the true man, to attack and destroy another's ideas would be equivalent to murder (or Freudian parricide).
However, it could also be true that Aristotle was formulating his own philosophy through engagement with Plato's ideas, and intellectual competitions and debates help facilitate the development of sound ideas. Since this is the first book by Aristotle that I've read, it's very likely that I'm not giving him his due here. It may take some time to switch from Plato to Aristotle's way of thinking.
A Champion of Mediocrity
Aristotle's definitions of good, virtue and happiness are unsatisfactory to me. Good is "that at which all things aim". All people aim at happiness (or pleasure), therefore happiness is the supreme good. But, what exactly is happiness or pleasure? How can one hit his aim if he can't discern what he is aiming at? If virtue is "the mean between deficiency and excess", what is the difference between virtue and mediocrity?
"Pleasure perfects activity not as the formed state that issues in that activity perfects it, by being immanent in it, but as a sort of supervening [culminating] perfection, like the bloom that graces the flower of youth." How can a fleeting thing that lacks permanence be the object of a lifelong pursuit?
In the end, Aristotle agrees with Plato, perhaps begrudgingly as it was dictated by reason, that happiness is contemplation of the divine, which is pleasant, self-sufficient and continuous. He insists on making a distinction between activity and state, but in this instance the distinction is unclear to me.
An Acute Observer of Human Nature
There are a few things I do appreciate in this book. Aristotle's joie de vivre (his delight in learning, being alive and active), his insights into human nature, his clear and penetrating psychological portrayal of various character traits and the dynamic relationships or transactions between human beings. He also introduced me to Pythagorean's fascinating mathematical representation of equality, A:B = B:C and A-M = M -C.