According to Aristotle, there are three types of lives.  The life of the many, the political life, and the contemplative life.  The life of the many (polloi) identifies happiness with pleasure; this life is neither free, in that the man of pleasure is the slave of his desire, nor does this life operate on a principle different than that of the animals.  The political life, a life of greater refinement than that of the many, identifies happiness with honor; this kind of good is superficial, since it depends more on others than on oneself, and “the good we are looking for should be one’s own and not easily taken from one.”  Yet it is also true that, among the better of the political men, they seek honor only from those who know them, and on ground of their excellence.  So it may be so that what the political man seeks is not mere honor, but excellence.  But to Aristotle, excellence can be had while asleep, but when we speak of happiness, we speak of a state which we are actively experiencing; also excellence can be had while enduring tremendous misery, so how can it be called happiness?

There seems to be an insertion into the text, a critique on money-making, apparently a fourth kind of life, or perhaps more properly, a kind of false life, even less real than the life of pleasure.  For one cannot love money for itself; for money to be an end in itself is an absurd notion.  And so on with other such kinds of lives that are based on the love of some object.  “It is evident that not even these are ends–although many arguments have been thrown away in support of them.  Let us then dismiss them.”

COMMENTARY: How can a life of pleasure, which is an unfree life since it is governed by something beyond one’s rational control, be thought to be a hallmark of freedom?

Aristotle takes on Plato’s Form of the Good, i.e. the idea of a universal good that exists beyond this world that underlies the goodness of all good things.  It should be made clear that Aristotle is not sympathetic to such a notion.  This is perhaps one of the central differences between Aristotle and Plato, though the difference is subtle and I will not attempt to address it here.  But Aristotle is going to attack the notion of the Form of the Good, even though “such an inquiry is made an uphill one by the fact that the Forms have been introduced by friends of our own. … [but] as we are philosophers, … while both are dear, piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.”

Reading a bit further, this passage requires some background knowledge of Aristotle’s metaphysics, but I will distill the reading to make it intelligible without such a background.  Basically Aristotle asks: how can one universal Form account for numbers, relations between objects, colors, smells, etc., if these are all such distinctly different kinds of things (ousia)?

He then asks a related question: how can all good things be subsumed under one Form of Good, that is, all “substance, God and reason, the virtues, that which is moderate, the useful, the right opportunity, the right place, and so forth.”  Aristotle concludes on this point that “clearly the good cannot be something universally present in all cases and single.”

“Further, since of the things answering to one Idea there is one science, there would have been one science of all the goods; but as it is there are many sciences even of the things that fall under one category, e.g. of opportunity (for opportunity in war is studied by strategy and in disease by medicine), and the moderate in food is studied by medicine and in exercise by the science of gymnastics.”

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