Skipping the rest of Book 1, Chapter 6. I am not interested too much in Aristotle’s polemics against the Platonists. At least not now. Especially since I do not yet understand Plato very well.


What is the good of a given art? The good of a given art is that for the sake of which the art is done. The good of medicine is health; of strategy, victory; architecture, a house; and so forth. “For it is for the sake of this that all men do whatever else they do. Therefore if there is an end for all that we do, this will be the good achievable by action, and if there is more than one, these will be the goods achievable by action.”

“Since there are evidently more than one end, and we choose some of these (e.g. wealth, flutes, and in general instruments) for the sake of something else, clearly not all ends are complete ends; but the chief good is evidently something complete.” That which is pursued for the sake of itself is complete, whereas that which is pursued for the sake of something else is not. The former is complete because it is sufficient for itself; one needn’t do anything but it, for any reason other than doing it. Also, that which is desirable only for itself, is better than that which is desirable both for itself and for something else. And more complete, as well. (What is more complete is also better.)

Happiness is held to be the most complete end, for we choose it for itself, whereas we do not choose honor, pleasure, reason, and every excellence for themselves, but for the sake of happiness.

COMMENTARY: Why is what is more complete better? Because the most complete subsumes all goods; if health produces happiness, so too does victory. And if happiness includes both health and victory, it is both more complete and better than either alone.

In the next paragraph, Aristotle goes into sustained argumentation about why happiness is complete and therefore self-sufficient. If anyone wants to look at it, it has the Bekker number 1097b7.

But how do we flesh out this happiness–since “to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude”? We first ask what is the function of a human being. A flute-player has a function, which is to play the flute, and a sculptor, to sculpt, and any artist in general, to make art, and the tanner to tan, and the carpenter to practice carpentry, and the eye seeing, hand manipulating, and foot walking or kicking, and so forth. And the good for each is executing their function well. Has man to have no function? If so, what is peculiar to man? Plants grow and have nutrition, so it is not growing or having nutrition. And animals sense, too, so it is not sense. Only man is rational. Man’s function, then, must be in accordance with, or at least not without, this rationality. “If we say that a so-and-so and a good so-and-so have a function which is the same in kind, e.g. a lyre-player and a good lyre-player…eminence is excellence being added to the function.” Human good, therefore, is a life lived excellently in accordance to the rational principle, and this too is happiness.

COMMENTARY: Aristotle makes a lot out of this kind of comparative zoology. If man has the rational principle as what distinguishes him from the animals, then certainly to live according to this rational principle to its utmost is to live humanly, BUT ONLY IN RELATION TO THE ANIMALS. There is no reason to say that it is exclusively man’s reason that must be cultivated; man’s being is not defined in relation to the animals, but only through an appraisal of him alone. Yet that is only an assertion. Aristotle’s example of the lyre player is an extremely compelling one, for isn’t the lyre player defined by the fact that he plays a lyre, and his activity almost solely defined by this fact? And yet the only thing that distinguishes the lyre player from any other person is his having a lyre. I think it would be sufficient to show how man’s situation vis-a-vis the other animals is different from the lyre player’s situation vis-a-vis other men, if we were to attempt to undermine Aristotle’s rationality-centered conception of man’s purpose. But I do not know how to do this.

COMMENTARY: As a side note, it must be understood here that happiness (eudaemonia) is not understood in the same sense as moderns understand it.

Aristotle, in a brief side-note, says, “one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed or happy,” just as good playing by a lyre-player for a fraction of a song and bad playing during the rest does not make a good lyre player.

“Let this serve as an outline of the good; for we must presumably first sketch it out roughly, and then later fill in the details.”

“We must consider it, however, in the light not only of our conclusion and premisses, but also of what is commonly said about it; for with a true view all the facts harmonize, but with a false one they soon clash.”

There are three classes of goods: external goods, those of the body, and those of the soul. Everything that Aristotle has posited is that of the soul. And the philosophers agree on this point. And so on.

Now “with those who identify happiness with excellence or some one excellence our account is in harmony; for to excellence belongs activity in accordance with excellence.” But is the chief good the possession or use of excellence? In the former case, the state may produce no good result, as in an excellent man who sleeps or one who has stolen away into seclusion. And in athletic contests, it is not the man who is beautiful or strong who wins, but those who compete.

The life of those who use excellence is also pleasant. Just as a horse is pleasant to the lover of horses, so too are excellent things pleasant to the lovers of excellence. We would not call one excellent who did not love excellence, such as someone who only behaved excellently for the sake of appearances but hated it in itself–just we would not call a man noble who did not rejoice in what is noble; one must both possess excellence AND put it to use. One must possess excellence to use excellence; otherwise, what one uses only appears to be excellence but is really vice masquerading as excellence. And using excellence is, too, as we have seen, a necessary condition for us calling a man excellent.

For most men, excellence is not pleasant, because their pleasures are in conflict with each other; yes, they value excellence, but they also value things that are not excellent, and so when they use excellence, they are never satisfied with it; they remain unsatisfied even with excellence, and so the pleasantness of excellence is mixed and quite often even unpleasant, since they often love things that are not excellent more than things that are excellent.

And because what is excellent to humans is excellent because it helps man to fully realize his nature–just as the lute player realizes his nature as a lute player through excellent lute playing–excellence is natural, and what is not excellent is unnatural.

Excellent actions are also good and noble, because an excellent man judges well about good and noble things. Excellence is, indeed, equivalent to what is good and noble. For what else could goodness and nobility be apart from what is man’s nature to the highest degree, that is, his excellence?

Happiness is, then, in accordance with what is natural, and it is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing.

It is impossible, or not easy, to be happy and excellent without the proper equipment. Evidently, then, one needs external goods as an addition to internal ones. “In many actions we use friends and riches and political power as instruments; and there are some things the lack of which takes the lustre from blessedness, as good birth, satisfactory children, beauty; for the man who is very ugly in appearance or ill-born or solidary and childless is hardly happy, and perhaps a man would be still less so if he had thoroughly bad children or friends or had lost good children or friends by death. As we have said, then, happiness seems to need this sort of prosperity in addition; for which reason some identify happiness with good fortune, though others identify it with excellence.”

COMMENTARY: I see no reason that it should not be both–that excellence is a gift of fortune.

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