Aristotle, Ethics 9.5

Aristotle Ethics - E A Co nte x t n icomachean ethics aristotle A We live in deeds not years in thoughts not breaths in feelings not in figures on

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tttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt E nicomachean ethics A a r i s t o t l e “We live in deeds, not years: in thoughts, not breaths; in feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.” —Aristotle A. Context Aristotle’s Ta Ethika, or study of the character of human beings, is based on his understanding of human nature. The Nicomachean Ethics , as the work is known to us, consists of lecture notes written down around 350 BCE, assembled by his son (and pupil) Nicomachus, and dedicated either to him or to Aristotle’s physician father, Nicomachus. For Aristotle, people aspire to happiness, which he sees as an end in itself. No one, he says, strives to be happy for some other reason; rather, people choose other activities or things as means to attain eudaimonia : happiness, well-being, satisfaction, a sense of fulfillment over realizing our aims and ambitions as human beings. (Jonathan Barnes [ Aristotle: Ethics , Penguin, 1976] sees this term as related to euzoia , well living, and eupraxia, well being.) We achieve happiness, says Aristotle, by living a rational life, living the life of the mind, informed by areté . Areté is often translated as “virtue”; in fact the Socratic maxim, “virtue is knowledge,” is translated from areté . But the term is closer in meaning to excellence– excellence in achievement, in fulfilling one’s potential. When Homer uses the word areté he is referring to bravery or effectiveness in battle. Philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle link it with knowing. To Aristotle, happiness is associated with theoretical knowledge, which is to him the highest kind: knowledge about knowledge—contemplation, or thinking about thinking. (He describes God as “a thinking about a thinking”–so our critical thinking efforts must be divinely happy indeed!) The Hellenic ideal of sophrosyne or moderation is central to Aristotle’s thought. He locates the moral virtues in the mean between extremes of our character—his famous “middle way.” If we are to achieve eudaimonia (or become a eudaimon ), we must develop sophrosyne . Sometimes translated as “wisdom” (the Greek word for which is sophia ), sophrosyne even in Homer is closer in meaning to moderation , attained by recognizing one’s limitations . The Delphic Oracle’s injunction, then, gnothi sauton (“know thyself”) is crucial here: we need self- knowledge to know our character; then we can seek the middle way and moderate our excesses. (Thus timid people can learn to take risks and reckless persons can learn to moderate their impulses.) Sophrosyne is achieved through contemplation and right choices. Aristotle does not accept Socrates’s and Pla- to’s belief that we always will the good, that achieving goodness is a function of understanding. He believes that we attain goodness because of the choices we make, the actions we take. In making decisions we reveal–and shape–our
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This note was uploaded on 04/22/2010 for the course ENG 110 taught by Professor Whitchurch during the Spring '10 term at Golden West College.

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Aristotle Ethics - E A Co nte x t n icomachean ethics aristotle A We live in deeds not years in thoughts not breaths in feelings not in figures on

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