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8_nichomachean - 24.01 Classics of Western Philosophy Prof...

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24.01 Classics of Western Philosophy Prof. Rae Langton II. Aristotle Lecture 8. Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics 1. Reminder. What is the good for human beings? First answer: happiness, because that is the only thing we aim at for its own sake—the only ‘complete end’; and because that is the only self-sufficient good, which, on its own, makes life worth living. Second answer: an activity of the soul in accordance with excellence, since that is how human beings fulfill their proper function well. Putting these together: happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with excellence. 2. Excellence, or virtue, is acquired through habit. Moral excellence is contrasted with natural abilities such as vision, which we have even before we exercise them. In the case of moral excellence, we learn by doing (1103a: 30): ‘in one word, states arise out of like activities’: Men become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts (1103a: 30) 3. Virtue involves knowledge, choice and character. What matters for a work of art or music is just that it have a certain quality, we don’t need to know what the artist thought; but when it comes to virtue, what matters is not just what the action is, but how it was done, and what the agent was like: The agent also must be in a certain condition when he does [the acts]; in the first
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