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Aristotle's book "Nicomachean Ethics" is a detailed study on happiness, and various approaches that explore its central thematic nature in all human activities and ends. In his impeccable logical style, he breaks down the elements that make up happiness, and forces us to reach the conclusion that he's already pre-determined. The main points of Aristotle's 5 fundamental elements of civil relationship are presented here in condensed form in order to explain his logic behind expounding happiness, the virtues, deliberation, justice and the friendship.

Happiness is generally identified with pleasure. Although people's interpretation of what comprises pleasure may differ depending on their condition, a sufficient majority of them agree on this. Aristotle justifies this point of view by reasoning that even though people may choose virtues such as honour, pleasure and reason for the sake of possessing the virtues themselves, they also choose them for the sake of happiness. He goes on to say that happiness cannot just be called the "chief good" (Book I, 1), but must be qualified with all possible functions of man and, by the process of elimination, be logically deduced to be the "best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world" (Book I, 8). Happiness, he continues, is not a stand alone end, but must be supported by the virtues. Therefore there must be an instrument to bring about this happiness, such as prosperity, or beauty, or popularity in social circles. Unless the conditions to perceive happiness are present, happiness cannot exist.


Aristotle classifies virtues into moral and intellectual. Moral virtues are a result of habit, while intellectual virtues come from learning. He reasons that since 'nothing...can form a habit contrary to its nature' (Book II, 1), virtues can only be formed by habit. Intellectual virtues can only be perfected over a period of time, and with experience. A further point that cements this conclusion is the fact that virtues are first learnt, and then exhibited, and the frequent expression of the virtue in various situations leads to its development. Aristotle digs deeper to not just define virtue theoretically, but to use it to become good. He then states that in order for a virtue to truly come into itself, it needs to be practiced in the right amounts. He likens it to the areas of health and temperance, saying that just as excess and defect (or deficiency) lead to extremes, and the ultimate destruction of the body is caused by too much exercise or food as well as the lack of it in sufficient quantities, virtues such as courage and temperance are also destroyed by excesses or deficiencies of bravery and self-indulgence. He goes on to explore every possible aspect of how virtue can be defined for the purpose of using it to increase the good in ourselves. He concludes this section saying that virtue is neither compulsory nor a matter of opinion, and goes on to explore a third possibility - that of virtue being a result of deliberation.

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Aristotle describes deliberation as voluntary mental efforts that are usually reserved for acts for which the conclusion cannot be determined. Deliberations are about things that are within our potential control, or about means to an end rather than the end itself. He proves these arguments using logical examples that could not lead us to any other conclusion. Deliberation is directed towards finding a solution to a problem, or as a means to narrow down our final actions to a choice that we make from the options we are presented. A description of deliberation, he says, is actually a description of the choice-making process itself, which lead to the development of virtue, and ultimately to the final goal - happiness.

Justice and injustice are then thoroughly examined, starting with a clear definition of both, and the actions that lead a man to practice one or the other. Aristotle suggests that since justice encompasses all virtues, such as courage and temperance, it must be the highest of virtues. Justice alone, of all the virtues is a result of deliberation about another's good, and therefore the high standing among virtues. The next argument is that justice comes in different forms, as in justice (and injustice) from the standpoints of law and fairness. One interpretation is the justice borne out of the proper apportioning of resources such as wealth and honour. It is also that which arises out of human transactions, leaving both sides equally or unequally balanced. A further type of justice arises from reparative or rectifying action, which is like compensation for a wrong turn done. Aristotle then concluded by pointing out deviations or special conditions that can still be described as being just even though they defy the preceding criteria for justice. In this way, the virtue of justice is connected with the next civic relationship, which is friendship.

Aristotle starts out by defining friendship is such glowing terms as to even call a friendly quality 'the truest form of justice' (Book VIII, 1). He also calls it the reciprocation of goodwill towards a living thing. He continues, saying that friendships can either arise out of mutual and requited love, or mutual benefit, or mutual pleasure. For, if the elements of the friendship were not mutual, then it would not be complete. Therefore, for the second two types of friendship to hold good neither of the participants should change any quality that makes them desirable as a friend to the other. This is not the case with true friendship, which is neither incidental nor dependent of the other's utility or pleasure-giving capacity, although these may be inherently present in a true friendship. For this reason, true friendship are far more permanent and less dependent on prevalent conditions that the other types. Aristotle then proceeds to explore every angle from which friendship could be defined as a virtue, thereby defining it in the process.

Aristotle's thorough and persuasive arguments, although leading us to the ultimate happiness of comprehension, don't leave much deliberation up to the reader, his reasoning guiding us like railway tracks rather than a lighthouse. His elaborations of the virtues of justice and friendship are often digressive, and tend to consider every singly aspect of the topic under discussion rather than the main points.

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