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Aristotle was a philosopher whose works became an irreplaceable constituent of the modern comprehension of numerous concepts. Thanks to him, mankind can enjoy the present high level of scientific and spiritual development, as he gave to the descendants the system of ethical principles and the concept of logic. In the work Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle developed a systematized conception of ethics and disclosed the issues connected with this concept.
The first lines of the book illustrate Aristotle’s suggestion about the concept of happiness and prepare the readers for further speculations about goodness. In the first chapter of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle’s statement “the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim” (Aristotle, 2013, Chapter 1) reflects the author’s position about practical philosophy and practical ethics. It means that Aristotle aimed not only to describe some general attributes of goodness, but also to help people achieve goodness. He estimated goodness, precisely, happiness, as a chief virtue and “something final and self-sufficient, and the end of action” (Aristotle, 2013, Chapter 1).
The author also put in doubt today’s popular opinion that happiness is pleasure. For example, he claimed that men of a vulgar type suppose that goodness is pleasure and enjoyment. On the contrary, honor is true happiness for people of “superior refinement” (Aristotle, 2013, Chapter 3). The author also mentioned other ways to become happy, such as contemplation, and ways which are unlikely to lead to happiness, namely, money earning and having virtues but being inactive.
Aristotle analyzed human character, dividing virtue into moral and intellectual. Intellectual virtue is achieved “by birth and its growth to teaching,” while moral virtue is a result of habit. He mentioned the single way of gaining virtue by practicing it: “Men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre.” (Aristotle, 2013, Chapter 1) The author also stated that the knowledge of virtue is not enough because people have to feel virtue, to have capacities to make goodness, and to have a disposition to be virtuous. Aristotle also described feelings that distract people from virtuousness, for example, envy, indignation, and shame. Virtue was described as a hardly achieved and noble goal, as “it is not easy task to find the middle, for example to find the middle of a circle is not for everyone but for him who knows” (Aristotle, 2013, Chapter 9). Therefore, easy and pleasant ways to achieve virtue are false and must be avoided.
Aristotle confirmed that the extremes and absolute truth must be avoided, as every case must be judged considering the circumstances. For instance, courage, which is supposed as a virtue, may be treated differently by people. Courage is an attribute of citizen soldiers, but it is not the true virtue because cowardice would be punished and bravery would be appreciated (Aristotle, 2013, Chapter 8). Thus, the reasons for being virtuous or vicious are very important. Undeniably, people are free “to do noble or base acts” (Aristotle, 2013, Chapter 5) and are able to control their behavior; that is why in order to practice virtue, it is necessary to be a good person.
Ethics as a special area of Aristotelian philosophy is a very interesting subject for present-day researchers. Aristotle’s suggestions about the virtue still remain topical. Nicomachean Ethics demonstrates a distinctive opinion about the essence of goodness and inspires further reflection on the issue.
- Aristotle. (2013). Nicomachean Ethics. (W.D. Ross translator). North Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.