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CHAPTERS 6–9.: CONCLUSION. - Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics 
The Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle, trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 5th edition (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co., 1893).
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Happiness not amusement, but life.
Now that we have discussed the several kinds of virtue and friendship and pleasure, it remains to give a summary account of happiness, since we assume that it is the end of all that man does. And it will shorten our statement if we first recapitulate what we have said above.
We said that happiness is not a habit or trained faculty. If it were, it would be within the reach of a man who slept all his days and lived the life of a vegetable, or of a man who met with the greatest misfortunes. As we cannot accept this conclusion, we must place happiness in some exercise of faculty, as we said before. But as the exercises of faculty are sometimes necessary (i.e. desirable for the sake of something else), sometimes desirable in themselves, it is evident that happiness must be placed among those that are desirable in themselves, and not among those that are desirable for the sake of something else: for happiness lacks nothing; it is sufficient in itself.
Now, the exercise of faculty is desirable in itself when nothing is expected from it beyond itself.
Of this nature are held to be (1) the manifestations of excellence; for to do what is noble and excellent must be counted desirable for itself: and (2) those amusements which please us; for they are not chosen for the sake of anything else,—indeed, men are more apt to be injured than to be benefited by them, through neglect of their health and fortunes
Now, most of those whom men call happy have recourse to pastimes of this sort. And on this account those who show a ready wit in such pastimes find favour with tyrants; for they make themselves pleasant in that which the tyrant wants, and what he wants is pastime. These amusements, then, are generally thought to be elements of happiness, because princes employ their leisure in them. But such persons, we may venture to say, are no criterion. For princely rank does not imply the possession of virtue or of reason, which are the sources of all excellent exercise of faculty. And if these men, never having tasted pure and refined pleasure, have recourse to the pleasures of the body, we should not on that account think these more desirable; for children also fancy that the things which they value are better than anything else. It is only natural, then, that as children differ from men in their estimate of what is valuable, so bad men should differ from good.
As we have often said, therefore, that is truly valuable and pleasant which is so to the perfect man. Now, the exercise of those trained faculties which are proper to him is what each man finds most desirable; what the perfect man finds most desirable, therefore, is the exercise of virtue.
Happiness, therefore, does not consist in amusement; and indeed it is absurd to suppose that the end is amusement, and that we toil and moil all our life long for the sake of amusing ourselves. We may say that we choose everything for the sake of something else, excepting only happiness; for it is the end. But to be serious and to labour for the sake of amusement seems silly and utterly childish; while to amuse ourselves in order that we may be serious, as Anacharsis says, seems to be right; for amusement is a sort of recreation, and we need recreation because we are unable to work continuously.
Recreation, then, cannot be the end; for it is taken as a means to the exercise of our faculties.
Again, the happy life is thought to be that which exhibits virtue; and such a life must be serious and cannot consist in amusement.
Again, it is held that things of serious importance* are better than laughable and amusing things, and that the better the organ or the man, the more important is the function; but we have already said that the function or exercise of that which is better is higher and more conducive to happiness.
Again, the enjoyment of bodily pleasures is within the reach of anybody, of a slave no less than the best of men; but no one supposes that a slave can participate in happiness, seeing that he cannot participate in the proper life of man. For indeed happiness does not consist in pastimes of this sort, but in the exercise of virtue, as we have already said.
Of the speculative life as happiness in the highest sense.
But if happiness be the exercise of virtue, it is reasonable to suppose that it will be the exercise of the highest virtue; and that will be the virtue or excellence of the best part of us.
Now, that part or faculty—call it reason or what you will—which seems naturally to rule and take the lead, and to apprehend things noble and divine—whether it be itself divine, or only the divinest part of us—is the faculty the exercise of which, in its proper excellence, will be perfect happiness.
That this consists in speculation or contemplation we have already said.
This conclusion would seem to agree both with what we have said above, and with known truths.
This exercise of faculty must be the highest possible; for the reason is the highest of our faculties, and of all knowable things those that reason deals with are the highest.
Again, it is the most continuous; for speculation can be carried on more continuously than any kind of action whatsoever.
We think too that pleasure ought to be one of the ingredients of happiness; but of all virtuous exercises it is allowed that the pleasantest is the exercise of wisdom.* At least philosophy† is thought to have pleasures that are admirable in purity and steadfastness; and it is reasonable to suppose that the time passes more pleasantly with those who possess, than with those who are seeking knowledge.
Again, what is called self-sufficiency will be most of all found in the speculative life. The necessaries of life, indeed, are needed by the wise man as well as by the just man and the rest; but, when these have been provided in due quantity, the just man further needs persons towards whom, and along with whom, he may act justly; and so does the temperate and the courageous man and the rest; while the wise man is able to speculate even by himself, and the wiser he is the more is he able to do this. He could speculate better, we may confess, if he had others to help him, but nevertheless he is more self-sufficient than anybody else.
Again, it would seem that this life alone is desired solely for its own sake; for it yields no result beyond the contemplation, but from the practical activities we get something more or less besides action.
Again, happiness is thought to imply leisure; for we toil in order that we may have leisure, as we make war in order that we may enjoy peace. Now, the practical virtues are exercised either in politics or in war; but these do not seem to be leisurely occupations:—
War, indeed, seems to be quite the reverse of leisurely; for no one chooses to fight for fighting’s sake, or arranges a war for that purpose: he would be deemed a bloodthirsty villain who should set friends at enmity in order that battles and slaughter might ensue.
But the politician’s life also is not a leisurely occupation, and, beside the practice of politics itself, it brings power and honours, or at least happiness, to himself and his fellow-citizens, which is something different from politics; for we [who are asking what happiness is] also ask what politics is, evidently implying that it is something different from happiness.
If, then, the life of the statesman and the soldier, though they surpass all other virtuous exercises in nobility and grandeur, are not leisurely occupations, and aim at some ulterior end, and are not desired merely for themselves, but the exercise of the reason seems to be superior in seriousness (since it contemplates truth), and to aim at no end beside itself, and to have its proper pleasure (which also helps to increase the exercise), and further to be self-sufficient, and leisurely, and inexhaustible (as far as anything human can be), and to have all the other characteristics that are ascribed to happiness, it follows that the exercise of reason will be the complete happiness of man, i.e. when a complete term of days is added; for nothing incomplete can be admitted into our idea of happiness.
But a life which realized this idea would be something more than human; for it would not be the expression of man’s nature, but of some divine element in that nature—the exercise of which is as far superior to the exercise of the other kind of virtue [i.e. practical or moral virtue], as this divine element is superior to our compound human nature.*
If then reason be divine as compared with man, the life which consists in the exercise of reason will also be divine in comparison with human life. Nevertheless, instead of listening to those who advise us as men and mortals not to lift our thoughts above what is human and mortal, we ought rather, as far as possible, to put off our mortality and make every effort to live in the exercise of the highest of our faculties; for though it be but a small part of us, yet in power and value it far surpasses all the rest.
And indeed this part would even seem to constitute our true self, since it is the sovereign and the better part. It would be strange, then, if a man were to prefer the life of something else to the life of his true self.
Again, we may apply here what we said above—for every being that is best and pleasantest which is naturally proper to it. Since, then, it is the reason that in the truest sense is the man, the life that consists in the exercise of the reason is the best and pleasantest for man—and therefore the happiest.
Of the practical life as happiness in a lower sense, and of the relation between the two. Prosperity, how far needed.
The life that consists in the exercise of the other kind of virtue is happy in a secondary sense; for the manifestations of moral virtue are emphatically human [not divine]. Justice, I mean, and courage, and the other moral virtues are displayed in our relations towards one another by the observance, in every case, of what is due in contracts and services, and all sorts of outward acts, as well as in our inward feelings. And all these seem to be emphatically human affairs.
Again, moral virtue seems, in some points, to be actually a result of physical constitution, and in many points to be closely connected with the passions.
Again, prudence is inseparably joined to moral virtue, and moral virtue to prudence, since the moral virtues determine the principles of prudence,* while prudence determines what is right in morals.
But the moral virtues, being bound up with the passions, must belong to our compound nature; and the virtues of the compound nature are emphatically human. Therefore the life which manifests them, and the happiness which consists in this, must be emphatically human.
But the happiness which consists in the exercise of the reason is separate from the lower nature. (So much we may be allowed to assert about it: a detailed discussion is beyond our present purpose.)
Further, this happiness would seem to need but a small supply of external goods, certainly less than the moral life needs. Both need the necessaries of life to the same extent, let us say; for though, in fact, the politician takes more care of his person than the philosopher, yet the difference will be quite inconsiderable. But in what they need for their activities there will be a great difference. Wealth will be needed by the liberal man, that he may act liberally; by the just man, that he may discharge his obligations (for a mere wish cannot be tested,—even unjust people pretend a wish to act justly); the courageous man will need strength if he is to execute any deed of courage; and the temperate man liberty of indulgence,—for how else can he, or the possessor of any other virtue, show what he is?
Again, people dispute whether the purpose or the action be more essential to virtue, virtue being understood to imply both. It is plain, then, that both are necessary to completeness. But many things are needed for action, and the greater and nobler the action, the more is needed.
On the other hand, he who is engaged in speculation needs none of these things for his work; nay, it may even be said that they are a hindrance to speculation: but as a man living with other men, he chooses to act virtuously; and so he will need things of this sort to enable him to behave like a man.
That perfect happiness is some kind of speculative activity may also be shown in the following way:—
It is always supposed that the gods are, of all beings, the most blessed and happy; but what kind of actions shall we ascribe to them? Acts of justice? Surely it is ridiculous to conceive the gods engaged in trade and restoring deposits, and so on. Or the acts of the courageous character who endures fearful things and who faces danger because it is noble to do so?* Or acts of liberality? But to whom are they to give? and is it not absurd to suppose that they have money or anything of that kind? And what could acts of temperance mean with them? Surely it would be an insult to praise them for having no evil desires. In short, if we were to go through the whole list, we should find that all action is petty and unworthy of the gods.
And yet it is universally supposed that they live, and therefore that they exert their powers; for we cannot suppose that they lie asleep like Endymion.
Now, if a being lives, and action cannot be ascribed to him, still less production, what remains but contemplation? It follows, then, that the divine life, which surpasses all others in blessedness, consists in contemplation.
Of all modes of human activity, therefore, that which is most akin to this will be capable of the greatest happiness.
And this is further confirmed by the fact that the other animals do not participate in happiness, being quite incapable of this kind of activity. For the life of the gods is entirely blessed, and the life of man is blessed just so far as he attains to some likeness of this kind of activity; but none of the other animals are happy, since they are quite incapable of contemplation.
Happiness, then, extends just so far as contemplation, and the more contemplation the more happiness is there in a life,—not accidentally, but as a necessary accompaniment of the contemplation; for contemplation is precious in itself.
Our conclusion, then, is that happiness is a kind of speculation or contemplation.
But as we are men we shall need external good fortune also: for our nature does not itself provide all that is necessary for contemplation; the body must be in health, and supplied with food, and otherwise cared for. We must not, however, suppose that because it is impossible to be happy without external good things, therefore a man who is to be happy will want many things or much. It is not the superabundance of good things that makes a man independent, or enables him to act; and a man may do noble deeds, though he be not ruler of land and sea. A moderate equipment may give you opportunity for virtuous action (as we may easily see, for private persons seem to do what is right not less, but rather more, than princes), and so much as gives this opportunity is enough; for that man’s life will be happy who has virtue and exercises it.
Solon too, I think, gave a good description of the happy man when he said that, in his opinion, he was a man who was moderately supplied with the gifts of fortune, but had done the noblest deeds, and lived temperately; for a man who has but modest means may do his duty.
Anaxagoras also seems to have held that the happy man was neither a rich man nor a prince; for he said that he should not be surprised if the happy man were one whom the masses could hardly believe to be so; for they judge by the outside, which is all they can appreciate.
The opinions of the wise, then, seem to agree with our theory. But though these opinions carry some weight, the test of truth in matters of practice is to be found in the facts of life; for it is in them that the supreme authority resides. The theories we have advanced, therefore, should be tested by comparison with the facts of life; and if they agree with the facts they should be accepted, but if they disagree they should be accounted mere theories.
But, once more, the man who exercises his reason and cultivates it, and has it in the best condition, seems also to be the most beloved of heaven. For if the gods take any care for men, as they are thought to do, it is reasonable to suppose that they delight in that which is best in man and most akin to themselves (i.e. the reason), and that they requite those who show the greatest love and reverence for it, as caring for that which is dear to themselves and doing rightly and nobly But it is plain that all these points are found most of all in the wise man. The wise man, therefore, is the most beloved of heaven; and therefore, we may conclude, the happiest.
In this way also, therefore, the wise man will be happier than any one else.
How is the end to be realized?
Now that we have treated (sufficiently, though summarily) of these matters, and of the virtues, and also of friendship and pleasure, are we to suppose that we have attained the end we proposed? Nay, surely the saying holds good, that in practical matters the end is not a mere speculative knowledge of what is to be done, but rather the doing of it. It is not enough to know about virtue, then, but we must endeavour to possess it and to use it, or to take any other steps that may make us good.
Now, if theories had power of themselves to make us good, “many great rewards would they deserve” as Theognis says, and such ought we to give; but in fact it seems that though they are potent to guide and to stimulate liberal-minded young men, and though a generous disposition, with a sincere love of what is noble, may by them be opened to the influence of virtue, yet they are powerless to turn the mass of men to goodness. For the generality of men are naturally apt to be swayed by fear rather than by reverence, and to refrain from evil rather because of the punishment that it brings than because of its own foulness. For under the guidance of their passions they pursue the pleasures that suit their nature and the means by which those pleasures may be obtained, and avoid the opposite pains, while of that which is noble and truly pleasant they have not even a conception, as they have never tasted it.
What theories or arguments, then, can bring such men as these to order? Surely it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to remove by any argument what has long been ingrained in the character. For my part, I think we must be well content if we can get some modicum of virtue when all the circumstances are present that seem to make men good.
Now, what makes men good is held by some to be nature, by others habit [or training], by others instruction.
As for the goodness that comes by nature, it is plain that it is not within our control, but is bestowed by some divine agency on certain people who truly deserve to be called fortunate.
As for theory or instruction, I fear that it cannot avail in all cases, but that the hearer’s soul must be prepared by training it to feel delight and aversion on the right occasions, just as the soil must be prepared if the seed is to thrive. For if he lives under the sway of his passions, he will not listen to the arguments by which you would dissuade him, nor even understand them. And when he is in this state, how can you change his mind by argument? To put it roundly, passion seems to yield to force only, and not to reason. The character, then, must be already* formed, so as to be in some way akin to virtue, loving what is noble and hating what is base.
But to get right guidance from youth up in the road to virtue is hard, unless we are brought up under suitable laws; for to live temperately and regularly is not pleasant to the generality of men, especially to the young. Our nurture, then, should be prescribed by law, and our whole way of life; for it will cease to be painful as we get accustomed to it. And I venture to think that it is not enough to get proper nurture and training when we are young, but that as we ought to carry on the same way of life after we are grown up, and to confirm these habits, we need the intervention of the law in these matters also, and indeed, to put it roundly, in our whole life. For the generality of men are more readily swayed by compulsion than by reason, and by fear of punishment than by desire for what is noble.
For this reason, some hold that the legislator should, in the first instance, invite the people and exhort them to be virtuous because of the nobility of virtue, as those who have been well trained will listen to him; but that when they will not listen, or are of less noble nature, he should apply correction and punishment, and banish utterly those who are incorrigible. For the good man, who takes what is noble as his guide, will listen to reason, but he who is not good, whose desires are set on pleasure, must be corrected by pain like a beast of burden. And for this reason, also, they say the pains to be applied must be those that are most contrary to the pleasures which the culprit loves.
As we have said, then, he who is to be good must be well nurtured and trained, and thereafter must continue in a like excellent way of life, and must never, either voluntarily or involuntarily, do anything vile; and this can only be effected if men live subject to some kind of reason and proper regimen, backed by force.
Now, the paternal rule has not the requisite force or power of compulsion, nor has the rule of any individual, unless he be a king or something like one; but the law has a compulsory power, and at the same time is a rational ordinance proceeding from a kind of prudence or reason.* And whereas we take offence at individuals who oppose our inclinations, even though their opposition is right, we do not feel aggrieved when the law bids us do what is right.
But Sparta is the only, or almost the only, state where the legislator seems to have paid attention to the nurture and mode of life of the citizens. In most states these matters are entirely neglected, and each man lives as he likes, ruling wife and children in Cyclopean fashion.†
It would be best, then, that the regulation of these matters should be undertaken and properly carried out by the state; but as the state neglects it, it would seem that we should each individually help our own children or friends on the road to virtue, and should have the power or at least the will to do this.‡
Now, it would seem from what has been said that to enable one to do this the best plan would be to learn how to legislate. For state training is carried on by means of laws, and is good when the laws are good; but it would seem to make no difference whether the laws be written or unwritten, nor whether they regulate the education of one person or many, any more than it does in the case of music, or gymnastics, or any other course of training. For as in the state that prevails which is ordained by law and morality, so in the household that which is ordained by the word of the father of the family and by custom prevails no less, or even more, because of the ties of kinship and of obligation; for affection and obedience are already implanted by nature in the members of the family.
Moreover, in spite of what has just been said, individual treatment is better than treatment by masses, in education no less than in medicine. As a general rule, repose and fasting are good for a fever patient, but in a particular case they may not be good. A teacher of boxing, I suppose, does not recommend every one to adopt the same style. It would seem, then, that individuals are educated more perfectly under a system of private education; for then each gets more precisely what he needs.
But you will best be able to treat an individual case (whether you are a doctor, or a trainer, or anything else) when you know the general rule, “Such and such a thing is good for all men,” or “for all of a certain temperament;” for science is said to deal, and does deal, with that which is common to a number of individuals.
I do not mean to deny that it may be quite possible to treat an individual well, even without any scientific knowledge, if you know precisely by experience the effect of particular causes upon him, just as some men seem to be able to treat themselves better than any doctor, though they would be quite unable to prescribe for another person.
But, nevertheless, I venture to say that if a man wishes to master any art, or to gain a scientific knowledge of it, he must advance to its general principles, and make himself acquainted with them in the proper method; for, as we have said, it is with universal propositions that the sciences deal.
And so I think that he who wishes to make men better by training (whether many or few) should try to acquire the art or science of legislation, supposing that men may be made good by the agency of law. For fairly to mould the character of any person that may present himself is not a thing that can be done by anybody, but (if at all) only by him who has knowledge, just as is the case in medicine and other professions where careful treatment and prudence are required.
Our next business, then, I think, is to inquire from whom or by what means we are to learn the science or art of legislation.
“As we learn the other arts,” it will be said,—“i.e. from the politicians who practise it: for we found that legislation is a part of politics.”
But I think the case is not quite the same with politics as with the other sciences and arts. For in other cases it is plain that the same people communicate the art and practise it, as physicians and painters do. But in the case of politics, while the sophists profess to teach the art, it is never they that practise it, but the statesmen. And the statesmen would seem to act by some instinctive faculty, proceeding empirically rather than by reasoning. For it is plain that they never write or speak about these matters (though perhaps that were better than making speeches in the courts or the assembly), and have never communicated the art to their sons or to any of their friends. And yet we might expect that they would have done so if they could; for they could have left no better legacy to their country, nor have chosen anything more precious than this power as a possession for themselves, and, therefore, for those dearest to them.
Experience, however, seems, we must allow, to be of great service here; for otherwise people would never become statesmen by familiarity with politics. Those who wish for a knowledge of statesmanship, then, seem to need experience [as well as theory].
But those sophists who profess to teach statesmanship seem to be ludicrously incapable of fulfilling their promises: for, to speak roundly, they do not even know what it is or what it deals with. If they did know, they would not make it identical with rhetoric, or inferior to it, nor would they think it was easy to frame a system of laws when you had made a collection of the most approved of existing laws. “It is but a matter of picking out the best,” they say, ignoring the fact that this selection requires understanding, and that to judge correctly is a matter of the greatest difficulty here, as in music. Those who have special experience in any department can pass a correct judgment upon the result, and understand how and by what means it is produced, and what combinations are harmonious; but those who have no special experience must be content if they are able to say whether the result is good or bad—as, for instance, in the case of painting. Now, laws are the work or result, so to speak, of statesmanship. How then could a collection of laws make a man able to legislate, or to pick out the best of the collection?
Even the art of healing, it seems, can not be taught by compendia. And yet the medical compendia try to tell you not only the remedies, but how to apply them, and how to treat the several classes of patients, distinguishing them according to their temperament. But all this, though it may be serviceable to those who have experience, would seem to be quite useless to those who know nothing of medicine.
So also, I think we may say, collections of laws and constitutions may be very serviceable to those who are able to examine them with a discriminating eye, and to judge whether an ordinance is good or bad, and what ordinances agree with one another; but if people who have not the trained faculty go through such compendia, they cannot judge properly (unless indeed a correct judgment comes of itself), though they may perhaps sharpen their intelligence in these matters.
Since then our predecessors have left this matter of legislation uninvestigated, it will perhaps be better ourselves to inquire into it, and indeed into the whole question of the management of a state, in order that our philosophy of human life may be completed to the best of our power.
Let us try, then, first of all, to consider any valuable utterances that our predecessors have made upon this or that branch of the subject; and then, looking at our collection of constitutions, let us inquire what things tend to preserve or to destroy states, and what things tend to preserve or destroy the several kinds of constitution, and what are the causes of the good government of some states and the misgovernment of others: for when we have got an insight into these matters we shall, I think, be better able to see what is the best kind of constitution, and what is the best arrangement of each of the several kinds; that is to say, what system of laws and customs is best suited to each.
Let us begin then.* —
printed by william clowes and sons, limited, london and beccles.
[* ]τὰ σπουδαɩ̂α. It is impossible to convey in a translation the play upon the words σπουδή and σπουδαɩ̂ος: σπουδή is earnestness; σπουδαɩ̂ος usually = good: here, however, σπουδαɩ̂ος carries both senses, earnest or serious, and good.
[* ]ἡ κατὰ τὴν σοϕίαν ἐνέργεια, the contemplation of absolute truth.
[† ]The search for this truth.
[* ]i.e. our nature as moral agents, as compounds of reason and desire.
[* ]i.e. the principles of morals cannot be proved, but are accepted without proof by the man whose desires are properly trained. Cf. supra, I. 4, 6.
[* ]Reading ἀνδρείου ὑπομένοντος . . . κινδυνεύοντος after Bywater, “Contributions,” p. 69.
[* ]Before theory or instruction can be any use. Cf. I. 4, 6.
[* ]Cf. VI. 8, 1–3.
[† ]Cf. Hom. Od. ix. 114.
[‡ ]Transposing καὶ δρα̂ν αὐτὸ δύνασθαι as suggested by By water: cf. I. 2, 8.
[* ]The work to which this conclusion forms a preface is the Politics of Aristotle, still extant, but in an incomplete state.