The following translation, which has been prepared by Ian Johnston of Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, includes about twenty percent of Aristotle’s full text. This document may be downloaded and distributed free of charge but there are restrictions on commercial book publishing (see Copyright). For a lecture by the translator on the Nicomachean Ethics please use the following link: Nicomachean Ethics.
Every art and every form of enquiry, like every practical activity and decision, seems to aim at some good. Thus, people have justly observed that the good is what all things aim for. However, there appears to be a difference among these goals: some are activities, while others are products over and above the activities which produce them, and with those in which the goal is something other than action, the products are naturally of higher value than the activities which create them. Because there are many practical pursuits and arts and sciences, there are also many ends. For example, the end for medicine is health, for shipbuilding a boat, for military strategy victory, and for domestic economy wealth. In some cases, many of these ends are subordinate to one single capability: for example, bridle making and all the other actions concerned with equestrian equipment are subordinate to horsemanship, and this, in turn, along with all military activities, is subordinate to strategy, and, in the same manner, other arts are subordinate to still others. In all these cases, the end of the master arts is to be preferred to the end of all those subordinate to them, since the latter are pursued only for the sake of the former. It makes no difference whether the goals of the action are the activities themselves or something over and above them, as with the sciences just mentioned.
Thus, if, among the practical activities we engage in, there is an end which we desire for its own sake and because of which we desire other ends, and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for if that were the case, the process would go on forever, and thus desire would be empty and futile), it is obvious that this one end must be the good and, indeed, the highest good. Now, would not a knowledge of this good have a decisive effect on our lives so that, like archers with a target to aim at, we would have a better chance of hitting upon what is right? That being the case, we should try to describe, at least in outline, what this highest good is and which science or capability has it as their end. It would seem to belong to the most authoritative art, some pre-eminent master craft. Now, politics appears to be such an art, for it determines which of the sciences should be allowed in city states, which ones each group of citizens should learn, and to what extent. Moreover, we observe that the most valued capabilities are subordinate to politics, for example, military strategy, domestic economy, and rhetoric. In addition, since politics makes use of the rest of the sciences and even establishes laws for what people should do and what they should not do, the end of politics surely must include the ends of the other activities, so that its goal is the good for human beings. And even if that good is the same for the individual as it is for the state, nonetheless the good of the state is clearly a greater and more perfect good to attain and to preserve. To attain that good for a single individual is commendable, but to attain it for a nation or city state is a nobler and more godlike achievement. Our investigation seeks out these ends, and thus is, in a certain sense, the study of politics.
Now, what I have to say about this will be adequate if I clarify it as much as the subject matter allows. For we must not seek the same precision in all discussions, any more than in the work of all our craftsmen. Moreover, beauty and justice, which are matters studied by political science, involve differences of opinion and error, so that they seem to be mere conventions and not rooted in nature. And the concept of the good contains a similar variety, because good things can inflict injuries on many people. Some men have been destroyed by their wealth and others by their courage. Thus, in discussing such matters, starting from the premises like these, we shall have to content ourselves with presenting a rough outline of the truth and with speaking about things from premises which are generally true and reaching conclusions which are equally general. Consequently, what we say should be accepted in the same spirit. For it is a characteristic of an educated man to look for as much precision in each subject as the nature of a particular area of enquiry admits. It seems just as foolish to accept probable thinking from a mathematician as to demand exact demonstrations from an orator.
Now, each man is a good judge of things he understands. About such matters he is a worthy critic. In any particular subject the man who has been educated in it is a good critic of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good critic of things in general. For that reason, a young man is not well equipped to hear lectures on politics, because he has no experience of life and practical actions, and discussions of politics originate with these concerns and concentrate on them. Moreover, since he is motivated by his emotions, listening to such discussions will be a waste of time and counterproductive, for their purpose is not knowledge but action. It makes no difference whether he is young in age or has an immature character. The problem does not stem from age but from the fact that he lives and pursues each aim according to his passions. For such people, knowledge is useless, just as it is for those who cannot control themselves. However, for those who guide their feelings and actions by a rational principle knowing about these matters may be very useful. Let these comments about the student who is listening, the manner in which these remarks should be received, and the purpose we have set down serve as our introduction.
Let us resume our discussion: since all knowledge and all courses of action are directed at some good, how do we describe the goal at which political science aims, that is, the highest of all goods which moral action can achieve? So far as the name is concerned, there seems to be almost universal agreement among most human beings, for both common people and men of refinement say that the goal is happiness and think that “living well” and “doing well” are the same as “being happy.” Concerning what happiness is, however, there is some disagreement, and the majority do not share the same view as the philosophers. Ordinary people see it as something palpable and visible, like pleasure, wealth, or honour. Some opt for one, while others prefer something else. Often the same man will propose different things. When he is ill, he says that happiness is health; when he is poor, he says that happiness is wealth. But at other times, realizing their own ignorance, ordinary people admire those men who describe some great goal beyond their understanding. Some have claimed that over and above these many goods there is another Good, some Good-in-itself, which is linked to all of them as the cause of their goodness. It is probably a waste of time to look into all of these opinions. However, it will be sufficient to scrutinize those which are especially prevalent or which have some logical basis. And we must not forget to distinguish between arguments which start from first principles and those which lead up to those first principles. Plato did well to raise doubts about this matter and to ask whether the best road leads from first principles or to them, just as in a race course one can go away from the judges toward the far end or vice versa. Now, one has to begin with something known. But this “known” has two meanings—something which we actually know and something which [we may not know but which] is capable of being known unconditionally. It is probably necessary for us to begin with what we do know. For that reason, students who are to listen to discussions of the beautiful and the just and political science generally must have been raised with good habits. For our starting point is what is, in fact, the case, and if that is sufficiently clear to a student, he will not need any reasons why that is so. A person who has been well brought up either possesses or can easily acquire first principles. As for someone who neither possesses them nor can acquire them, let him hear the words of Hesiod:
The very best of men think all things on their own; good men attend to those who offer wise advice; but he who does not think or hear what others say and set that in his heart, well, he’s a useless fool.
But let us continue the discussion from the point where we digressed. Based on how they live, the majority of people, including the most vulgar, seem to accept, not unreasonably, that the good, or happiness, is pleasure, and, as a result, are content with a life dedicated to enjoyment. For there are three main sorts of life: the one just mentioned [a life of enjoyment], second, the political life, and, third, the contemplative life. The majority are evidently utterly slavish, for they prefer a life fit for cattle, although their view does get some support from the many people in places of authority who share the passions of Sardanapallus. Men of refinement and active people believe that happiness is honour, for honour is more or less considered the goal of political life. But honour appears to be too superficial for what we are seeking, because it seems to depend upon those who confer it rather than on those who are honoured and because we intuitively feel that the good is something a man inherently possesses, something difficult to take away from him. In addition, it appears that men pursue honour in order that they can believe they are virtuous men. At least, they seek to be honoured for their virtue by men of practical wisdom and by those who know them. Thus, it is clear, according to such men, that virtue is a greater good than honour, and one might well assume that virtue rather than honour is the goal of political life. But this claim appears incomplete. For it seems possible to possess virtue while one is asleep, or doing nothing at all during one’s life, or while one is experiencing the greatest suffering and bad luck, although no one would call a person who was living like that happy, unless he wished to propose a contentious thesis. But that will suffice for a discussion of this matter, since we have said enough about it in other lectures. The third form of life is the contemplative, which we will investigate later. A life devoted to making money is one of forceful constraint, and it is clear that wealth is not the good we are seeking because it is useful only in pursuit of other things. For this reason one could take the ends we have previous mentioned as being better, because they give pleasure for their own sakes. But they do not appear to be what we are looking for. Besides, many arguments in support of them have been refuted. So let us dismiss that subject.
We may now go back to the good which we are looking for and ask what it might be. It appears to be one thing in one particular activity or art and something else in another. The good in medicine is different from the good in military strategy and similarly with other activities. What, then, is the good of each one? Surely it must be something for the sake of which all other things are done. In medicine this good is health, in military strategy victory, in house construction a house—in every other art something different. But in all practical actions and purposes the end goal is the thing for the sake of which all men carry out their other actions. Thus, if there is a goal to all the activities men undertake, this will be the good we can achieve through action. If there are several such goods, then they will constitute the good.
Hence, by changing the course of the discussion, we have reached the same conclusion as before, [that the final goal for men is the good]. However, we must try to clarify the point with even more precision. Since there appear to be several goals for our actions and we select some of these for the sake of something else—for example, wealth, flute playing, and instruments generally—clearly not all these goals are final ends. The highest good, however, is evidently something final. Hence it follows that if there is one single end it will be the good which we are looking for, and if there are several final ends the most final of these will be what we are seeking. We can say that something pursued as an end for its own sake is more final than anything pursed for the sake of something else and that something which is never chosen as a means to anything else is more final than those things chosen as ends in themselves and for the sake of some other goal. Thus, something people choose for its own sake and never as a means to something else we can call, without qualification, the final end.
More than anything else, we consider happiness this sort of final goal, since we always choose it for its own sake and never as a means to anything else. Now, honour and pleasure and intelligence and every form of excellence we also choose for their own sakes. We would choose to have each of them even if there was nothing further to be gained. But we also give them priority as a means to happiness, believing that they will contribute to making us happy. But no one chooses happiness for the sake of these other qualities nor, in general, as the means to anything other than itself. Moreover, we reach the same conclusion if we think about self-sufficiency, for the final good is evidently something self-sufficient. By self-sufficient we do not mean someone by himself, living a life in isolation, but a man with parents, children, wife, friends, and fellow citizens generally, for man is by nature a political being. But one must establish a certain limit to such relationships, for if we extend them to one’s ancestors and descendants and to one’s friends’ friends, they would go on for ever. However, this is a matter we should consider later on. We assume that something is self-sufficient when it exists by itself and makes life desirable and lacking nothing. And that is how we think of happiness. Moreover, we believe it is the most desirable of all those things we might choose, without counting it as just one more good thing among the others. If it were counted in that way, then clearly it would be considered more desirable by the addition of the least of the other goods, for this addition would produce a superior number of goods, and of two goods we always prefer to choose the greater. Thus, happiness is final and self-sufficient and the goal of all our actions.
However, the claim that happiness is the highest good is probably self-evident. We still require a more accurate analysis of what the highest good is. We might be able to do this if we could ascertain the function of man. For in the case of a flute player or a sculptor or any skilled workman or, in general, anything that has a function and an activity associated with it, goodness and quality are thought to reside in that function. And the same would seem to be true in the case of man, if he has a function. Now, is it the case that a carpenter and a shoemaker have their own functions and activities, but man has none, that he is born without a function? Or just as the eyes, hands, feet, and, in general, all parts of the body appear to have their own functions, may one assume that, like them, man has his own function, over and above all these? If so, what might that be? Living seems to be shared in common even with the plants. We, however, are looking for some function unique to man. Therefore, we will exclude those aspects of life which concern nutrition and growth. Next would come a life of sense perception, but this is shared by horses, cattle, and all living animals. That leaves the practical life of the rational element in man. Of this element, one part is rational because it obeys a rational principle [i.e., the emotions], while the other is rational because it possesses such a principle and has an active intelligence. Since the phrase “rational life” thus has two meanings [i.e., as a capability and as an active practice], let us assume that what we are talking about is the active exercise of the rational element, since it seems the more appropriate meaning of the term. Now, if the function of man is the active exercise of his soul in accordance with rational principle or, at least, not acting without it, and if we say that the functions of an individual and of a good individual of the same group are generically the same (as with a man who plays the lyre and a man who plays the lyre well, and so on with all examples generally)—excellence being added to the function in the case of the latter (for the function of a lyre player is to play the lyre, the function of a good lyre player is to play it well)—if this is the case, and if we assume that the function of man is a certain form of life and state that this life is the exercise of the soul’s activities in accordance with rational principle, that the function of a good man is to carry this out nobly and well, and that each action is good when it is performed according to its own particular excellence, if all this true, then the good of man is the active exercise of his soul in accordance with excellence or virtue, and, if there are several excellences, in accordance with the best and most perfect of them.
And as an additional point—over a complete lifetime. For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day. In the same way, a single day or a short time does not make a man blessed and happy.
Let these remarks serve as an outline of the good. For the first requirement is probably to provide such a rough sketch and then to fill it in later. Once something has been well set down in the form of an outline, it would appear that anyone can continue and complete the details. Time is evidently an excellent discoverer or partner in such matters, for it does, in fact, produce advances in the arts, since anyone can fill in the gaps. We also need to remember what has been said earlier and not look for the same degree of precision in all things, but only as much detail as the subject matter permits and only to the degree appropriate to a certain form of enquiry. A carpenter and a geometrician investigate a right angle in different ways—the former seeks it only with a precision useful in his work, while the latter, as a man who speculates about the truth, investigates its essence and characteristics. We must act in the same manner in other areas, as well, so that our work does not get overwhelmed by less important matters.
Nor is it necessary in every case to ask about the cause, for in some matters it is sufficient that the fact has been well demonstrated, as with first principles. The fact that it is true is of primary importance; it is the first principle. Among first principles, some are grasped through induction, some through perception, some through habituation, and others in other ways. We must attempt to reach each set of principles in a natural way and make the effort to define them well, since they have a crucial influence on what follows later. The beginning is evidently more than half of the whole and will clarify many of those things we are looking into.
However, we must explore our initial definition of happiness—not only the premises and the conclusion, but also in the light of what people say about happiness. For when something is true, all the facts are in harmony with it, but when something is false, there is soon a discrepancy between it and the truth. Now, goods have been divided into three groups: some we call external goods, while others are goods of the soul, and others are goods of the body. The ones belonging to the soul we consider the fullest and highest goods. Now, we assume that spiritual activities and energies belong to the soul. Thus, according to this view, which is an old one and which philosophers agree with, what we are saying is sound. And it is correct to state that the end consists of certain actions and activities, for in this way it is included with the goods of the soul and not with external goods. Moreover, what we are saying agrees with the notion that the happy man is one who lives well and acts well, since we have more or less defined happiness as living well and doing well. In addition, all the things one looks for in happiness appear to be included in our description. For some people happiness is virtue, for others it is practical wisdom or philosophical wisdom, with still others it is all of these, or one of them, with pleasure as an essential component, and for others it must be accompanied by external prosperity as well. Some of these opinions have been maintained by many people for a very long time. Others have been held by a few outstanding men. It is unlikely that either group would be entirely wrong. They may well be correct in one particular matter or even in most things.
What we have said agrees with those who claim that happiness consists of virtue or some specific virtue, for acting in accordance with virtue is a part of virtue. But perhaps it makes no small difference whether we think of the highest good as something we possess or something we use, that is, as a state of mind or as an active practice. For a man may possess it in his mind without actually producing anything good, for example, when he is asleep or for some other reason inactive. But energetic activity cannot be like this—of necessity it will act and act well. Just as in the Olympic games it not the finest and strongest who receive the garland crown but those who compete (the ones who win come from their ranks), so those who act rightly win the fine and noble things in life.
What is more they also have a life which is inherently pleasant. For experiencing pleasure belongs to the soul, and for every man what he is said to be fond of gives him pleasure, for example, a horse is pleasant to a man who loves horses and a spectacle is pleasant to a man who loves spectacles. In a similar manner, just acts give pleasure to the man who loves justice, and virtuous actions are, in general, pleasurable to the man who loves virtue. With most people, the things they find pleasurable are in conflict with each other because such things are not pleasant by nature, but those who love what is noble derive pleasure from things pleasant by nature. Actions carried out in accordance with virtue are like this, and so, as well as being inherently pleasant, they give pleasure to those who love what is noble. Thus, such a person’s life does not need pleasure as some kind of extra appendage; it contains pleasure in itself. For, in addition to what has been said already, a man who does not enjoy doing noble things is not a good man. No one would say that a man who failed to derive pleasure from doing just acts was himself just, or that a man who did not like acting generously was a generous man, and similarly with the other virtues. If that is true, then actions carried out in accordance with virtue must be inherently pleasurable. But they are also good and noble, each in the highest degree, if we are correct in accepting the judgment of a good man, for he judges in the way we have described. Therefore happiness is the best, the noblest, and the most pleasurable of things, and these qualities do not exist separate from each other, as the inscription at Delphi suggests:
Justice is the noblest thing, but good health the best. Getting what we love is naturally the pleasantest.
These qualities all belong to the finest activities, and these activities, or the one which is best of all, is what we call happiness.
However, it does seem that happiness also includes external goods, as we have said. For it is not easy or possible to carry out noble acts if one lacks the necessary means. To perform many noble actions requires friends, wealth, and political power, employed, so to speak, as instruments. And the lack of some things mars one’s highest happiness, like good birth, fine children, and personal beauty. A man who is excessively ugly to look at or low born or lonely and without children is not especially capable of happiness, even less so perhaps a man who has degenerate children or friends or who has had good ones but they died. As we said, happiness does appear to require this sort of additional prosperity. That is why some people equate happiness with good fortune, although others identify it with virtue.
Virtue, then, is of two kinds: intellectual and moral. Intellectual virtue is for the most part produced and increased by education and therefore requires experience and time; whereas, moral virtue comes from habits. That is the reason its name (ethike) comes, with a slight change of form, from the word for habits (ethos). Hence, it is clear that none of the moral virtues comes to us by nature, for nothing given by nature can be turned into something else by habit. For example, by nature a stone falls downward, and it cannot become changed by habit so that it moves upward, not even if one tries to develop that habit by throwing it up in the air ten thousand times. Fire cannot fire be trained to move downwards, nor can anything else which is a certain way by nature develop the habit of acting in another manner. Therefore, the virtues do not arise in by nature or contrary to nature. Rather nature makes us capable of receiving virtues, and we develop them fully through habits. Again, with all the things which come to us by nature, we first acquire the capacity for them and later demonstrate them in action. This is clearly the case with our senses. We did not obtain these senses by repeatedly seeing and repeatedly listening. No. It was the other way around: because we had the senses we used them. We did not get them by use. But we acquire the virtues by first putting them into practice, as with other skills. What we have to learn in order to do them, we learn by doing. For example, men become house builders by building houses and lyre players by playing the lyre. In the same manner, we become just by carrying out just actions and self-controlled by acting in a self-controlled manner and brave by acting bravely.
What happens in city states demonstrates this point. The lawmakers make the citizens good by training their habits. All legislators have this in mind, and the ones who do not carry out this task well are failures. This is also what makes a good constitution different from a bad one.
Furthermore, the causes and means which produce every virtue are the same as those which destroy it, as with every artistic skill. Playing the lyre produces both good and bad lyre players. The same is true of builders and all other craftsmen. For men become good builders by building well and bad builders by building badly. If this were not the case, there would be no need for teachers. Instead everyone would have been born good or bad in the skills they practise. The same holds true with the virtues. By carrying out various dealings with our fellow men, some of us become just and others unjust. By acting in dangerous situations and developing habits of being afraid or feeling confident, some of us become courageous and others cowardly. Similarly with our passions and feelings of anger—some men become self-controlled and gentle, others intemperate and irascible. One group deals with these feelings in one way, another group in a different way. In a word, our characters develop in a manner that corresponds to our actions. For that reason, it is necessary to make sure our actions are of a certain kind, since the qualities of our characters are a direct result of the differences among these actions. Thus, whether we develop one type of habit or another right from our childhood on makes no small difference. On the contrary, this is a very significant matter—in fact, it makes all the difference.
Since our present treatise is not a theoretical enquiry like some others (for we are not exploring virtue in order to know what it is but rather so that we may become good, since without that our study would be pointless), we have to look into the nature of our actions, that is, into how we should act, because, as we have mentioned, these actions determine the quality of the states of our characters. Now, the need to act according to correct reasoning is commonly accepted and may be taken for granted (we will discuss this later—both what the correct reasoning is and how it is related to the other virtues). But first it must be granted that the entire theory of conduct has to be given as an outline and not in precise detail, according to the point we made at the start, that philosophical theories must match their subject matter. And matters dealing with how we act and what is most fitting, like those concerned with health, do not have a single fixed answer. If our general theory is of this nature, then what we say about particular examples will have even less precision, for they do not fall under any art or set of rules—the agents themselves must on each occasion consider what is appropriate, as is also the case with the arts of medicine and navigation.
Still, although our present discussion is of this sort, we must try to provide some assistance. First, we should note that it is the nature of moral qualities to be destroyed by deficiency and by excess, as is the case with physical strength and health (for to illustrate things one cannot see we have to use visible examples). Excessive or insufficient exercise is harmful to physical strength. In the same way, too much or too little food and drink injure one’s health, while appropriate amounts create, increase, and preserve it. The same is true, then, for self-control and courage and the other virtues. The man who runs away afraid of everything and never takes a stand becomes a coward; the man who is afraid of nothing at all and who marches out against everything becomes foolhardy. Similarly, someone who indulges in every pleasure and abstains from none becomes licentious, while a man who shuns all pleasure, as uncivilized people do, becomes insensitive. Thus, self-control and courage are ruined by excess and by deficiency and are preserved by observing the mean.
But not only do the same activities produce, strengthen, and destroy the virtues; these actions will also make us exercise our virtues. This is clearly true with other more visible things, like physical strength, which is produced by taking a great deal of food and undergoing a lot of hard work, while the strong man is the one most capable of these activities. The same is true of the virtues. By abstaining from pleasures we become self-controlled, and once we have become self-controlled we are best able to abstain from pleasures. Similarly with courage, for when we have developed the habit of treating fearful things with contempt and of standing our ground against them we become brave, and when we have become brave we are best able to endure fearful things.
As an indicator of the nature of our characters we should take the pleasure or pain which arises from our actions. A man is self-controlled if he abstains from physical pleasures and is pleased to do this. But if he finds that irritating, he is self-indulgent. He is brave if he is stands up to terrifying situations and derives pleasure from so doing or least suffers no pain. The man who feels pain is a coward. For moral excellence takes pleasure and pain into account. Pleasure makes us do bad things, and pain makes us hold back from doing good things. Thus, as Plato observes, we need to have been raised directly from childhood on so that we like and dislike the morally appropriate things. That is the essence of a good education.
Besides, if the virtues are concerned with actions and emotions and if every action and every emotion is accompanied by pleasure and pain, that is why virtue takes them into account. This is indicated also by the fact that we use pleasure and pain for punishment, which is a form of healing, and it is the nature of medical remedies to work through opposites.
Again, as we mentioned before, every habit of the soul is naturally related to and concerned with the same things which make its nature worse or better. These habits are corrupted by pleasures and pains which people avoid or pursue—either when they pursue or avoid the pleasures and pains they ought not to or when they do so at the wrong time or in the wrong way or in one of the other ways in which wrong conduct is logically classified. That is why some men have defined the virtues as certain states of impassivity and rest. But these views are not correct, because they speak absolutely and do not add “as one ought to” and “when one ought to” and other qualifications. Thus, we assume that virtue consists of acting in the best way concerning pleasures and pains and that vice is the opposite.
The following remarks may clarify these same points for us. There are three things that motivate us to choose—nobility, expediency, and pleasure—and three that motivate us to avoid—shame, injury, and pain. In dealing with all these, the good man is likely to succeed and the bad man to fail, but especially in dealing with pleasure, for we have that in common with animals, and it is involved in every choice we make, since both what is noble and what is expedient appear pleasurable.
Moreover, responding to pleasure has grown up with all of us from our childhood. For that reason this feeling is so engrained in our lives that it is hard to get rid of. Moreover, we measure our actions by pleasure and pain, some people more or less than others. Therefore, our entire discussion must involve them, for to experience pleasure and pain well or badly has no small effect on our actions.
Then, too, it is more difficult to fight against pleasure than against anger, as Heraclitus states, but both artistic skill and virtue are always concerned with what is more difficult, since in such actions what is good becomes better. Thus, there is a reason why virtue and political science are totally concerned with pleasures and pains. The man who makes good use of them will be good, and the man who does so badly will be bad.
Let us then concede that virtue is concerned with pleasures and pains, that the actions which produce virtue are the ones which increase it and, if carried out differently, corrupt it, and that these actions out of which virtue arises are the ones through which is practised.
However, someone may be confused about what we mean when we say that in order to become just people must act justly and in order to become self-controlled they must carry out self-controlled actions. For if they already act in a just and self-controlled manner then they are already just and self-controlled, just as if they write grammatically and play music properly they are grammarians and musicians.
But surely this is not the case with the arts. It is possible to use correct grammar by chance or at someone else’s bidding. A person will be a grammarian only when he uses correct grammar the way a grammarian does, that is, according to the knowledge of grammar he himself possesses.
Furthermore, the arts and the virtues are not similar cases. The things produced by the arts have their excellence in themselves, so that it is sufficient if they are created with a certain inherent quality. However, those actions carried out in conformity with the virtues are not done justly or in a self-controlled manner just because they contain certain qualities but only if the person carrying them out does so in a certain state of mind. First, he must know what he is doing, second, he must choose the actions and do so for their own sakes, and third, a firm and immovable character must prompt his actions. With the arts, these three factors are not taken into account, except for the mere fact of knowledge. But where the possession of the virtues is concerned knowledge has little-to-no influence, whereas the other factors play no small part—in fact, they make everything possible, those very things produced by the frequent performance of just and self-controlled acts.
Therefore, actions are called just and self-controlled when they are the same actions which a just and self-controlled man would do. The person carrying out the actions is not just and self-controlled merely because he does them, but only when he acts in the way just and self-controlled people do. Thus, we are correct in stating that a man becomes just by performing just actions and self-controlled by performing self-controlled actions, and for this reason no one would have the slightest chance of becoming good without doing them.
Most people, however, do not carry out such actions, but take refuge in discussions—they think they are practising philosophy and will in this way become good men, behaving rather like invalids who listen carefully to their doctors but do none of the things they prescribe. Just as those who treat themselves in this way will not make their bodies healthy, so those who practise philosophy in this way will not make their souls healthy.
Next we must examine what virtue is. Since there are three things produced in the soul—emotions, capabilities, and states of character—virtue must be one of these. By emotions I mean desire, anger, fear, confidence, envy, joy, friendship, hatred, longing, emulation, pity, and, in general, states accompanied by pleasure or pain. Capabilities are those things because of which we are said to have the capacity for emotions, for example, the ability to feel anger, pain, or pity. The states of character are what make us good or bad in relation to our emotions. For example, where anger is concerned, if we feel too much or too little, our character is in a bad state; if we feel a moderate amount, our character is in a good state. The same is true with the other emotions.
The virtues and vices are not emotions, because we are not called good or bad according to our feelings. No, we are called that on the basis of our virtues and vices. And we are not praised or censured on account of our emotions (a man who is afraid or fearful is not praised, nor does one blame a man who is merely angry, only if he feels anger in a certain manner). But our virtues and vices do earn us praise or blame.
Moreover, we are not angry or fearful by choice. The virtues, however, are a form of choice, or at least involve choice. In addition, where the emotions are concerned, we are said to be moved by them, but with virtues and vices we are not said to moved but rather to be disposed in a certain way.
For the same reasons, the virtues and vices are not capabilities. We are not called good, nor are we praised or blamed, merely because we have the capacity to feel our emotions. Besides, we possess capabilities by nature, but nature does not make us good or bad. However, we have discussed this before. If, then, the virtues are neither emotions nor capabilities, what remains is that they must be states of character. Thus, we have stated what virtue generically is.
But it is necessary not merely to define virtue generically as a state of one’s character but also to say what sort of state it is. We should observe that every virtue or excellence brings whatever it belongs to into an excellent condition and makes it function well. For example, the virtue of the eye makes the eye excellent and work well, for our sight is good thanks to the excellence of the eye. In the same way, the excellence of the horse makes it a fine horse, good at running and bearing its rider and standing firm against enemies. If this is true in all cases, then virtue or excellence in a man would be the state of character which makes him a good man and which also makes him function well.
We have already discussed how this comes about, but things will be even clearer if we examine the specific nature of virtue. With everything that is continuous and divisible, one can take a larger or smaller or equal part, either with respect to the thing itself or with respect to us—the equal part is a mean between excess and deficiency. By the mean with respect to the object I refer to a point equidistant from both ends, which is exactly the same for everyone; by the mean with respect to us I refer to an amount which is neither too much or too little, and this is not one and the same thing for everyone. For instance, if ten is many and two is few, then, with respect to the object, six is the mean, for it lies an equal distance from ten and two. This is the mean according to an arithmetical proportion. But we cannot derive the mean relative to us in a similar manner. For if ten pounds of food is too much for someone to eat and two pounds too little, it does not follow that his trainer will recommend six pounds, because this amount may be too large or too small for the person consuming it. For [the athlete] Milo it is too little, but for someone just starting athletic exercise it is too much. The same is true for the amount of running or wrestling. Thus, every skilled expert avoids excess and deficiency in the same manner. He seeks out and chooses the mean, but the mean relative to us, not the absolute mean of the matter he is dealing with.
Now, if in this way every art completes its task well by looking to the mean and carrying out its work according to this standard (so that we commonly observe that with excellent works one cannot remove or add anything, implying that both excess and deficiency destroy what is good, whereas the mean preserves it—and good artists, as we say, look to this in their work) and if virtue is more precise and better than all the arts, as nature is as well, then virtue characteristically aims for the mean. I am talking about moral virtue, for that is concerned with feelings and actions, in which there can be an excess, a deficiency, and a mean. For example, a person can feel fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity, pleasure, and pain in general too much or too little, and in either case he is wrong. But to have these feelings at the appropriate time, towards the appropriate people, for the appropriate reasons, and in the appropriate manner is following the mean, which is the best way and characteristic of virtue. Similarly, with actions there can be an excess, a deficiency, and a mean. Now, virtue concerns itself with feeling and actions, and with both of these excess is a mistake, as is deficiency, while the mean is praised and leads to success, two things characteristic of virtue. Virtue, then, involves the mean between two extremes and consists of the skill to achieve the mean.
Moreover, mistakes happen in all sorts of ways (for evil, as the Pythagoreans pictured it, belongs in the class of the infinite, while excellence is in the class of the limited), but success occurs in only one way (that is why it is easy to fail and difficult to succeed—easy to miss the target and difficult to hit it). For this reason excess and deficiency are characteristic of vice, while the mean is a mark of virtue: “For men are good in just a single way, but evil in all kinds of ways.”
Virtue, then, is a state of mind concerned with choice, consisting of the mean relative to us, as determined by a rational principle, that is, as a man of practical wisdom would determine it. It is a mean between two vices—one stemming from excess, the other from deficiency—and, once again, while the vices either exceed or fall short of what is appropriate in feelings and actions, virtue finds the mean and chooses it. Thus, concerning its essential quality and the definition which states what it really consists of, virtue is the mean, but concerning what is best and right it is an extreme.
However, it is not the case that all actions and feelings can possess a mean. For some have names which immediately convey a sense of evil, for example, malice, shamelessness, envy, and, among actions, adultery, theft, and murder. All these, together with similar feelings and actions, are said to be inherently evil, and so with them we do not speak of excesses or deficiencies. Where such things are concerned, it is never possible to act correctly—one will always be in the wrong. Nor does being right or wrong in these matters depend on the appropriate person, time, and manner (in adultery, for instance): simply doing any of them in any way is acting badly. One might just as well think that there is a mean, an excess, and a deficiency in unjust, cowardly, and licentious actions, and that would require that there be a mean for excess and deficiency, an excess of excess, and a deficiency of deficiency. But just as there is no excess and deficiency of self-control and courage, because with these the mean is, in a sense, an extreme, so there is no mean, or excess, or deficiency in the above-mentioned evil actions. No—for however they are carried out, they are wrong. Generally speaking, there is no mean of excess and deficiency, nor an excess or deficiency of a mean.
After this discussion we will move on to consider friendship. For friendship is a virtue or involves virtue. Besides, it is one of the most essential things required for living, since no one would want to live without friends, even if he had all the other remaining good things. For wealthy men and rulers and those with influence and power seem to have a special need of friends. What is the use of their prosperity if they lack a chance to demonstrate their munificence, which is most commendably and fully displayed towards one’s friends? How could that prosperity be protected and preserved without friends? For the greater it is, the more precarious it is. In poverty and other misfortunes people think that the only refuge is their friends. Friends help the young avoid doing wrong, they assist the elderly with their care, compensating for their frailty as their powers to act grow weak, and they encourage those in the prime of life to noble actions—for when, [in Homer’s words,] “Two move on together” they are more capable of thinking and acting. Moreover, it appears natural for a parent to feel friendship towards an offspring and for the offspring towards a parent, not merely among human beings but also among birds and most animals. Members of the same race feel that way towards each other, especially among human beings. That is why we praise those who treat their fellow humans in a friendly manner. In travelling around, one can see how natural it is for all people to be friendly to one another. Moreover, it seems that friendship unites political communities and that lawmakers concern themselves more with that than with justice, for their chief aim is to secure harmony, which appears to be like friendship, and particularly to banish factions, which promote hostility. Besides, there is no need for justice when people are friends; whereas, men who are just still need friendship as well. And the highest manifestation of justice is thought of as a form of friendship.
Friendship is not only indispensable but also noble. We praise those who love their friends, and people think it is a fine thing to have many friends. Moreover, they believe that those who are their friends are also good people.
However, there are more than a few disputes about the nature of friendship. Some define it as a form of similarity: people are friends with those like them. Hence the sayings “like is attracted to like,” “birds of a feather flock together” and so on. Others, by contrast, claim that “those of the same trade never agree.” In dealing with these issues, some people seek out more profound and more physical causes. Euripides says “The parched earth loves the rain, and when proud heaven is full of rain it loves to fall to earth.” And Heraclitus claims that opposites unite, that differences produce the noblest harmony, and that strife gives rise to everything. Others, including Empedocles, assert the opposite, that like seeks out like. But let us set aside these physical questions (for they are not relevant to the present enquiry) and explore those matters which concern human beings and involve characters and feelings—for example, whether friendship can arise among all men, whether it is impossible for bad men to be friends, and whether there is one form of friendship or several. Those who think that there is only one form, because it admits of degree [that is, one can be more or less friendly], are relying upon insufficient evidence, for things different in kind can also differ in degree. But we have discussed this matter before.
We may be able to clear up these questions quickly if we understand what it is that arouses friendship. It appears that not everything is loved—only what is lovable, and that means what is good, pleasant, or useful. But what is useful would seem to be something which produces a certain good or pleasure, so that the objects of friendship, as final ends, are the good and the pleasant. Now, do men love what is good or what is good for them? Sometimes these conflict. The same is true with what is pleasant. People think that each man loves what is good for him, that what is good is worthy of unqualified love, and that what is good for each person is worthy of his love. Not every man, however, loves what is good for him but rather what appears to be good for him. But this will not change anything, for “what is worthy of love” will in our discussion mean “what appears worthy of love.” There are thus three reason why men develop friendships. Now, we do not use the term friendship for the love of lifeless things, for there is no reciprocal affection nor any desire for the other’s good (it would surely be ridiculous to wish wine well—if one has any wish, it is that the wine will keep, so that one has it for oneself); whereas, people say that we should wish a friend good things for his own sake.
If those who wish someone good things receive nothing in return, they are said to feel goodwill, for goodwill becomes friendship only when the feeling is mutual. And should we not also add that the feeling must be recognized? For many people feel goodwill to men whom they have not seen but who they assume are useful and good, and one of them might have the same feelings for them. Such people appear to be well disposed towards each other. But how could anyone call them friends when they do not know that their feelings are mutual? To be friends, then, men must be well disposed towards each other, must wish each other good things for one of the reasons previously mentioned, and must also recognize each other’s feelings.
These reasons for friendship differ in kind from each other, and thus the types of affectionate feelings and love also differ. There are three forms of friendship, corresponding to the three objects worthy of love, since a mutual and recognized friendship can be based on each one, and when men are friendly to one another, they wish each other well on the basis of the object which determines their friendship. Thus, those who are friendly with each other for reasons of utility do not love each other for themselves but because of some benefit they derive from one another. The case is similar with those whose friendship is based on pleasure. We are not fond of witty people because of the kind of people they are, but rather because we derive pleasure from them. Those who base a friendship on utility are displaying affection for their own good, and those who base a friendship on pleasure do so for their own enjoyment—not because the object of their affection is lovable but because he is useful or pleasant. Hence, these friendships are incidental. The object of friendship is not loved for the person he really is, but only as someone who provides a benefit or pleasure. Consequently, such friendships are easily dissolved if the people involved do not remain the same, for if they are no longer useful or pleasant to each other, their affection for each other ends.
Now, utility does not remain the same, but changes all the time. And once the purpose for the friendship has gone, the friendship itself disappears, since it existed only to satisfy that useful purpose. Friendships of this sort are especially prevalent among the elderly (for in old age people seek what is useful rather than what is pleasurable) and also among those in the prime of life and among young people, all the ones looking to secure an advantage. Such friends do not spend much of their lives together, and sometimes they do not even provide any enjoyment for each other. Consequently, they have no need for each other’s company unless there is something to be gained. They are pleasant with each other to the extent that they entertain hopes of some benefit. In this group of friendships people place the relationship between host and guest. The friendships of young people, by contrast, seem to be based on pleasure, for they live to satisfy their feelings and above all seek out what is pleasant to them and what is immediately present. As they grow older and change, the things that please them also change to something else. Thus, they establish and end friendships quickly. Their feelings of affection change suddenly as soon as there is a change in what gives them pleasure, and these sorts of changes occur rapidly. Young people also are prone to sexual passion, for that is chiefly based on emotion and seeks pleasure. Thus, they form and dissolve friendships quickly, often changing in the course of a single day. But the young do like to spend time together and to share their lives, for that is how they achieve the purpose of their friendship.
Perfect friendship occurs between those who are good and resemble each other in virtue. For these people wish each other good in the same way—both because their friends are good and because they themselves are good. Those who wish the well being of their friends for their friends’ sake are friends in the fullest sense; they do this because of what they really are and not for incidental reasons. Thus, their friendship lasts as long as they are good, and virtue is an enduring quality. And each one of them is good in an absolute sense and also good for his friend, for good men are good without qualification as well as useful to each other. In the same way, each of them is also pleasant, for good men are absolutely pleasant and also pleasant to each other, since each man finds his own actions pleasing, together with actions like his own, and the actions of good men are the same or similar. Such friendship is, as one might expect, lasting, since in itself it combines all the things which friends ought to have. All friendships are based on goodness or pleasure—either as absolutes or relative to the person experiencing these feelings—and are based on certain similarities. Such a friendship between good men contains all the qualities we have discussed because of the nature of the friends themselves, for in such a case the remaining qualities in both friends are all similar. Moreover, what is unreservedly good is also unreservedly pleasant, and these are the qualities which are particularly worthy of love. Therefore, love and friendship in their fullest and best form occur between good people.
Friendships like this are, it seems, rare, because there are few such people. Moreover, they require time and intimate familiarity. As the saying goes, people cannot get to know one another until they have eaten the proverbial amount of salt in each other’s company. They cannot enter into friendly relations with each other or be friends until each one has shown the other than he is worthy of being a friend and until they have come to trust each other. Those who quickly demonstrate marks of friendship to one another wish to be friends, but they cannot be friends unless they are worthy of friendship and are aware of that fact. The desire to be friends develops rapidly, but friendship does not.
This type of friendship, then, is perfect with respect both to its duration and to everything else, and in all matters each party receives identical or similar benefits from the other, as is appropriate between friends. Friendship based on pleasure is similar to this form of friendship, for good people are pleasant to each other. And a friendship based on utility is similar, since good people are also useful to one another. In such interactions, the friendships can last for a very long time when each party gets the same thing from the other—pleasure, for example—and, more than that, gets it from the same source—for instance, what occurs with two witty people. This is not what occurs between a lover and his beloved. In the latter case, the friends do not derive pleasure from the same things: one gets his pleasure from gazing at his beloved, the other from receiving the attentions of the lover. And when the prime of life is over, the friendship sometimes fades as well (for the sight of the beloved brings no pleasure to the lover, and the latter receives no attention from the former). Many of these lovers, on the other hand, do remain constant, if, as a result of their intimacy and their similar dispositions, they love each other’s characters. With lovers, however, when the exchange is not mutual pleasure but utility, their friendship is less significant and less permanent. People who are friends for the sake of some benefit cease to be so as soon as the benefit ends, for they each loved the benefit they received rather than the friend.
Thus, for the sake of pleasure and of utility it is possible for bad men to be friends with each other, or for good men to be friends with bad men, and for someone neither good nor bad to be friends with any sort of person. But clearly only good men can be friends for what they are in themselves, since bad men do not derive pleasure from each other, unless there is some benefit coming to them.
Moreover, only friendship between good men is impervious to slander. For a man does not easily trust what anyone says about someone whom he has himself tested and approved for a long time, and with good men there is trust, a sense that they would never wrong each other, as well as all the other things required in a true friendship. In the other forms of friendship, however, there is nothing to prevent these sorts of things from occurring. Since men use the term “friends” for those motivated by utility, just as states can be friends (alliances between states, it seems, arise out of a desire for some advantage), and for those who love each other for pleasure, as with children, perhaps we should say that all such relationships are friendships and that there are several kinds of friendship—the primary and proper meaning referring to friendship between good men, insofar as they are good, and the other relationships are friendships only by analogy, for in the latter case men are friends by virtue of something good and something similar to true friendship. For pleasure is also good for those who love pleasure. But these secondary friendships do not often combine: people do not make friends with each other for both utility and pleasure, since things which arise incidentally rarely occur together.
Friendship is thus divided into these forms: bad people will be friends for pleasure and for utility—the parties will have this in common—while good men, by virtue of their goodness, will be friends for each other’s sake. Thus, the latter are friends in an absolute sense, the former only incidentally and through their resemblance to the others.
Just as when we talk of the virtues, we call some people good because of their disposition and others because of their actions, so it is with friendship. For some men who share their lives together derive pleasure from and confer benefits on each other, while others who are asleep or separated by some distance do not perform acts of friendship but do have a disposition to behave in that manner. For distance does not absolutely dissolve friendship, only its active exercise. However, if the absence lasts a long time, it does seem to make people forget a friendship—hence the saying “Lack of conversation ends many friendships.” People who are old or bitter seem to make few friends, for there is not much in them which provides pleasure, and nobody can spend all day with someone painful who provides no pleasure. Nature appears, above all, to shun what is painful and to seek out what is pleasant. Those who approve of one another but do not share their lives together seem to be demonstrating goodwill rather than friendship, for there is nothing more characteristic of friends than sharing their lives (those in need reach out for help, and even the wealthy wish to spend time together—for they are the people least suited to solitude). But it is impossible for people to share their lives together if they are not pleasant and enjoy the same things, as is the case with those who are in a fellowship of companions.
Thus, as has been mentioned several times, the finest friendship is the one between good people, because what is absolutely good and pleasant appears to be worthy of love and choice and because for each person what is good and pleasant appears worthy of his love and choice. Good men are friends with each other for both of these reasons. It seems that affection is an emotion, but friendship a matter of character, for one can feel just as much affection for inanimate things, but mutual friendship stems from choice, and choice is made on the basis of character. Moreover, the fact that people desire good things for friends for their own sakes is not a matter of feeling but of one’s character. And when they love their friend, they love their own good, for once a good man becomes a friend he becomes something good for his friend. Each one, therefore, loves what is good for himself and gives back in return an equal amount both in wishing the friend well and in giving him pleasure, for people say friendship involves equality, and this occurs most fully in the friendships of good men.
Friendships are less likely to arise with bitter and old people, because they are not as easy to please and do not get as much pleasure from social interaction—qualities which appear to be especially important as characteristics and causes of friendship. The young make friends quickly, but old people do not, for people do not become friends with those whose company they do not enjoy. And the same is true of bitter people. Such men can be well disposed to one another, wish each other well, and assist each other with their needs, but they are not really friends because they do not spend time in each other’s company or enjoy each other’s presence, things which people think are the most important marks of friendship.
One cannot be friends with many people at the same time, not in the full meaning of the term, just as one cannot experience erotic passion for many people simultaneously (for being in love seems to be an extreme feeling which naturally arises in relation to one person). It is not easy for one person to derive great pleasure from many people all at once, nor perhaps for him to find many good people. He has to gain experience of them through intimate familiarity, something very difficult to do. But one can like many people for reasons of utility and pleasure, for there are many such people, and the services they provide take up little time.
Of these two latter forms of friendship, the one based on pleasure is closer to real friendship. In it both parties receive the same benefit, and they derive pleasure from each other or from the same things, as happens in the friendships of young people. In such cases there is a more generous spirit. A friendship based on utility suits those who hang around the marketplace. In addition, those blessed with great success have no need of useful friends, but they do need pleasant ones, since they wish to share their lives with someone. They can tolerate something distressing for a little while, but no one would put up with it constantly, not even with absolute goodness if he found it painful. Hence, they seek out friends who are pleasant. They should also seek out friends who are good as well as pleasant and, beyond that, good for them, since they will then have all the things they need in the way of friends.
Those in positions of authority seem to keep their friends in separate groups. Some they find useful to them and others pleasant, but the same friends are rarely both. For they do not look for those who are good as well as pleasant or useful in pursuit of noble things, but seek out witty people when they desire pleasure and, as for the others, they want men who are skilled at carrying out instructions, and these two qualities do not often occur in the same person. A good man, as we have said, is both pleasant and useful, but such a man does not become a friend of his social superior, unless the latter also surpasses him in virtue. If that is not the case, the good man dealing with a superior cannot keep things proportionally balanced. But those who combine a superior position and goodness are not very common.
Now, the friendships we have been discussing involve equality, since both parties obtain the same things from one another and have the same wishes for each other, or they exchange one thing for another, for example, pleasure for profit (as we have mentioned, these relationships are something less than true friendship and do not last as long).
Since these relationships are both similar and dissimilar to true friendship, people dispute whether they are or are not friendship. Given their similarity to friendship based on virtue, they appear to be friendships—one features pleasure and the other utility, and these qualities are characteristic of friendships based on virtue—but the latter are impervious to slander and endure, while the former two quickly change, besides being dissimilar in many ways, and because they are so different from friendship based on virtue, they do not seem to be real friendships.
After these matters we should probably move on to discuss pleasure. For that is considered to be especially relevant to the human race—that is the reason why in the education of the young we use pleasure and pain to guide them. In addition, where the virtue of a character is concerned, it seems that the most important factor is deriving pleasure from what we ought to enjoy and hating what we ought to hate. For pleasure and pain last throughout our entire lives, exercising influence and power over virtue and the happy life, since people choose what is pleasant and shun what is painful. Therefore, it seems that these are the last subjects we should omit, especially since there is so much dispute about them. For some men claim that pleasure is the [ultimate] good, while others, by contrast, affirm that it is totally bad. Of the latter some are perhaps persuaded that this is, in fact, the case, and others think it is better for our lives to represent pleasure as bad, even if it is not, because most people are favourably inclined toward it and are slaves to their pleasures, so that they must be led in the opposite direction in order, by this means, to arrive at the mean. But this surely is not well thought out. For theories about the emotions and actions are less reliable than the facts, and whenever they contradict what we perceive with our senses, they bring discredit on themselves and corrupt the truth. If a man critical of pleasure seems to be attracted to it on a single occasion, his response, men claim, suggests that all pleasure is worth seeking out, for most people are incapable of making distinctions. It seems likely, then, that true theories are most useful not only for knowledge but also for life. Since they harmonize with the facts, people believe them and hence encourage those who understand how to conduct their lives by them. But enough of such matters. Let us explore what people have said about pleasure.
Eudoxus believed that pleasure was the chief good because he saw all things, rational and irrational, desiring it and because, according to him, in every case an object worth choosing is good, and the most powerfully attractive things are the best. Hence, the fact that everything moved towards the same object [that is, pleasure] demonstrated that it was the supreme good for all (since each thing, he argued, discovers its own good, just as it finds its own food) and that what is good for every thing and what each thing seeks out is the good. His theories, however, were believed more for the excellence of his character than for their own sake, for he seemed to be an exceptionally self-controlled person and did not appear to be saying this as a lover of pleasure but because he held it to be the truth. He also thought that his theory was no less evident from an analysis of the opposite of pleasure: since pain is something everyone inherently avoids, its opposite must therefore be something everyone inherently desires. Moreover, what is especially worthy of choice is the thing we choose not because of or for the sake of something else, and, by general agreement, pleasure is like this—we never ask someone what his purpose is in enjoying himself, for we assume that pleasure is inherently desirable. He also claimed that if pleasure were added to any good—just behaviour or self-controlled conduct, for example—it made that good more worthy of being chosen and that what is good can be made greater only by something good. Now, this [last] argument seems to show that pleasure is among good things but not that it is better than any other, for every good is more worth choosing when combined with another good than it is by itself. Indeed, with this form of reasoning Plato refutes the notion that the good consists of pleasure, for (he states) a life based on pleasure is more worth choosing in combination with practical wisdom than without it, and if pleasure is better when combined with something else, then it cannot be the [ultimate] good, for the [ultimate] good is not made more worthy of choice by the addition of anything. It is obvious that no one thing could be the [supreme] good if it becomes more worthy of choice once combined with some other inherently good thing. What is there which fits this requirement and which we ourselves can act upon, for what we are looking for is something like that? Those who insist that what all things seek out is not necessarily good are surely talking nonsense. We claim that what seems right to everyone is, in fact, right, and a man who tries to destroy such a belief will not prove more persuasive in anything else he says. If only mindless creatures strove for such things, their claim might mean something, but if intelligent creatures do so as well, how can what they say be valid? Perhaps even in the lower creatures there is some natural power stronger than their own which seeks out the good appropriate to them.
When people argue about the opposite of pleasure they also appear to be incorrect. For they assert that if pain is bad, it does not follow that pleasure is a good, since something bad can oppose something bad and both good and bad can be opposed to something neutral, a claim that is not unsound but which is not true of the things we are talking about. If both pleasure and pain were bad, it would be necessary to avoid them both, and if they were neutral, we should avoid neither of them or shun them both equally, but in fact people appear to avoid one as bad and to choose the other as good. Hence, this must be the way in which they are opposed.
Moreover, it does not follow that if pleasure is not a quality then it cannot, for that reason, be a good. The actions of virtue are not qualities either, nor is happiness. In addition, they state that the good is something definite and fixed, whereas pleasure is indefinite, since one can receive it to greater or lesser degrees. But if they reach this conclusion from the way people experience pleasure, the same case can be made about justice and the other virtues, for we clearly say of those who possess them that they do so to a greater or lesser degree and act according to the virtues they possess. For people are more or less just and courageous and act justly or with self-control to a greater or lesser degree. But if they are basing their case on the nature of the pleasures themselves, they are surely not discussing the real cause, if it is true that some pleasures are pure and others mixed [with pain]. Besides why should pleasure not be like health, which is indeterminate and yet can exist to a greater or smaller extent? For health does not exist in the same proportion in all people, nor is it always one particular proportion in the same person. When it is diminishing, it still remains for a while and can vary in degree. The same may well be the case with pleasure.
Moreover, they claim that the good is perfect, but that things which move and come into being are imperfect, and then they try to demonstrate that pleasure is a process and something which comes into being. But this does not appear to be correct, not even concerning pleasure as process. For every motion is characterized as being fast or slow, and if motion does not inherently have these—for example, the movement of the heavens—then it does with respect to something else. But pleasure has neither inherent nor relative movement. For one can become pleased quickly, just as one can become angry quickly, but one cannot be pleased quickly in comparison with someone else, in the way we can walk or grow and do all sorts of similar things quickly. While one can change quickly or slowly into a feeling of pleasure, one cannot act upon that state—that is, feel pleasure—quickly. And how can pleasure be something coming into being? For we do not believe that a chance thing can come into being from any other chance thing, but that a thing resolves into whatever it was generated from, and that pain is the destruction of whatever it is that generates pleasure.
And they say that pain is a lack of some natural condition and pleasure its replenishment. But these are experienced by the body. So if pleasure is a replenishment of our natural state, the pleasure will be felt where the replenishment occurs—that is, in the body. But this does not appear to be the case. Hence, pleasure does not consist of replenishment, although while replenishment is happening, a man may well feel pleasure, just as he may feel pain when he is being cut. This point of view seem to have arisen from the pains and pleasures associated with eating, for those who have experienced pain from a lack of food derive pleasure from replenishment later. But this does not occur with all pleasures. Those associated with learning do not involve pain, nor, so far as our senses are concerned, does the sense of smell, nor do many sights and sounds and memories and hopes. What will bring these things into being? There has been no lack of anything which they might serve to replenish. To those who raise the issue of the disgraceful pleasures, one might say that these are not pleasant. If some things are pleasant to evil people, we should not assume they are really pleasant, except to them, just as we do not assume that things which sick people find wholesome or sweet or bitter really are that way or that things which appear white to people with a disease of the eyes really are white. Or one might respond in the following way: the pleasures are worth choosing, but not when they arise from shameful things, just as wealth is desirable, but not if it comes from treason, and health is desirable, but not if it comes from eating anything and everything. Or it may be the case that pleasures are of different kinds, since those which come from noble sources are not the same as those from ignoble sources, and one cannot feel the pleasures of a just man without being just or of a musician without being musical, and so on with the other pleasures.
Moreover, the difference between and friend and a flatterer seems to show that pleasure is not good or that pleasures differ in kind, for the former is thought to associate with his friend in order to do him good, the latter in order to give pleasure. We condemn the flatterer but praise the friend because the latter’s social interaction aims at something different. Moreover, no one would choose to live his entire life with the mind of a child, even if he kept enjoying to the fullest extent the things a child enjoys, nor would anyone derive pleasure from carrying out thoroughly disgraceful acts, even if there were never any painful consequences. And there are many things we would be eager to have even if they did not bring us any pleasure, for example, sight, memory, knowledge, and virtue. If these are necessarily accompanied by pleasure, that makes no difference, for we would wish to have them even if we derived no pleasure from them. It seems likely, therefore, that pleasure is not the [highest] good, that not all pleasures are worth choosing, and that some pleasures which differ from others in their kind and in their source are desirable in themselves. This should be a sufficient discussion of pleasure and pain.
Now that we have talked about the virtues, various friendships, and pleasures, it remains for us to provide an outline sketch of happiness, since we have asserted that it is the goal of human nature. If we go back to what was said before, our discussion may be more concise. Now, we claimed that happiness was not part of one’s character, for if it were, it might be experienced by a man who spent his entire life asleep, living like a plant, or by someone suffering the greatest misery. If we do not accept this and instead insist on classing happiness as some kind of activity, as we said earlier on in this discussion, and if some activities are necessarily worthy of choice because of some other end and others for their own sakes, then clearly we must classify happiness with those activities worthy of choice for their own sakes and not as a means to something else, since happiness lacks nothing and is self-sufficient. Now, the activities worth choosing for their own sakes are those which do not seek anything beyond the activity itself. This is thought to be the nature of actions carried out according to virtue, for doing noble and excellent things is worth choosing for its own sake.
However, pleasant amusements also seem to be inherently worthy of choice. We do not choose them for the sake of something else, for they can bring more harm than benefit, making people neglect their bodies and their possessions. Yet most of those whom we consider successful have recourse to these sorts of entertainments. That is the reason those people well versed in such amusements are held in high esteem by tyrants, because they give themselves over to providing those things which tyrants find pleasant. These are the sorts of people tyrants require. And because those with ruling powers devote their leisure time to such amusements, people think these activities lead to happiness. But perhaps these sorts of rulers prove nothing, since virtue and intelligence, the sources of noble actions, do not necessarily come from holding power. And if these rulers have no taste for pure and generous pleasures and so resort to physical delights, that is no reason for us to assume that the latter are worth choosing, for even young lads believe that the things they value are the best. It is reasonable, then, that, just as different things appear to have different values for boys and for men, so they do for worthless and for virtuous people. Therefore, as we have so often remarked, those things are valuable and pleasant which have these qualities for the good man. Every man believes that the activity which matches his own characteristic disposition is the best one to choose, and thus the good man choose to act virtuously. Happiness, therefore, does not come from amusements. In fact, it would be odd if our goal was amusement and our lifetime of hard work and suffering was merely to amuse ourselves. For almost everything we choose is for the sake of something else, other than happiness, which is an end in itself. But to make an effort and work hard for the sake of amusement appears stupid and excessively childish. However, to enjoy ourselves in order to work hard, as Anacharsis puts it, seems correct, for amusement is like a rest, and we need that rest because we cannot keep on working without taking time to relax. But relaxation is not an end goal, since we use it to prepare ourselves for energetic activity. And the happy life is thought to be one lived according to virtue, but such a life is a serious pursuit, not a matter of amusing oneself. Furthermore, we claim that serious matters are more important than funny or amusing things, that the activity of the better part and the better person is always more serious, and that the actions of what is better are superior and thus more conducive to happiness. Anyone at all—a slave no less than the finest man—can enjoy the pleasures of the body, but no one grants a slave a share of happiness, not unless he permits him a life [which makes that possible]. Thus, happiness does not consist of such amusements but rather in virtuous activities, as we have stated earlier.
If, then, happiness is acting in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it is acting in accordance with the highest virtue, and this would be the virtue of the best part [of us]. Now, whether this best part is our mind or something else which is thought to rule and lead us by nature and to have a conception of the beautiful and the divine (either because it is itself divine or because it is the element in us closest to divinity), the activity of this part in accordance with its proper virtue will be complete happiness. And this activity, as we have said, is contemplation.
This claim would seem to agree with what we have stated earlier and with the truth. For contemplation is the supreme activity (for our mind is the most important part in us, and the things which our mind deals with are supreme objects of knowledge), and, beyond that, it is the most continuous activity, since we are able to keep up sustained contemplation better than to keep doing anything else. Now, we think that there must be some pleasure associated with happiness. And the most pleasurable of the virtuous activities is, by common agreement, the activity associated with philosophical wisdom. At all events, philosophy appears to have wonderfully pure and steadfast pleasures, and it is reasonable to assume that those who possess knowledge enjoy a more pleasant life than those who seek it. And the self-sufficiency we talked about belongs, above all, to contemplative activity. While a wise man, as well as a just man and the others, requires the necessities of life, nonetheless, when these are fully supplied, the just man still needs people for whom or with whom he can act justly, and so do the self-controlled man and the brave man and each of the others. The wise man, by contrast, is able to contemplate even on his own—and the wiser he is, the more he is able to do that. He probably studies better when he has colleagues, but nevertheless he is the most self-sufficient of men. And it seems that this is the only activity which is loved for its own sake. For nothing results from it except the contemplation itself. However, from practical activities to a greater or lesser degree we acquire something beyond the activity itself. Moreover, happiness, people think, involves leisure, for we work hard in order to have leisure time and fight wars in order to have peace. Now, the virtues of practical activities manifest themselves in politics or warfare, but such actions seem to require us to keep busy. This is certainly true of war activities, for no one chooses to go to war or brings on a war merely for the sake of fighting. A man would be thought completely bloodthirsty if he made war against his friends in order to bring on battles and killings. A politician’s actions also lack leisure time. Beyond the political activity itself, such actions seek power and honours or, at any rate, happiness for him and for his fellow-citizens, and this happiness is something different from political activity—in fact, we clearly seek it out assuming that it is something different. Among the practical activities displaying virtue, politics and warfare are pre-eminent for nobility and greatness, yet they have no time for leisure, aim at some further goal, and are not chosen for their own sakes. The activity of the intellect, by contrast, seems to surpass these because it is serious—for it involves contemplation—seeks no end beyond itself, and has its own characteristic pleasure, something which increases its activity. In addition, self-sufficiency, leisure, freedom from fatigue (as much as is possible for human beings), and all the other qualities associated with a person truly blessed seem to be associated with this activity. Given all this, it follows that the perfect happiness for human beings will consist of intellectual activity, provided that it lasts a full lifetime, for no part of happiness can be incomplete.
Such a life, however, would be something loftier than a mere human life. For a person will live in this manner not thanks to his human qualities but because there is something divine in him. And the extent to which this divine element surpasses his composite nature matches the extent to which its activities surpass his other virtuous activities. If the intellect is something divine in comparison with man, then the life of the intellect is divine in comparison with human life. We should not follow those who advise us that, since we are human beings, we should think [mere] human thoughts or, since we are mortal creatures, we should think [only] of mortal things. No. By contrast, we should as much as possible accept the idea of immortality and do everything we can to live our lives according to the most excellent part of us. For although this part may be small in bulk, it is far more powerful and valuable than all the rest. In addition, it would seem that each man’s self consists of this element, since it is the dominant and better part. It would be absurd if someone were to choose to live another person’s life rather than his own. Furthermore, what we said before is relevant here, as well: the very best and most pleasurable thing for each creature consists of whatever is appropriate to its nature, and for human beings that is a life of the intellect, since the human being is, above all else, an intellect. Thus, this life is the happiest.
The life lived according to the virtues of practical activities, by contrast, are happy only in a secondary way, since these activities are purely human. For in our interactions with others, we carry out acts displaying justice, courage, and the other virtues, when we give each person his due in contracts, in services, in all sorts of actions, and in our feelings, too—all of these appear to be characteristically human. Some of these actions seem to arise from the body, and moral excellence of character appears in many respects to be closely associated with our feelings. Moreover, practical wisdom is linked to virtues of character, which is, in its turn, linked to practical wisdom, for the first principles of practical wisdom correspond to the moral virtues, and correct standards of virtue agree with practical wisdom. These virtues are themselves linked to the feelings and hence would be part of our composite nature. Now, the virtues of our composite nature are human virtues, and the life lived according to these virtues and the happiness associated with it are also purely human. But virtue of the intellect is quite separate. That is as much as we will say about it, for to discuss it in detail would take up more space than our present business requires. However, it would appear that such virtue has little need of external sustenance, or at least less than virtues of character do. Both of them, of course, require what is necessary for life and to an equal extent, even if the politician is more concerned than the philosopher with physical matters and things like that. But there would be little difference between them. However, in their characteristic activities there will be a significant difference between their needs. The generous person requires wealth in order to practise generosity, and so does the just person in order to live up to his obligations (for intentions are obscure, and unjust people make a show of wishing to act justly). The courageous person needs power if he is to carry out what his virtue requires, and the self-controlled person needs opportunities [to display his virtue]. How else will they or any other people demonstrate their virtue? There is also some disagreement whether the most important feature of virtue is what a person chooses to do or what he actually does, since virtue is alleged to depend upon both. Perfect virtue would clearly seem to involve both, but where virtuous actions are concerned many external things are necessary, and the greater and more noble the act, the more one needs such external goods. However, someone engaged in contemplative enquiry needs no external things, not so far as the activity itself is concerned. In fact, one could say that such things are an obstacle for theoretical study, although, being a human being and living among many others, he will choose to act virtuously and so will require external goods to carry on a human life.
The fact that complete happiness is some form of contemplative activity should also be evident from another point. We think of the gods as supremely blessed and happy. But what sorts of actions should we ascribe to them? What about just actions? Surely it would look ridiculous if they made contracts, restored deposits, and things like that. What about acts of courage—enduring fearful things and running risks because those are noble things to do? Or acts of generosity? But to whom would they give? It would be absurd if they had their own currency or something along that line. As for their self-controlled actions, what would they be? Surely it would be vulgar to commend them for that, since they have no corrupt appetites. If we were go into all these matters in detail, whatever concerns virtuous actions would seem insignificant and unworthy of the gods. But people assume that the gods live and pursue an active existence and that they are not asleep, like Endymion. Well, if we take action away from a living being and impose even stronger restrictions on creative work, what is left other than contemplation? Hence, the activity of the gods which is supremely blessed is contemplation, and therefore among human actions whatever is most closely related to contemplation will be the greatest source of happiness.
More evidence for this is the fact that other living creatures have no share of happiness, because they never engage in contemplative activity. For the whole life of the gods is blessed, and so is human life, to the extent that it possesses some resemblance to this kind of divine activity. But none of the other living creatures experiences happiness, because they have no share in contemplation. Thus, happiness is co-extensive with contemplation, and the more someone contemplates, the happier he is—and this is no mere coincidence, but is inherent in the activity, for contemplation is valuable for its own sake. Consequently, happiness consists of some form of contemplation.
But since the contemplative man is a human being, he will need external goods, since his nature is not self-sufficient for theoretical speculation—he needs to have a healthy body, as well as food and other things provided. Still, even if one cannot be supremely happy without external goods, we should not suppose that happiness requires us to have many great possessions, for self-sufficiency and action do not depend on excess, and it is possible to carry out noble acts without being king of land and sea. We can carry out virtuous actions with moderate resources. This is plain to see, for private citizens do not appear to act decently less frequently than those in power—indeed, they are more likely to do so. Hence, it is sufficient if we have moderate resources. For the life of a person who acts virtuously will be a happy one. Solon also gave a good description of happy people when he said that men possessing a moderate amount of external goods had, in his view, carried out the finest actions and had lived temperately, for it was possible with moderate possessions to do what one ought to do. Anaxagoras, too, does not appear to have thought of the happy person as rich or powerful, for he states that it would not be surprising if most people thought the happy person appeared out of place, for the majority judge by externals, which are the only things they perceive. Hence, it looks as if what we are saying agrees with the opinions of the wise. So we can have some trust in these arguments. However, in matters of practical actions we judge the truth by what we do and how we live, for these are the decisive factors. Therefore, we must examine what we said before by bringing to bear on it our actions and our way of life. If it harmonizes with the facts, we should accept it, but if there is a discrepancy we will have to assume that what we have said is nothing but words. Still, the person who engages in intellectual activities and cultivates the life of the mind is probably in the very best condition and the one the gods love most. For if the gods have any interest in human affairs, as seems likely, then it would be reasonable that they should delight in what is best and most closely related to them, that is, the intellect, and that they should repay with their favours those people who, above all, love and honour it, because such people take care of what the gods cherish and act correctly and nobly. It is clear that the wise man possesses all these qualities more than anyone else. Hence, he is the one most loved by the gods. It is also likely that he is the happiest person, so that by this reasoning the wise man is a happy man, more so than other people.