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The first page of the Nicomachean Ethics in Greek and Latin, from a 1566 edition

Nicomachean Ethics (Greek Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια, transliterated Ethika Nikomacheia; gen.: Ἠθικῶν Νικομαχείων, Ethikōn Nikomacheiōn; Latin Ethica Nicomachea) is the name normally given to the most well-known work by Aristotle on ethics. It plays a prominent role in defining Aristotelian ethics, and is widely considered one of the most important historical philosophical works, having for example a very important impact upon European Medieval Philosophy, and hence indirectly upon Modern Philosophy. Many parts of the Nicomachean Ethics are well known in their own right, and have been referred to not only by philosophers, but in legal and theological traditions. Particularly important authors influenced by this work in different periods include Averroes, Marsilius of Padua, Thomas of Aquinas, Alasdair MacIntyre and Martha Nussbaum. Great modernists on the other hand, such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, clearly saw the Aristotelian tradition in practical thinking as having become a great impediment to philosophy in their time.

The work consists of ten books, originally separate scrolls, and is understood to be based on notes said to be from his lectures at the Lyceum which were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle's son, Nicomachus. It is very often abbreviated “NE,” or “EN,” and books and chapters are generally referred to by Roman and Arabic numerals, respectively, along with corresponding Bekker numbers. (Thus, “NE II.2, 1103b1” means “Nicomachean Ethics, book II, chapter 2, Bekker page 1103, Bekker column b [the column on the right side of the page], line number 1.) In many ways this work parallels the similar Eudemian Ethics, which has only eight books, and the two works can be fruitfully compared. Books V, VI, and VII of the Nicomachean Ethics are identical to Books IV, V, and VI of the Eudemian Ethics. Opinions about the relationship between the two works, for example which was written first, and which originally contained the three common books, is divided.

Aristotle describes his ethical work as being different from his other kinds of study, because it is not just for the sake of contemplating what things are, but rather to actually become good ourselves. It is therefore practical rather than theoretical in the original Aristotelian senses of these terms. It is in this sense connected to Aristotle's writings on Politics, which also aims at people becoming good, though politics takes the perspective of a law-giver.[1]



Aristotle argues that the correct approach in studying such controversial subjects as Ethics or Politics, which involve discussing what is true about what is beautiful or just, is to start with what would be roughly agreed to by people of good up-bringing and experience in life, and to work from there to a higher understanding.[2]

Taking this approach, Aristotle begins by saying that the highest good for humans, the highest aim of all human practical thinking, is eudaimonia, a Greek word often translated as well-being or happiness. Aristotle in turn argues that happiness is properly understood as a way of being in action in the human psuchē, traditionally translated as "soul", in accordance with virtue (Greek aretē, sometimes translated as "excellence"), in a stable way that endures throughout life. Happiness therefore depends upon being in accordance with virtue, and if there are several virtues, upon the best and most complete or perfect of them. An excellent human will be a person good at living life, who does it well and beautifully (kalos), a serious (spoudaios) person in the same way that there are harpists and serious harpists, and Aristotle also asserts as part of this starting point that virtue for a human must involve reason in thought and speech (logos), as this is a special task (ergon) of human living.[3]

From this starting point, Aristotle goes into discussion of Ethics. Aristotelian Ethics is about what makes a virtuous character (ethikē aretē) possible, which is in turn necessary if happiness is to be possible. Character is ēthos in Greek, related to modern words such as ethics, ethical and ethos. Aristotle does not however equate character with habit (ethos in Greek, with a short "e") because real character involves conscious choice, unlike habit. Instead of being habit, character is a hexis like health or knowledge, meaning it is a stable disposition which must be consciously pursued and maintained. However, good habits are described as a precondition for good character. By doing the right actions, perhaps first under the influence of teachers, we develop the right habits, and from having the right habits we develop the right character, allowing us a chance of achieving eudaimonia.[4]

In Latin the habits are morae or mores, giving us words like "moral", and Aristotle's term for virtue of character (ethikē aretē) is traditionally often translated as "moral virtue".

By book VII, Aristotle eventually comes to argue that the highest of all human virtues is itself not practical, being contemplative wisdom (1177a), but he also makes it clear that the possibility of ever achieving this supreme condition is inseparable from achieving all the virtues of character, or "moral virtues".[5]

Book I

Book 1 begins to define the subject matter, with some very important digressions. As is typical of Aristotle, he considers common opinions and the opinions of poets and philosophers as he progresses. The introductory book is remarkable for the way in which "digressions" explaining the method which has been chosen, constantly interrupt what is apparently the main flow of discussion.


The digressions concerning who should study Ethics, and how

The digressions in this book begin by explaining the type of person who should be involved in considering this subject, and the dangers of approaching it wrongly, and eventually become an explanation of why the Ethics is being structured in a way which may seem unphilosophical according to the norms of Aristotle's teacher, Plato.

Chapter 3 is a digression about accuracy and at the same time about whether ethics can be treated in an objective way, pointing out that the "things that are beautiful and just, about which politics investigates, involve great disagreement and inconsistency, so that they are thought to belong only to convention and not to nature". For this reason Aristotle claims it is important not to demand too much precision, like the demonstrations we would demand from a mathematician, but rather to treat the beautiful and the just as "things that are so for the most part". We can do this because people are good judges of what they are acquainted with, but in turn this implies that the young (in age or in character), being inexperienced, are not suitable for study of this type of political subject.[6]

Chapter 4 continues, but with so many opinions available a new digression is made, related to the previous one, asking whether we should try to argue from first principles or else "go up" towards them from what is known to us. He suggests that in this case we need to begin with what is known to us, once again emphasizing that to discuss this topic we have already had a good up-bringing.[7]

Chapter 6 contains a famous digression in which Aristotle appears to question his "friends" who "introduced the forms", i.e. what is now known as the Theory of Forms, by which he must certainly be referring to Plato and his school, for while both "the truth and one's friends" are loved "it is a sacred thing to give the highest honor to the truth". The section is an explanation of why the Ethics will not seek "The Good" as a universal thing which all things called good have in common. Aristotle says that while all the different things called good do not seem to have the same name by chance, it is perhaps better to "let go for now" because this attempt at precision "would be more at home in another type of philosophic inquiry", and would not seem to be helpful for discussing how particular humans should act, in the same way that doctors do not need to philosophize over the definition of health in order to treat each case.[8]

Chapter 7 ends with yet another reference to this avoidance of discussing a universal good. He remarks that "both a carpenter and a geometrician look for a right angle, but in different ways", the point being that one ought to ensure "that side issues do not become greater than the work being done". Indeed, "it is sufficient in some cases for it to be shown beautifully that something is so, in particular such things as concern first principles.... For the beginning seems to be more than half of the whole, and many of the things that are inquired after become illuminated with it". He mentions that perception of first principles can come about in many ways, including through experience in some habit (ethismōi tini).[9]

Defining Happiness and the aim of the Ethics

The main stream of discussion starts in Chapter 1, from an assertion that all making, investigating (methodos, like the Ethics itself), all deliberate actions and choice, all aim at some good. Aristotle points to the fact that many aims are really only intermediate aims, and are desired only because they make the achievement of higher aims possible.[10]

In chapter 2, Aristotle points out that like archers we should try to know about our ultimate target and what kind of knowledge or capacity it requires. He asserts that there is one highest aim, happiness, and it must be the same as politics should have, because what is best for an individual is less beautiful (kalos) and divine (theios) than what is good for a people (ethnos) or city (polis). The aim of political capacity should include the aim of all other pursuits, so that "this end would be the human good (tanthrōpinon agathon)". He concludes what is now known as Chapter 2 of Book 1 by stating that ethics ("our investigation" or methodos) is "in a certain way political".[11]

Chapter 4 states that while most would agree to call the highest aim of humanity happiness (eudaimonia), and also to equate this with both living well and doing things well, there is dispute between people, and between the majority (hoi polloi) and "the wise".[7]

Chapter 5 begins by considering first the assumption of the most people and the crudest people, that pleasure is the good and happiness. Aristotle asserts that the people who hold this opinion represent one of three distinct ways of life that are especially important:[12]

  • The slavish way of pleasure, which is the way of the majority.
  • The refined and active way of politics, which aims at honor, honor itself implying the incompleteness of this way, and the divinity of those who are wise and those who know them.
  • The way of contemplation, which shall be discussed elsewhere.

Aristotle also mentions two other possibilities that he argues can be put aside:

  • Having virtue but being inactive, even suffering evils and misfortunes, which Aristotle says no one would consider unless they were defending a hypothesis. (As Sachs points out, this is indeed what Plato depicts Socrates doing in his Gorgias.)
  • Money making, which Aristotle asserts to be a life based on aiming at what is pursued by necessity, an intermediate good.

Chapter 7 then, noting that many of the aims people would nominate are really only intermediate aims, focuses on eliminating these to consider what remains, and which things are pursued on their own account. He asserts that not only happiness itself, but also honor, pleasure, and intelligence (nous) and every virtue are all things we pursue for their own sake, for even though they lead to happiness, even if they did not we would still pursue them. Happiness in life then, includes the virtues, and he adds that it would include self-sufficiency (autarkeia), not the self-sufficiency of a hermit, but of someone with a family, friends and community. By itself this would make life choiceworthy and lacking nothing. In order to describe more clearly what happiness is like, Aristotle next asks what the work (ergon) of a human is. All living things have nutrition and growth as a work, all animals would have perceiving as part of their work, but what is more particularly human? The answer according to Aristotle is that it must involve articulate speech (logos), including both being open to persuasion by reasoning, and thinking things through. Not only will happiness involve reason, but it will also be an active being at work (energeia), not just potential happiness, and it will be over a lifetime, because "one swallow does not make a Spring".[13]

And because happiness is being described as a work or function of humans, we can say that just as we contrast harpist with serious harpists, the person who lives well and beautifully in this actively rational an virtuous way will be a "serious" (spoudaios) human.[14][15]

Chapter 8 takes up the approach justified in various digressions so far. One must approach one's beginning statement not only by looking at its conclusions, and the basis of it, but also by looking at what people say about it "for when something is true, everything that pertain to it is consonant with it, but when something is false, the truth quickly shows itself dissonant with it."

As his example of what people say about happiness, Aristotle cites an "ancient one and agreed to by the philosophers". According to this opinion, which he says is right, the good things associated with the soul are most governing and especially good, when compared to the good things of the body, or good external things. Aristotle says that virtue, practical judgment and wisdom, and also pleasure, all associated with happiness, and indeed an association with external abundance, are all consistent with this definition.

If happiness is virtue, or a certain virtue, then it must not just be a condition of being virtuous, potentially, but an actual way of virtuously "being at work" as a human. For as in the Olympic games, "it is not the most beautiful or the strongest who are crowned, but those who compete". And such virtue will be good, beautiful and pleasant, indeed Aristotle asserts that in most people different pleasures are in conflict with each other while "the things that are pleasant to those who are passionately devoted to what is beautiful are the things that are pleasant by nature and of this sort are actions in accordance with virtue". External goods are also necessary in such a virtuous life, because a person who lacks things such as good family and friends might find it difficult to be happy.[16]

Questions that might be raised about the definition

Chapter 9 considers the definition of happiness in contrast to an old question of whether happiness might be a result of learning or habit or training, or perhaps divine lot or even chance. Aristotle says that it admits of being shared by some sort of learning and taking pains. But despite this, even if not divine, it is one of the most divine things, and "for what is greatest and most beautiful to be left to chance would be too discordant". Aristotle's discussion of how chance can make happiness possible or impossible, such that we would not call Priam a happy man, only because of his unhappy old age, leads to the next chapter 10.[17]

Chapter 10 returns to question the definition's insistence on happiness being over a whole life. It might even seem completely absurd to wait until someone is dead to judge whether they are happy, although in reality all this means is that it is only at this time that we can say a human is "beyond evils and misfortunes". This could be objected to, though it raises new difficulties, by considering whether the fortunes of descendants do not somehow affect the eudaimonia of people who have died. Aristotle states that we should step back and ask a more fundamental question about even one lifetime because "we would often call the same person happy and miserable in turns". Aristotle resolves this by saying that what governs happiness is always according to the definition, while a happy person at work in accordance with virtue "will bear what misfortune brings most beautifully and in complete harmony in every instance". Only many great misfortunes will limit how blessed such a life can be, but even then "even in these circumstances something beautiful shines through".[18]

Chapter 11 then returns to a point made during chapter 10, saying that it "seems too unfeeling and contrary to people's opinions" to have implied that "the fortunes of one's descendants and all one's friends have no influence at all". He deals with this quickly saying that it seems that if anything at all gets through to the deceased, whether good or the reverse, it would be something faint and small".[19]

Chapter 12 raises the question of whether happiness is among the things that are praised or among the things that are honored. Aristotle distinguishes virtue and happiness saying that virtue, through which people "become apt at performing beautiful actions" is praiseworthy, while happiness is something more important, like god, "since every one of us does everything else for the sake of this, and we set down the source and cause of good things as something honored and divine".[20]

From defining happiness to discussion of virtue: introduction to the rest of the Ethics

Chapter 13. According to the definition of happiness given, we should look at virtue in order to understand it, because happiness will be in accordance with virtue. As confirmation, Aristotle refers us also to his remark in chapter 2 that happiness would be a target of the political art, and he now points out that law makers try to achieve happiness by trying to make citizens good and obedient to laws. Furthermore, we know that ethics, and the political art, must look at the human soul, just as a doctor wanting to cure eyes may have to look to the whole body of a patient.

Aristotle asserts that we can usefully accept some things which are said about the soul, including the division of the soul into rational and irrational parts, and the further division of the irrational parts into two parts also:

  • One irrational part of the human soul is "not human" but "vegetative" and at most work during sleep, when virtue is least obvious.
  • A second irrational part of the human soul is however able to share in reason in some way. We see this because we know there is something "desiring and generally appetitive" in the soul which can on different occasions in different people either oppose reason, or obey it - thus being rational just as we would be rational when we listen to a father being rational.

The virtues then will be similarly divided, into intellectual (dianoetic) virtues, and the virtues of character (ethical or moral virtues) pertaining to the irrational part of the soul which can take part in reason.[21]

These virtues of character, or "moral virtues" as they are often translated, become the central topic in Book II.

Books II-V: Concerning excellence of character or moral virtue

Book II: That virtues of character can be described as means

Book 1 had ended by pointing to the importance of virtue of character (moral virtue) as a pre-condition for happiness and the highest virtues. Book 2 concerns this virtue of character. Chapter 1 points out that whereas virtue of thinking needs teaching, experience and time, virtue of character (moral virtue) comes about as a consequence of following the right habits. According to Aristotle the potential for this virtue is by nature in humans, but whether virtues come to be present or not is not determined by human nature.[22]

Chapter 2 once more reminds that we should not try to speak too precisely in any discourse where the material makes it inappropriate. When it comes to deciding what are the actions we should choose in order to develop and hold a good character, we should always look at all circumstances surrounding an occasion. With this approach in mind, Aristotle says that we can describe virtues as things which are destroyed by deficiency or excess. Someone who runs away becomes a coward, while someone who fears nothing is rash. In this way the virtue "bravery" can be seen as depending upon a "mean" between two extremes. (For this reason, Aristotle is sometimes considered a proponent of a doctrine of a "golden mean".[23]) People become habituated well by first performing actions which are virtuous, possibly because of the guidance of teachers or experience, and in turn these habitual actions then become real virtue where we choose good actions deliberately.[24]

Chapter 3 points out that virtue is also an aptitude which affects when we feel pleasure or pain. A virtuous person feels pleasure at the most beautiful actions. A person who is not virtuous will often find his or her perceptions of what is most pleasant to be misleading. For this reason, any concern with virtue or politics requires consideration of pleasure and pain.[25]

Chapter 4 begins by pointing out that when a person does virtuous actions, for example by chance, or under advice, they are not yet necessarily a virtuous person. It is not like in the productive arts, where the thing being made is what is judged as well made or not. To truly be a virtuous person, one's virtuous actions must meet three conditions: (a) they are done knowingly, (b) they are chosen for their own sakes, and (c) they are chosen according to a stable disposition (not at a whim, or in any way that the acting person might easily change his choice about). And just knowing what would be virtuous is not enough.[26]

Chapter 5 asks which of the three kinds of things which come to be present in the soul that virtue is: a feeling (pathos), a inborn predisposition or capacity (dunamis), or a stable disposition which has been acquired (hexis)[27]. In fact, it has already been mentioned that virtue is made up of hexeis, but on this occasion the contrast with feelings and capacities is made clearer - neither are chosen, and neither are praiseworthy in the way that virtue is.[28]

Chapter 6 again compares virtue to productive arts (technai) this time mentioning that like with arts, virtue of character must not only be the making of a good human, but also the way in which a human does his own work well. The approach of calling the ethical virtues means between excess and deficiency, is also discussed in this way. It is the same with the arts: when they are well done we say that we would not want to take away or add anything from them. Concerning the feelings and actions though, we say the same thing about displaying virtue of character. More generally, says Aristotle, there are many ways to go wrong, but only one way to get something right. But Aristotle points to a simplification in this idea of hitting a "mean". In terms of what is best, we aim at an extreme, not a mean, and in terms of what is base, the opposite.[29]

Chapter 7 turns from general comments to specifics.[30]

It is here that a list of virtues and vices of character are given. As Sachs points out (2002, p. 30) it appears that the list is not especially fixed, because it differs between the Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics, and also because Aristotle repeats several times that this is a rough outline. The following table uses English terms from the Loeb edition translated by Rackham, unless otherwise stated (not all Greek as abstract nouns)...

' Mean Excess Deficiency
fear and confidence Courage: mean in fear and confidence no special name: exceeds in fearlessness Cowardly: exceeds in fear and is deficient in confidence
φόβους καὶ θάρρη ἀνδρεία NA δειλός
Rash: exceeds in confidence
pleasures and pains Temperance Profligacy, dissipation, etc scarcely occurs, but we may call it Insensible
ἡδονὰς δὲ καὶ λύπας σωφροσύνη ἀκολασία ἀναίσθητοι
giving and getting (smaller amounts of) money Liberality (Rackham), generosity (Sachs) Prodigality (Rackham), Wastefulness (Sachs) Meanness (Rackham), Stinginess (Sachs)
δόσιν χρημάτων καὶ λῆψιν ἐλευθεριότης ἀσωτία ἀνελευθερία
giving and getting greater things Magnificence Tastelessness or Vulgarity Paltriness (Rackham), Chintziness (Sachs)
μεγαλοπρέπεια ἀπειροκαλία καὶ βαναυσία μικροπρέπεια
greater honor and dishonor Greatness of Soul Vanity Smallness of Soul
τιμὴν καὶ ἀτιμίαν [μεγάλην] μεγαλοψυχία χαυνότης μικροψυχία
small honors no special name Ambitious Unambitious
τιμὴν καὶ ἀτιμίαν [μικρὰν] NA φιλότιμος ἀφιλότιμος
anger Gentleness Irascibility (Rackham), Irritability (Sachs) Spiritlessness
ὀργή πραότης ὀργιλότης ἀοργησία
truth Truthfulness Boastfulness: pretence as exaggeration Self-depreciation: pretence as understatement
ἀληθής ἀλήθεια ἀλαζονεία εἰρωνεία
pleasantness and social amusement Wittiness (Rackham) Charming (Sachs) Buffoonery Boorishness
τὸ ἡδὺ τὸ μὲν ἐν παιδιᾷ εὐτράπελος βωμολοχία βωμολόχος
general pleasantness in life Friendliness obsequious, if for no purpose quarrelsome and surly
ἡδὺ τὸ ἐν τῷ βίῳ φιλία ἄρεσκος δύσερίς τις καὶ δύσκολος
flatterer, if for own advantage

Aristotle also mentions some "mean conditions" involving feelings: a sense of shame is sometimes praised, or said to be in excess or deficiency. Righteous indignation is a sort of mean between joy at the misfortunes of others and envy. But this will be discussed elsewhere.

Justice, also, needs special discussion (Book 5).

Chapter 8 is short and mentions that concerning these means and extremes, while the extremes are often more different to each other than to the mean, how close they are is variable. Sometimes the excess seems closer to the mean, and sometimes the deficiency. Aristotle believes this is often so because we tend more by nature towards pleasures, and therefore see virtues as being closer to the less obviously pleasant extremes.[31]

Chapter 9 draws general advice from the observation of Chapter 8. Because it is difficult to be precise when aiming at the mean, we should choose the lesser of the evils, we should avoid what it is easiest to incline towards, and most of all we should guard against erring on the side of what is most pleasant. But, notes Aristotle, this remains very difficult to get right, because every case will be different and cannot be foreseen. However, big variations from the mean are noticed, and attract blame.[32]

Book III. Chapters 1-5: Moral Virtue as Conscious Choice

Chapter 1 distinguishes actions which are chosen as the ones relevant to virtue, and whether actions are to be blamed, forgiven or even pitied.[33]

Aristotle divides actions into three categories instead of two:-

  • Voluntary (ekousion) acts.
  • Involuntary or unwilling (akousion) acts, which are is the simplest case where people do not praise or blame. In such cases a person does not chose the wrong thing, for example if the wind carries a person off, or if a person has a wrong understanding of the particular facts of a situation. Note that ignorance of what aims are good and bad, such as people of bad character always have, is not something people typically excuse as ignorance in this sense. "Acting on account of ignorance seems different from acting while being ignorant".
  • "Non-voluntary" or "non willing" actions (ouk ekousion) which are bad actions done by choice, or more generally (as in the case of animals and children when desire or spirit causes an action) whenever "the source of the moving of the parts that are instrumental in such actions is in oneself" and anything "up to oneself either to do or not". However, these actions are not taken because because they are preferred in their own right, but rather because all options available are worse.

It is concerning this third class of actions that there is doubt about whether they should be praised or blamed or condoned in different cases.

Chapter 2 concerns deliberate choice (proairesis), which based upon the conclusions of Chapter 1, "seems to determine one's character more than one's actions do". Things done on the spur of the moment, and things done by animals and children can be willing, but driven by desire and spirit and not what we would normally call true choice. Choice is rational, and according to the understanding of Aristotle, choice can be in opposition to desire. Choice is also not wishing for things one does not believe can be achieved, such as immortality, but rather always concerning realistic aims. Choice is also not simply to do with opinion, because our choices make us the type of person we are, and are not simply true or false. What distinguishes choice is that before a choice is made there is a rational deliberation or thinking of things through.[34]

Chapter 3 concerns deliberation (bouleusis). According to Aristotle, at least for sane people, deliberation does not include theoretical contemplation about universal and everlasting things, nor about things that might be far away, nor about things we can know precisely, such as letters. "We deliberate about things that are up to us and are matters of action" and concerning things where it is unclear how they will turn out. Deliberation is therefore not how we reason about ends we pursue, health for example, but how we think through the ways we can try to achieve them. Choice then is decided by both desire and deliberation.[35]

Chapter 4. Wishing (boulēsis) is also not deliberation. We cannot say that what people wish for is good by definition, and although we could say that what is wished for is always what appears good, this will still be very variable. Most importantly we could say that a serious (spoudaios) man will wish for what is truly most beautiful and most pleasant. People are most often mislead by what they think is most pleasant.[36]

Chapter 5 considers choice, willingness and deliberation in cases which exemplify not only virtue, but vice. Virtue and vice according to Aristotle are "up to us". This means that although no one is willingly unhappy, vice by definition always involves actions which were decided upon willingly. (As discussed earlier, vice comes from bad habits and aiming at the wrong things, not deliberately aiming to be unhappy.) Lawmakers also work in this way, trying to encourage and discourage the right voluntary actions, but not concerning themselves with involuntary actions. They also tend not to be lenient to people for anything they could have chosen to avoid, such as being drunk, or being ignorant of things easy to know, or even of having allowed oneself to develop bad habits and a bad character. Concerning this point, Aristotle asserts that even though people with a bad character may be ignorant and even seem unable to chose the right things, this condition stems from decisions which were originally voluntary, the same as poor health can develop; and "while no one blames those who are ill-formed by nature, people do censure those who are that way through lack of exercise and neglect". The vices then, are voluntary just as the virtues are. He states that people would have to be unconscious not to realize the importance of allowing themselves to live badly, and he dismisses any idea that different people have different innate visions of what is good.[37]

Book III. Chapters 6-12; and Book IV: Examples of moral virtues

Aristotle now deals separately with some of the specific character virtues, in a form similar to the listing at the end of Book II, starting with courage and temperance.


Chapter 6. Aristotle reminds us that courage means holding a mean position in one's feelings of confidence and fear. But courage is not thought to relate to fear of evil things which it is right to fear, like disgrace, and courage is not the word used for a man who does not fear danger to his wife and children, or punishment for breaking the law. Instead courage usually refers to confidence and fear concerning the most fearful thing, death, and specifically the most potentially beautiful form of death, death in battle.[38]

Chapter 7. The courageous man, says Aristotle, is as resistant to fear as far as man may be. He will sometimes fear even terrors which not everyone feels the need to fear, but he will endure fears and feel confident in a rational way, for the sake of what is beautiful (kalos), because this is what virtue aims at. Beautiful action comes from a beautiful character and aims at beauty. The vices opposed to courage were discussed at the end of Book II. Although there is no special name for it, people who have excessive fearlessness would be mad, which Aristotle remarks that some describe Celts as being in his time. Aristotle also remarks that "rash" people (thrasus), those with excessive confidence, are generally cowards putting on a brave face.[39]

Chapter 8. Apart from the correct usage above, the word courage is applied to five other types of character according to Aristotle[40]:-

  • The courage of citizen soldiers. Aristotle says this is largely penalties for cowardice and honors for bravery, but that it is the closest type of seeming courage to real courage, is very important for making an army fight as if brave, but it is different from true courage because not based on voluntary actions aimed at being beautiful in their own right. Aristotle perhaps surprisingly notes that the Homeric heroes had this type of courage.
  • People experienced in some particular danger often seem courageous. This is something that might be seen amongst professional soldiers, who do not panic at false alarms. In another perhaps surprising remark Aristotle specifically notes that such men might be better in a war than even truly courageous people. However, he also notes that when the odds change such soldiers run.
  • Spirit or anger (thumos) often looks like courage. Such people can be blind to the dangers they run into though, meaning even animals can be brave in this way, and unlike truly courageous people they are not aiming at beautiful acts. This type of bravery is the same as that of a mule risking punishment in order to keep grazing, or an adulterer taking risks. Aristotle however notes that this type of spirit shows an affinity to true courage and combined with deliberate choice and purpose it seems to be true courage.
  • The boldness of someone who feels confident based on many past victories is not true courage. Like a person who is over-confident when drunk this apparent courage is based on a lack of fear, and will disappear if circumstances change. A truly courageous person is not certain of victory and does endure fear.
  • Similarly, there are people who are over confident simply due to ignorance. An over-confident person might stand a while when things do not turn out as expected but a person confident out of ignorance is likely to run at the first signs of such things.

Chapter 9. As discussed in Book II already, courage might be described as achieving a mean in confidence and fear, but we must remember that these means are not normally in the middle between the two extremes. Avoiding fear is more important in aiming at courage than avoiding over-confidence. As in the examples explained above, over-confident people are likely to be called courageous, or considered close to courageous. Aristotle said in Book II that with the moral virtues such as courage, it is the extreme which one's normal desires tend away from which is most important to aim towards. When it comes to courage, it heads people towards pain in some circumstances, and therefore away from what they would otherwise desire. Men are sometimes even called courageous just for enduring pain. There can be a pleasant end of courageous actions but it is obscured by the circumstances, and death is by definition always a possibility. So this is one example of a virtue that does not bring a pleasant result.[41]

Temperance (sōphrosunē)

Book III, Chapter 10 reminds us that temperance (sōphrosunē, also translated as soundness of mind, moderation, discretion) is a mean with regards to pleasure. He adds that it is only concerned with pains in a lesser and different way. The vice which occurs most often in the same situations is excess with regards to pleasure (akrasia, translated licentiousness, intemperance, profligacy, dissipation etc.). Pleasures can be divided into those of the soul and of the body. But those who are concerned with pleasures of the soul, honor, learning, for example, or even excessive pleasure in talking, are not usually referred to as temperate or dissipate. Also, not all bodily pleasures are relevant, for example delighting in sights or sounds or smells are not things we are temperate or profligate about, unless it would be the smell of food or perfume which triggers another yearning. Temperance and dissipation concern the animal-like, Aphrodisiac, pleasures of touch and taste, and indeed especially a certain type of touch, because dissipated people do not delight in refined distinguishing of flavors, and nor indeed do they delight in feelings one gets during a workout or massage in a gymnasium.[42]

Chapter 11. Some desires like that food and drink, and indeed sex, are shared by everyone in a certain way. But not everyone has the same particular manifestations of these desires. In the "natural desires" says Aristotle, few people go wrong, and then normally in one direction, towards too much. What is just to fulfill one's need, whereas people err by either desiring beyond this need, or else desiring what they ought not desire. But regarding pains, temperance is different than courage. A temperate person does not need to endure pains, but rather the intemperate person feels pain even with his pleasures, but also by his excess longing. The opposite is rare, and therefore there is no special name for a person insensitive to pleasures and delight. The temperate person will desire the things which are not impediments to health, nor contrary to what is beautiful, nor beyond that person's resources. Such a person judges according to right reason (orthos logos).[43]

Chapter 12. Intemperance is a more willingly chosen vice than cowardice, because it positively seeks pleasure, while cowardice avoid pain, and pain can derange a person's choice. So we reproach intemperance more, because it is easier to habituate oneself so as to avoid this problem. The way children act also has some likeness to the vice of akrasia. Just as a child needs to live by instructions, the desiring part of the human soul must be in harmony with the rational part. Desire without understanding can become insatiable, and can even impair reason.[44]

Liberality or Generosity (eleutheriotēs)

Book IV, Chapter 1 concerns the ethical virtue of liberality or generosity. This is a virtue we observe when we see how people act with regards to giving money, and things whose worth is thought of in terms of money. The two un-virtuous extremes are wastefulness and stinginess (or meanness). Stinginess is most obviously taking money too seriously, but wastefulness, less strictly speaking, is not always the opposite (an under estimation of the importance of money) because it is also often caused by being unrestrained. A wasteful person is destroyed by their own acts, and has many vices at once. Aristotle's approach to defining the correct balance is to treat money like any other useful thing, and say that the virtue is to know how to use money: giving to the right people, the right amount at the right time. Also, as with each of the ethical virtues, Aristotle emphasizes that such a person gets pleasures and pains at doing the virtuous and beautiful thing. Aristotle goes slightly out of his way to emphasize that generosity is not a virtue associated with making money, because, he points out, a virtuous person is normally someone who causes beautiful things, rather than just being a recipient. Aristotle also points out that we do not give much gratitude and praise at all to someone simply for not taking (which might however earn praise for being just). Aristotle also points out that "generous people are loved practically the most of those who are recognized for virtue, since they confer benefits, and this consists in giving" and he does not deny that generous people often won't be good at maintaining their wealth, and are often easy to cheat. Aristotle goes further in this direction by saying that it might seem that it is better to be wasteful than to be stingy: a wasteful person is cured by age, and by running out of resources, and if they are not merely unrestrained people then they are foolish rather than vicious and badly brought-up. Also, a wasteful person at least benefits someone. Aristotle points out also that a person with this virtue would not get money from someone he should not get it, in order to give "for a decent sort of taking goes along with a decent sort of giving". Having said this however, most people we call wasteful are not only wasteful in the sense opposed to being generous, but also actually unrestrained and have many vices at once. Such people are actually often wasteful and stingy at the same time, and when trying to be generous they often take from sources whence they should not (for example pimps, loan sharks, gamblers, thieves), and they give to the wrong people. Such people can be helped by guidance, unlike stingy people, and most people are somewhat stingy. In fact, ends Aristotle, stinginess is reasonably called the opposite of generosity, "both because it is a greater evil than wastefulness, and because people go wrong more often with it than from the sort of wastefulness described".[45]


Book IV, Chapter 2. Magnificence translates megaloprepreia from Greek, and this is a virtue similar to generosity except that it deals with larger amounts of wealth.[46]

Magninimity or "greatness of soul"

Book IV, Chapter 3. Aristotle views magnanimity as “a sort of adornment of the moral virtues; for it makes them greater, and it does not arise without them.” (1124a). In order to be magnanimous it seems that one would have to possess a number of other virtues and act on them accordingly, otherwise it would be impossible to be a great person, and thus it would be impossible to be magnanimous. Aristotle states it is especially important to have honor since it is the greatest of the external goods and it is what great people think themselves most worthy (1123b). Magnanimity puts other virtues into their proper perspective in terms of worth. In the case of honor, it allows a magnanimous person to accept honor from an excellent person since it is the greatest thing an excellent man can give; however, if the person giving the honor is not excellent, then the magnanimous person will disdain the recognition because it is not in accordance with his worth (1124a6). Although a magnanimous person will accept the proper honor, he will not be excessively pleased by it because it is justified by his worth. Since a great person is most concerned with honor, he gives it little value, and we can assume that lesser goods will play a small role in the life of a magnanimous person (1124a19). However, these other goods are still important for Aristotle since someone who has “both virtue and these goods is more readily thought worthy of honor” (1124a22-23). Because one must already possess virtue and be a great person in order to have magnanimity, it is called the “crowning virtue.” The other virtues provide the foundation of a great and virtuous person while magnanimity allows that person to act on those virtues appropriately.[47]

A nameless virtue like magnanimity, but concerning smaller honors

Book IV, Chapter 4.[48]


Book IV Chapter 5.[49]

Something like friendship, between being obsequious and surly

Book IV Chapter 6.[50]


Book IV Chapter 7.

Being witty or charming

Book IV Chapter 8.

Sense of Shame (not a virtue)

Chapter 9. The sense of shame is not a virtue, but more like a feeling than a stable character trait (hexis). It is a fear, and it is only fitting in the young, who live by feeling, but are held back by the feeling of shame. We would not praise older people for such a sense of shame according to Aristotle, since shame is willing acts, and a decent person would not do something shameful. Aristotle mentions here that self restraint is also not a virtue, but refers to us to a later part of the book (Book VII) for discussion of this.[51]

Book V: Justice and Fairness: a moral virtue needing special discussion

Book V is the same as Book IV of the Eudemian Ethics. It represents the special discussion on justice which was already foreseen in earlier books.

Justice plays an important role in the ethics of Aristotle. It is the cornerstone of social living and demonstrates the highest comprehension of the virtues. Aristotle thought that justice is important enough to devote an entire book to it in the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle treats justice in the same way that he treats other virtues; but, it is the only virtue that has its own book. This not only signifies the importance of justice to Aristotle’s ethics but also the complexity of the topic. Aristotle finds that two distinct forms of justice are necessary to form a comprehensive theory: general (or universal) justice and particular justice. General justice deals with obeying laws and the relation of virtue to others. Particular justice is placed among the virtues and is divided into two subcategories.

Aristotle begins his discussion of particular justice by providing evidence that Justice is divided into parts and that one of these parts deals with unjust profits from action. First, Aristotle makes note of several vices that are associated with certain activities. Cowardice, for example, is associated with causing a soldier to throw away his shield during a battle (1130a17-19). Aristotle cites several other examples in which a certain vice causes one to act in a way that does not accord with a virtue. However, there are some cases where a person commits an undesirable act and does not possess a corresponding vice that would usually cause that type of act. Often, Aristotle observes, these acts are caused by overreaching (pleonexia). Aristotle describes these actions as follows, “when someone acts from overreaching, in many cases his action accords with none of these vices… but it still accords with some type of wickedness…” (1130a20-22). These acts are a particular form of injustice.

This distinction between other vices and injustice is that particular injustice deals with unjust actions that are motivated by unjust gains. In the previous example, the soldier who deserts his comrades in battle and does so out of cowardice is not acting unjustly. However, if the soldier committed the same act motivated by overreaching, he would be acting out of particular injustice. If the soldier deserted his fellow for an unjust gain of safety at the expense of the other soldiers, then he would be acting in an unjust manner. Because unjust acts are a result of overreaching, they are different from unjust acts in the general sense and as such deserve their own separate place in a discussion of Justice.

Aristotle goes on to elaborate his idea of particular justice. He uses adultery as an example and states, “if A commits adultery for profit and makes a profit, but B commits adultery because of his appetite, and spends money on it to his own loss, B seems intemperate rather than overreaching, but A seems unjust, not intemperate.” (1130a25-29). Person A is unjust because he made an unfair gain as a result of his actions. Here, Aristotle takes the intentions of the agent into account. Since A committed adultery with the intent of making a profit of some sort out of the actions, he was acting unjustly because he made an unfair gain. It is questionable what type of profit person A would gain as a result of these actions, it is doubtful that he is only concerned with wealth and perhaps a more broad definition of profit is appropriate. Person A may be making an unjust profit by seeking to advance his career by committing adultery. Since person B’s actions were caused by a vice and they were not caused by overreaching, they do not relate to particular justice. This is not to say that B’s actions were not unjust; however, B’s actions were caused by intemperance rather than overreaching. What is curious in this example is that Aristotle makes it a point to emphasize that person A commits adultery for profit and makes a profit, which raises the question of whether a person who commits adultery for profit, but fails to make a profit is acting unjustly. This example demonstrates Aristotle’s concern for the intent of the actor. Although both person A and B committed the same act, we have a different way attributing blame (although not necessarily a different name for the act) to the person based upon his motivation.

Aristotle is satisfied that his description of acts of overreaching that produce unjust gain are a different sort than those that fall under general justice and so he concludes that particular justice is distinct from general justice. Particular justice, however, is not different from Justice as a whole. Neither is particular justice only a part of Justice, it is the same as Justice but since it has a different focus, we give it a different name (1130a34-1130b2). Particular justice deals with what is unfair whereas general justice deals with lawless. Aristotle points out that "whatever is unfair is lawless, but not everything lawless is unfair" (1130b12-13). Aristotle divides particular justice in two parts: distribution of divisible goods and rectification in transactions. The first part relates to members of a community in which it is possible for one person to have more or less of a good than another person. Aristotle cites wealth and honor as two of several divisible goods (1130b31). The second part of particular justice deals with rectification in transactions and this part is itself divided into two parts: voluntary and involuntary.

For Aristotle, the correct distribution of goods is the mean between the extremes of too much and too little, this intermediate is called the fair (1131a11-12). The just must fall between what is too much and what is too little and the just requires the distribution to be made between people of equal stature. Aristotle is concerned that, “if the people involved are not equal, they will not [justly] receive equal shares… that is the source of quarrels and accusations.” (1131a23-24). In addition, what is just in distribution must also take into account some sort of worth. The worth of the parties involved is a key difference between distributive justice and rectificatory justice because distribution can only take place among equals. Aristotle does not state what counts as worth, rather, he states it is some sort of proportion in which the just is an intermediate between all four elements (2 for the goods and 2 for the people). A final point that Aristotle makes in his discussion of distributive justice is that when two evils must be distributed, the lesser of the evils is the more choiceworthy and as such is the greater good (1131b21-25).

The second part of particular justice is rectificatory and it consists of the voluntary and involuntary. This sort of justice deals with transactions between people who are not equals and looks only at the harm or suffering caused to an individual. This is a sort of blind justice since it treats both parties as if they were equal regardless of their actual worth. The goal of the judge in rectificatory cases is to restore equality and make both parties whole as they were before the unjust act occurred. The just in rectificatory cases is the intermediate between the loss of the victim and the profit of the offender (1132a13-15). It is somewhat straightforward to measure loss in distributive cases since the loss is of a quantifiable good; however, it is not clear for Aristotle’s account how we should measure the loss of the victim in cases where, for instance, bodily harm was done and it is also difficult to say that the offender made a profit from such an offence. To restore both parties to equality, a judge must take the amount that is greater than the equal that the offender possesses and give that part to the victim so that both have no more and no less than the equal. This rule should be applied to rectify both voluntary and involuntary transactions.

Particular justice is a part of the whole Justice. It is not a different sort of thing from general justice since justice is good at all times and injustice is bad at all times. There is not a qualitative difference between one unjust and another unjust act, likewise, Justice is the same for all things. Since Aristotle describes particular justice as a part of justice, one may mistakenly believe that an injustice under the terms of particular justice is less severe than an injustice under the terms of Justice as a whole because it is not wholly unjust. Particular justice is not a fraction of Justice and any injustice is wholly unjust. Rather, it is more appropriate to think of Justice as a whole and particular justice is how Justice relates to certain cases of distribution and rectification.

A separate description of particular justice is required because the virtues do not form a complete system of justice. General justice is the whole of Justice and each of the virtues fall under general justice. Particular justice fits under the whole of Justice alongside the virtues. This is a good model because particular justice is like other virtues in that Aristotle describes it is a mean between two extremes; however, particular justice is perhaps a little more complicated than a normal virtue. The reason particular justice is necessary is because not all unjust acts are illegal and not all legal acts are just. Particular justice deals with such cases by providing a separate system for determining whether acts are just or not regardless of law. General justice deals with a state of lawfulness. A just person on these conditions is one who follows the law and an unjust person is one who overreaches for goods that involve good or bad fortune (1129b3-5). All well-written laws, if followed, will lead a person to be just on the terms of general justice. Aristotle describes general justice as a complete virtue in relation to other virtues (1129b27-28) because it requires all virtues (done well and finely). A just person is able to exercise complete virtue not only towards herself, but to others as well and for this reason it is the only virtue that is other-directed (1129b31-1130a6). Particular justice takes part in general justice in the same way a virtue takes part in the whole.

Aristotle needs particular justice to cover cases in which one person makes an unfair profit as a result of overreaching. Many of these cases may not be covered by law but are nonetheless unjust. Particular justice allows Aristotle to account for cases in which an injustice has occurred, but the act is not necessarily prohibited by law. For general justice, to be unjust is to act on the whole of vice (and against law). Particular justice does not depend upon a standard vice, rather, it seems that any unjust act that cannot be attributed to a standard vice is associated with overreaching one’s mean. Particular justice completes the whole of Justice for Aristotle because it allows him to discuss Justice both in terms of written law and virtue as well as justice in distribution and rectification independent of written law and virtue.

Aristotle treats Justice the same way in which he treats other virtues. He uses the Doctrine of the Mean and supposes that Justice is the mean between two vices. The vice on either end is called injustice and they are caused by overreaching (pleonexia). The excess of Justice is doing injustice and the deficiency of Justice is suffering injustice (1133b31-32). The excess is doing injustice because the actor is taking more of a thing than what is right. A person who awards too much of a good thing or too little of a bad thing is doing an injustice to another person. The deficiency of Justice is suffering injustice because the victim is awarded less than is right. A person who is given too little of a good thing or too much of a bad thing is said to be suffering an injustice.

Book VI: Intellectual virtue

Book IV referred frequently to the importance of able to aim at the mean, between two extreme options, in order to try to achieve the praiseworthy virtues (aretôn epainetôn) apart from justice. This now raises the question of how we find such a mean.

Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics is identical to Book V of the Eudemian Ethics. Earlier in both works, both the Nicomachean Ethics Book IV, and the equivalent book in the Eudemian Ethics (Book III), though different, had ended by stating that the next step was to discuss justice. Indeed in Book I Aristotle set out his justification for beginning with particulars and build up to the highest things.

Aristotle now describes knowing what is too much and what is too little as being the same as knowing the ultimate target when it comes to aiming at the target of the good, the aim of the whole Ethics described in the opening sections. Finding the mean will require finding some sort of boundary-marker (horos) to define the frontier of the mean.

Aristotle has already divided the soul (psuchē) into a part having reason and a part without it. Until now, he says, discussion has been about one type of virtue or excellence (aretē) of the soul – that of the character (ēthos, the virtue of which is ēthikē aretē, moral virtue). Now he will discuss the other type: that of thought (dianoia).

The part of the soul with reason is divided into two parts:

  • One whereby we contemplate or observe the things which have invariable causes.
  • One whereby we contemplate the variable things. It is this part with which we deliberate concerning actions.

Aristotle states that if recognition depends upon likeness and kinship between the things being recognized and the parts of the soul doing the recognizing, then the soul grows naturally into two parts, specialised in these two types of cause.[52]

Aristotle enumerates five types of hexis (stable dispositions) which the soul can have, and which can disclose truth:[53]

  1. Art (Techne). This is rational, because it involves making things deliberately, in a way that can be explained. (Making things in a way which could not be explained would not be techne.) It concerns variable things, but specifically it concerns intermediate aims. A house is built not for its own sake, but in order to have a place to live, and so on.
  2. Knowledge (Episteme). "We all assume that what we know is not capable of being otherwise." And "it escapes our notice when they are or not". "Also, all knowledge seems to be teachable, and what is known is learnable."[54]
  3. Practical Judgement (Phronesis). This is the judgement used in deciding well upon overall actions, not specific acts of making as in techne. While truth in techne would concern making something needed for some higher purpose, phronesis judges things according to the aim of living well overall. This, unlike techne and episteme then, is an important virtue then, which will require further discussion. Aristotle associates this virtue with the political art. Aristotle distinguishes skilled deliberation from knowledge, because we do not need to deliberate about things we already know. It is also distinct from being good at guessing, or being good at learning, because true consideration is always a type of inquiry and reasoning.
  4. Wisdom (Sophia). Because wisdom belongs to the wide, it can not be that which gets hold of the truth. This is left to nous, and Aristotle describes wisdom as a combination of nous and episteme ("knowledge with its head on").
  5. Intellect (Nous). Is the capacity we develop with experience, to grasp the sources of knowledge and truth, our important and fundamental assumptions. Unlike knowledge, it deals with unarticulated truths.[55] Both phronēsis and nous are directed at limits or extremities, and hence the mean, but nous is not a type of reasoning, but is rather a perception of the universals which can be derived from particular cases, including the aims of practical actions. Nous therefore supplies phronēsis with its aims, without which phronēsis would just be the "natural virtue" (aretē phusikē) called cleverness (deinotēs).[56]

In the last chapters of this book (12 and 13) Aristotle compares the importance of practical wisdom (phronesis) and wisdom (sophia). Although Aristotle describes sophia as more serious than practical judgement, because concerned with higher things, he mentions the earlier philosophers, Anaxagoras and Thales, as examples proving that one can be wise, having both knowledge and intellect, and yet devoid of practical judgement. The dependency of sophia upon phronesis is described as being like the dependency of health upon medical knowledge. Wisdom is aimed at for its own sake, like health, being a component of that most complete virtue which makes happiness.

Aristotle closes by arguing that in any case, when one considers the virtues in their highest form, they would all exist together.

Book VII: Evil and pleasure

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1145a This is one of the books common to the Eudemian Ethics and the Nicomachean Ethics. It is sometimes thought to fit better in the latter, because part of it deals with pleasure, which in the Nicomachean Ethics will be treated again later.[57]

Book VII. Chapters 1-10: Evil

There are three 'undesirable forms of moral character', or evils, namely: vice, incontinence and brutality. Vices are extreme behaviors between which lies virtuous behavior (see earlier section, The Golden Mean). Brutality is often used as a term of reproach ("you brute!"), but in actuality instinctual undesirable animal-like behavior is (Aristotle believed) quite rare in humans. Not all types of brutality are bad; for example, nail-biting is a brutish behavior which may be uncouth, but doesn't really affect morals. Behaving excellently means rising above our brutal animal natures, however, as the heroes and gods did.

Book VII. Chapters 11-14: Pleasure

Aristotle discusses pleasure in two separate parts of the Nicomachean Ethics (book 7 chapters 11-14 and book 10 chapters 1-5).

Books VIII and IX: Friendship

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1155a

Aristotle argues that friends can be viewed as second selves. Just as virtuous behavior improves oneself, friends can improve each other—this is the importance of friendship, and the reason it may be regarded as a type of virtue. The success or failure of a friend can be like one’s own success or failure. Aristotle divides friendships into three types, that of utility, that of pleasure and that of the good. Two are inferior to the other because of the motive; friendships of utility and pleasure do not regard friends as people but what they can give in return.

Friendships of utility are relationships formed without regard to the other person at all. Buying merchandise, for example, may require meeting another person but usually needs only a very shallow relationship between the buyer and seller. In modern English, people in such a relationship would not even be called friends, but acquaintances (if they even remembered each other afterwards). The only reason these people are communicating is in order to buy or sell things, which is not a bad thing, but as soon as that motivation is gone, so goes the relationship between the two people unless another motivation is found. Complaints and quarrels can arise in this relationship.

At the next level, friendships of pleasure are based on pure delight in the company of other people. People who drink together or share a hobby may have such friendships. However, these friends may also part—in this case if they no longer enjoy the shared activity, or can no longer participate in it together.

Friendships of the good are ones where both friends enjoy each other's characters. As long as both friends keep similar characters, the relationship will endure since the motive behind it is care for the friend. Aristotle regarded this as the most noble, and most important, relationship, and in modern English might be called true friendship.

Book X: Pleasure and politics

Perseus Project Nic.+Eth.1172a

Book X. Chapters 1-5: Pleasure (part 2)

Pleasure was also discussed above in Book VII, chapters 11-14]].

Book X. Chapters 6-9: Politics

“For though this good is the same for the individual and the state, yet the good of the state seems a grander and more perfect thing both to attain and to secure; and glad as one would be to do this service for a single individual, to do it for a people and for a number of states is nobler and more divine.” Nicomachean Ethics, Book I Ch ii, translated F.H. Peters (1893: Oxford)

Here Aristotle describes the relationship between ethics and politics, saying that politics is essentially ethics on a larger scale (cf. Socrates' suggestion in Plato's Republic, Book II, that he discuss the justice of the state, rather than of the individual, since the former "is likely to be larger and more easily discernible").

Indeed, Aristotle believes that politics should be a noble pursuit to which ethics is an introduction. The last chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics states “Since then our predecessors have left this matter of legislation uninvestigated, it will perhaps be better ourselves to inquire into it, and indeed into the whole question of the management of a state, in order that our philosophy of human life may be completed to the best of our power.” Nicomachean Ethics, Book X Ch ix, translated F.H. Peters (1893: Oxford). He continues his discussion in the Politics.

Important quotes

  • "Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." - 1094a (Book I, Chapter 1)
  • "We have found, then, that the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason or requiring reason." - 1098a (Book I, Chapter 7)
  • "For one swallow does not make a spring, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy." - 1098a (Book I, Chapter 6)
  • "And happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we are busy that we may have leisure, and make war that we may live in peace." - (Book X, Chapter 7)

See also


  1. ^ Book II, chapter 2, 1103b ἐπεὶ οὖν ἡ παροῦσα πραγματεία οὐ θεωρίας ἕνεκά ἐστιν ὥσπερ αἱ ἄλλαι
  2. ^ Book I Chapters 3, 4, 6, 7. See below.
  3. ^ Book I, chapter 7 1098a
  4. ^ Book II, chapter 1, 1103b
  5. ^ Book X, chapter 7 1177a, cf. 1170b, 1178b
  6. ^ Book I Chapter 3 1094b-1095a. Translation by Sachs.
  7. ^ a b Book I Chapter 4 1095a-1095b
  8. ^ Book I Chapter 6 1096a-1097b. Translation by Sachs.
  9. ^ Book I Chapter 7 1098a-1098b. Sachs translation.
  10. ^ Book I Chapter 1 1094b
  11. ^ Book I Chapter 2 1094b. Translation by Sachs.
  12. ^ Book I Chapter 5 1095b-1096a
  13. ^ The definition itself is very important to the whole work: τὸ ἀνθρώπινον ἀγαθὸν ψυχῆς ἐνέργεια γίνεται κατ᾽ ἀρετήν, εἰ δὲ πλείους αἱ ἀρεταί, κατὰ τὴν ἀρίστην καὶ τελειοτάτην. ἔτι δ᾽ ἐν βίῳ τελείῳ. μία γὰρ χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, οὐδὲ μία ἡμέρα:
    • Sachs: the human good comes to be disclosed as a being-at-work of the soul in accordance with virtue, and if the virtues are more than one, in accordance with the best and most complete virtue. But also this must be in a complete life, for one swallow does not make a Spring
    • Ross: human good turns out to be activity of soul exhibiting excellence, and if there are [sic.] more than one excellence, in accordance with the best and most complete. But we must add "in a complete life". For one swallow does not make a summer
    • Rackham: the Good of man is the active exercise of his soul's faculties in conformity with excellence or virtue, or if there be several human excellences or virtues, in conformity with the best and most perfect among them. Moreover, to be happy takes a complete lifetime; for one swallow does not make spring
    • Thomson: the conclusion is that the good for man is an activity of soul in accordance with virtue, or if there are more kinds of virtue than one, in accordance with the best and most perfect kind. There is one further qualification: in a complete lifetime. One swallow does not make a summer
    • Crisp: the human good turns out to be activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are several virtues, in accordance with the best and most complete. Again, this must be over a complete life. For one swallow does not make a summer
  14. ^ Book I Chapter 7 1097a-1098b
  15. ^ σπουδαίου δ᾽ ἀνδρὸς εὖ ταῦτα καὶ καλῶς. This can be contrasted with several translations:-
    • Sachs: "and it belongs to a man of serious stature to do these things well and beautifully";
    • Ross: "and the function of good man to be the good and noble performance of these";
    • Rackham: "and say that the function of a good man is to perform these activities well and rightly";
    • Thomson: "and if the function of a good man is to perform these well and rightly";
    • Crisp "and the characteristic activity of the good person to be to carry this out well and nobly".
  16. ^ Book I Chapter 8 1098b-1099b. Translations by Sachs.
  17. ^ Book I Chapter 9 1099b-1100a. Translations by Sachs.
  18. ^ Book I Chapter 10 1100a-1101a. Sachs translation.
  19. ^ Book I Chapter 11 1101a-1101b. Sachs translation.
  20. ^ Book I Chapter 12 1101b-1102a. Sachs translation.
  21. ^ 1102a-1103a. Sachs translation.
  22. ^ Book II, Chapter 1, 1103a-1103b
  23. ^ However Aristotle himself seems to choose this formulation as a basic starting point because it is already well-known. One of the two Delphic motto's strongly associated with Aristotle's own Socratic teachers was "nothing in excess", a motto much older than Socrates himself, and similar ideas can be found in Pythagorianism, and the Myth of Icarus.
  24. ^ Book II, Chapter 2, 1103b-1104b
  25. ^ Book II, Chapter 3, 1104b-1105a
  26. ^ Book II, Chapter 4, 1105a-1105b
  27. ^ Dunamis and hexis are translated in numerous ways. See Categories 8b for Aristotle's explanation of both words.
  28. ^ Book II, Chapter 5, 1105b-1106a
  29. ^ Book II, Chapter 6, 1106b-1107a
  30. ^ Book II, Chapter 7, 1107a-1108b
  31. ^ Book II, Chapter 8, 1108b-1109a
  32. ^ Book II, Chapter 9, 1109a-1109b
  33. ^ Book III Chapters 1-3 1109b30-1110b. Using Sachs translations.
  34. ^ Book III Chapter 2 1111b-1113a. Using Sachs translations.
  35. ^ Book III Chapter 3 1113a-1113b. Sachs translation.
  36. ^ Book III Chapter 4 1113a
  37. ^ Book III Chapter 5 1113b-1115a.
  38. ^ Book III, Chapter 6 1115a
  39. ^ Book III, Chapter 7 1115b-1116a
  40. ^ Book III Chapter 8 1116a-1117a
  41. ^ Book III Chapter 9 1117a-1117b
  42. ^ Book III, Chapter 10 1117b-1118b
  43. ^ Book III, Chapter 11 1118b-1119a
  44. ^ Book III, Chapter 12 1119a-1119b
  45. ^ Book IV, Chapter 1 1119b-1122a. Using Sachs translation.
  46. ^ Book IV Chapter 2. 1122a
  47. ^ 1123a-1125a
  48. ^ 1125b
  49. ^ 1125b-1126b
  50. ^ 1126b-1127a
  51. ^ Book IV, Chapter 9 1128b
  52. ^ πρὸς γὰρ τὰ τῷ γένει ἕτερα καὶ τῶν τῆς ψυχῆς μορίων ἕτερον τῷ γένει τὸ πρὸς ἑκάτερον πεφυκός, εἴπερ καθ᾽ ὁμοιότητά τινα καὶ οἰκειότητα ἡ γνῶσις ὑπάρχει αὐτοῖς 1139a10
  53. ^ 1139b15-1142a
  54. ^ Sachs translation.
  55. ^ 1142a
  56. ^ 1142b
  57. ^ Woods (1992). ISBN 0-19-824020-1.  

Further reading

  • Bostock, David (2000). Aristotle’s Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.  
  • Broadie, Sarah (1991). Ethics with Aristotle. New York: Oxford University Press.  
  • Cooper, John M. (1975). Reason and Human Good in Aristotle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.  
  • Hardie, W.F.R. (1968). Aristotle's Ethical Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  • Kraut, Richard (1989). Aristotle on the Human Good. Princeton: Princeton University Press.  
  • Kraut, ed., Richard (2006). The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell.  
  • Pakaluk, Michael (2005). Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: An Introduction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  
  • Rorty, ed., Amelie (1980). Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics. Berkeley: University of California Press.  
  • Reeve, C.D.C. (1992). Practices of Reason: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.  
  • Hughes, Gerald J. (2001). Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Aristotle on Ethics. London: Routledge.  
  • Pangle, Lorraine (2003). Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship. New York: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Sherman, ed., Nancy (1999). Aristotle’s Ethics: Critical Essays. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.  
  • Urmson, J.O. (1988). Aristotle’s Ethics. New York: Blackwell.  
  • Warne, Christopher (2007). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: Reader's Guide. London: Continuum.  


  • Broadie, Sarah; Rowe, Christopher (2002). Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics: Translation, Introduction, and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  • Crisp, Roger (2000). Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-63221-8.  
  • Irwin, Terence (1999). Nicomachean Ethics. Hackett Publishing Company. ISBN 0-872-20464-2.  
  • Rackham, H. (1926). Aristotle The Nicomachean Ethics with an English Translation by H. Rackham. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-99081-1.  
  • Ross, D (1925). Aristotle The Nicomachean Ethics: Translated with an Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283407-X.  . Re-issued 1980, revised by J. L. Ackrill and J. O. Urmson.
  • Sachs, Joe (2002). Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics: Translation, Glossary and Introductory Essay. Focus Publishing. ISBN 1-58510-035-8.  
  • Thomson, J. A. K. (1955). The Ethics of Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics. Penguin Classics.  . Re-issued 1976, revised by Hugh Tredennick.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Aristotle article)

From Wikiquote

Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.

Aristotle (Αριστοτέλης; Aristotelēs) (384 BC – 7 March 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and scientist.



Quotations from Aristotle are often cited by Bekker numbers, which are keyed to the original Greek and therefore independent of the translation used.
  • He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.
    • Variant: I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who overcomes his enemies.
    • Quoted in Florilegium by Joannes Stobaeus
  • In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.
    • Parts of Animals I.645a16
  • Concerning the generation of animals akin to them, as hornets and wasps, the facts in all cases are similar to a certain extent, but are devoid of the extraordinary features which characterize bees; this we should expect, for they have nothing divine about them as the bees have.
    • Generation of Animals III.761a2
  • Just as it sometimes happens that deformed offspring are produced by deformed parents, and sometimes not, so the offspring produced by a female are sometimes female, sometimes not, but male, because the female is as it were a deformed male.
  • Generation of Animals as translated by Arthur Leslie Peck (1943), p. 175
  • Misfortune shows those who are not really friends.
    • Eudemian Ethics VII.1238a20
  • Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten through the lapse of Time.
    • Physics


  • It is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs but not of being unable to defend himself with speech and reason, when the use of reason is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs. (I.1355b1)
  • Evils draw men together. (I.1362b39)
    • (quoting a proverb)
  • Thus every action must be due to one or other of seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reasoning, anger, or appetite. (I.1369a5)
    • Variant: All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion and desire.
  • The young have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things—and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning.... All their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything; they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else. (II.1389a31)
  • Wit is well-bred insolence. (II.1389b11)
  • It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences. (II.1395b27)


  • Man is by nature a political animal. (I.1253a2)
    • Variant: Man is an animal whose nature it is to live in a polis. (H.D.F. Kitto, The Greeks)
  • Nature does nothing uselessly. (I.1253a8)
  • He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god. (I.1253a27)
  • Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all. (I.1253a31)
  • Money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of all modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural. (I.1258b4)
  • Men ... are easily induced to believe that in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody's friend, especially when some one is heard denouncing the evils now existing in states, suits about contracts, convictions for perjury, flatteries of rich men and the like, which are said to arise out of the possession of private property. These evils, however, are due to a very different cause—the wickedness of human nature. (II.1263b15)
  • It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it. (II.1267b4)
  • Again, men in general desire the good, and not merely what their fathers had. (II.1269a4)
  • Even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered. (II.1269a9)
  • That judges of important causes should hold office for life is a disputable thing, for the mind grows old as well as the body. (II.1270b39)
  • They should rule who are able to rule best. (II.1273b5)
  • The good citizen need not of necessity possess the virtue which makes a good man. (III.1276b34)
  • A state is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime and for the sake of exchange.... Political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of mere companionship. (III.1280b30, 1281a3)
  • The law is reason unaffected by desire. (III.1287a32)
    • Variant: The Law is reason free from passion.
  • If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost. (IV.1291b34)
  • Inferiors revolt in order that they may be equal, and equals that they may be superior. Such is the state of mind which creates revolutions. (V.1302a29)
  • Well begun is half done. (V.1303b30)
    • (quoting a proverb)
  • Both oligarch and tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of their arms. (V.1311a11)
  • A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side. (V.1314b39)
  • The basis of a democratic state is liberty. (VI.1317a40)
  • Happiness, whether consisting in pleasure or virtue, or both, is more often found with those who are highly cultivated in their minds and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods, than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities. (VII.1323b1)
  • Law is order, and good law is good order. (VII.1326a29)
  • Let us then enunciate the functions of a state and we shall easily elicit what we want: First there must be food; secondly, arts, for life requires many instruments; thirdly, there must be arms, for the members of a community have need of them, and in their own hands, too, in order to maintain authority both against disobedient subjects and against external assailants.... (VII.1328b4)
  • The appropriate age for marriage is around eighteen for girls and thirty-seven for men. (VII.1335a27)


  • All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer sight to almost everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things. (I.980a21)
    • Variant: All men by nature desire knowledge...
    • The first sentence is in the Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2005), 21:10.
  • If, then, God is always in that good state in which we sometimes are, this compels our wonder; and if in a better this compels it yet more. And God is in a better state. And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God's self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal. (XII.1072b24)
  • Those who assert that the mathematical sciences say nothing of the beautiful or the good are in error. For these sciences say and prove a great deal about them; if they do not expressly mention them, but prove attributes which are their results or definitions, it is not true that they tell us nothing about them. The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree. (XIII.1078a33)

Nicomachean Ethics (c. 325 BC)

  • If there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake, clearly this must be the good. Will not knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what we should? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is. (I.1094a18)
  • It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs. (I.1094b24)
  • The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else. (I.1096a5)
  • Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends. (I.1096a16)
  • For just as for a flute-player, a sculptor, or an artist, and, in general, for all things that have a function or activity, the good and the well is thought to reside in the function, so would it seem to be for man, if he has a function. (I.1097b25)
  • If ... we state the function of man to be a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions of the soul implying a rational principle, and the function of a good man to be the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence ... human good turns out to be activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete. (I.1098a13)
  • One swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy. (I.1098a18)
  • For some identify happiness with virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophic wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity. Now ... it is not probable that these should be entirely mistaken, but rather that they should be right in at least some one respect or even in most respects. (I.1098b23)
  • For pleasure is a state of soul, and to each man that which he is said to be a lover of is pleasant.... Now for most men their pleasures are in conflict with one another because these are not by nature pleasant, but the lovers of what is noble find pleasant the things that are by nature pleasant; and virtuous actions are such... Happiness then is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world, and these attributes are not severed as in the inscription at Delos: Most noble is that which is justest, and best is health; but pleasantest is it to win what we love. (I.1099a6)
  • Everything that depends on the action of nature is by nature as good as it can be, and similarly everything that depends on art or any rational cause, and especially if it depends on the best of all causes. To entrust to chance what is greatest and most noble would be a very defective arrangement. (I.1099b22)
    • Quoted in Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2005), 21:8.
  • May not we then confidently pronounce that man happy who realizes complete goodness in action, and is adequately furnished with external goods? Or should we add, that he must also be destined to go on living not for any casual period but throughout a complete lifetime in the same manner, and to die accordingly, because the future is hidden from us, and we conceive happiness as an end, something utterly and absolutely final and complete? If this is so, we shall pronounce those of the living who possess and are destined to go on possessing the good things we have specified to be supremely blessed, though on the human scale of bliss. (I.1101a10)
  • For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing. (II.1103a33)
    • Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2005), 21:9.
  • For legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every legislator, and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one. (II.1103b4)
  • It is well said, then, that it is by doing just acts that the just man is produced, and by doing temperate acts the temperate man; without doing these no one would have even a prospect of becoming good. But most people do not do these, but take refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers and will become good in this way, behaving somewhat like patients who listen attentively to their doctors, but do none of the things they are ordered to do. (II.1105b9)
  • Again, it is possible to fail in many ways (for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited ... and good to that of the limited), while to succeed is possible only in one way (for which reason also one is easy and the other difficult—to miss the mark easy, to hit it difficult); for these reasons also, then, excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue; For men are good in but one way, but bad in many. (II.1106b28)
  • The vices respectively fall short of or exceed what is right in both passions and actions, while virtue both finds and chooses that which is intermediate. (II.1107a4)
    • Variant: Some vices miss what is right because they are deficient, others because they are excessive, in feelings or in actions, while virtue finds and chooses the mean.
  • In cases of this sort, let us say adultery, rightness and wrongness do not depend on committing it with the right woman at the right time and in the right manner, but the mere fact of committing such action at all is to do wrong. (II.1107a15)
  • Any one can get angry — that is easy — or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy. (II.1109a27)
  • We must as second best, as people say, take the least of the evils. (II.1109a34)
  • Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods. (VIII.1155a5)
  • When people are friends, they have no need of justice, but when they are just, they need friendship in addition. (VIII.1155a26)
  • After these matters we ought perhaps next to discuss pleasure. For it is thought to be most intimately connected with our human nature, which is the reason why in educating the young we steer them by the rudders of pleasure and pain; it is thought, too, that to enjoy the things we ought and to hate the things we ought has the greatest bearing on virtue of character. For these things extend right through life, with a weight and power of their own in respect both to virtue and to the happy life, since men choose what is pleasant and avoid what is painful; and such things, it will be thought, we should least of all omit to discuss, especially since they admit of much dispute. (X.1172a17)
  • And happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we are busy that we may have leisure, and make war that we may live in peace. (X.1177b4)
  • Now the activity of the practical virtues is exhibited in political or military affairs, but the actions concerned with these seem to be unleisurely. Warlike actions are completely so (for no one chooses to be at war, or provokes war, for the sake of being at war; any one would seem absolutely murderous if he were to make enemies of his friends in order to bring about battle and slaughter); but the action of the statesman is also unleisurely, and-apart from the political action itself-aims at despotic power and honours, or at all events happiness, for him and his fellow citizens-a happiness different from political action, and evidently sought as being different. So if among virtuous actions political and military actions are distinguished by nobility and greatness, and these are unleisurely and aim at an end and are not desirable for their own sake, but the activity of reason, which is contemplative, seems both to be superior in serious worth and to aim at no end beyond itself, and to have its pleasure proper to itself (and this augments the activity), and the self-sufficiency, leisureliness, unweariedness (so far as this is possible for man), and all the other attributes ascribed to the supremely happy man are evidently those connected with this activity, it follows that this will be the complete happiness of man, if it be allowed a complete term of life. (X.1177b6)
  • Life in the true sense is perceiving or thinking.
  • To be conscious that we are perceiving or thinking is to be conscious of our own existence.
  • With regard to excellence, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it.
  • Young people are in a condition like permanent intoxication, because youth is sweet and they are growing.


  • A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action ... with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions. (1449b24)
  • A whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end. (1450b26)
  • Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular. (1451b6)
  • Poetry demands a man with a special gift for it, or else one with a touch of madness in him. (1455a33)
  • But the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances. (1459a4)
  • Homer has taught all other poets the art of telling lies skillfully. (1460a19)
    • Variant: It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies skillfully.
  • For the purposes of poetry a convincing impossibility is preferable to an unconvincing possibility. (1461b11)

Lives of Eminent Philosophers

Assertions attributed to Aristotle in Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius
  • Education is the best provision for old age.
  • Hope is a waking dream.
  • I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law.
  • Liars when they speak the truth are not believed.
  • To the query, "What is a friend?" his reply was "A single soul dwelling in two bodies."
    • Variants: Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.
      A true friend is one soul in two bodies.
      Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.
      What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.
    • To the query, in the same text, "what is love?" he replied "What is life without love? Love is like the sun; without light, there's no life" [citation needed]


  • "For well-being and health, again, the homestead should be airy in summer, and sunny in winter. A homestead possessing these qualities would be longer than it is deep; and its main front would face the south".
    • Economics (Oeconomica) 1345a.20, Greek Texts and Translations, Perseus under PhiloLogic.


  • Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth.
    • Variant: Plato is my friend, but the truth is more my friend.
    • These statements have been attributed to Aristotle, but research done for Wikiquote has thus far not found them among his works. They may possibly be derived from a reduction of a statement known to have been made by Isaac Newton, who at the head of notes he titled Quaestiones Quaedam Philosophicae (Certain Philosophical Questions) wrote in Latin: "Amicus Plato— amicus Aristoteles— magis amica veritas" which translates to: "Plato is my friend— Aristotle is my friend— but my greatest friend is truth." (c. 1664)
    • Another possible origin of the "dear is Plato" statement is in the Nicomachean Ethics; the Ross translation (of 1096a11-1096a16) provides: "We had perhaps better consider the universal good and discuss thoroughly what is meant by it, although such an inquiry is made an uphill one by the fact that the Forms have been introduced by friends of our own. Yet it would perhaps be thought to be better, indeed to be our duty, for the sake of maintaining the truth even to destroy what touches us closely, especially as we are philosophers; for, while both are dear, piety requires us to honour truth above our friends."
      Note that the last clause, when quoted by itself loses the connection to "the friends" who introduced "the Forms", Plato above all. Therefore the misattribution could be the result of the "quote" actually being a paraphrase which identifies Plato where Aristotle only alludes to him circumspectly.
  • The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.
    • Considering the subject matter, this should appear in "Nicomachean Ethics", but research done for Wikiquote has thus far not found it in that work or any other.


  • We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
    • Variant: We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit.
    • Source: Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers (1926) [Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books, 1991, ISBN 0-671-73916-6] Ch. II: Aristotle and Greek Science; part VII: Ethics and the Nature of Happiness: "Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; 'these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions'; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: 'the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life... for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy'" (p. 76). The quoted phrases within the quotation are from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, 4; Book I, 7. The misattribution is from taking Durant's summation of Aristotle's ideas as being the words of Aristotle himself.
  • "We live in deeds, not years: In thoughts not breaths; In feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best."
    • This is actually from the poem "We live in deeds..." by Philip James Bailey. This explains the strange pattern of capitalization.
  • The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.
    • This first appears in 1974 in an explanation of Aristotle's politics in Time magazine, before being condensed to an epigram as "Aristotle's Axiom" in Peter's People (1979) by Laurence J. Peter


The Works of Aristotle. Ed. W. David Ross. 12 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908.

The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. Ed. Jonathan Barnes. 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1984.

  • A revised edition of Ross's compilation of translations. Much more compact.

The quotations above may have come from these or other translations.

External links

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Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by Aristotle, translated by D. P. Chase
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This edition was translated by D. P. Chase and published in 1911.

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PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


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