Saturday, April 20, 2013

Aristotle, Nicomachaen Ethics, Book X (10)




In this excerpt from Aristotle’s influential treatise on ethics, he discusses the relation between pleasure and happiness, and again to virtue. It is important, he reminds us, that virtue is something which requires action; it is a matter of practise. We cannot be good and live a good and happy life unless we are engaged in it, living to the fullest extent of our natural human ability. The last section of Book X of the Ethics is a prelude to politics. In this, we can see Aristotle’s emphasis on practice and action; ethics is only useful if it can help us to order our households and society in such a way as to facilitate the attainment of virtue.

The Right Approach to Pleasure

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. For some say pleasure is the good, while others, on the contrary, say
it is thoroughly bad-some no doubt being persuaded that the facts are so, and others
thinking it has a better effect on our life to exhibit pleasure as a bad thing even if it is not;
for most people (they think) incline towards it and are the slaves of their pleasures, for which
reason they ought to lead them in the opposite direction, since thus they will reach the
middle state. But surely this is not correct. For arguments about matters concerned with
feelings and actions are less reliable than facts: and so when they clash with the facts of
perception they are despised, and discredit the truth as well; if a man who runs down
pleasure is once seen to be aiming at it, his inclining towards it is thought to imply that it is
all worthy of being aimed at; for most people are not good at drawing distinctions. True
arguments seem, then, most useful, not only with a view to knowledge, but with a view to
life also; for since they harmonize with the facts they are believed, and so they stimulate
those who understand them to live according to them.-Enough of such questions; let us
proceed to review the opinions that have been expressed about pleasure.

Arguments about Pleasure

Eudoxus thought pleasure was the good because he saw all things, both rational and
irrational, aiming at it, and because in all things that which is the object of choice is what is
excellent, and that which is most the object of choice the greatest good; thus the fact that all
things moved towards the same object indicated that this was for all things the chief good
(for each thing, he argued, finds its own good, as it finds its own nourishment); and that
which is good for all things and at which all aim was the good. His arguments were credited
more because of the excellence of his character than for their own sake; he was thought to
be remarkably self-controlled, and therefore it was thought that he was not saying what he
did say as a friend of pleasure, but that the facts really were so. He believed that the same
conclusion followed no less plainly from a study of the contrary of pleasure; pain was in
itself an object of aversion to all things, and therefore its contrary must be similarly an object
of choice. And again that is most an object of choice which we choose not because or for
the sake of something else, and pleasure is admittedly of this nature; for no one asks to what
end he is pleased, thus implying that pleasure is in itself an object of choice. Further, he
argued that pleasure when added to any good, e.g. to just or temperate action, makes it more
worthy of choice, and that it is only by itself that the good can be increased.
This argument seems to show it to be one of the goods, and no more a good than any other;
for every good is more worthy of choice along with another good than taken alone. And so
it is by an argument of this kind that Plato proves the good not to be pleasure; he argues that
the pleasant life is more desirable with wisdom than without, and that if the mixture is better,
pleasure is not the good; for the good cannot become more desirable by the addition of
anything to it. Now it is clear that nothing else, any more than pleasure, can be the good if it
is made more desirable by the addition of any of the things that are good in themselves.
What, then, is there that satisfies this criterion, which at the same time we can participate in?
It is something of this sort that we are looking for. Those who object that that at which all
things aim is not necessarily good are, we may surmise, talking nonsense. For we say that
that which every one thinks really is so; and the man who attacks this belief will hardly have
anything more credible to maintain instead. If it is senseless creatures that desire the things
in question, there might be something in what they say; but if intelligent creatures do so as
well, what sense can there be in this view? But perhaps even in inferior creatures there is
some natural good stronger than themselves which aims at their proper good.
Nor does the argument about the contrary of pleasure seem to be correct. They say that if
pain is an evil it does not follow that pleasure is a good; for evil is opposed to evil and at the
same time both are opposed to the neutral state-which is correct enough but does not apply
to the things in question. For if both pleasure and pain belonged to the class of evils they
ought both to be objects of aversion, while if they belonged to the class of neutrals neither
should be an object of aversion or they should both be equally so; but in fact people
evidently avoid the one as evil and choose the other as good; that then must be the nature of
the opposition between them.

Pleasure is a Good, but Not the Good

Nor again, if pleasure is not a quality, does it follow that it is not a good; for the activities of
virtue are not qualities either, nor is happiness. They say, however, that the good is
determinate, while pleasure is indeterminate, because it admits of degrees. Now if it is from
the feeling of pleasure that they judge thus, the same will be true of justice and the other
virtues, in respect of which we plainly say that people of a certain character are so more or
less, and act more or less in accordance with these virtues; for people may be more just or
brave, and it is possible also to act justly or temperately more or less. But if their judgement
is based on the various pleasures, surely they are not stating the real cause, if in fact some
pleasures are unmixed and others mixed. Again, just as health admits of degrees without
being indeterminate, why should not pleasure? The same proportion is not found in all
things, nor a single proportion always in the same thing, but it may be relaxed and yet persist
up to a point, and it may differ in degree. The case of pleasure also may therefore be of this

Again, they assume that the good is perfect while movements and comings into being are
imperfect, and try to exhibit pleasure as being a movement and a coming into being. But
they do not seem to be right even in saying that it is a movement. For speed and slowness
are thought to be proper to every movement, and if a movement, e.g. that of the heavens,
has not speed or slowness in itself, it has it in relation to something else; but of pleasure
neither of these things is true. For while we may become pleased quickly as we may become
angry quickly, we cannot be pleased quickly, not even in relation to some one else, while we
can walk, or grow, or the like, quickly. While, then, we can change quickly or slowly into a
state of pleasure, we cannot quickly exhibit the activity of pleasure, i.e. be pleased. Again,
how can it be a coming into being? It is not thought that any chance thing can come out of
any chance thing, but that a thing is dissolved into that out of which it comes into being; and
pain would be the destruction of that of which pleasure is the coming into being.

They say, too, that pain is the lack of that which is according to nature, and pleasure is
replenishment. But these experiences are bodily. If then pleasure is replenishment with that
which is according to nature, that which feels pleasure will be that in which the
replenishment takes place, i.e. the body; but that is not thought to be the case; therefore the
replenishment is not pleasure, though one would be pleased when replenishment was taking
place, just as one would be pained if one was being operated on. This opinion seems to be
based on the pains and pleasures connected with nutrition; on the fact that when people
have been short of food and have felt pain beforehand they are pleased by the
replenishment. But this does not happen with all pleasures; for the pleasures of learning and,
among the sensuous pleasures, those of smell, and also many sounds and sights, and
memories and hopes, do not presuppose pain. Of what then will these be the coming into
being? There has not been lack of anything of which they could be the supplying anew.
In reply to those who bring forward the disgraceful pleasures one may say that these are not
pleasant; if things are pleasant to people of vicious constitution, we must not suppose that
they are also pleasant to others than these, just as we do not reason so about the things that
are wholesome or sweet or bitter to sick people, or ascribe whiteness to the things that seem
white to those suffering from a disease of the eye. Or one might answer thus-that the
pleasures are desirable, but not from these sources, as wealth is desirable, but not as the
reward of betrayal, and health, but not at the cost of eating anything and everything. Or
perhaps pleasures differ in kind; for those derived from noble sources are different from
those derived from base sources, and one cannot the pleasure of the just man without being
just, nor that of the musical man without being musical, and so on.

The fact, too, that a friend is different from a flatterer seems to make it plain that pleasure is
not a good or that pleasures are different in kind; for the one is thought to consort with us
with a view to the good, the other with a view to our pleasure, and the one is reproached for
his conduct while the other is praised on the ground that he consorts with us for different
ends. And no one would choose to live with the intellect of a child throughout his life,
however much he were to be pleased at the things that children are pleased at, nor to get
enjoyment by doing some most disgraceful deed, though he were never to feel any pain in
consequence. And there are many things we should be keen about even if they brought no
pleasure, e.g. seeing, remembering, knowing, and possessing the virtues. If pleasures
necessarily do accompany these, that makes no odds; we should choose these even if no
pleasure resulted. It seems to be clear, then, that neither is pleasure the good nor is all
pleasure desirable, and that some pleasures are desirable in themselves, differing in kind or in
their sources from the others. So much for the things that are said about pleasure and pain.

Pleasure Is an Activity

What pleasure is, or what kind of thing it is, will become plainer if we take up the question
again from the beginning. Seeing seems to be at any moment complete, for it does not lack
anything which coming into being later will complete its form; and pleasure also seems to be
of this nature. For it is a whole, and at no time can one find a pleasure whose form will be
completed if the pleasure lasts longer. For this reason, too, it is not a movement. For every
movement (e.g. that of building) takes time and is for the sake of an end, and is complete
when it has made what it aims at. It is complete, therefore, only in the whole time or at that
final moment. In their parts and during the time they occupy, all movements are incomplete,
and are different in kind from the whole movement and from each other. For the fitting
together of the stones is different from the fluting of the column, and these are both
different from the making of the temple; and the making of the temple is complete (for it
lacks nothing with a view to the end proposed), but the making of the base or of the triglyph
is incomplete; for each is the making of only a part. They differ in kind, then, and it is not
possible to find at any and every time a movement complete in form, but if at all, only in the
whole time; so, too, in the case of walking and all other movements. For if locomotion is a
movement from to there, it, too, has differences in kind-flying, walking, leaping, and so on.
And not only so, but in walking itself there are such differences; for the whence and whither
are not the same in the whole racecourse and in a part of it, nor in one part and in another,
nor is it the same thing to traverse this line and that; for one traverses not only a line but one
which is in a place, and this one is in a different place from that. We have discussed
movement with precision in another work, but it seems that it is not complete at any and
every time, but that the many movements are incomplete and different in kind, since the
whence and whither give them their form. But of pleasure the form is complete at any and
every time. Plainly, then, pleasure and movement must be different from each other, and
pleasure must be one of the things that are whole and complete. This would seem to be the
case, too, from the fact that it is not possible to move otherwise than in time, but it is
possible to be pleased; for that which takes place in a moment is a whole.
From these considerations it is clear, too, that these thinkers are not right in saying there is a
movement or a coming into being of pleasure. For these cannot be ascribed to all things, but
only to those that are divisible and not wholes; there is no coming into being of seeing nor
of a point nor of a unit, nor is any of these a movement or coming into being; therefore
there is no movement or coming into being of pleasure either; for it is a whole.

Since every sense is active in relation to its object, and a sense which is in good condition
acts perfectly in relation to the most beautiful of its objects (for perfect activity seems to be
ideally of this nature; whether we say that it is active, or the organ in which it resides, may be
assumed to be immaterial), it follows that in the case of each sense the best activity is that of
the best-conditioned organ in relation to the finest of its objects. And this activity will be the
most complete and pleasant. For, while there is pleasure in respect of any sense, and in
respect of thought and contemplation no less, the most complete is pleasantest, and that of a
well-conditioned organ in relation to the worthiest of its objects is the most complete; and
the pleasure completes the activity. But the pleasure does not complete it in the same way as
the combination of object and sense, both good, just as health and the doctor are not in the
same way the cause of a man's being healthy. (That pleasure is produced in respect to each
sense is plain; for we speak of sights and sounds as pleasant. It is also plain that it arises most
of all when both the sense is at its best and it is active in reference to an object which
corresponds; when both object and perceiver are of the best there will always be pleasure,
since the requisite agent and patient are both present.) Pleasure completes the activity not as
the corresponding permanent state does, by its immanence, but as an end which supervenes
as the bloom of youth does on those in the flower of their age. So long, then, as both the
intelligible or sensible object and the discriminating or contemplative faculty are as they
should be, the pleasure will be involved in the activity; for when both the passive and the
active factor are unchanged and are related to each other in the same way, the same result
naturally follows.

How, then, is it that no one is continuously pleased? Is it that we grow weary? Certainly all
human beings are incapable of continuous activity. Therefore pleasure also is not
continuous; for it accompanies activity. Some things delight us when they are new, but later
do so less, for the same reason; for at first the mind is in a state of stimulation and intensely
active about them, as people are with respect to their vision when they look hard at a thing,
but afterwards our activity is not of this kind, but has grown relaxed; for which reason the
pleasure also is dulled.

One might think that all men desire pleasure because they all aim at life; life is an activity,
and each man is active about those things and with those faculties that he loves most; e.g.
the musician is active with his hearing in reference to tunes, the student with his mind in
reference to theoretical questions, and so on in each case; now pleasure completes the
activities, and therefore life, which they desire. It is with good reason, then, that they aim at
pleasure too, since for every one it completes life, which is desirable. But whether we choose
life for the sake of pleasure or pleasure for the sake of life is a question we may dismiss for
the present. For they seem to be bound up together and not to admit of separation, since
without activity pleasure does not arise, and every activity is completed by the attendant

Pleasures Differ in Kind

For this reason pleasures seem, too, to differ in kind. For things different in kind are, we
think, completed by different things (we see this to be true both of natural objects and of
things produced by art, e.g. animals, trees, a painting, a sculpture, a house, an implement);
and, similarly, we think that activities differing in kind are completed by things differing in
kind. Now the activities of thought differ from those of the senses, and both differ among
themselves, in kind; so, therefore, do the pleasures that complete them.

This may be seen, too, from the fact that each of the pleasures is bound up with the activity
it completes. For an activity is intensified by its proper pleasure, since each class of things is
better judged of and brought to precision by those who engage in the activity with pleasure;
e.g. it is those who enjoy geometrical thinking that become geometers and grasp the various
propositions better, and, similarly, those who are fond of music or of building, and so on,
make progress in their proper function by enjoying it; so the pleasures intensify the activities,
and what intensifies a thing is proper to it, but things different in kind have properties
different in kind.

This will be even more apparent from the fact that activities are hindered by pleasures arising
from other sources. For people who are fond of playing the flute are incapable of attending
to arguments if they overhear some one playing the flute, since they enjoy flute-playing more
than the activity in hand; so the pleasure connected with flute-playing destroys the activity
concerned with argument. This happens, similarly, in all other cases, when one is active
about two things at once; the more pleasant activity drives out the other, and if it is much
more pleasant does so all the more, so that one even ceases from the other. This is why
when we enjoy anything very much we do not throw ourselves into anything else, and do
one thing only when we are not much pleased by another; e.g. in the theatre the people who
eat sweets do so most when the actors are poor. Now since activities are made precise and
more enduring and better by their proper pleasure, and injured by alien pleasures, evidently
the two kinds of pleasure are far apart. For alien pleasures do pretty much what proper pains
do, since activities are destroyed by their proper pains; e.g. if a man finds writing or doing
sums unpleasant and painful, he does not write, or does not do sums, because the activity is
painful. So an activity suffers contrary effects from its proper pleasures and pains, i.e. from
those that supervene on it in virtue of its own nature. And alien pleasures have been stated
to do much the same as pain; they destroy the activity, only not to the same degree.

Now since activities differ in respect of goodness and badness, and some are worthy to be
chosen, others to be avoided, and others neutral, so, too, are the pleasures; for to each
activity there is a proper pleasure. The pleasure proper to a worthy activity is good and that
proper to an unworthy activity bad; just as the appetites for noble objects are laudable, those
for base objects culpable. But the pleasures involved in activities are more proper to them
than the desires; for the latter are separated both in time and in nature, while the former are
close to the activities, and so hard to distinguish from them that it admits of dispute whether
the activity is not the same as the pleasure. (Still, pleasure does not seem to be thought or
perception-that would be strange; but because they are not found apart they appear to some
people the same.) As activities are different, then, so are the corresponding pleasures. Now
sight is superior to touch in purity, and hearing and smell to taste; the pleasures, therefore,
are similarly superior, and those of thought superior to these, and within each of the two
kinds some are superior to others.

Each animal is thought to have a proper pleasure, as it has a proper function; viz. that which
corresponds to its activity. If we survey them species by species, too, this will be evident; horse, dog, and man have different pleasures, as Heraclitus says 'asses would prefer
sweepings to gold'; for food is pleasanter than gold to asses. So the pleasures of creatures
different in kind differ in kind, and it is plausible to suppose that those of a single species do
not differ. But they vary to no small extent, in the case of men at least; the same things
delight some people and pain others, and are painful and odious to some, and pleasant to
and liked by others. This happens, too, in the case of sweet things; the same things do not
seem sweet to a man in a fever and a healthy man-nor hot to a weak man and one in good
condition. The same happens in other cases. But in all such matters that which appears to
the good man is thought to be really so. If this is correct, as it seems to be, and virtue and
the good man as such are the measure of each thing, those also will be pleasures which
appear so to him, and those things pleasant which he enjoys. If the things he finds tiresome
seem pleasant to some one, that is nothing surprising; for men may be ruined and spoilt in
many ways; but the things are not pleasant, but only pleasant to these people and to people
in this condition. Those which are admittedly disgraceful plainly should not be said to be
pleasures, except to a perverted taste; but of those that are thought to be good what kind of
pleasure or what pleasure should be said to be that proper to man? Is it not plain from the
corresponding activities? The pleasures follow these. Whether, then, the perfect and
supremely happy man has one or more activities, the pleasures that perfect these will be said
in the strict sense to be pleasures proper to man, and the rest will be so in a secondary and
fractional way, as are the activities.

Happiness: Further Discussions

Conditions for Happiness

Now that we have spoken of the virtues, the forms of friendship, and the varieties of
pleasure, what remains is to discuss in outline the nature of happiness, since this is what we
state the end of human nature to be. Our discussion will be the more concise if we first sum
up what we have said already. We said, then, that it is not a disposition; for if it were it might
belong to some one who was asleep throughout his life, living the life of a plant, or, again, to
some one who was suffering the greatest misfortunes. If these implications are unacceptable,
and we must rather class happiness as an activity, as we have said before, and if some
activities are necessary, and desirable for the sake of something else, while others are so in
themselves, evidently happiness must be placed among those desirable in themselves, not
among those desirable for the sake of something else; for happiness does not lack anything,
but is self-sufficient. Now those activities are desirable in themselves from which nothing is
sought beyond the activity. And of this nature virtuous actions are thought to be; for to do
noble and good deeds is a thing desirable for its own sake.

Pleasant amusements also are thought to be of this nature; we choose them not for the sake
of other things; for we are injured rather than benefited by them, since we are led to neglect
our bodies and our property. But most of the people who are deemed happy take refuge in
such pastimes, which is the reason why those who are ready-witted at them are highly
esteemed at the courts of tyrants; they make themselves pleasant companions in the tyrants'
favorite pursuits, and that is the sort of man they want. Now these things are thought to be of the nature of happiness because people in despotic positions spend their leisure in them,
but perhaps such people prove nothing; for virtue and reason, from which good activities
flow, do not depend on despotic position; nor, if these people, who have never tasted pure
and generous pleasure, take refuge in the bodily pleasures, should these for that reason be
thought more desirable; for boys, too, think the things that are valued among themselves are
the best. It is to be expected, then, that, as different things seem valuable to boys and to
men, so they should to bad men and to good. Now, as we have often maintained, those
things are both valuable and pleasant which are such to the good man; and to each man the
activity in accordance with his own disposition is most desirable, and, therefore, to the good
man that which is in accordance with virtue. Happiness, therefore, does not lie in
amusement; it would, indeed, be strange if the end were amusement, and one were to take
trouble and suffer hardship all one's life in order to amuse oneself. For, in a word, everything
that we choose we choose for the sake of something else-except happiness, which is an end.
Now to exert oneself and work for the sake of amusement seems silly and utterly childish.
But to amuse oneself in order that one may exert oneself, as Anacharsis puts it, seems right;
for amusement is a sort of relaxation, and we need relaxation because we cannot work
continuously. Relaxation, then, is not an end; for it is taken for the sake of activity.
The happy life is thought to be virtuous; now a virtuous life requires exertion, and does not
consist in amusement. And we say that serious things are better than laughable things and
those connected with amusement, and that the activity of the better of any two things-
whether it be two elements of our being or two men-is the more serious; but the activity of
the better is ipso facto superior and more of the nature of happiness. And any chance
person-even a slave-can enjoy the bodily pleasures no less than the best man; but no one
assigns to a slave a share in happiness-unless he assigns to him also a share in human life.
For happiness does not lie in such occupations; but, as we have said before, in virtuous

Happiness and Theoretical Study

If happiness is activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in
accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us. Whether it be
reason or something else that is this element which is thought to be our natural ruler and
guide and to take thought of things noble and divine, whether it be itself also divine or only
the most divine element in us, the activity of this in accordance with its proper virtue will be
perfect happiness. That this activity is contemplative we have already said.

Now this would seem to be in agreement both with what we said before and with the truth.
For, firstly, this activity is the best (since not only is reason the best thing in us, but the
objects of reason are the best of knowable objects); and secondly, it is the most continuous,
since we can contemplate truth more continuously than we can do anything. And we think
happiness has pleasure mingled with it, but the activity of philosophic wisdom is admittedly
the pleasantest of virtuous activities; at all events the pursuit of it is thought to offer
pleasures marvelous for their purity and their enduringness, and it is to be expected that
those who know will pass their time more pleasantly than those who inquire. And the self-
sufficiency that is spoken of must belong most to the contemplative activity. For while a philosopher, as well as a just man or one possessing any other virtue, needs the necessaries
of life, when they are sufficiently equipped with things of that sort the just man needs people
towards whom and with whom he shall act justly, and the temperate man, the brave man,
and each of the others is in the same case, but the philosopher, even when by himself, can
contemplate truth, and the better the wiser he is; he can perhaps do so better if he has
fellow-workers, but still he is the most self-sufficient. And this activity alone would seem to
be loved for its own sake; for nothing arises from it apart from the contemplating, while
from practical activities we gain more or less apart from the action. 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. Now the activity of the practical virtues is exhibited in political or
military affairs, but the actions concerned with these seem to be un-leisurely. 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 un-leisurely,
and-apart from the political action itself-aims at despotic power and honors, 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 un-leisurely 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, un-weariedness (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 (for none of the attributes of happiness is incomplete).

But such a life would be too high for man; for it is not in so far as he is man that he will live
so, but in so far as something divine is present in him; and by so much as this is superior to
our composite nature is its activity superior to that which is the exercise of the other kind of
virtue. If reason is divine, then, in comparison with man, the life according to it is divine in
comparison with human life. But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to
think of human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can, make
ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for
even if it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth surpass everything. This
would seem, too, to be each man himself, since it is the authoritative and better part of him.
It would be strange, then, if he were to choose not the life of his self but that of something
else. And what we said before' will apply now; that which is proper to each thing is by nature
best and most pleasant for each thing; for man, therefore, the life according to reason is best
and pleasantest, since reason more than anything else is man. This life therefore is also the

Theoretical Study and the Other Virtues

But in a secondary degree the life in accordance with the other kind of virtue is happy; for
the activities in accordance with this befit our human estate. Just and brave acts, and other
virtuous acts, we do in relation to each other, observing our respective duties with regard to contracts and services and all manner of actions and with regard to passions; and all of these
seem to be typically human. Some of them seem even to arise from the body, and virtue of
character to be in many ways bound up with the passions. Practical wisdom, too, is linked to
virtue of character, and this to practical wisdom, since the principles of practical wisdom are
in accordance with the moral virtues and rightness in morals is in accordance with practical
wisdom. Being connected with the passions also, the moral virtues must belong to our
composite nature; and the virtues of our composite nature are human; so, therefore, are the
life and the happiness which correspond to these. The excellence of the reason is a thing
apart; we must be content to say this much about it, for to describe it precisely is a task
greater than our purpose requires. It would seem, however, also to need external equipment
but little, or less than moral virtue does. Grant that both need the necessaries, and do so
equally, even if the statesman's work is the more concerned with the body and things of that
sort; for there will be little difference there; but in what they need for the exercise of their
activities there will be much difference. The liberal man will need money for the doing of his
liberal deeds, and the just man too will need it for the returning of services (for wishes are
hard to discern, and even people who are not just pretend to wish to act justly); and the
brave man will need power if he is to accomplish any of the acts that correspond to his
virtue, and the temperate man will need opportunity; for how else is either he or any of the
others to be recognized? It is debated, too, whether the will or the deed is more essential to
virtue, which is assumed to involve both; it is surely clear that its perfection involves both;
but for deeds many things are needed, and more, the greater and nobler the deeds are. But
the man who is contemplating the truth needs no such thing, at least with a view to the
exercise of his activity; indeed they are, one may say, even hindrances, at all events to his
contemplation; but in so far as he is a man and lives with a number of people, he chooses to
do virtuous acts; he will therefore need such aids to living a human life.

But that perfect happiness is a contemplative activity will appear from the following
consideration as well. We assume the gods to be above all other beings blessed and happy;
but what sort of actions must we assign to them? Acts of justice? Will not the gods seem
absurd if they make contracts and return deposits, and so on? Acts of a brave man, then,
confronting dangers and running risks because it is noble to do so? Or liberal acts? To
whom will they give? It will be strange if they are really to have money or anything of the
kind. And what would their temperate acts be? Is not such praise tasteless, since they have
no bad appetites? If we were to run through them all, the circumstances of action would be
found trivial and unworthy of gods. Still, every one supposes that they live and therefore that
they are active; we cannot suppose them to sleep like Endymion. Now if you take away from
a living being action, and still more production, what is left but contemplation? Therefore
the activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness, must be contemplative; and of
human activities, therefore, that which is most akin to this must be most of the nature of

This is indicated, too, by the fact that the other animals have no share in happiness, being
completely deprived of such activity. For while the whole life of the gods is blessed, and that
of men too in so far as some likeness of such activity belongs to them, none of the other
animals is happy, since they in no way share in contemplation. Happiness extends, then, just
so far as contemplation does, and those to whom contemplation more fully belongs are
more truly happy, not as a mere concomitant but in virtue of the contemplation; for this is in
itself precious. Happiness, therefore, must be some form of contemplation.

But, being a man, one will also need external prosperity; for our nature is not self-sufficient
for the purpose of contemplation, but our body also must be healthy and must have food
and other attention. Still, we must not think that the man who is to be happy will need many
things or great things, merely because he cannot be supremely happy without external goods;
for self-sufficiency and action do not involve excess, and we can do noble acts without
ruling earth and sea; for even with moderate advantages one can act virtuously (this is
manifest enough; for private persons are thought to do worthy acts no less than despots-
indeed even more); and it is enough that we should have so much as that; for the life of the
man who is active in accordance with virtue will be happy. Solon, too, was perhaps sketching
well the happy man when he described him as moderately furnished with externals but as
having done (as Solon thought) the noblest acts, and lived temperately; for one can with but
moderate possessions do what one ought. Anaxagoras also seems to have supposed the
happy man to be neither rich nor a despot, when he said that he would not be surprised if
the happy man were to seem to most people a strange person; for they judge by externals,
since these are all they perceive. The opinions of the wise seem, then, to harmonize with our
arguments. But while even such things carry some conviction, the truth in practical matters
is discerned from the facts of life; for these are the decisive factors. We must therefore
survey what we have already said, bringing it to the test of the facts of life, and if it
harmonizes with the facts we must accept it, but if it clashes with them we must suppose it
to be mere theory. Now he who exercises his reason and cultivates it seems to be both in the
best state of mind and most dear to the gods. For if the gods have any care for human
affairs, as they are thought to have, it would be reasonable both that they should delight in
that which was best and most akin to them (i.e. reason) and that they should reward those
who love and honor this most, as caring for the things that are dear to them and acting both
rightly and nobly. And that all these attributes belong most of all to the philosopher is
manifest. He, therefore, is the dearest to the gods. And he who is that will presumably be
also the happiest; so that in this way too the philosopher will, more than any other, be

From Ethics to Politics

Moral Education

If these matters and the virtues, and also friendship and pleasure, have been dealt with
sufficiently in outline, are we to suppose that our program has reached its end? Surely, as the
saying goes, where there are things to be done the end is not to survey and recognize the
various things, but rather to do them; with regard to virtue, then, it is not enough to know,
but we must try to have and use it, or try any other way there may be of becoming good.

Now if arguments were in themselves enough to make men good, they would justly, as
Theognis says, have won very great rewards, and such rewards should have been provided;
but as things are, while they seem to have power to encourage and stimulate the generous-
minded among our youth, and to make a character which is gently born, and a true lover of
what is noble, ready to be possessed by virtue, they are not able to encourage the many to
nobility and goodness. For these do not by nature obey the sense of shame, but only fear,
and do not abstain from bad acts because of their baseness but through fear of punishment; living by passion they pursue their own pleasures and the means to them, and the opposite
pains, and have not even a conception of what is noble and truly pleasant, since they have
never tasted it. What argument would remold such people? It is hard, if not impossible, to
remove by argument the traits that have long since been incorporated in the character; and
perhaps we must be content if, when all the influences by which we are thought to become
good are present, we get some tincture of virtue.

Now some think that we are made good by nature, others by habituation, others by teaching.
Nature's part evidently does not depend on us, but as a result of some divine causes is
present in those who are truly fortunate; while argument and teaching, we may suspect, are
not powerful with all men, but the soul of the student must first have been cultivated by
means of habits for noble joy and noble hatred, like earth which is to nourish the seed. For
he who lives as passion directs will not hear argument that dissuades him, nor understand it
if he does; and how can we persuade one in such a state to change his ways? And in general
passion seems to yield not to argument but to force. The character, then, must somehow be
there already with a kinship to virtue, loving what is noble and hating what is base.
But it is difficult to get from youth up a right training for virtue if one has not been brought
up under right laws; for to live temperately and hardily is not pleasant to most people,
especially when they are young. For this reason their nurture and occupations should be
fixed by law; for they will not be painful when they have become customary. But it is surely
not enough that when they are young they should get the right nurture and attention; since
they must, even when they are grown up, practice and be habituated to them, we shall need
laws for this as well, and generally speaking to cover the whole of life; for most people obey
necessity rather than argument, and punishments rather than the sense of what is noble.

This is why some think that legislators ought to stimulate men to virtue and urge them
forward by the motive of the noble, on the assumption that those who have been well
advanced by the formation of habits will attend to such influences; and that punishments
and penalties should be imposed on those who disobey and are of inferior nature, while the
incurably bad should be completely banished. A good man (they think), since he lives with
his mind fixed on what is noble, will submit to argument, while a bad man, whose desire is
for pleasure, is corrected by pain like a beast of burden. This is, too, why they say the pains
inflicted should be those that are most opposed to the pleasures such men love.

However that may be, if (as we have said) the man who is to be good must be well trained
and habituated, and go on to spend his time in worthy occupations and neither willingly nor
unwillingly do bad actions, and if this can be brought about if men live in accordance with a
sort of reason and right order, provided this has force,-if this be so, the paternal command
indeed has not the required force or compulsive power (nor in general has the command of
one man, unless he be a king or something similar), but the law has compulsive power, while
it is at the same time a rule proceeding from a sort of practical wisdom and reason. And
while people hate men who oppose their impulses, even if they oppose them rightly, the law
in its ordaining of what is good is not burdensome.

In the Spartan state alone, or almost alone, the legislator seems to have paid attention to
questions of nurture and occupations; in most states such matters have been neglected, and
each man lives as he pleases, Cyclops-fashion, 'to his own wife and children dealing law'.

Now it is best that there should be a public and proper care for such matters; but if they are
neglected by the community it would seem right for each man to help his children and
friends towards virtue, and that they should have the power, or at least the will, to do this.

It would seem from what has been said that he can do this better if he makes himself
capable of legislating. For public control is plainly effected by laws, and good control by
good laws; whether written or unwritten would seem to make no difference, nor whether
they are laws providing for the education of individuals or of groups-any more than it does
in the case of music or gymnastics and other such pursuits. For as in cities laws and
prevailing types of character have force, so in households do the injunctions and the habits
of the father, and these have even more because of the tie of blood and the benefits he
confers; for the children start with a natural affection and disposition to obey. Further,
private education has an advantage over public, as private medical treatment has; for while in
general rest and abstinence from food are good for a man in a fever, for a particular man
they may not be; and a boxer presumably does not prescribe the same style of fighting to all
his pupils. It would seem, then, that the detail is worked out with more precision if the
control is private; for each person is more likely to get what suits his case.

But the details can be best looked after, one by one, by a doctor or gymnastic instructor or
any one else who has the general knowledge of what is good for every one or for people of a
certain kind (for the sciences both are said to be, and are, concerned with what is universal);
not but what some particular detail may perhaps be well looked after by an unscientific
person, if he has studied accurately in the light of experience what happens in each case, just
as some people seem to be their own best doctors, though they could give no help to any
one else. None the less, it will perhaps be agreed that if a man does wish to become master
of an art or science he must go to the universal, and come to know it as well as possible; for,
as we have said, it is with this that the sciences are concerned.

And surely he who wants to make men, whether many or few, better by his care must try to
become capable of legislating, if it is through laws that we can become good. For to get any
one whatever-any one who is put before us-into the right condition is not for the first
chance comer; if any one can do it, it is the man who knows, just as in medicine and all other
matters which give scope for care and prudence.

Must we not, then, next examine whence or how one can learn how to legislate? Is it, as in
all other cases, from statesmen? Certainly it was thought to be a part of statesmanship. Or is
a difference apparent between statesmanship and the other sciences and arts? In the others
the same people are found offering to teach the arts and practicing them, e.g. doctors or
painters; but while the sophists profess to teach politics, it is practiced not by any of them
but by the politicians, who would seem to do so by dint of a certain skill and experience
rather than of thought; for they are not found either writing or speaking about such matters
(though it were a nobler occupation perhaps than composing speeches for the law-courts
and the assembly), nor again are they found to have made statesmen of their own sons or
any other of their friends. But it was to be expected that they should if they could; for there
is nothing better than such a skill that they could have left to their cities, or could prefer to
have for themselves, or, therefore, for those dearest to them. Still, experience seems to
contribute not a little; else they could not have become politicians by familiarity with politics;
and so it seems that those who aim at knowing about the art of politics need experience as well.

But those of the sophists who profess the art seem to be very far from teaching it. For, to
put the matter generally, they do not even know what kind of thing it is nor what kinds of
things it is about; otherwise they would not have classed it as identical with rhetoric or even
inferior to it, nor have thought it easy to legislate by collecting the laws that are thought well
of; they say it is possible to select the best laws, as though even the selection did not demand
intelligence and as though right judgement were not the greatest thing, as in matters of
music. For while people experienced in any department judge rightly the works produced in
it, and understand by what means or how they are achieved, and what harmonizes with what,
the inexperienced must be content if they do not fail to see whether the work has been well
or ill made-as in the case of painting. Now laws are as it were the' works' of the political art;
how then can one learn from them to be a legislator, or judge which are best? Even medical
men do not seem to be made by a study of text-books. Yet people try, at any rate, to state
not only the treatments, but also how particular classes of people can be cured and should be
treated-distinguishing the various habits of body; but while this seems useful to experienced
people, to the inexperienced it is valueless. Surely, then, while collections of laws, and of
constitutions also, may be serviceable to those who can study them and judge what is good
or bad and what enactments suit what circumstances, those who go through such collections
without a practiced faculty will not have right judgement (unless it be as a spontaneous gift
of nature), though they may perhaps become more intelligent in such matters.

Now our predecessors have left the subject of legislation to us unexamined; it is perhaps
best, therefore, that we should ourselves study it, and in general study the question of the
constitution, in order to complete to the best of our ability our philosophy of human nature.
First, then, if anything has been said well in detail by earlier thinkers, let us try to review it;
then in the light of the constitutions we have collected let us study what sorts of influence
preserve and destroy states, and what sorts preserve or destroy the particular kinds of
constitution, and to what causes it is due that some are well and others ill administered.
When these have been studied we shall perhaps be more likely to see with a comprehensive
view, which constitution is best, and how each must be ordered, and what laws and customs
it must use, if it is to be at its best. Let us make a beginning of our discussion.

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