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“Nicomachean Ethics” by Aristotle Coursework

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Updated: May 20th, 2021

In Book 1 of the Nic. Ethics (especially beginning in Aristotle, Ethics 1:5, 1095b13, p. 4) Aristotle enumerates several common beliefs about happiness or conceptions of “the good”. What are these common conceptions, and why does Aristotle claim they are inadequate.

According to Aristotle, people’s conceptions of happiness are related to the types of lives they lead. Aristotle identifies three conceptions of “the good”: the life of “gratification,” “political activity,” and “study” (Aristotle, Ethics 1:5, 1095b16-17, p. 4). The philosopher compares the life of gratification to that of slaves; the people who prefer this type of happiness are “vulgar,” live the same life as “grazing animals,” and only think about pleasure (Aristotle, Ethics 1:5, 1095b19-21, p. 4). The second conception of “the good” is related to “cultivated” people who see happiness in “honor” and try to find it within politics (Aristotle, Ethics 1:5, 1095b24-25, p. 4). Aristotle finds this belief inadequate because it is “superficial” and because the good depends not on those that are honored but rather on those who honor someone (Aristotle, Ethics 1:5, 1095b24-26, p. 4). The philosopher emphasizes that honor is not as important as a virtue (Aristotle, Ethics 1:5, 1095b32, p. 4). The third type of happiness is from the study (Aristotle, Ethics 1:5, 1096a5, p. 5). This approach is also considered wrong since people like it for itself (Aristotle, Ethics 1:5, 1096a9, p. 5).

What, according to this reading, is Aristotle’s own conception of happiness, and how does he arrive at it and support it? Make sure to support your answer with specific references to the text.

Aristotle’s conception of happiness is “something complete and self-sufficient” (Aristotle, Ethics 1:7, 1097b21, p. 8). He arrives at such a definition by analyzing happiness as a kind of good and supports his conception by arguing that happiness is “the most choiceworthy of all goods” (Aristotle, Ethics 1:7, 1097b17-18, p. 8). However, Aristotle admits that happiness requires external goods such as wealth, friends, or political power (Aristotle, Ethics 1:8, 1099b1-2, p. 11). Also, the philosopher remarks that virtue and fortune may be considered as happiness (Aristotle, Ethics 1:8, 1099b8-9, p. 11).

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