These discussion questions are meant to serve as jumping-off points for wider conversation about the issues and questions raised in the text.
In Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle begins his inquiry into what will come to be seen as the highest human good. He makes a number of striking claims which we should note, both because they are interesting in themselves and because they are specific elements of Aristotelian thought that will come to be rejected by Hobbes in the Leviathan. Here, Aristotle introduces us to the idea that all human action aims at an end that is non-instrumentally good. In doing so, he suggests that this must be the case, because otherwise desire would be infinite and satisfaction impossible (which is precisely what Hobbes will claim in the Leviathan). He also introduced the idea of politics as the “architectonic” or ruling art. Along the way, he examines the lives of pleasure, honor, and moneymaking, and finds them all deficient from the point of view of eudaimonia. Book I, then, ends with an account of the soul, and a turn toward virtue. Book II begins the examination of virtue as such.
What do you make of Aristotle’s account? Specifically, how do you take his claim that there is a non-instrumental good at which all human activities aim?
What of his conception of politics? In what ways is he right? How does his conception of politics compare to our own understanding (whatever that might be)? Is politics concerned with moral virtue? Should it be?
Does his analysis of the deficiencies of the three ways of life he discusses persuade you?
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, what do you make of the account of virtue as the mean relative to us? Do you think Aristotle is right to emphasize that virtue is the same thing for all of us, yet nonetheless different for all of us, and relative to our own conditions and circumstances?
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Books I and I
The idea that there is non-instrumental good at which all human activities aim is misplaced because it prevents people from focusing on remarkable milestones. The argument that the highest good translates to the good itself. This shows that the level obtained does not lead to something else. Thus, people are more likely to develop satisfaction in an outcome and fail to improve their situations. No level of achievement can be deemed as the ideal due to the social environment’s changing nature. Thus, Aristotle’s account fails to support and improvements in the modern setting amidst adverse situations and circumstances occurring in people’s lives. Individuals should aim at changing their lives for the better.
Aristotle’s understanding of the political domain is based on an artistic form. According to him, politics prescribes knowledge that people ought to acquire, elements that individuals should learn, and passes honored capabilities such as rhetorical skills and household economics (Sachs, 2011). This means that politics shape a wide range of elements in the social setting where members are expected to align themselves with political practices, beliefs, and values. Personally, politics is surrounded by massive misconceptions that lead to the passage of inappropriate values and beliefs. The majority of the political leaders are driven by political interests rather than the followers’ needs and welfare. If politics is to be considered as a valuable tool, it should incorporate moral virtues. Leaders must cultivate traits that followers can resonate with and find relevance in their daily lives. Notably, responsibility and accountability are key moral virtues that these leaders should develop.
Aristotle argues that virtues are based on character and intelligence (Sachs, 2011). This leads to the idea that virtue is the same thing for everyone and relative to conditions and circumstances. This argument is right following the two sorts of virtue perspective. In character, virtue remains the same for everyone because culture calls for individuals to behave in a particular way. For intelligence, behavior, and actions are based on the conditions. For example, two persons who possess distinct intelligence levels are likely to portray different virtues.
Sachs, J. (Ed.). (2011). Nicomachean ethics. Hackett Publishing.
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