There are three especially prominent types of life: the life of enjoyment, the life of politics, and thirdly the life of contemplation. - Aristotle explains that the first kind of life, that of enjoyment, is " fit only for cattle".
Men of action see happiness as honour, since honour is pretty much the end of the political life. Honour, however, seems too shallow to be an object of our inquiry, since honour appears to depend more on those who honour than on the person honoured. They seek to be honoured by people with practical wisdom, and for their virtue. One might, perhaps, suppose virtue rather than honour to be the end of the political life. But even virtue seems, in itself, to be lacking something, since apparently one can possess virtue even when one is asleep, or inactive throughout one's life. - Analysing now the political life, Aristotle shows that it seeks honour primarily, but that this honour is too dependent on others, it is not something internal, it is not eudaimonia itself. It may bring pleasure, but not true fulfilment. He points out that we may instead say that this kind of life seeks virtue, as it is with regards to this virtue that men are honoured. But virtue is, whilst important, only a property of someone's character, therefore it is present and active even when the person is not. This won't suffice for Aristotle's needs as he wishes to find something which is only found in an active life, something which is in itself perhaps a form of activity.
The third kind of life is that of contemplation, which we shall examine in what follows. - But not before we kick Plato's arse, politely.
It would perhaps be quite a good idea to examine the notion of the universal and go through any problems there are in the way it is employed. - Basically, Plato said there's a universal good, but is there? The issue needs examining as, if there is one, perhaps it will help Aristotle's enquiries.
The good is spoken of in the categories of substance, of quality and of relation. Good is spoken of in as many senses as is being, so it is clear that there could not be one common universal, because it would be spoken of not in all the categories, but in only one. - We use the word 'good', or other words meaning something similar (better, etc.) in many different senses and contexts. Plato believed there is some over-ruling universal concept of good, abstracted out of any context. Aristotle claims this cannot be true; it is obvious that we use the term in many different ways, and in each category it means something different. We are capable of using the same word because we are intelligent beings who can decipher its meaning from the context. If someone says 'this is a good knife', you can tell what they mean. The fact that there is no one definition of good is obvious when one might hear someone say 'this is a good car', and there is a clear need to find out in what sense the car is good, how the user of the term defines a good car. This is the whole reason why we can't answer the question 'what is good?', because out of context the word is meaningless. Wittgenstein vibes here!
One might also be puzzled what on earth they mean by speaking of a 'thing-in-itself', since the definition of humanity is one and the same in humanity-in-itself and human being. In as much as they are human, they will not differ. - A much broader attack on the Forms in general, a Form is the 'thing-in-itself', and Aristotle claims it makes no sense to say, for example, that one chair is more chairy than another, it is more chair-like.
Nor will a thing be any the more good by being eternal, since a long-lasting white thing is no whiter than a short-lived one. - Another attack, being eternal doesn't make you better. Makes you better in the sense of extension of time, perhaps, but being eternal and short doesn't make you better at being short, it just means you're short for longer. I'm not sure if he meant it in a literary sense, but perhaps one way of reading this section is to say that, ripping Aquinas, our words are created by us, in this world, and refer to other things in this world, so that the word 'white', in its purest form, means exactly the white we see in this world, our word 'white' does not describe the actual colour of some Form of white. I'm rambling now.
Even if there is some one good predicated across categories, or a good that is separate, itself in itself, clearly it could not be an object of action nor something attainable by a human being, which is the sort of thing we are looking for. - After running through another couple of possible objections to his attack on Plato, Aristotle says that perhaps the discussion is better suited to some other area of philosophy (metaphysics, I presume) because, even if Plato is correct about the Form of the good, it is not something attainable by human action, it is in the realm of the mental (at best) and so cannot be the subject of our current exercise. He stated much earlier that this enquiry should result in action, not thought.
There is also a difficulty in seeing how a weaver or carpenter will be helped in practising his skill by knowing this good-in-itself. - A point that Plato would agree with, since he claimed only philosophers can know the Form of the good, yet it doesn't stop craftsmen being skilled at their craft. But Aristotle sees living as a kind of skill, and so he places living well in this category of craftsmanship, which will go unaffected by any Form of the good.
Let us return again to the good we are looking for, since it appears to vary between different actions and skills. What then is the good in each case? Surely it is that for the sake of which other things are done? - He is basically just reiterating the point he made at the start of the book, claiming that the good in any example is that which is aimed at. For instance people pursue medicine for the aim of health, for as many as possible. So the good in respect to medicine is exactly that, health.
So if everything that is done has some end, this will be the good among things done, and if there are several ends, these will be the goods.
There appear to be several ends, and some of these we choose as means to other ends, so it is clear that not all ends are complete. But the chief good manifestly is something complete. So if there is only one end that is complete, this will be what we are looking for, and if there are several of them, the most complete. - It is unclear how some ends are 'more complete' than others. Basically though, he's saying that some ends are more important than others, as he explains here...
We speak of that which is worth pursuing for its own sake as more complete than that which is worth pursuing only for the sake of something else, and that which is never worth choosing for the sake of something else as more complete than things that are worth choosing both in themselves and for the sake of this end. And so that which is always worth choosing in itself and never for the sake of something else we call complete without qualification. - Sounds complex, but it boils down to this...
Something worth choosing in itself and not for anything else > Something worth choosing in itself and for something else > Something worth choosing only for the sake of something else
Happiness (it doesn't help us gain any other end, it's just good to have) > Health (It's good to have, but also helps us be happy) > Not eating chocolate (It sucks, but it's worth choosing for the sake of your health)
We take what is self-sufficient to be that which on its own makes life worthy of choice and lacking in nothing. We think happiness to be such, and indeed the thing most of all worth choosing, not counted as just one thing among others. Counted as just one thing among others it would clearly be more worthy of choice with even the least good added to it. - So we know what the good of life is, woohoo. It is self-sufficient, it needs nothing else to make life worth living. This means it is a separate thing to money, health, etc. It is not an amalgamation of a number of these things, it is something in itself. A happy life is not necessarily one filled with health, wealth, good friends, not any of these, nor all of them. The idea is that a happy life is happy regardless of how much money you have, how healthy you are, or how many friends you have. These things will bring pleasure, not happiness (eudaimonia). Happiness is something else entirely which can be reached with or without other goods.
The good of any practitioner of a skill is thought to lie in its characteristic activity, so the same would be true of a human being, if indeed he has a characteristic activity. - Aristotle begins a deeper analysis into how happiness might be the good for human life, and what exactly we mean by happiness. He starts by pointing out that to be a good-something is to be good at whatever that something does, its characteristic activity. The activity which makes it a something in the first place. So what is man's?
Living is obviously shared even by plants. Next would be some sort of sentient life, but this again is clearly shared by the horse, the ox, indeed by every animal. What remains is a life, concerned in some way with action, of the element that possesses reason. - We can rule out the parts of life concerned with physical living, and even with basic mental living, so we're left with our reason and rationality, the only thing that distinguishes us from animals (debatable now of course).
If the characteristic activity of a human being is an activity of the soul in accordance with reason and the superiority of the good one in virtue being an addition to the characteristic activity, the human good turns out to be activity of the soul in accordance with virtue. - I've severely chopped this down, so it makes damn near no sense. But basically he says that our characteristic activity is 'an activity of the soul in accordance with reason'. So he's just saying that it is us acting by reason, since that's what distinguishes us from animals. Then he claims that performing an activity well is just an addition to performing it, so he uses the example of 'playing the lyre' and 'playing the lyre well'. So the virtue of an activity just is 'doing X well'. 'Well' means also 'in accordance with X's virtue'. So a good lyre player 'plays the lyre in accordance with the virtue of lyre-playing'. Applying this to humans means that our good is 'an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue'. His explanation for this (I presume, it's not well explained in the text itself) is that we all have the faculty of reason, yet we don't all use it well. A person who uses it well can reason through situations in life, using the correct virtue to the correct degree, so in essence a well-reasoned person will be a well-virtued person. I'll try to put it in bullet points...
i) The characteristic activity of humans is an activity of the soul in accordance with reason
ii) The characteristic activity of something is always the same kind of thing as the characteristic activity of something which is a good something, so for example, a good carpenter still has the same characteristic activity as that of a regular carpenter, he is just better at it
iii) A characteristic activity is accomplished well when it is accomplished in accordance with the appropriate virtue
iv) The human good, therefore, is an activity of the soul in accordance with the virtue of life, or if there are many, the best and most complete
This must be over a complete life. For one swallow does not make a summer, nor one day. Neither does one day or a short time make someone blessed and happy. - Famous quote alert! He is saying to us here that single actions must not be judged in this way. It is not enough for someone to perform one action in accordance with virtue, he must act in accordance with virtue over his whole life, then he can be considered a 'good' human.
But we must consider the first principle in the light not only of our conclusion and premises, but of the things that people say about it. For all the data harmonize with the truth, but soon clash with falsity. - He says here that an intellectual journey to the conclusion we have reached is not sufficient, we must follow it up by testing it with the general beliefs of the public at large, as it must not only prescribe the best kind of life, but also describe and explain our current beliefs about the right kind of life. If we came to a conclusion that went against every major belief, even if it seemed right on its own standards, it would not be something that one could expect everyone to suddenly believe in and act in accordance with.
Goods have been classified into three groups: those called external goods, goods of the soul, and goods of the body. - Aristotle says that we call goods of the soul most important, which seems fair, out of the three. External goods are too independent of us, saying they are the best goods denies us any chance of making ourselves happy. Goods of the body are transitory and to say these were the best goods would be to accept the life of an animal. Therefore goods of the soul are the best, and our account of happiness as the human good fits with this, as it is concerned with actions, which are in the realm of the soul (or the realm of the mental, as we might say today.)
Another belief that harmonizes with our account is that the happy person lives well and acts well, for we have claimed that happiness is pretty much a kind of living well and acting well. Again, all the things that people look for in happiness appear to have been included in our account. - So, again, our account rocks because it gives a satisfactory content to the term happiness, and to the 'good life'. A person living a good life will be living well, in the sense that they could perhaps be proud of their lives overall. Also, the details of what this kind of life might include are not set in stone, but our account allows for many popular beliefs in this regard to be correct.
Our account of happiness is in harmony with those who say that happiness is virtue. Presumably, though, it makes a great difference whether we conceive of the chief good as consisting in possession or use. - As he has stated earlier, the good life is one of action, living well and acting well are one and the same. Being a virtuous person means nothing if one does not display those virtues through his actions.
It is also the case that the life of these people is pleasurable in itself. Their life therefore has no need of pleasure as some kind of lucky ornament, but contains its pleasure in itself. For no one would call a person just if he did not enjoy acting justly, or generous if he did not enjoy generous actions. - Important section, he is saying that someone may act justly, but some do so out of some ulterior motive, or they may even do so because they want to be seen as good, but in reality they have to force themselves to do so; these people do not enjoy good acts, good acts do not come naturally to them, and so they are not good.
The person who is terribly ugly, of low birth, or solitary and childless is not really the sort to be happy, still less perhaps of he has children or friends who are thoroughly bad, or good but dead. - Sounds like Tom on a nice day. Aristotle is acknowledging that people are not entirely in control of their own destiny, external factors can have a huge influence. Many things can put obstacles in our way, trying to prevent us from living well, but everyone, theoretically at least, has the potential to live well.
Hence the problem also arises of whether happiness is to be acquired by learning, habituation, or some other training, or whether it comes by virtue of some divine dispensation or even by chance. - It must be divine, says Aristotle, but it is not dished out by the gods willy nilly, they must at least allow us (or perhaps they always force us) to earn our own good life through our actions. Similarly, we cannot say it is up to fate or chance, as we only claim a good life through our actions, and these are not left to fate or chance.
Should we then call no one happy while they are alive, but rather, as Solon advises, wait to see the end? Even if we must assume this to be right, is it really the case that he is happy when he is dead? - Quite ridiculous, as he says. As was stated at the beginning of the book, the human good is not a means-end thing, it's not a productive activity. Happiness isn't something we gain at the end of life, or at any point during, and go "woo, got it". He also points out that the actions of descendants can add to or take away from the honour and general image of a dead person, so perhaps dead people are happy for awhile then become unhappy when their kid goes on a murder spree? Sounds silly, and it is.
If we were to follow his fortunes, we should often call the same person happy and then wretched. The quality in question, then, will belong to the happy person, and he will be happy throughout his life. For he will spend all, or most, of his time engaged in action and contemplation in accordance with virtue. And he will bear changes in fortune in a particularly noble way and altogether gracefully. - So it is not to do with any transitory state of mind, it is a quality or property of a happy person, and no matter what happens in his life with regards to external goods etc., he will roll with the punches and hold himself together well through the rough parts of life. The happy man is a man of action, and through his actions he can actually minimise the effect of external influences on his happiness.
What is to prevent us, then, from concluding that the happy person is the one who, adequately furnished with external goods, engages in activities in accordance with complete virtue, not for just any period of time but over a complete life? Or should we add that he will live like this in the future and die accordingly? The future is obscure to us, and we say that happiness is an end and altogether quite complete. This being so, we shall call blessed those of the living who have and will continue to have the things mentioned, but blessed only in human terms. - An explanation of the problem of happiness being judged over a complete life, and not an easy one to understand, by my estimates. From what I can tell, he's saying that when we call someone happy we say that he has so far lived a life in accordance with virtue, he has not undergone many misfortunes, and the ones he has undergone he has lived through gracefully. Also, when we say that someone is happy, we make a judgement about the future, in that we assume his life will continue on its current course, because of his current status and his actions thus far. We cannot make a full judgement, though, we say it only "in human terms", as he says, from a fallible point of view, hence with a fallible conclusion.
There is a puzzle about whether the dead can partake of any good or evil. For it does seem, from what we have said, that if anything good or bad does actually affect them, it will be pretty unimportant and insignificant. - This essentially solves his little puzzle of whether the dead can be made unhappy. No they can't, he is claiming. Though actions of others following a man's death can have a bearing on his image, they can never be significant enough to make a previously happy man suddenly become unhappy, nor vice versa.
Let us consider whether happiness is a thing to be praised or instead something to be honoured. - He comes to the conclusion that praise is bestowed on something in relation to something else. A carpenter is praised because his carpentry his superior to others, for example. I don't think we have quite the same understanding of the words as Aristotle did, there doesn't seem a huge difference, certainly not to me. But this is the difference he gives, praise is saying something is above average, at the least, whilst honour seems to imply something more self-sufficient, as our account of happiness showed it to be. So the human good being, as it is, complete, is something to be honoured. I'm not sure of the point, but there you go, honour it, don't praise it. You heard it here first, kids.
Since happiness is a certain kind of activity of the soul in accordance with complete virtue, we ought to look at virtue.
It is said that one element of the soul has reason, while another lacks it. Of the element without reason, one part seems to be common: the vegetative, the cause of nutrition and growth. - This comes from Plato, presumably, and states that the soul or mind is split into sections. Aristotle very clearly states that these divisions may not be literal, physical divisions, separate machines within the soul, but that it is sufficient to say that conceptually there are two parts to the soul. The part without reason is further split, one part is concerned with "nutrition and growth" and so clearly has nothing to do with either reason or action, good or evil.
There does seem to be another natural element in the soul, lacking reason, but nevertheless, as it were, partaking in it. We praise the reason of the self-controlled because it urges them in the right direction, but clearly there is within them another natural element which conflicts and resists with reason. - This element is not part of reason, but does have dealings with it, unlike the vegetative element. It drives desire, pushes us forward, but it must be kept under control by reason.
The element in the soul of the self-controlled person, at least, obeys reason and presumably in the temperate and the brave person it is still more ready to listen, since in their case it is in total harmony with reason. - The self-controlled can keep a tight reign on their desire, but some people may actually have the kind of character which causes their desire to push in a virtuous direction anyway, completely at one with reason. Lucky bastards.
Virtue is distinguished along the same lines. Some virtues we say are intellectual, while others are virtue of character. - So virtues are split into two sections; all virtues are concerned with reason, but reason has two sides, mathematical style reason, which intellectual virtues are concerned with, and practical reason, which virtues of character are concerned with. This will be important later on.