Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1

This is my new project: Reading through the Nicomachean Ethics, add notes, add my own thoughts to it, and publish it to help others who want to study the classic work (and wonderully enjoyable work too).

Nicomachean Ethics 

Book 1

  1. The good is that which everything aims at, strives towards, pursues. Distinction between activities where the end is a product (work), and ones where the end is the activity itself (action). There are hierarchies of ends, each activity falls under the category of another activity—the aim of reading a book falls under the aim of improving my intellect, and so forth. (Peterson’s idea of identity.)
  2. The chief good is the end in itself. It lies in politics, because it is politics that determine all other aims, the different classes and different careers. (We are determined by our culture and our political state.) it is therefore the highest aim, for in its aim every other aim is dictated. Between a person and a state, the aim of the state is the grander of the two even if the end is the same. “Godlike” is the state.  Why is the state more godlike? (It involves more people. Ithas this grand interplay between equals that is absent from oneself—although in a sense we are a city-state microcosm. A one-in-two. With different personality complexes playing themselves out in the stage, in dialogue) 
  3. The subject itself does not permit precision. Every premise that I am discussing here is for the most part true, and every conclusion also. We have to aim at the degree of precision that the subject allows us to do. Wealth and courage—good actions—have led to harm, and the opinions regarding the just fluctuates. The youthful character, who aims at action, will not benefit much from identifying the good, for he does not aim at knowledge. A young man is not fit to read political science, because he is inexperienced in action and life. (Virtue can only be gained through action.) The good general judge is the one who knows generally, he who has received a general education. The young person (in spirit or in age) acts impulsively, incontinently, and therefore does not profit from knowledge, for they act, and knowledge will not help them. (Knowledge does not help action? I disagree—but Aristotle’s later discussion on character makes sense. We have knowledge, we try to act it out, we sometimes fail, but in this trying and improving my actions we slowly carve (note, character comes out of the word carve) the knowledge into ourselves.  
  4. What is the aim of action and politics? Happiness. But there are many conceptions of happiness. Normal people define happiness variously and define it differently according to the state they are in. (Each of these definitions are right, a bit like the Socratic dialogues where the particular definition is posited in search for something all-encompassing.). Here, happiness is, if not relative, at least unstable. There is the platonic school who teaches that there is a general happiness. But are we reasoning, here, from the first principles, or reasoning to the first principles? (I.e., are we starting from Happiness and unpacking its content (Hegelian Dialectics), or are we starting with the contents and working our way to a conception of happiness?) Well, we start with objects of knowledge. Either knowledge to us, or knowledge “without qualification”—knowledge that is independent of us. Knowledge to us is what we can see (experience), and that shall be the starting point of the inquiry. 
  5. There are three forms of life in pursuit of happiness: the pleasure-seeking, the political, the contemplative. The pleasuring life is the path most people choose, and it is the life connected with slaves (Arendt connection: labor provides pleasures but not happiness—and also the Greek city states’ disdain for the slaves, for they did not decide to kill themselves, therefore they are born a slave). The political life seems first to be connected to honor, but that cannot be so, because honor is bestowed by others (a common feature of politics, to live amongst others and to be recognized them, and political honor is relative to other people, it—Arendtian connection—makes us stand out, different amongst equals in the public sphere). Then, perhaps, the end of politics is virtue, for virtuous people has greater authority in the bestowing of honor. But virtue is not (it seems) directly connected with happiness, for doing virtuous activity may mean that one has to sacrifice a whole lot. (This will be resolved later on.) Money cannot be an end, because it is always a means to something else (the Marxist critique of Capitalism? It destroys the intrinsic value of action by equating it with money, which is transferable and not unique.)
  6. What does it mean to say that something is universally good? Plato talked about forms. Several objections: the good is used in many different categories, in substance (things in themselves, something self-subsistent), in relation (one thing relating to others, as a means), in quality (a distinct feature, such as a certain type of virtue)—other categories are also mentioned: of time (doing things in the right time), of quantity (doing a lot of good deeds), of space (in the right place doing the right thing)—(very interesting to think about the spatial and temporal dimension of action. We are always acting in a context, and things appropriate in a place and a time may not be appropriate for another place and another time, e.g., laughing very loudly to a friend’s joke would be good in a coffee shop or in the streets, but maybe not in library.) Neither is priority and posteriority recognized in platonic forms. Because it is deemed as timeless it cannot have a form for change. (Aristotle is a genius! The world changes, the platonic forms do not change, the platonic form is not of the world. Q.E.D.) Further, a single form corresponds to a science, but this is not the case for the good—it is not even the case for things under the category of the good, such as opportunity or health. (What science do we correspond health to? Nutrition? Exercise? Stress Regulation?, or if we have a form for health, does that form incorporate all the other forms? And how does it do so?) Then, what is the difference between the good itself and the particular good? Doesn’t the particular, in its being attributed to a certain universal, already embody it? —(Note, I didn’t understand this correctly. Aristotle is taking about the good itself and a particular good, not the universal.) (When we call have the good itself, and we The puzzling thing is why there is some yardstick used to determine whether anything is good, why can’t we determine it using anything? In assessing what is bad we already have a sense of the good? There are two types of goods. Things good in itself and things contributing to the good (useful). This is the platonic difference to the form and the things preserving or destroying the form (secondarily good). And an objection to Platonism in that the form doesn’t encompass all good. Discussion of different kinds of good, is it supposed to be good in itself, without reference to any other thing? If good is universal, if everything good is good in itself, it doesn’t correspond to the concepts. Virtue, honor, courage, are good in distinctive ways. These shall be discussed in more depth in the metaphysics. What is sufficient here is that the universal good, independent of other things, even if exists, is unattainable. (The realm of politics is the realm of imperfections and compromises and not hitting the target, because it is a human realm.) some may argue that a glimpse at the universal good would help us to strive towards it. Aristotle says not. The sciences do not strive for the universal good, but the particular. We always deal with particulars in everyday life, the doctor and the patient, the bricklayer and the bricks… 
  7. what then is the good? It is different in each art, but that is the thing that everything strives for. The ultimate end. The thing for whose sake everything is done. (Genius!) health for medicine, wisdom in philosophy, building a house in hammering, etc.. the good in action is the end. There may be one or multiple. The ultimate good, since we seemingly have many goods, has to be something that is desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else. It is an end and it can never be used as a means. This is happiness. Virtue, pleasure, honor, though all are good in themselves, are also pursued for happiness. But happiness is a final state, there is nothing after that. In the way of self-sufficiency (not being alone… “men is always in a community”) but something, when achieved, would make life desirable and fulfilled and lacking nothing. Hence happiness is both self-sufficient and not for the sake of anything else, and is therefore the end of action. Things achieve its potential when it acts out its function. To carry out the function is good. We are finding the function specific to man. It is not sight, or growth, for other things have these too. It is an active life living in accordance with the rational principle, with the soul being guided by something. The function is the same whether one is a flute player or a good one, the difference is only a matter of doing it well or not. Then the function of a good life is to live a life of the soul guided by virtue. This is a brief sketch, but one cannot expect too much precision in these kinds of things, but precision appropriate to the subject matter. The carpenter and the mathematician investigate the right angle in different ways, so do the physicist and the engineer, the pianist and the composer. Now we want to consider the first principles that we can also call facts. The start is half the journey. 
  8. The virtuous leads to happiness. Happiness is, if not god-sent, at least god-like. It can be cultivated. Because the best things in life should not be dependent on chance. Happiness is a virtuous activity of the soul, of a certain kind. There is goods, and there is the ultimate good, studied by political science. Happiness should be measured across the lifetime, for someone who has enjoyed a good life until the end no one will call virtuous. 
  9. The virtuous person’s happiness is not so affected by fortune. (Can we say that the dead is happy or sad?). Since virtuous activity leads to happiness, and the virtuous man will always do what is virtuous, no matter what fate throws at them, how are they not happy? (Distinction between blessedness, which is a state where virtue+good fortune can bring, and happiness). 
  10. The effect of the fortune of the living on the dead may have some effect, but it Is in such a way that the effect is negligible, or not of the kind in which happiness/blessedness may be effected. 
  11. What is praised are not ultimate goods, but things and actions virtuous, for sure, Burt nevertheless not fitting for the gods. We do not praise the gods for their qualities, but we say that they are blessed and hoary. It can also be seen from another angle, in the sense that what is the first principle, the thing that everything is done for, is happiness and blessedness. 
  12. There are two divisions of the soul. (And it is within the soul that virtue lies, and therefore it is fit for the student of politics to study the soul.)The soul has the irrational and the rational element. The irrational element contains the element of growth (because growth happens most in sleep and in sleep, since the soul is asleep, there is no difference between the virtuous and normal men. So is it with incontinence, from incontinence we can ascertain this division, since this division shows that somehow the rational part has control over the irrational part. The irrational part acts against one’s will (incontinence), one has no control over it. It is the “bill”. Since we give advices and see that it works, the rational can triumph over the irrational. There are two types of virtues. Intellectual and moral. Intellectual virtues are things like wisdom and practical wisdom. Moral virtues are things like temperance. 

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