Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1

Everyone, uh, all right. So today we are starting with Aristotle's Nicomachean, ethics, uh. And with this, we begin our first sort of proper ethical theory. Right? There are three traditional ethical theories.

Virtue, ethics, deontology and utilitarianism. And Aristotle is the foundation of virtue. Ethics, virtue. Ethics gets picked up in the 20th century and sort of refined and revised. So often when people refer to virtue, ethics, they're referring to a number of 20th centuries, ethicists who draw their inspiration.

From Aristotle above all Martha Nussbaum is probably the most prominent virtue ethicist. But Aristotle is the foundation of that virtue, ethics, and it's reasonable to understand Aristotle's ethics themselves along the same lines as virtue. Ethics, um. This idea of virtue is the key idea in Aristotle as it is in Nussbaum and 20th century thinkers. But Aristotle is also, uh. The first to write a treat is sort of explicitly on ethics, uh, in fact, he is the first right treatise on ethics he's. The first.

To think of ethics as ethics and one of the things I want to talk about as we begin book. One of the nickname ethics is the relation between Aristotle and Plato, just a little because it's true that Aristotle introduces the idea of ethics as a kind of system of behavior, uh, rules for life. Uh, you know to put it in a self-help kind of way, um and there's, certainly aspects of Aristotle's ethics that resemble self-help, uh prior to Aristotle, um, rather than asking about ethics. Philosophers. Would ask about the good nature of the good, uh and Plato, who was Aristotle's teacher, uh, talks a lot about the nature of the good.

So the difference between Plato and Aristotle and the change that Aristotle mix is that we're. No longer asking about in Aristotle no longer asking about a kind of transcendental abstract and objective good. But instead asking about how to live a good life, how to be happy and as we'll see, Aristotle's, ethics are all about happiness. So uh, Aristotle's dates are 384. Bc, To 322 bc. And as I just said, Aristotle was a student of Plato's. And in turn, Plato was a student of Socrates.

The question of the good, the question of what is right begins with Socrates, and it's developed through Plato into theory of universal and transcendental good. I don't want to go into too much detail at least not right now about Plato's philosophy and Plato's metaphysics, and how they're related to the idea of the good how that might be related to ethics, but we'll say for now that for. Plato, there was a form of the good Plato's theory of forms referred to the ideas that he believed were the real foundation of reality. Plato, ideas are the foundation of the physical world.

Well we'll, talk about this more in a minute. But so from Socrates to Plato, the good is developed as an abstract form when Aristotle comes around ethics as a question of how to live life of how to behave becomes separate from the metaphysical question of an objective, absolute good, Aristotle's. Ethics are about how.

To behave right? But more seriously, they're about action for Aristotle, the key to ethics, the key to happiness knows what to do. So one of the important questions that I think we think about with Aristotle or that, Aristotle raises is whether there's such a thing as a good person in thinking about ethics and thinking about politics philosophy, generally, do we think that people are inherently good or do people become good or become bad based on the things they do does their action. Determine their character or does their character determine their action for Plato.

It was mostly that character, determined action that there were certain people that had inherently better souls that were naturally predisposed to doing justice. And I think, you know, I think about this all the time actually in the United States, and the way that we think about good or good and bad, um. And the way we deal with ethics and bad behavior. You know, it seems to me that the stronger impulse in. Culture is to believe that there are good and bad people and that if you do something bad that means you're a bad person, uh, you know, interestingly, it seems like there's, less conviction that if you do something good you're, a good person doing something bad makes you a bad person only bad people do bad things.

This is. This is not Aristotle's view, certainly, but the very idea of good and bad. People, uh goes in some ways against all of Aristotelian ethics, um, it's, it's, a complicated question, uh. And even. Aristotle doesn't deal with it as well as uh as he might, it's, sort of famously something that he struggles to clarify, uh. But in any case, this is a question that we should bear in mind, um, as we read, Aristotle, I think it's the sort of question that makes Aristotle continually remain relevant remain important in ethics. Because for Aristotle ethics is all about action.

And in order to become good in order to become ethical to be happy. One has to know what to do. And in order to know what to. Do one have to learn what is required to act.

In other words, one has to learn what action is. And this is, I think the deepest part of Aristotelian ethics is that it forces us to think about how we can make ourselves act. And what I mean by this is in terms of action, how we can change our habits how we can, uh change our sort of daily lives, how we can improve right that's, the self-help element of Aristotle, how can we will ourselves to become better? Um, but also Aristotle asks how we know how. We can know how to take action that will transform the world transform the political arena.

What is required in order to become an effective political agent political actor for Aristotle ethics is about action and politics is about action. So learning how to act will also be learning how to be an ethical political leader or an ethical person and a good political leader. The question about action is especially interesting and important because it is one of the places where Aristotle challenges. Platonic metaphysics and so we'll talk about that a little also the last note about, um, the purpose of Aristotle's ethics is in keeping with the fact that he is not interested in a transcendental and absolute sense of good.

He thinks that the purpose of ethics is not to become aligned with absolute justice, or the form of justice, but rather to produce happiness. So ethics is the study of action that will lead to happiness both at an individual level. And at the level of the collective at the.

Political level, yeah, all right. So before we begin, I guess it's useful before we begin going through the text let's talk about a few of the um key terms, really just two of the key terms in Aristotle's work. The first is virtue itself. Virtue is the traditional translation of the Greek word, are and are, doesn't mean, virtue, perhaps in the sense that we mean it, what does virtue mean? Anyway, what is a virtue who decides? Uh, probably, you know, the connotation of virtue today is, um has to do.

With the church, uh, the Catholic Church and um, maybe above all the cardinal virtues right of the Catholic Church. Those cardinal virtues are a translation of the traditional ancient virtues of Ancient Greece. The virtues are wisdom, courage, moderation and justice. But virtue was translation of this Greek word, area and are might better be translated as an excellence, the excellence of courage. And in the sense that it is an excellence of character.

A virtue is a character trait a characteristic a. Way of being that makes you excellent. It makes you a good person. And I think that the important distinction here between virtue and excellence is that virtue. It feels tied to that transcendental idea of the good. It feels abstract. Furthermore, it feels otherworldly.

Furthermore, it feels as though it belongs to a concept of an eternal soul and that's, not what Aristotle has in mind by virtue. What Aristotle has in mind is an excellence that befits one's whole being not just as an individual. But as part of a. Collective part of a group.

So the cardinal virtues, the cardinal excellence are found in those people that are, um, you know, the most dynamic the best able to navigate their private lives, their social worlds. And also the political world excellence is the ability to thrive the ability to succeed, which brings us to the next term that needs to be clarified before we delve into the text, which is happiness. I've already said in this introduction, the purpose of ethics for Aristotle is happiness. And.

Happiness is a translation of another Greek term, eudaimonia and happiness is an all-right translation. It's an it works right? But again, there's a question of connotation, a question of sort of implied, meaning in happiness. What does it mean to be happy?

Uh? What does it mean to be? What does it mean to be? Happy is a kind of joyfulness right? Happiness is right connected to being happy-go-lucky. Perhaps we associate happiness, uh, perhaps with a kind of stupidity in the sense that, um, you know, people.

Would say I'd rather be smart than happy something along those lines' happiness is easily attained, right? The, uh, the foolish are happy, etc. So happiness has the wrong sense. What Aristotle means by euthanized is again, something that engages one's whole being a better translation of it might be flourishing.

Right? The point of ethics is to flourish. And the goal of studying ethics is to learn how to become excellent. To flourish. Now, the other connotation to eudaimonia. And in fact, a more. Literal translation of the word would be well-foundedness.

You are the prefix meaning. Good Damon means, um spirit or god, demigod, uh. Socrates famously had a Damon with whom he would converse who followed him around, uh, it's, a kind of divine companion. I suppose would be the best translation.

Uh. So to have a good dime on to be well, faded would be another way to put it, and it's, an important connotation to bear in mind because as we'll see, uh, happiness, flourishing depends, uh, largely on one's. Excellence, one's virtue on having developed good character, but it will also always depend somewhat on fate on chance and on accident. Uh, well, we'll, look at the section where Aristotle talks about that in a minute all right. So that is our um introduction to the end ethics. Now let's get into book one here. So he begins every art and every inquiry.

And similarly, every action and pursuit is thought to aim at some good. And for this reason, the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all. Things aim all right so right off the bat right? Aristotle is digging in against this idea of the good, uh, not, I don't mean to overstate that.

But um, there are two things happening here already in this first sentence, every art and every inquiry. Similarly, every action in pursuit is thought to aim at some good. The first thing that Aristotle is setting up is the potential relativity of the good everything that anyone does is done for some good. You wouldn't ever do anything if you didn't do it. Because you thought it was good, even when you do things that go against your own interests, right when you sleep through class when you uh, you know, cheat on your partner, whatever the example might be, uh, when you do things that go against your interest, you're still pursuing a different idea of the good, a different kind of good. So how do we know what is actually good? Not only do?

I have conflicting desires different ideas of the good that pull me in different directions. But also other people. Have different ideas of the good from me. And even those people that the majority that the many would deem to be bad or even evil, even they are pursuing some form of the good right? The uh, boilerplate example, here would be even Hitler right believed that he was pursuing the good, which is just to say that we don't have a very good concept of what the good is. Every person has their own concept of it. He goes on.

And for this reason, the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all. Things aim so because everyone aims at the good, it seems that everything is that the good is the ultimate purpose of everything that we do. What that is is is the question now I again, I don't want to overstate this, but I do think that already in this second clause here. And for this reason, the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim Plato's taking a little of, um, a little of aim at Plato. And this idea of the good, the good in itself, right? The idea that therefore.

There must be something which is the good in itself so let's keep reading. But a certain difference is found among ends. Some are activities. Others are products apart from the activities that produce them where there are ends apart from the actions is the nature of the products to be better than the activities. Now, as there are many actions, arts and sciences. Their ends are also many, so everything aims at some good, but not everything has the same goal.

Whatever one does with the intention of. Doing good, but this means, in fact that the nature of the good seems to be already hopelessly abstract. If when I'm playing guitar, I aim to be good. And when I am shooting my sniper rifle, I also want to be good. And when I'm butchering a chicken, I want to be good.

And when I'm making love, I want to be good and cooking dinner. I want to be good. Right? What is this good?

That is the end goal of everything we do. Aristotle was saying the problem with the idea of the good is that it seems to have no relation. To the end, the goal, the purpose of the action itself. And this is the key observation that Aristotle makes to begin with that is going to separate him from this Platonic idea of an absolute abstract, good says, sorry, if then there is some end of the things we do which we desire for its own sake, everything else being desired for the sake of this.

And if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else for that rate, the process would go on in debt, infinitely so that our desires would be. Empty in vain, clearly, this must be the good and the chief good. So whatever this good is it is that which is pursued for its own sake that what defines the good in all cases, sorry, let me back up. What defines the good in all cases is the success of the action, how? Well the action produces the effect it intended to produce.

So if I am playing guitar, the end of my playing the end of that action is to play well. And if I'm writing a paper, right, the end of my action is to write the paper. Well, obviously. Right this is obvious to forgive me. I've gotten lost in my notes here, the end of an action, .

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