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PHIL 3ZZ3: Aristotle Reflective summary 1 (sample) Mark Johnstone In Book I Chapter 8 of the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle defends

his preliminary sketch of the human good as activity of the soul in accord with virtue, which he had advanced in the immediately preceding chapter. He proceeds largely by showing how this account harmonizes with various commonly held or otherwise reputable opinions about the nature of happiness. Some of these views, Aristotle claims, are traditional, while others are held by a few people who are widely esteemed; but all likely contain an element of truth. Aristotle spends most of the chapter arguing that his account of the human good captures what is correct in each of these views. Aristotle begins with a series of preliminary considerations in favour of the correctness of his account. To begin with, he observes that goods of the soul are commonly thought to be superior to goods of the body and external goods. His account makes the human good a good of the soul (since it is an activity of the soul), which seems like the right result. He also notes that his account effectively makes the human good a kind of living well or doing well, which again seems to make it the right kind of view. Next, Aristotle lists a series of views about happiness that have some authority, either because they are widely held or because they are held by a few people of note. These include the view that happiness consists in the possession of (i) virtue, (ii) prudence, or (iii) wisdom, or that it requires (iv) pleasure or (v) material prosperity. Aristotle considers items (i), (iv) and (v) on this list, but, somewhat surprisingly, has nothing more to say in this chapter about prudence (phronsis) or wisdom (sophia).

First, Aristotle argues, his account captures the important truth contained in the view that happiness is virtue. After all, he points out, activity in accord with virtue is proper to virtue. However, he goes on to argue, it is not enough merely to possess virtue, since someone might possess virtue yet remain inactive throughout his or her entire life, and we would not wish to say that such a person had lived well or done well in life. Second, Aristotle contends, his account agrees with the view that happiness involves pleasure. To begin with, he observes that pleasure is a condition of the soul, and hence (presumably) connected in some way to the activity of the soul. Furthermore, each person takes pleasure in whatever he or she is a lover of: the lover of virtue will therefore take pleasure in virtue. It is no objection to this view that the things that please most people conflict, since the things that are pleasing to lovers of the fine will be pleasant by nature, and hence (presumably) will not conflict. One thing this shows is that we should not think of pleasure as something added to the good life, as if it were a kind of decoration. Rather, the well-lived life will contain pleasure within itself. As extra evidence for this, Aristotle claims, we should observe that we would not consider someone who fails to take pleasure in acting virtuously and well to be truly good. Third, Aristotle argues, his account also captures the important truth contained in the common view that happiness requires a certain level of material prosperity. One reason for this, he claims, is that we will not be able to perform various kinds of fine and virtuous actions if we lack the resources to do so. For example, many kinds of the virtuous action require friends, wealth, or political power. Furthermore, Aristotle claims, deprivation of certain external goods such as health, beauty, or good birth will mar our

happiness and prevent us from achieving complete blessedness. For these reasons, happiness requires at least a certain level of material prosperity and good fortune. However, there is a puzzle about how Aristotle thinks about the goodness of what he calls external goods in this final part of his discussion. Are friends, money and power valuable only instrumentally, that is, only insofar as they enable their possessor to perform virtuous activities? Or are they also somehow valuable in their own right? The former, instrumental view seems more consistent with Aristotles account of the human good as activity in accord with virtue. Yet some of Aristotles remarks at the very end of the chapter about how a life can be marred by solitude, poverty, childlessness, or by the bad deeds of ones children or friends (1099b2-6), suggest the latter option. But if the latter option is Aristotles considered view, we must ask why these things detract from my happiness, if not by way of reducing my opportunities for virtuous activity, and whether this undermines the preliminary sketch of the good he is setting out to defend. Aristotles arguments in support of his sketch of the human good successfully show that this account is able to capture and incorporate many common intuitions about happiness. However, we are left wanting to know more about how exactly the various elements he discusses, such as virtue, pleasure, friendship and material goods, fit together in a well-lived human life.