Module III: Aristotle’s Ethics

Nichomachean Ethics

Book I: Preliminary Ideas

Everything aims at Good, even though it may be a distorted conception of Good (I, 1)

Role of Political Philosophy

Aristotle's method of inquiry: what most people seem to think, what seems to follow common sense.

Ethics is not an exact science (I, 3)

The good is a perception of "happiness" (I, 4ff)

But what is happiness?

pleasure, honor wealth, contemplation/virtuous activity (I, 5)

Whatever the good is, it must be self-sufficient (I, 4ff)

Happiness can't be by chance (I, 4)

Happiness is a "virtuous activity of the soul" (I, 8)

the Human Soul

"Your Soul,” (music video, poor quality) Hothouse Flowers “Your Soul” 

“Awake My Soul” Mumford and Sons

What are its parts?

I. Rational Part: Our "Faculties"
Reason (most important), Imagination, Memory

II. Irrational Part:
--Passions such as Joy, Love, Sorry, Honor, Patriotism, Ambition, Anger, Fear, Hatred
--Desires, especially those having to do with sexual activity, food, money
--"Vegetative" Functions, that is, our involuntary functions

Appetitus Rationi Pareat (Let your appetite be governed by your reason)


An earlier cover of Layla

"Hysteria," Muse

Contrast this view of the soul with the Roman stoics

Book III: Moral Virtue

Definition of Virtue (from Book II, 7, 8)):

a habit, a fixed part of character

How is virtue acquired? (9)

a mean (III, 5,6,7)


E.g, anger, having fun, pride


Courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness, motivated by a sense of honor.

Some things we should fear.
Is it possible these days that we fear what we shouldn't and we don't fear we should?

The sense of honor seems to be lacking in contemporary society; if so, then so is courage lacking.

TEMPERANCE (III, 10, 11, 12)

insensibility-- temperance self-indulgence

contemporary trend toward extremism


Book IV

9: Shame (IV, 9)

Book V: Justice (V, 1ff)

Distributive Justice

Justice of Rectification

Reciprocal Justice

Political Justice

Fairness ?

Bob Dylan, Hurricane

"Hurricane Trailer

Alternate version: Song + Photos of Reuben Carter HERE

Book VI, 5: Prudence

Book VIII: Friendship (1, 3)

three motives for friendship: utility, pleasure, goodwill (without self-interest)

Friendship is a virtue or implies virtue

--friends influence us

--we act out virtue by the quality of the friendship we extend

--stated differently, the ability to be a true friend is a kind of virtue, and friendship itself is necessary to be virtuous

--there are friendships of equality and of inequality, the former being the most "noble"

--the elderly form friendships with more difficulty (6)

It is necessary for living: the powerful, the weak, the rich, the poor, the young and mature--all need friendship

friendship can even hold states together

friendship is not only necessary, it is noble

Inferior friendship: for the sake of utility, Superior friendship: for the sake of friendship

Friendship can be between equals, between unequals, and on the basis of difference of utility: each of these types of friendship has different expectations.

Friendship has more to do with loving than with being loved

Book X, 6, 7:

Happiness is not amusement, even though amusement may be useful for good living. Happiness is not pleasure, although happiness may be "pleasurable."

leisure, recreation, work

It's been argued, e.g. by Josef Pieper in his book Leisure, that a society is ultimately judged on the way it spends its free time 

 Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo

Concierto de Aranjuez Paco de Lucia (2nd mvmt) 

Aristotle on the issue of how to do good:

“[I]t is easy, and in every man’s power . . . to give and spend money; but to determine the person to whom, and the quantity, and the time, and the motive, and the manner is no longer in every man’s power, nor is it easy.” - 

More to the point is the problem of doing bad while trying to do good:

See more at:

Case study: child beggars: