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Aristotle’s Good in the Nicomachean Ethics

30 Nov

What do you think the good is? There have been infinite conceptions about what this is, but Aristotle’s definition fits them all and does well to replace them.

The good to ancient Greek philosophers is something argued over countless times. Plato did it as did Aristotle. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, specifically in Book 1 of it, he sets aside other common and popular definitions of the good and comes up with what I think is a better answer than the rest. Aristotle discusses action, and comes to a conclusion as to what the good is through it. Action being existent because a need is there ends when a purpose is achieved, and the end of this action is what Aristotle claims to be the good. This argument is interesting and groundbreaking because setting and achieving a goal in life is an exact example of Aristotle’s good.

Before going into Aristotle’s actual opinion of what the good is, he turns to common misconceptions and sets those aside as he does in most of his work. First, he states that people who live lives of gratification view the good as ‘happiness as pleasure.’ He takes a dim view of this stance by calling this definition of the good ‘slavish’ in the sense that those who take that view are slaves to the goal ‘happiness in pleasure.’ He also explains the view of the politician (the cultivated people) who strives to be the best politicians. Aristotle states that good to politicians is honor. This is wrong also, but this takes him to his view of the good because of how honor is the end politicians try to achieve. Taking into consideration these other views of the good, he starts again in understanding what the good is.

As Aristotle has stated that things have telos in much of his philosophy, it plays into what the good is for him. The word telos is not specifically used but his examples saying the end to medicine is health, the skill of house building a house being produced, and general-ship one or more victories show his referral to telos when understanding the good.  “And so, if there is some end of everything that is pursued in action, this will be the good pursued in action…” Aristotle’s definition of good is the end of action. If an action is undertaken, that action tries to achieve the action’s purpose. The good, then, is the achievement of the purpose of the action. Medicine is given to a sick person (being an action), and the good would be the medicine fulfilling its purpose (the person going from sickness to health). The good being defined as the end to any

purposeful action is a definition that can easily be seen in any action.

I find Aristotle’s understanding of the good to be better (in my opinion) than any definition Plato gave. This is important to know because this definition is evident in any action. For example, people eat to not be hungry, people go to school to become smarter, or any other example would fit Aristotle’s definition. Because of the versatility of Aristotle’s understanding of the good, his argument is valid and strong. When reading Plato, one might encounter disputes about the good because it may differ between people, along with other disputes, but Aristotle’s understanding of it makes all of those disputes no longer disputes at all because it solves the whole argument.

Reading most Plato, I think one gets more confused as to what the good is, but in Aristotle those difficulties are cleared with one simple statement. My understanding of the good is all based on Aristotle’s argument in the Nicomachean Ethics. This is mostly because each possible part of the good (including virtue, justice, honor and other qualities) all fit the pattern where an end to a purposeful action is the real definition of the good.

Can you now see how this can be applied to any understanding of the good whether it be pleasure, personal happiness, morality, or anything else?

The end to sex is pleasure, the end to theatre plays is happiness of a sort, the end of construction is a house………………………….. I could go on exemplifying conceptions of the good and make them conform to Aristotle’s definition.

Thanks again for the support.