Guide Nature, Reason, and the Good Life: Ethics for Human Beings

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For human beings in general, Aristotle suggests that the ultimate end or good is happiness, and that happiness itself is living in accordance with reason and virtue. He arrives at this conclusion by differentiating the function of human beings from the function of all other living things.

Because growth, nutrition, and sensation are also experienced by plants growth and nutrition and nonhuman animals growth, nutrition, and sensation , these activities cannot be considered representative of human function in particular. All things aim at some good, and the good can rightly be defined as that at which all things aim NE a The only good or end at which human beings aim, in and of itself, is happiness, and humans aim at all subordinate goods wealth, honor, power for the sake of happiness.

Happiness itself involves the ability to move towards the final end of developing oneself intellectually, emotionally, and physically, and of utilizing--with excellence--the capacities that are distinctly human. Individual happiness cannot be separated from the good of the community, since the community is the completion and end of human activity. Most actions, then, are not either "right" or "wrong" when taken in isolation, but are judged according to the specific situation at hand, the character of the agent who performs them, and the degree to which they accord with virtue and reason.

Aristotle attempted to ground his ideas of virtue on those characteristics of human nature that seem to be both universal and constant. While it is certainly true that Aristotle held the Greeks in much higher esteem than he did the "barbarians," and that his claims concerning both women and slaves i. In part, Aristotle examines the behavior and moral judgments of men who would be considered not only good and virtuous, but the most qualified to judge in matters of this kind, and he attempts to both supplement and justify the natural judgments of such persons.

Overall, Aristotle speaks of moral virtue as a mean, and he describes the virtuous person as one whose behavior is neither excessive nor deficient in regard to the emotions, desires, and appetites. Human choice aims at the good, or at the perceived good, and the ability to make excellent choices requires accurate knowledge of a particular situation, good practical reasoning skills, and a well-developed and virtuous character. Corresponding moral virtues and vices are concerned with the same objects and emotions, and they describe the disposition of a particular agent.

Concerning fear, for example, the virtuous person is courageous, the person who exceeds in fear is a coward, and the person who is deficient in fear or who feels no fear has no real name, but is thought to be some sort of a madman.

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And acting virtuously in a given situation depends to a certain extent on the individual characteristics and training of the person in question. Mathematics and metaphysics would be speculative sciences for Aristotle. Aristotle taught that economics is concerned with both the household and the polis and that economics deals with the use of things required for the good or virtuous life. As a pragmatic or practical science, economics is aimed at the good and is fundamentally moral.

Because Aristotle saw that economics was embedded in politics, an argument can be made that the study of political economy began with him. For Aristotle, the primary meaning of economics is the action of using things required for the Good Life. In addition, he also sees economics as a practical science and as a capacity that fosters habits that expedite the action.

Economics is a type of prudence or practical knowledge that aids a person in properly obtaining and using those things that are necessary for living well. The end of economics as a practical science is attaining effective action. Aristotle explains that ontologically the operation of the economic dimension of reality is inextricably related to the moral and political spheres. The economic element is integrated in real action with other realms relating to the acting human person. The various domains mutually influence one another in an ongoing dynamic fashion.

Aristotle explains that practical science recognizes the inexact nature of its conclusions as a consequence of human action which arises from each person's freedom and uniqueness. Uncertainty emanates from the nature of the world and the free human person and is a necessary aspect of economic actions that will always be in attendance. Aristotle observes that a practical science such as economics must be intimately connected to the concrete circumstances and that it is proper to begin with what is known to us.

The proper function of every person is to live happily, successfully, and well. This is done through the active exercise of a man's distinctive capacity, rationality, as he engages in activities to the degree appropriate to the person in the context of his own particular identity as a human being.

Because man is naturally social, it is good for him to live in a society or polis i. Aristotle emphasizes the individuating characteristics of human beings when he proclaims that the goodness of the polis is inextricably related to those who make it up. For Aristotle, social life in a community is a necessary condition for a man's complete flourishing as a human being.

Aristotle explains that friendship, the mutual admiration between two human beings, is a necessary condition for the attainment of one's eudaimonia. Because man is a social being, it can be maintained that friendship has an egoistic foundation.

It follows that authentic friendship is predicated upon one's sense of his own moral worth and on his love for and pride in himself. Moral admiration, both of oneself and of the other, is an essential component of Aristotelian friendship. Self-perfection means to fulfill the capacities that make a person fully human including other-directed capacities such as friendship. Noting that individuals form communities to secure life's necessities, Aristotle also emphasizes the importance of active citizen participation in government. He views the proper end of government as the promotion of its citizens' happiness.

It follows that the goodness of the polis is directly related to the total self-actualization of the individuals who comprise it. Aristotle contends that the state exists for the good of the individual. He thus preferred the rule of law over the rule of any of the citizens. This is because men have private interests whereas laws do not. It follows that the "mixed regime" advocated by Aristotle was the beginning of the notion of constitutionalism including the separation of powers and checks and balances.

He was the first thinker to divide rulership activities into executive, legislative, and judicial functions. Through his support for a mixed political system, Aristotle was able to avoid and reject both Platonic communism and radical democracy. For Aristotle, an entity that fulfills its proper i.

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He explains that the nature of a thing is the measure or standard in terms of which we judge whether or not it is functioning appropriately or well. Things are good for Aristotle when they advance their specific or respective ends. For whatever has a natural function, the good is therefore thought to reside in the function. The natural function of a thing is determined by its natural end. With respect to living things, there are particular ways of being that constitute the perfection of the living thing's nature.

According to Aristotle, there is an end of all of the actions that we perform which we desire for itself. This is what is known as eudaimonia , flourishing, or happiness, which is desired for its own sake with all other things being desired on its account. Eudaimonia is a property of one's life when considered as a whole.

Flourishing is the highest good of human endeavors and that toward which all actions aim. It is success as a human being. The best life is one of excellent human activity.

What Does It Mean To Live The Good Life?

For Aristotle, the good is what is good for purposeful, goal-directed entities. He defines the good proper to human beings as the activities in which the life functions specific to human beings are most fully realized. For Aristotle, the good of each species is teleologically immanent to that species.

A person's nature as a human being provides him with guidance with respect to how he should live his life. A fundamental fact of human nature is the existence of individual human beings each with his own rational mind and free will. The use of one's volitional consciousness is a person's distinctive capacity and means of survival. One's own life is the only life that a person has to live.

It follows that, for Aristotle, the "good" is what is objectively good for a particular man. Aristotle's eudaimonia is formally egoistic in that a person's normative reason for choosing particular actions stems from the idea that he must pursue his own good or flourishing. Because self-interest is flourishing, the good in human conduct is connected to the self-interest of the acting person.


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Good means "good for" the individual moral agent. Egoism is an integral part of Aristotle's ethics. He insisted that the key idea in ethics is a human individual's own personal happiness and well being.

Stoic Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Each man is responsible for his own character. According to Aristotle, each person has a natural obligation to achieve, become, and make something of himself by pursuing his true ends and goals in life. Each person should be concerned with the "best that is within us" and with the most accomplished and self-sufficient success and excellence.

In other words, human flourishing occurs when a person is concurrently doing what he ought to do and doing what he wants to do.

PHILOSOPHY - Ethics: Moral Status [HD]

Recommended Reading. Ackrill, J. A New Aristotle Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Annas, Julia. The Morality of Happiness. New York: Oxford University Press, Aquinas, T. Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics.


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    Nature, Reason, and the Good Life: Ethics for Human Beings

    Aristotle's Concept of the Universal. Hildesheim and New York: Georg Olms, Broadie, Sarah. Ethics With Aristotle. Cooper, John. Reason and Human Good in Aristotle. I wonder if you would, each of you, just choose a shortlist of what you judge to be the most important virtues - the things most important to you judging what virtues a person has. Ring just five from the list as I have circulated it.

    Let me have the sheets at the end and I will let you know what they seem to be saying. While you are doing that with the left half of your brain, let me put to you a further nugget from Aristotle on this business of virtues. He seems to have thought that every virtue was a sort of mid-way point between two extremes - his 'doctrine of the mean'.