Nicomachean Ethics

by

Aristotle

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Nicomachean Ethics: Book 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Book 4, Chapter 1. Aristotle explains that the virtue of generosity has to do with the giving and taking of wealth. Its excesses are wastefulness and ungenerosity. The generous person gives correctly, in the right amounts, and to the right people. He gives in accordance with wealth rightly acquired, and always gives within his means.
The various aspects of generosity show just how complicated discerning the mean and deciding to act virtuously can be. One has to consider the object of giving, the appropriate gift, and the source of one’s wealth. It’s evident why deliberation is important, and that virtue isn’t a matter of mechanically applying certain principles.
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Book 4, Chapter 2. Magnificence, too, has to do with actions related to wealth, but only where “heavy expenses” are concerned. A “magnificent” person “only […] spends the worthy amount on a large purpose,” not on a trivial purpose, and he does so “gladly and readily.” He spends for honorable reasons (temples for the gods, for instance, or other things benefiting the common good). Even building a house befitting one’s riches is magnificent, since it’s a “suitable adornment.” The extremes of this virtue are stinginess and vulgarity, or poor taste.
Magnificence differs from generosity in that, while all magnificent people are generous, not everyone who’s generous is (or can be) magnificent. This virtue involves an eye for fittingness—the magnificent person knows how to spend appropriately, both in ways benefiting the common good and even in ways exhibiting his own wealth.
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Book 4, Chapters 3-4. The virtue of magnanimity is concerned with “great things.” The magnanimous person is one who both “thinks himself worthy of great things” and “is really worthy of them.” The extremes related to this virtue are vanity (thinking one is worthy of more than they really are) and pusillanimity (thinking one is worthy of less). The “great things” with which a magnanimous person is mainly concerned are honors and dishonors. The magnanimous person, being worthy of the highest honors, is truly the best person, and magnanimity can be regarded as “a sort of adornment of the virtues.”
Magnanimity is a virtue seldom seen, because magnanimity doesn’t arise in a person unless he or she already possesses the other virtues; indeed, magnanimity makes those virtues greater. Part of what makes vanity and pusillanimity unvirtuous is that people with these vices don’t know what they’re worth, and accordingly, they don’t know how to direct their lives appropriately.
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Book 4, Chapter 5. The virtue of mildness is concerned with anger. A mild person “is angry at the right things and toward the right people, and also in the right way.” Such a person isn’t led by feeling and is quick to pardon when appropriate. Aristotle doesn’t assign a name to the deficient extreme, but calls the excess “irascibility,” which can manifest in quick-temperedness, bitterness, or irritability.
This virtue is a good example of how the mean isn’t equivalent to moderation; instead, it is the intermediate state between excess and deficiency, the two extremes. In this case, anger is appropriate, as long as one’s reason remains in control—such that one doesn’t lash out quickly or refuse to forgive.
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Book 4, Chapter 6. The virtue described as friendliness falls between the extremes of the “ingratiating” person and the cantankerous or quarrelsome person. The ingratiating person tries never to cause pain to another person, even when appropriate; the cantankerous person doesn’t care about causing pain at any time. The friendly person always relates to those he or she meets according to what’s fine or beneficial under the circumstances.
The virtue of friendliness is not the same thing as friendship (which Aristotle will discuss at length later), because it doesn’t rest on fondness for a particular person; rather, it’s concerned with relating to each person in the right way because of one’s own character, not because of something in the other person.
Themes
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Book 4, Chapters 7-9. Having the virtue of truthfulness means being direct, honest, and not embellishing the things one says. This person, who is opposite of a boaster, is “truthful both in what he says and how he lives.” Similarly, the person with the virtue of wit will “say and listen to the right things and in the right way.” Lastly, shame isn’t a virtue, but it’s important because it deters people from acting in the wrong way.
Once again, Aristotle brings up the idea of behaving in the right way, in the right amount, and at the right time.
Themes
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