Nicomachean Ethics

by

Aristotle

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Aristotle Character Analysis

The likely speaker throughout the work, since Nicomachean Ethics is believed to have been derived from Aristotle’s lecture notes. Aristotle was a Macedonian who lived between 384 B.C.E and 322 B.C.E. He studied under Plato in his youth, then built a career as a philosophical teacher himself, culminating in the founding of Athens’ Lyceum, where the material in Nichomachean Ethics would have first been taught. Much of Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotle indirectly dialoguing with Plato, especially in Book 1, Chapter 7, where he mentions “our friends” (implicitly Plato and his followers) putting forth the idea of the Universal Good, which Aristotle himself rejects. Aristotle favors particulars rather than abstractions like the Universal Good, because particulars are what people deal with in their daily lives as they seek to practice virtues—for instance, while some may be more interested in the abstract, broad idea of “Health,” Aristotle is interested in human health, and specifically the health of a single individual. Throughout Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle charts the way that virtue—of which there is both intellectual and moral—affects behavior, decision-making, friendship (which comes in many forms), pleasure, and happiness for both an individual and a wider community.

Aristotle Quotes in Nicomachean Ethics

The Nicomachean Ethics quotes below are all either spoken by Aristotle or refer to Aristotle. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Nature and Pursuit of Happiness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Hackett edition of Nicomachean Ethics published in 1999.
Book 1 Quotes

Suppose, then, that the things achievable by action have some end that we wish for because of itself, and because of which we wish for the other things, and that we do not choose everything because of something else—for if we do, it will go on without limit, so that desire will prove to be empty and futile. Clearly, this end will be the good, that is to say, the best good.

Then does knowledge of this good carry great weight for [our] way of life, and would it make us better able, like archers who have a target to aim at, to hit the right mark? If so, we should try to grasp, in outline at any rate, what the good is, and which is its proper science or capacity.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

And so, since this is our subject and these are our premises, we shall be satisfied to indicate the truth roughly and in outline; since our subject and our premises are things that hold good usually, we shall be satisfied to draw conclusions of the same sort. Each of our claims, then, ought to be accepted in the same way. For the educated person seeks exactness in each area to the extent that the nature of the subject allows; for apparently it is just as mistaken to demand demonstrations from a rhetorician as to accept [merely] persuasive arguments from a mathematician. Further, each person judges rightly what he knows, and is a good judge about that; hence the good judge in a given area is the person educated in that area, and the unqualifiedly good judge is the person educated in every area. This is why a youth is not a suitable student of political science; for he lacks experience of the actions in life, which are the subject and premises of our arguments.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Presumably, though, we had better examine the universal good, and puzzle out what is meant in speaking of it. This sort of inquiry is, to be sure, unwelcome to us, because those who introduced the Forms were friends of ours; still, it presumably seems better, indeed only right, to destroy even what is close to us if that is the way to preserve truth. We must especially do this as philosophers, for though we love both the truth and our friends, reverence is due to the truth first.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

The remaining possibility, then, is some sort of life of action of the [part of the soul] that has reason. One [part] of it has reason as obeying reason; the other has it as itself having reason and thinking. Moreover, life is also spoken of in two ways [as capacity and as activity], and we must take [a human being's special function to be] life as activity, since this seems to be called life more fully. We have found, then, that the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason or requiring reason. Now we say that the function of a [kind of thing]—of a harpist, for instance—is the same in kind as the function of an excellent individual of the kind—of an excellent harpist for instance. […] Moreover, we take the human function to be a certain kind of life, and take this life to be activity and actions of the soul that involve reason; hence the function of the excellent man is to do this well and finely.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2 Quotes

Virtue, then, is of two sorts, virtue of thought and virtue of character. Virtue of thought arises and grows mostly from teaching; that is why it needs experience and time. Virtue of character results from habit; hence its name “ethical,” slightly varied from “ethos.”

Hence it is also clear that none of the virtues of character arises in us naturally. For if something is by nature in one condition, habituation cannot bring it into another condition. A stone, for instance, by nature moves downwards, and habituation could not make it move upwards, not even if you threw it up ten thousand times […] And so the virtues arise in us neither by nature nor against nature. Rather, we are by nature able to acquire them, and we are completed through habit.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

First, then, we should observe that these sorts of states naturally tend to be ruined by excess and deficiency […] The same is true, then, of temperance, bravery, and the other virtues. For if, for instance, someone avoids and is afraid of everything, standing firm against nothing, he becomes cowardly; if he is afraid of nothing at all and goes to face everything, he becomes rash. Similarly, if he gratifies himself with every pleasure and abstains from none, he becomes intemperate; if he avoids them all, as boors do, he becomes some sort of insensible person. Temperance and bravery, then, are ruined by excess and deficiency, but preserved by the mean.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

That is why it is also hard work to be excellent. For in each case it is hard work to find the intermediate; for instance, not everyone, but only one who knows, finds the midpoint in a circle. So also getting angry, or giving and spending money, is easy and everyone can do it; but doing it to the right person, in the right amount, at the right time, for the right end, and in the right way is no longer easy, nor can everyone do it. Hence doing these things well is rare, praiseworthy, and fine.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 3 Quotes

And so, if the same is true for bravery, the brave person will find death and wounds painful, and suffer them unwillingly, but he will endure them because that is fine or because failure is shameful. Indeed, the truer it is that he has every virtue and the happier he is, the more pain he will feel at the prospect of death. For this sort of person, more than anyone, finds it worthwhile to be alive, and knows he is being deprived of the greatest goods, and this is painful. But he is no less brave for all that; presumably, indeed, he is all the braver, because he chooses what is fine in war at the cost of all these goods. It is not true, then, in the case of every virtue that its active exercise is pleasant; it is pleasant only insofar as we attain the end.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 4 Quotes

Mildness is the mean concerned with anger. [...] The person who is angry at the right things and toward the right people, and also in the right way, at the right time, and for the right length of time, is praised. This, then, will be the mild person, if mildness is praised. For [if mildness is something to be praised,] being a mild person means being undisturbed, not led by feeling, but irritated wherever reason prescribes, and for the length of time it prescribes. And he seems to err more in the direction of deficiency, since the mild person is ready to pardon, not eager to exact a penalty.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 5 Quotes

Now the law instructs us to do the actions of a brave person—for instance, not to leave the battle-line, or to flee, or to throw away our weapons; of a temperate person—not to commit adultery or wanton aggression; of a mild person—not to strike or revile another; and similarly requires actions in accord with the other virtues, and prohibits actions in accord with the vices. The correctly established law does this correctly, and the less carefully framed one does this worse. […]

Moreover, justice is complete virtue to the highest degree because it is the complete exercise of complete virtue. And it is the complete exercise because the person who has justice is able to exercise virtue in relation to another, not only in what concerns himself; for many are able to exercise virtue in their own concerns, but unable in what relates to another.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

That is why the decent is just, and better than a certain way of being just […] And this is the nature of the decent—rectification of law insofar as the universality of law makes it deficient. This is also the reason why not everything is guided by law. For on some matters legislation is impossible, and so a decree is needed. For the standard applied to the indefinite is itself indefinite, as the lead standard is in Lesbian building, where it is not fixed, but adapts itself to the shape of the stone; similarly, a decree is adapted to fit its objects. It is clear from this what is decent, and clear that it is just, and better than a certain way of being just. It is also evident from this who the decent person is; for he is the one who decides on and does such actions, not an exact stickler for justice in the bad way, but taking less than he might even though he has the law on his side. This is the decent person, and his state is decency; it is a sort of justice, and not some state different from it.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 7 Quotes

In fact the incontinent person is like a city that votes for all the right decrees and has excellent laws, but does not apply them, as in Anaxandrides' taunt, 'The city willed it, that cares nothing for laws'. The base person, by contrast, is like a city that applies its laws, but applies bad ones.[…] The [impetuous] type of incontinence found in volatile people is more easily cured than the [weak] type of incontinence found in those who deliberate but do not abide by it. And incontinents through habituation are more easily cured than the natural incontinents; for habit is easier than nature to change.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Related Symbols: The City
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 8 Quotes

Moreover, friendship would seem to hold cities together, and legislators would seem to be more concerned about it than about justice. For concord would seem to be similar to friendship, and they aim at concord among all, while they try above all to expel civil conflict, which is enmity. Further, if people are friends, they have no need of justice, but if they are just they need friendship in addition; and the justice that is most just seems to belong to friendship.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Related Symbols: The City
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

But complete friendship is the friendship of good people similar in virtue; for they wish goods in the same way to each other insofar as they are good, and they are good in their own right. Now those who wish goods to their friend for the friend’s own sake are friends most of all; for they have this attitude because of the friend himself, not coincidentally. Hence these people’s friendship lasts as long as they are good; and virtue is enduring.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 9 Quotes

[…] [I]t is good not to seek as many friends as possible, and good to have no more than enough for living together; indeed it even seems impossible to be an extremely close friend to many people. […] This would seem to be borne out in what people actually do. For the friendship of companions is not found in groups of many people, and the friendships celebrated in song are always between two people. By contrast, those who have many friends and treat everyone as close them seem to be friends to no one […] Certainly it is possible to have a fellow citizen’s friendship for many people, and still to be a truly decent person, not ingratiating; but it is impossible to be many people’s friend for their virtue and for themselves. We have reason to be satisfied if we can find even a few such friends.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] [W]hat friends find most choiceworthy is living together. For friendship is community, and we are related to our friend as we are related to ourselves. […] Whatever someone [regards as] his being, or the end for which he chooses to be alive, that is the activity he wishes to pursue in his friend’s company. Hence some friends drink together, others play dice, while others do gymnastics and go hunting, or do philosophy. They spend their days together on whichever pursuit in life they like most; for since they want to live with their friends, they share the actions in which they find their common life.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 10 Quotes

Such a life would be superior to the human level. For someone will live it not insofar as he is a human being, but insofar as he has some divine element in him. And the activity of this divine element is as much superior to the activity in accord with the rest of virtue as this element is superior to the compound. Hence if understanding is something divine in comparison with a human being, so also will the life in accord with understanding be divine in comparison with human life. We ought not to follow the makers of proverbs and “Think human, since you are human,” or “Think mortal, since you are mortal.” Rather, as far as we can, we ought to be pro-immortal, and go to all lengths to live a life in accord with our supreme element; for however much this element may lack in bulk, by much more it surpasses everything in power and value.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

Now some think it is nature that makes people good; some think it is habit; some that it is teaching. The [contribution] of nature clearly is not up to us, but results from some divine cause in those who have it, who are the truly fortunate ones. Arguments and teaching surely do not prevail on everyone, but the soul of the student needs to have been prepared by habits for enjoying and hating finely, like ground that is to nourish seed. For someone who lives in accord with his feelings would not even listen to an argument turning him away, or comprehend it [if he did listen]; and in that state how could he be persuaded to change? And in general feelings seem to yield to force, not to argument.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Since, then, our predecessors have left the area of legislation uncharted, it is presumably better to examine it ourselves instead, and indeed to examine political systems in general, and so to complete the philosophy of human affairs, as far as we are able. First, then, let us try to review any sound remarks our predecessors have made on particular topics. Then let us study the collected political systems, to see from them what sorts of things preserve and destroy cities, and political systems of different types; and what causes some cities to conduct politics well, and some badly. For when we have studied these questions, we will perhaps grasp better what sort of political system is best; how each political system should be organized so as to be best and what habits and laws it should follow. Let us discuss this, then, starting from the beginning.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Related Symbols: The City
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:
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Aristotle Character Timeline in Nicomachean Ethics

The timeline below shows where the character Aristotle appears in Nicomachean Ethics. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
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Book 1, Chapter 1. According to Aristotle, every craft, line of inquiry, action, and decision seeks some end, or “good,” but these... (full context)
The Nature and Pursuit of Happiness Theme Icon
...bridle-making is subordinate to horsemanship, and various actions in warfare are subordinate to generalship. So, Aristotle claims, the ends of these “ruling sciences” (like horsemanship or generalship) are more “choiceworthy” than... (full context)
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Book 1, Chapter 2. Aristotle notes that “things achievable by action have some end that we wish for because of... (full context)
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Virtue and Community Life Theme Icon
The Political Life vs. the Contemplative Life Theme Icon
The “highest ruling science,” Aristotle claims, is political science. This science prescribes which sciences should be studied in cities, who... (full context)
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Virtue and Community Life Theme Icon
The Political Life vs. the Contemplative Life Theme Icon
...the city is “a greater and more complete good” than the good of an individual. Aristotle notes that even his line of inquiry is a kind of political science because it... (full context)
Virtue and Community Life Theme Icon
The Political Life vs. the Contemplative Life Theme Icon
Book 1, Chapter 3. Aristotle points out that he will be satisfied “to indicate the truth roughly and in outline,”... (full context)
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...people would agree that it is happiness, but they disagree about what happiness consists of. Aristotle says that to determine this, it’s necessary to start from what we know—and that is... (full context)
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Book 1, Chapter 6. Before proceeding, though, Aristotle points out that it’s best to figure out what is meant by the good. Because... (full context)
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Book 1, Chapter 7. Aristotle explains that since the good appears to be something different in medicine, generalship, and so... (full context)
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In order to better grasp what the best good is, Aristotle says that it’s necessary to understand the function of a human being. While we have... (full context)
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...“by being completed in accord with the virtue proper [to that kind of thing].” So, Aristotle reasons, the human good is “the activity of the soul in accord with virtue”—the best... (full context)
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...may be gifted by the gods in some sense, for the purposes of this discussion Aristotle says that happiness is the result of virtue and “some sort of learning or cultivation,”... (full context)
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Book 1, Chapter 10. Aristotle takes his argument a step further by asserting that the happy person is the one... (full context)
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...Chapters 12-13. Because happiness is an activity of the soul in accord with complete virtue, Aristotle reasons that one must examine virtue in order to better understand happiness. First it’s necessary... (full context)
Book 2
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Book 2, Chapter 1. Aristotle outlines two sorts of virtue—virtue of thought and virtue of character. The first arises mostly... (full context)
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...naturally able to acquire them, and they are completed in us by way of habit. Aristotle explains that virtues are acquired in much the same way as crafts are: “we become... (full context)
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Book 2, Chapter 3. Aristotle argues that someone’s pleasure or pain following an action gives an indication of that person’s... (full context)
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Book 2, Chapter 4. Aristotle admits that his comparison between crafts and virtues doesn’t hold in every way. For example,... (full context)
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Book 2, Chapter 5. Aristotle further examines what virtue is. He says there are “three conditions arising in the soul”—feelings,... (full context)
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Neither virtues nor vices are feelings, then, says Aristotle. For example, we’re praised or blamed for having virtues—having feelings in a particular way—not for... (full context)
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...it aims at what is intermediate.” Excess and deficiency, on the other hand, are vices. Aristotle names various examples of virtues which he’ll define with greater specificity in Book III. (full context)
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Book 2, Chapters 7-8. Aristotle illustrates the mean through an example of the overly confident person versus the overly fearful... (full context)
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Book 2, Chapter 9. Aristotle concludes Book II by saying that, in light of what’s been discussed, it’s “hard work... (full context)
Book 3
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Book 3, Chapter 1. Aristotle discusses the preconditions of virtue. He begins by explaining that when we talk about virtue,... (full context)
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Book 3, Chapter 3. According to Aristotle, deliberation typically concerns situations of uncertain outcome, when one must discern the right way to... (full context)
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Book 3, Chapters 4-5. Aristotle sums up the discussion thus: “We have found, then, that we wish for the end,... (full context)
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Book 3, Chapters 6-7. Next Aristotle discusses individual virtues in turn, starting with bravery. Bravery is a mean between cowardice and... (full context)
Book 4
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Book 4, Chapter 1. Aristotle explains that the virtue of generosity has to do with the giving and taking of... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Book 5
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Book 5, Chapter 1. In Book V, Aristotle turns to questions about justice—namely, what sort of actions justice and injustice are concerned with,... (full context)
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In a larger sense, justice is concerned with everyone’s benefit—what we call “just,” Aristotle says, “is whatever produces and maintains happiness and its parts for a political community.” The... (full context)
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Aristotle says that this type of justice—well established in law—is “complete virtue.” He quotes the proverb,... (full context)
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Book 5, Chapters 2-7. Aristotle discusses various “species” of the just. With regard to justice in distribution, the just is... (full context)
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Book 5, Chapters 10-11. Aristotle argues that decency is actually superior to justice. He claims that this is because a... (full context)
Book 6
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Book 6, Chapters 1-2. Having discussed virtues of character, Aristotle turns to virtues of thought. As he did before discussing the other virtues, he reviews... (full context)
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Book 6, Chapters 3-6. Aristotle identifies five states in which the soul grasps the truth: scientific knowledge, craft knowledge, prudence,... (full context)
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Book 6, Chapters 7-13. Good deliberation, Aristotle explains, isn’t just any sort of rational calculation; after all, a base person can deliberate... (full context)
Book 7
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Book 7, Chapters 1-3. Aristotle turns his discussion to conditions of character to be avoided—vice, incontinence, and bestiality. He focuses... (full context)
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Book 7, Chapters 4-9. Continence and incontinence have to do with pleasures and pains. Aristotle explains that incontinence can’t be classified with “bestial” behaviors, which often result from disease, madness,... (full context)
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Book 7, Chapter 10. Aristotle adds that an incontinent person cannot be prudent at the same time, because prudent people... (full context)
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Book 7, Chapters 11-12. Aristotle briefly discusses pleasure, which he says is important because virtues have to do with pain... (full context)
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Book 7, Chapter 13. Aristotle further argues that because pain is evidently bad, both in an unqualified sense and because... (full context)
Book 8
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Book 8, Chapter 1. Aristotle turns to a discussion of friendship, which is itself a virtue, or at least involves... (full context)
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Book 8, Chapter 2. Aristotle defines friendship as “reciprocated goodwill,” of which there are three types. The first is friendship... (full context)
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Book 8, Chapter 3. The second type of friendship that Aristotle describes is friendship for pleasure. This type is especially common among young people, because they... (full context)
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The third type of friendship that Aristotle outlines is “complete” friendship, which occurs between people who are similar in virtue. Such people... (full context)
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Book 8, Chapter 4. Aristotle acknowledges that “incomplete” friendships bear some resemblance to “complete” friendships. For  example, mutual pleasure and... (full context)
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Book 8, Chapter 5-6. Aristotle also clarifies that while loving is a feeling, friendship is a state. Friendship requires decision,... (full context)
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Book 8, Chapter 7. Aristotle says that a different type of friendship is that which “rests on superiority”—like, for instance,... (full context)
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...then, is more about loving than being loved, and “loving is the virtue of friends.” Aristotle once again emphasizes that similarity in virtue is essential for long-lasting friendship. Because people who... (full context)
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Book 8, Chapter 9. To Aristotle, Friendship and justice are about the same things and are found in the same people.... (full context)
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Aristotle points out that these three political systems have a sort of echo within families. For... (full context)
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...friendship between man and woman assigns “more good to the better” (the man). According to Aristotle, it’s not really possible to talk of equality in relationships between ruler and ruled, because... (full context)
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Book 8, Chapters 13-14. Aristotle notes that disputes are most common in friendships for utility, because people are inclined to... (full context)
Book 9
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Book 9, Chapter 1. In friendships with dissimilar aims, Aristotle says, there has to be an equalizer of some sort; for example, in political friendship,... (full context)
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Book 9, Chapter 3. Aristotle points out that there is also the question of dissolving friendships when a friend proves... (full context)
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...friend comes to far excel the other friend in virtue, they cannot remain friends, either. Aristotle says that this is often the case when people become friends in childhood but then... (full context)
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Book 9, Chapter 4. Aristotle adds that the best qualities of friendship are also found in the decent person’s relationship... (full context)
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Book 9, Chapter 5. Goodwill isn’t the same thing as friendship, Aristotle claims, because it arises even toward people we don’t know. It is more superficial than... (full context)
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Book 9, Chapter 8. Aristotle argues that there is a type of self-love which is justifiably reproached—those who overreach in... (full context)
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...it’s a necessity; moreover, a good person needs someone to benefit, hence he needs friends. Aristotle also assumes that the human being “is a political [animal], tending by nature to live... (full context)
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Aristotle explains that the happy person finds pleasure in the actions of other excellent people, and... (full context)
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...doesn’t follow that it’s good to have as many excellent and virtuous friends as possible. Aristotle says that the appropriate number of such friends is “the largest number with whom you... (full context)
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Book 9, Chapter 11. According to Aristotle, it’s better to have friends in good fortune than in ill fortune. While it lightens... (full context)
Book 10
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Book 10, Chapters 1-5. Aristotle next discusses pleasure, because “enjoying and hating the right things seems to be most important... (full context)
The Nature and Pursuit of Happiness Theme Icon
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The Political Life vs. the Contemplative Life Theme Icon
Aristotle notes that since it’s the case that happiness is activity in accord with virtue, it... (full context)
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The Political Life vs. the Contemplative Life Theme Icon
Book 10, Chapter 7. Aristotle suggests that someone who lives a life of study “has a divine element in him.”... (full context)
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Book 10, Chapter 8. Having said this, Aristotle can’t end his discussion here, because it isn’t enough to study virtue, but to act... (full context)
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...their youth, people will grow accustomed to virtue and won’t find it painful. But, from Aristotle’s perspective, obeying these laws in youth isn’t enough; habituation to virtue is still needed as... (full context)
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Aristotle argues that law can compel in a way that a parent’s or teacher’s instructions can’t.... (full context)