Nicomachean Ethics

by

Aristotle

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Aristotle sees the intended function of a human being as the activity of the soul in accord with reason, and virtue is a state whereby a person performs that intended function well. A state is a disposition to do a certain thing “at the right times, about the right things, toward the right people, for the right end, and in the right ways.” So someone who practices the virtue of bravery, for instance, does not just behave courageously, but exercises the appropriate amount of courage under a specific set of circumstances, while avoiding the extremes of rashness and cowardice. Determining this virtuous mean and acclimating oneself to various virtues through habituation is, for Aristotle, the key to happiness.

Virtue Quotes in Nicomachean Ethics

The Nicomachean Ethics quotes below are all either spoken by Virtue or refer to Virtue. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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 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:
Book 8 Quotes

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 10 Quotes

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:
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Virtue Term Timeline in Nicomachean Ethics

The timeline below shows where the term Virtue appears in Nicomachean Ethics. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
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Each function is completed well “by being completed in accord with the virtue proper [to that kind of thing].” So, Aristotle reasons, the human good is “the activity... (full context)
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Virtues and the Mean Theme Icon
...sense, for the purposes of this discussion Aristotle says that happiness is the result of virtue and “some sort of learning or cultivation,” which is available to anyone who has the... (full context)
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...asserting that the happy person is the one whose activities not only accord with complete virtue, supported by adequate external goods, but also with a complete life. (full context)
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...1, 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... (full context)
Book 2
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Book 2, Chapter 1. Aristotle outlines two sorts of virtuevirtue of thought and virtue of character. The first arises mostly from teaching and requires experience... (full context)
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None of the virtues of character arise naturally. We’re naturally able to acquire them, and they are completed in... (full context)
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At the same time, the same things that develop a craft or a virtue can also destroy it. For example, bad harp-playing makes a bad harpist, and bad building... (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, it’s not enough that action in accordance with... (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, capacities, and states—and that... (full context)
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Neither virtues nor vices are feelings, then, says Aristotle. For example, we’re praised or blamed for having... (full context)
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Book 2, Chapter 6. Having established that virtue is a state, then, we have to inquire what sort of state it is. Every... (full context)
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Another aspect of the nature of virtue is that it’s “neither superfluous nor deficient.” Every branch of science “produces its products well,... (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, we’re talking about voluntary action,... (full context)
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...promote the end are in accord with decision and are voluntary. The activities of the virtues are concerned with these things [that promote the end].” The upshot of this conclusion is... (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 rashness. A brave... (full context)
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Book 3, Chapters 10-12. The virtue of temperance has to do with bodily pleasures. A temperate person finds no pleasure in... (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 wealth. Its excesses are... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
Book 5
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...political community.” The law procures such justice by requiring “actions in accord with the other virtues” and prohibiting those associated with vices. (full context)
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Aristotle says that this type of justice—well established in law—is “complete virtue.” He quotes the proverb, “in justice all virtue is summed up.” The reason justice is... (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... (full context)
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...a base one); whereas good deliberation must accord with what’s beneficial. Prudence is important because virtue is a state in accord with correct reason, and prudence is correct reason in the... (full context)
Book 7
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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 and pleasure, and most people associate pleasure with happiness. While... (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 virtue. It’s also a necessity for life—rich and poor, young and... (full context)
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...friendship that Aristotle outlines is “complete” friendship, which occurs between people who are similar in virtue. Such people are good in their own right and wish good things for one another... (full context)
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...explicit conditions and sometimes not, but either way, there’s a built-in instability. In friendships for virtue, disputes don’t occur, because the friends’ eagerness to benefit one another is proper to virtue... (full context)
Book 9
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...each person—whether “kinsfolk, fellow tribesmen, or fellow citizens”—what is proper, “as befits closeness of relation, virtue, or usefulness.” (full context)
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On the other hand, if one 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... (full context)
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...person finds pleasure in the actions of other excellent people, and it’s easier to pursue virtues in the company of others than in solitude; hence, “good people’s life together allows the... (full context)
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...people only increases their vice, and why the connection of virtuous people only strengthens their virtue. (full context)
Book 10
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...discusses pleasure, because “enjoying and hating the right things seems to be most important for virtue of character.” People decide on pleasant things and avoid painful things throughout their lives. He... (full context)
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...from happiness is sought. The most choiceworthy activities for the blessed person are those concerning virtue. From this, we know that happiness isn’t to be found in mere amusement, but in... (full context)
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Aristotle notes that since it’s the case that happiness is activity in accord with virtue, it must accord with the supreme virtue, which is understanding, particularly understanding of the fine... (full context)
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...Having said this, Aristotle can’t end his discussion here, because it isn’t enough to study virtue, but to act on what one has learned. Aristotle explains that mere arguments about virtue... (full context)
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...even understand an argument, much less be persuaded to change. In other words, to attain virtue, “we must already in some way have a character […] fond of what is fine... (full context)
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...“prescribe their upbringing and practices,” so that, from 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... (full context)
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...excellent laws. Even though individual treatment is needed in order for people to grow in virtue, one can’t attend to particulars without understanding universals. So someone who wishes to make people... (full context)