Nicomachean Ethics

by

Aristotle

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Themes and Colors
The Nature and Pursuit of Happiness Theme Icon
Virtues and the Mean Theme Icon
Virtue and Community Life Theme Icon
The Political Life vs. the Contemplative Life Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Nicomachean Ethics, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Nature and Pursuit of Happiness

Aristotle, who lived in the fourth century B.C., was the first philosopher to study ethics as a distinct field. For Aristotle, ethics is about discovering the highest good for an individual and a community, and that requires, first, an understanding of the end toward which all human beings ultimately strive. In the driving argument for the whole of his ethical treatise, Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that the highest good is happiness, and…

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Virtues and the Mean

To live a happy life, Aristotle claims, it’s necessary to know which virtues one must put into practice in order to attain happiness. Aristotle identifies two types of virtue—virtues of thought, which are associated with the rational part of the soul (these include prudence, understanding, and deliberation), and virtues of character, which are associated with the cooperation of the nonrational parts of the soul with reason (these include bravery, temperance, generosity, and truthfulness, among…

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Virtue and Community Life

Aristotle sees human beings as fundamentally political; human capacities are most completely fulfilled in community, so the individual’s happiness must involve the happiness of others and ultimately of the community as a whole, not only one’s own happiness. While Aristotle’s discussion of the virtues seems focused on individual happiness at first glance, the welfare of others is more prominent in his account of the virtues than might be readily apparent. The welfare of others is…

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The Political Life vs. the Contemplative Life

Because Nicomachean Ethics is the earliest systematic treatise on ethics, it’s not surprising that it contains extensive discussion of practical virtues and their concrete application in the everyday world (that is, political science). What’s more surprising is Aristotle’s digression near the end of the work, in which he elevates the life of contemplative study above even political science. He soon concludes, however, that the study of legislation, even if second best, is more…

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