Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Nicomachean Ethics, frequently referred to as the Ethics or Aristotle’s Ethics, is Aristotle’s best-known work on ethics and is one of the most influential works in Western moral theory. The Nicomachean Ethics fits within the tradition of moral inquiry known as virtue ethics because of its emphasis on the importance of developing moral or character virtues in order to be good and achieve happiness. Aristotelian virtue ethics remains one of the three principal forms of moral inquiry, along with duty or rule-based ethics, exemplified in the works of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), and utilitarian ethics, exemplified in the works of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).
Starting from the premise that every action and discipline is oriented toward some goal or good, Aristotle tries in book 1 of the Nicomachean Ethics to determine the goals toward which human life is oriented. In order to find the answer to this question, Aristotle first considers the nature of goals themselves and how an action or discipline is oriented toward a specific goal (for example, the goal of the medical discipline is health). He determines that some disciplines and some goals are more fundamental than others. For instance, the art of bridle-making is subordinate to the art of riding because bridles are made so that horses can be ridden. The highest goal of human life, Aristotle argues, must be that goal to which...
(The entire section is 1290 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Aristotle believed that ethics was more a matter of character than of following rules. He was more concerned with what a person was than what he did. He realized that to a large extent a person’s character is created by his actions. Yet making one’s actions conform to rules was not the goal of morality. A person can obey all the rules of chess without being a very good chess player. So too, a person can follow all the rules of morality—never lie, steal, murder, or commit adultery—without being an especially good person.
The goal of morality, according to Aristotle, is human happiness. One of the questions that has received much attention from modern moral philosophers—Why be moral?—never arose for Aristotle because he simply assumed that achieving a stable and lasting happiness was everyone’s goal.
Of course, Aristotle understood that there is a wide divergence of opinion among people as to what constitutes happiness—some say it is wealth, others say it is power or honor, still others say it is pleasure. People will only know which of these, or which mix of these, really leads to a life well lived, says Aristotle, by first determining the proper work or function of a person qua person.
The function of a carpenter is to build houses, and the function of an author is to write books. Given these distinct functions, it is not unreasonable to assume that a carpenter would feel frustrated if forced to write a book, and...
(The entire section is 1166 words.)