According to Aristotle, what is the relationship between a thing's excellence and its good?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The concepts of moral excellence and the good are closely related in the works of Aristotle . For Aristotle, the supreme good is happiness. Most of the good things in life are a means to an end, but happiness is an end in itself; this is what makes it the...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The concepts of moral excellence and the good are closely related in the works of Aristotle. For Aristotle, the supreme good is happiness. Most of the good things in life are a means to an end, but happiness is an end in itself; this is what makes it the highest good. And happiness is the ultimate aim of all meaningful human activity.

The highest good—happiness—is to be achieved by the rational soul in accordance with virtue, or moral excellence. This means that happiness as defined by Aristotle can only truly be achieved by a life that is considered virtuous, a life devoted to the pursuit of rational knowledge, which is ultimately what separates man from the animals. It is only by a sustained exercise of our unique capacity for rational thought over the course of our lives that we will achieve excellence or virtue as human beings, and in doing so achieve happiness, the ultimate good.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The first thing to realize is that, in Greek, a thing's excellence (arētē) and the good (to agathon) are closely linked in meaning. However, in his function argument (Nicomachean Ethics Book I, Chapter VII), Aristotle argues that the excellence for something is for it to perform its function (ergon) well. I take it that this is the argument to which you are referring. To summarize: The function argument states that everything, animate and inanimate, has a characteristic function. When something X has a function Y, then the function of a good X is to Y well.

For instance, the good of an axe is to chop wood well. Our organs also have characteristic function —  the good of our eyes is to see well, the good of our ears is to hear well, and so on. This can also be applied to tools, for instance. Consider a knife — the function of a knife is to cut and the excellence and good for a knife will be for it to cut well. The function of a bullock is to plough a field and so the excellence and the good for the bullock will consist in its ploughing the field well. 

The ultimate argument, of course, is that human beings as a whole have a function and in order to be good human beings, they must perform that characteristic function well. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team