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[1215a] [1] for they talk at random about almost everything, and especially about happiness. We ought to examine only the opinions of the wise1; for it is out of place to apply reasoning to those who do not need reasoning at all, but experience. But since every subject has special difficulties related to it, it is clear that there are such in regard to the highest life and the best mode of existence; it is then well to examine the opinions putting these difficulties, since the refutations advanced by those who challenge them are demonstrations of the theories that are opposed to them.

Moreover to notice such matters is especially advantageous with a view to the subjects to which all inquiry ought to be directed—the question what are the means that make it possible to participate in living well and finely (if 'blissfully' is too invidious an expression)—and with a view to the hope that we may have of the things that are good in the various departments. For if living finely depends on things that come by fortune or by nature, it would be beyond the hopes of many men, for then its attainment is not to be secured by effort, and does not rest with men themselves and is not a matter of their own conduct; but if it consists in oneself and one's own actions having a particular quality, the good would be more common and more divine—more common because it would be possible for more people to share it, and more divine because happiness would then be in store for those who made themselves and their actions of a particular quality. [20] Most of the points debated and the difficulties raised will be clear if it be satisfactorily determined what the proper conception of happiness is—does it consist merely in a person's possessing some particular quality of spirit,2 as some of the sages and the older thinkers held, or although a particular personal character is indeed an indispensable condition, is a particular quality of conduct even more necessary?

There are various different modes of life, and some do not lay any claim to well-being of the kind under consideration, but are pursued merely for the sake of things necessary—for instance the lives devoted to the vulgar and mechanic arts and those dealing with business (by vulgar arts I mean those pursued only for reputation, by mechanic the sedentary and wage-earning pursuits, and by arts of business those concerned with market purchase and retail selling); but on the other hand, the things related to the happy conduct of life being three, the things already mentioned3 as the greatest possible goods for men—goodness, wisdom and pleasure, we see that there are also three ways of life in which those to whom fortune gives opportunity4 invariably choose to live, the life of politics,5 the life of philosophy, and the life of enjoyment.

1 The words translated 'happiness' and 'the opinions of the wise' are conjectural insertions in the Greek.

2 The word ψυχή, usually rendered 'soul,' has no term exactly corresponding to it in English, as it denotes the whole vitality of a living creature, with the unconscious factors of nutrition and growth as well as conscious feelings or emotions and thoughts.

3 See Aristot. Eud. Eth. 1214a 30-b 5.

4 Perhaps the Greek should be emended to give 'those who happen to be in power.'

5 i.e. active citizenship: 'statesmanship' is too lofty a term.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 1.1214a
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