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Now our treatment of this science will be adequate, if it achieves that amount of precision which belongs to its subject matter. The same exactness must not be expected in all departments of philosophy alike, any more than in all the products of the arts and crafts. [2] The subjects studied by political science are Moral Nobility1 and Justice; but these conceptions involve much difference of opinion and uncertainty, so that they are sometimes believed to be mere conventions and to have no real existence in the nature of things. [3] And a similar uncertainty surrounds the conception of the Good, because it frequently occurs that good things have harmful consequences: people have before now been ruined by wealth, and in other cases courage has cost men their lives. [4] We must therefore be content if, in dealing with subjects and starting from premises thus uncertain, we succeed in presenting a broad outline of the truth: when our subjects and our premises are merely generalities, it is enough if we arrive at generally valid conclusions. Accordingly we may ask the student also to accept the various views we put forward in the same spirit; for it is the mark of an educated mind to expect that amount of exactness in each kind which the nature of the particular subject admits. It is equally unreasonable to accept merely probable conclusions from a mathematician and to demand strict demonstration from an orator. [5]

Again, each man judges correctly those matters with which he is acquainted; it is of these that he is a competent critic. To criticize a particular subject, therefore, a man must have been trained in that subject: to be a good critic generally, he must have had an all-round education. Hence the young are not fit to be students of Political Science.2 For they have no experience of life and conduct, and it is these that supply the premises and subject matter of this branch of philosophy. [6] And moreover they are led by their feelings; so that they will study the subject to no purpose or advantage, since the end of this science is not knowledge but action. [7] And it makes no difference whether they are young in years or immature in character: the defect is not a question of time, it is because their life and its various aims are guided by feeling; for to such persons their knowledge is of no use, any more than it is to persons of defective self-restraint.3 But Moral Science may be of great value to those who guide their desires and actions by principle. [8]

Let so much suffice by way of introduction as to the student of the subject, the spirit in which our conclusions are to be received, and the object that we set before us.

1 καλόν is a term of admiration applied to what is correct, especially (1) bodies well shaped and works of art or handicraft well made, and (2) actions well done (see 3.7.6); it thus means (1) beautiful, (2) morally right. For the analogy between material and moral correctness see 2.6.9.

2 Quoted in Troilus and Cressida, II. ii. 165.: Young men, whom Aristotle thought/Unfit to hear moral philosophy.

3 The argument is, that even if the young could gain a knowledge of Ethics (which they cannot, because it requires experience of life), they would not use it as a guide to conduct, because they are led by their passions and appetites; and therefore the study is of no value for them, since Ethics, being a practical science, is only pursued for the sake of its practical application.

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