To resume, inasmuch as all studies and undertakings are directed to the attainment of
some good, let us discuss what it is that we pronounce to be the aim of Politics, that is,
what is the highest of all the goods that action can achieve.
As far as the name goes, we may almost say that the great majority of
mankind are agreed about this; for both the multitude and persons of refinement speak of
it as Happiness,1
‘the good life’ or ‘doing well’2
to be the same thing as
‘being happy.’ But what constitutes happiness is a matter of dispute;
and the popular account of it is not the same as that given by the philosophers.
Ordinary people identify it with some obvious and
visible good, such as pleasure or wealth or honor—some say one thing and some
another, indeed very often the same man says different things at different times: when he
falls sick he thinks health is happiness, when he is poor, wealth. At other times, feeling
conscious of their own ignorance, men admire those who propound something grand and above
their heads; and it has been held by some thinkers3
that beside the many good things we have
mentioned, there exists another Good, that is good in itself, and stands to all those
goods as the cause of their being good.
Now perhaps it would be a somewhat fruitless task to review all the different opinions
that are held. It will suffice to examine those that are most widely prevalent, or that
seem to have some argument in their favour.
And we must not overlook the distinction between arguments that start from first
principles and those that lead to first principles. It was a good practice of Plato to
raise this question, and to enquire whether the true procedure is to start from or to lead
up to one's first principles, as in a race-course one may run from the judges to the far end of
the track or the reverse. Now no doubt it is proper to start from the known. But
‘the known’ has two meanings—‘what is known to
us,’ which is one thing, and ‘what is knowable in itself,’
which is another. Perhaps then for us4
at all events it proper to start from what
is known to us.
This is why in order to be a competent
student of the Right and Just, and in short of the topics of Politics in general, the
pupil is bound to have been well-trained in his habits.
For the starting-point or first principle is the fact that a thing is so; if this be
satisfactorily ascertained, there will be no need also to know the reason why it is so.
And the man of good moral training knows first principles already, or can easily acquire
them. As for the person who neither knows nor can learn, let him hear the words of
Best is the man who can himself advise;
He too is good who hearkens to the wise;
But who, himself being witless, will not heed
Another's wisdom, is a fool indeed.