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We may now return to the Good which is the object of our search, and try to find out what exactly it can be. For good appears to be one thing in one pursuit or art and another in another: it is different in medicine from what it is in strategy, and so on with the rest of the arts. What definition of the Good then will hold true in all the arts? Perhaps we may define it as that for the sake of which everything else is done. This applies to something different in each different art—to health in the case of medicine, to victory in that of strategy, to a house in architecture, and to something else in each of the other arts; but in every pursuit or undertaking it describes the end of that pursuit or undertaking, since in all of them it is for the sake of the end that everything else is done. Hence if there be something which is the end of all the things done by human action, this will be the practicable Good—or if there be several such ends, the sum of these will be the Good. [2] Thus by changing its ground the argument has reached the same result as before.1 We must attempt however to render this still more precise. [3]

Now there do appear to be several ends at which our actions aim; but as we choose some of them—for instance wealth, or flutes,2 and instruments generally—as a means to something else, it is clear that not all of them are final ends; whereas the Supreme Good seems to be something final. Consequently if there be some one thing which alone is a final end, this thing—or if there be several final ends, the one among them which is the most final—will be the Good which we are seeking. [4] In speaking of degrees of finality, we mean that a thing pursued as an end in itself is more final than one pursued as a means to something else, and that a thing never chosen as a means to anything else is more final than things chosen both as ends in themselves and as means to that thing; and accordingly a thing chosen always as an end and never as a means we call absolutely final. [5] Now happiness above all else appears to be absolutely final in this sense, since we always choose it for its own sake and never as a means to something else; whereas honor, pleasure, intelligence, and excellence in its various forms, we choose indeed for their own sakes (since we should be glad to have each of them although no extraneous advantage resulted from it), but we also choose them for the sake of happiness, in the belief that they will be a means to our securing it. But no one chooses happiness for the sake of honor, pleasure, etc., nor as a means to anything whatever other than itself. [6]

The same conclusion also appears to follow from a consideration of the self-sufficiency of happiness—for it is felt that the final good must be a thing sufficient in itself. The term self-sufficient, however, we employ with reference not to oneself alone, living a life of isolation, but also to one's parents and children and wife, and one's friends and fellow citizens in general, since man is by nature a social being.3 [7] On the other hand a limit has to be assumed in these relationships; for if the list be extended to one's ancestors and descendants and to the friends of one's friends, it will go on ad infinitum. But this is a point that must be considered later on; we take a self-sufficient thing to mean a thing which merely standing by itself alone renders life desirable lacking in nothing,4 and such a thing we deem happiness to be. [8] Moreover, we think happiness the most desirable of all good things without being itself reckoned as one among the rest5; for if it were so reckoned, it is clear that we should consider it more desirable when even the smallest of other good things were combined with it, since this addition would result in a larger total of good, and of two goods the greater is always the more desirable.

Happiness, therefore, being found to be something final and self-sufficient, is the End at which all actions aim. [9]

To say however that the Supreme Good is happiness will probably appear a truism; we still require a more explicit account of what constitutes happiness. [10] Perhaps then we may arrive at this by ascertaining what is man's function. For the goodness or efficiency of a flute-player or sculptor or craftsman of any sort, and in general of anybody who has some function or business to perform, is thought to reside in that function; and similarly it may be held that the good of man resides in the function of man, if he has a function. [11]

Are we then to suppose that, while the carpenter and the shoemaker have definite functions or businesses belonging to them, man as such has none, and is not designed by nature to fulfil any function? Must we not rather assume that, just as the eye, the hand, the foot and each of the various members of the body manifestly has a certain function of its own, so a human being also has a certain function over and above all the functions of his particular members? [12] What then precisely can this function be? The mere act of living appears to be shared even by plants, whereas we are looking for the function peculiar to man; we must therefore set aside the vital activity of nutrition and growth. Next in the scale will come some form of sentient life; but this too appears to be shared by horses, oxen, and animals generally. [13] There remains therefore what may be called the practical6 life of the rational part of man. (This part has two divisions,7 one rational as obedient to principle, the others possessing principle and exercising intelligence). Rational life again has two meanings; let us assume that we are here concerned with the active exercise8 of the rational faculty, since this seems to be the more proper sense of the term. [14] If then the function of man is the active exercise of the soul's faculties9 in conformity with rational principle, or at all events not in dissociation from rational principle, and if we acknowledge the function of an individual and of a good individual of the same class (for instance, a harper and a good harper, and so generally with all classes) to be generically the same, the qualification of the latter's superiority in excellence being added to the function in his case (I mean that if the function of a harper is to play the harp, that of a good harper is to play the harp well): if this is so, and if we declare that the function of man is a certain form of life, and define that form of life as the exercise of the soul's faculties and activities in association with rational principle, [15] and say that the function of a good man is to perform these activities well and rightly, and if a function is well performed when it is performed in accordance with its own proper excellence—from these premises it follows that the Good of man is the active exercise of his soul's faculties in conformity with excellence or virtue, or if there be several human excellences or virtues, in conformity with the best and most perfect among them. [16] Moreover, to be happy takes a complete lifetime; for one swallow does not make spring, nor does one fine day; and similarly one day or a brief period of happiness does not make a man supremely blessed10 and happy. [17]

Let this account then serve to describe the Good in outline—for no doubt the proper procedure is to begin by making a rough sketch, and to fill it in afterwards. If a work has been well laid down in outline, to carry it on and complete it in detail may be supposed to be within the capacity of anybody; and in this working out of details Time seems to be a good inventor or at all events coadjutor. This indeed is how advances in the arts have actually come about, since anyone can fill in the gaps. [18] Also the warning given above11 must not be forgotten; we must not look for equal exactness in all departments of study, but only such as belongs to the subject matter of each, and in such a degree as is appropriate to the particular line of enquiry. [19] A carpenter and a geometrician both try to find a right angle,12 but in different ways; the former is content with that approximation to it which satisfies the purpose of his work; the latter, being a student of truth, seeks to find its essence or essential attributes. We should therefore proceed in the same manner in other subjects also, and not allow side issues to outbalance the main task in hand. [20]

Nor again must we in all matters alike demand an explanation of the reason why things are what they are; in some cases it is enough if the fact that they are so is satisfactorily established.13 This is the case with first principles; and the fact is the primary thing—it is a first principle. [21] And principles are studied—some by induction, others by perception, others by some form of habituation, and also others otherwise14; [22] so we must endeavor to arrive at the principles of each kind in their natural manner, and must also be careful to define them correctly, [23] since they are of great importance for the subsequent course of the enquiry. The beginning is admittedly more than half of the whole,15 and throws light at once on many of the questions under investigation.

1 Cf. 2.1.

2 Perhaps a note on ‘instruments,’ interpolated.

3 Lit. ‘a political thing.’ Aristot. Pol. 1253a 2 adds ζῷον, ‘a political animal.’

4 A probable emendation gives ‘renders life sufficient, that is, lacking in nothing.’

5 Sc. but as including all other good things as the end includes the means.

6 ‘Practice’ for Aristotle denotes purposeful conduct, of which only rational beings are capable, cf. 6.2.2 note.

7 This anticipation of 13.19 is irrelevant, and states decisively a point there left doubtful. Also on grounds of Greek this parenthesis has been suspected as an interpolation, and perhaps we should leave it out and render the preceding words ‘the practical life of a rational being.’

8 In contrast with the mere state of possessing the faculty.

9 Literally ‘activity of soul’; ψυχή however has a wider connotation than either ‘soul’ or ‘mind,’ and includes the whole of the vitality of any living creature.

10 The word μακάριος, rendered ‘blessed’ or ‘supremely happy,’ is a derivative of μάκαρ, the adjective applied in Homer and Hesiod to the gods and to those of mankind who have been admitted after death to the Islands of the Blest. See 10.16, 12.4.

11 3.1-4.

12 Or ‘straight line.’

13 Cf. 4.7.

14 This is usually taken ‘that is, different ones in different ways,’ but καὶ . . . δέ seems to refer to other classes as well.

15 The usual form of the proverb is ‘The beginning is half of the whole.’ Aristotle applies it by a sort of play on words to ἀρχή in its technical sense of a general principle of science, which is a ‘beginning’ in the sense that it is the starting-point of deductive reasoning. There is a reminiscence of Hesiod, Hes. WD 30, πλέον ἥμισυ παντός, ‘The half is more than the whole,’ though the meaning of that is entirely different.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Aristotle, Politics, 1.1253a
    • Hesiod, Works and Days, 30
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