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[1324a] [1] is the life conjoined with virtue furnished with sufficient means for taking part in virtuous actions1; while objections to this position we must pass over in the course of the present inquiry, and reserve them for future consideration, if anyone be found to disagree with what has been said.

On the other hand it remains to say whether the happiness of a state is to be pronounced the same as that of each individual man, or whether it is different. Here too the answer is clear: everybody would agree that it is the same; for all those who base the good life upon wealth in the case of the individual, also assign felicity to the state as a whole if it is wealthy; and all who value the life of the tyrant highest, would also say that the state which rules the widest empire is the happiest; and if any body accepts the individual as happy on account of virtue, he will also say that the state which is the better morally is the happier. But there now arise these two questions that require consideration: first, which mode of life is the more desirable, the life of active citizenship and participation in politics, or rather the life of an alien and that of detachment from the political partnership; next, what constitution and what organization of a state is to be deemed the best,—either on the assumption that to take an active part in the state is desirable for everybody, or that it is undesirable for some men although desirable for most. But as it is [20] the latter question that is the business of political study and speculation, and not the question of what is desirable for the individual, and as it is the investigation of politics that we have now taken up, the former question would be a side issue, and the latter is the business of political inquiry.

Now it is clear that the best constitution is the system under which anybody whatsoever would be best off and would live in felicity; but the question is raised even on the part of those who agree that the life accompanied by virtue is the most desirable, whether the life of citizenship and activity is desirable or rather a life released from all external affairs, for example some form of contemplative life, which is said by some to be the only life that is philosophic.2 For it is manifest that these are the two modes of life principally chosen by the men most ambitious of excelling in virtue, both in past times and at the present day—I mean the life of politics and the life of philosophy. And it makes no little difference which way the truth lies; for assuredly the wise are bound to arrange their affairs in the direction of the better goal—and this applies to the state collectively as well as to the individual human being. Some persons think that empire over one's neighbors, if despotically exercised, involves a definite injustice of the greatest kind, and if constitutionally, although it carries no injustice, yet is a hindrance to the ruler's own well-being; but others hold almost the opposite view to these—they think that the life of action and citizenship is the only life fit for a man, since with each of the virtues its exercise in actions is just as possible for men engaged in public affairs and in politics as for those who live a private life.

1 Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1099a 32, Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1179a 4 ff.

2 Perhaps the Greek should be altered to give ‘which alone is said to be desirable by some philosophers.’

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • T. G. Tucker, Commentary on Thucydides: Book 8, 8.72
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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1099a
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1179a
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