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[1332a] [1] and although it needs less of this for men of better natural disposition it needs more for those of worse); while others, although they have the power, go wrong at the start in their search for happiness.1 But the object before us is to discern the best constitution, and this is the one under which a state will be best governed, and a state will be best governed under the constitution under which it has the most opportunity for happiness; it is therefore clear that we must know what happiness is. The view that we maintain (and this is the definition that we laid down in theEthics,2 if those discourses are of any value) is that happiness is the complete activity and employment of virtue, and this not conditionally but absolutely. When I say ‘conditionally’ I refer to things necessary, by ‘absolutely’ I mean ‘nobly’: for instance, to take the case of just actions, just acts of vengeance and of punishment spring it is true from virtue, but are necessary, and have the quality of nobility only in a limited manner (since it would be preferable that neither individual nor state should have any need of such things), whereas actions aiming at honors and resources3 are the noblest actions absolutely; for the former class of acts consist in the removal4 of something evil, but actions of the latter kind are the opposite—they are the foundation and the generation of things good. The virtuous man will use even poverty, disease, and [20] the other forms of bad fortune in a noble manner, but felicity consists in their opposites (for it is a definition established by our ethical discourses5 that the virtuous man is the man of such a character that because of his virtue things absolutely good are good to him, and it is therefore clear that his employment of these goods must also be virtuous and noble absolutely); and hence men actually suppose that external goods are the cause of happiness, just as if they were to assign the cause of a brilliantly fine performance on the harp to the instrument rather than to the skill of the player. It follows therefore from what has been said that some goods must be forthcoming to start with and others must be provided by the legislator. Hence we pray that the organization of the state may be successful in securing those goods which are in the control of fortune (for that fortune does control external goods we take as axiomatic); but when we come to the state's being virtuous, to secure this is not the function of fortune but of science and policy. But then the virtue of the state is of course caused by the citizens who share in its government being virtuous; and in our state all the citizens share in the government. The point we have to consider therefore is, how does a man become virtuous? For even if it be possible for the citizens to be virtuous collectively without being so individually, the latter is preferable, since for each individual to be virtuous entails as a consequence the collective virtue of all. But there are admittedly three things by which men are made good and virtuous, and these three things are nature, habit and reason. For to start with, one must be born with the nature of a human being and not of some other animal; and secondly, one must be born of a certain quality of body and of soul. But there are some qualities that it is of no use to be born with,

1 i.e. they misconceive the nature of happiness and select the wrong thing to aim at.

2 Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1098a 16 and Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1176b 4

3 A conjectural emendation gives ‘distinctions.’

4 This is a conjectural emendation; the MSS. give ‘the adoption.’

5 Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1113a 15 ff.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (3):
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1098a
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1113a
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1176b
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