previous next
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 practical1 life of the rational part of man. (This part has two divisions,2 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 exercise3 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 faculties4 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 blessed5 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 above6 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,7 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.

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

2 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.’

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

4 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.

5 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.

6 3.1-4.

7 Or ‘straight line.’

load focus Greek (J. Bywater)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (2 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: