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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. [2] 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 and conceive ‘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. [3] 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. [4]

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. [5]

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. [6] 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. [7] 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 Hesiod5: “ 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.

1 This translation of εὐδαιμονία can hardly be avoided, but it would perhaps be more accurately rendered by ‘Well-being’ or ‘Prosperity’; and it will be found that the writer does not interpret it as a state of feeling but as a kind of activity.

2 The English phrase preserves the ambiguity of the Greek, which in its ordinary acceptation rather means ‘faring well’ than ‘acting well,’ though in the sequel Aristotle diverts it to the active sense.

3 Viz. Plato and the Academy; see chap. 6.

4 In contrast apparently with the school of Plato.

5 Hes. WD 293 ff.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Hesiod, Works and Days, 293
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