matters we ought perhaps next to discuss pleasure. For it is thought to
be most intimately connected with our human nature, which is the reason
why in educating the young we steer them by the rudders of pleasure and
pain; it is thought, too, that to enjoy the things we ought and to hate
the things we ought has the greatest bearing on virtue of character.
Actually, Aristotle has already
discussed pleasure, namely in Book .. See in particular ...
these things extend right through life, with a weight and power of their
own in respect both to virtue and to the happy life, since men choose
what is pleasant and avoid what is painful; and such things, it will be
thought, we should least of all omit to discuss, especially since they
admit of much dispute.
In fact, Aristotle states
here the fundamental problems of morals that I discussed in note
Book I, to which I refer the reader so
as not to have to repeat myself. What I will repeat is the table that is
in note  to
Book I for it may clarify matters
The table lists the
possible logical relations between, on the one hand, "good" and "not
good", and on the other hand "pleasurable" and "not pleasurable" - or
any of the other terms in the above drawing:
It is - or should be -
obvious that very many of the most ordinary moral problems arise
from the fact that many things that are deemed good are not deemed
pleasurable, and that many things that are supposed to be pleasurable
are not supposed to be good.
It is a bit curious that
Aristotle only in this last Book explicitly discusses the fundamental
problems of morals, though it is true that he has alluded to the moral
and practical oppositions between the good and the pleasurable
And I will assume here and
throughout that all four entries in the above table, namely α to
δ, are positive numbers, and accordingly and specifically that there are
for everyone possible choices of the unpleasurable good and of the
For some say pleasure is the good, while others, on
the contrary, say it is thoroughly bad - some no doubt being persuaded
that the facts are so, and others thinking it has a better effect on our
life to exhibit pleasure as a bad thing even if it is not; for most
people (they think) incline towards it and are the slaves of their
pleasures, for which reason they ought to lead them in the opposite
direction, since thus they will reach the middle state. But surely this
is not correct.
Aristotle discusses this
in what follows, but it is well to register that among the Greeks as
well there were differences of opinion how to behave with regards to the
good and the pleasurable.
Eudoxus thought pleasure was the good because he saw all things, both
rational and irrational, aiming at it, and because in all things that
which is the object of choice is what is excellent, and that which is
most the object of choice the greatest good; thus the fact that all
things moved towards the same object indicated that this was for all
things the chief good (for each thing, he argued, finds its own good, as
it finds its own nourishment); and that which is good for all things and
at which all aim was the good.
Let me first discuss this
rather important argument in some detail, and then consider three more
Note first that this is
much like Aristotle's own beginning of his Ethics in Book I. See  ...
Next, the main problem
with making "pleasure" the supreme good can
be seen from the table in : There are both good pleasurable things
and bad pleasurable things.
And this may be somewhat
There are things that are
valued and things that are pleasurable, and not everything that is
positively valued is pleasurable and not everything that is pleasurable
is positively valued.
And also somewhat
People - and presumably
also animals - generally do things consciously because of the value or
the pleasure they attribute to it.
Incidentally, such a value
for animals may be prudence, as may move them to hide food for later
And then there is this
point about the specialization, that concerns the last part of the
People call good
what they hold to be valueable or pleasurable - and there are various
kinds of things (activities etc.) men may hold valuable, in various
It follows, it would seem,
that people may differ about what is good, yet be quite capable of
understanding why others have their values and pleasures - for the
pleasures tend to be alike and human and the values can be understood by
reference to their systems of thought.
And also such differences
and distinctions may be rationally discussed, though as personal and
social interests tend to be involved, they may also give rise to
conflicts of other kinds.
In more general terms:
First, there is
It seems that human
beings, like other animals, are naturally attracted by what pleases, and
naturally repelled by what hurts, but that even so what human beings and
animals like best is not so much pleasure itself but to do what they
please. This was very well expressed by Sophocles:
"The fairest thing of all
is to be just;
The best to live without disease; most sweet
Power to win each day the heart's desire."
(Quoted in Bowra, "The Greek Experience", p. 92)
In a similar vein (see
Chapter 1) the Greek inscription at
Most noble is that which is justest, and best is health;
But pleasantest is it to win what we love.
It is not happiness nor
pleasure that people seek, but
power - the ability to do as they
please when they please. And indeed, it is true that the main motive for
this is that power gives happiness, which need not be pleasure but may
be any feeling of well-being produced by seeing an end one has
And it is well in this
context to give a clear definition of power: A person a has power over a
person b in respect of F iff b has F iff a desires that b has F. This
also shows why self-control is desirable, and an end in itself, for if
b=a in the definition of power, then a has power of himself precisely to
the extent that a can do and achieve as a pleases - which is a condition
that is very close to happiness.
Second, there is
the argument of note :
There are things
people choose for their own sakes, such as knowledge, health,
leisure, power, money, reputation, honor
and other things that seem to improve our chances, our social
standing, or our situation, that are not chosen
because of their pleasure or
happiness (as judged by the
people who do the choosing), even if they may be considerations that
And it is simply a matter
of fact, for very many people, that they choose something else than
their own present pleasure or happiness, quite possible as
that may be, if only for reasons of gain, reputation, fear, egoism, etc.
when they are given the choice.
And third, there
are the points made earlier:
There are things that are
valued and things that are pleasurable, and not everything that is
positively valued is pleasurable and not everything that is pleasurable
is positively valued.
People - and presumably
also animals - generally do things consciously because of the value or
the pleasure they attribute to it.
what they hold to be valueable or pleasurable - and there are various
kinds of things (activities etc.) men may hold valuable, in various
All of this seems to me to
show that neither pleasure nor happiness, nor indeed any
one other specific - kind of - thing or experience, is the good
or the end, in any plausible sense, but what people take to be
pleasurable, for their own reasons.
But these reasons are
subject to - well: reason and
argument, and may be more or less
rational, well-supported, knowledgeable, informed, fair, equitable,
practicable, realistic, feasible etc. and there is therefore little
that is relative about it, other than states of ignorance or
prejudice or intelligence - and indeed also moral fairness,
And there are good
criterions to measure such arguments by, namely what is
scientifically and technology possible or realized, and what is
not, and by what is known about human nature, human societies,
and human history, and by what is known to be fiction or
utopian or well-sounding (political or religious) ideals with bad
consequences for many.
And if "The Good"
is anything realistic, in general human terms, it must be a humane,
free, tolerant, fair and scientifically advanced human society,
because this seems to give the largest proportions of humans the
best chances to find their own kinds of satisfaction and
happiness, and to produce high human civilization while doing so.
Finally, here is a note of
mine to Leibniz's New Essays:
seek to satisfy their desires rather than seek happiness
I noted already on p. 193 that
happiness doesn't seem to move our desires, but rather that
satisfaction of our desires results in happiness. Also, people do not
merely and generally desire "happiness" but satisfaction of
specific desires, resulting also in different kinds of pleasure
(and lack of pains).
So Leibniz's reply
ought always to be the object of our desires, but there is some
reason to doubt that it is. For often we hardly think of it, and
unless appetite is directed by reason it endeavours after pleasant
pleasure rather than that lasting pleasure which is called happiness
(..)" (p. 199-200)
is correct, but he would have been
more correct still if he had said that, then, the object of our
desires should not be true happiness but to be directed always by
reason, since reason is best able to provide the most satisfaction
to our ends.UP
arguments were credited more because of the excellence of his character
than for their own sake; he was thought to be remarkably
self-controlled, and therefore it was thought that he was not saying
what he did say as a friend of pleasure, but that the facts really were
We'll see whether "the
facts really were so" in the next point and in this chapter and
the next two, but no doubt there have been remarkable men with a high
moral character and great self-control who claimed that pleasure was the
final end or criterion, while clearly being no slaves to it. Another
such one, who lived later than Aristotle, was
believed that the same conclusion followed no less plainly from a study
of the contrary of pleasure; pain was in itself an object of aversion to
all things, and therefore its contrary must be similarly an object of
choice. And again that is most an object of choice which we choose not
because or for the sake of something else, and pleasure is admittedly of
this nature; for no one asks to what end he is pleased, thus implying
that pleasure is in itself an object of choice.
The crux of the argument
is in the last sentence of the quotation, but this does not answer the
question about the fundamental table under : How then is it possible
that men sometimes choose or can choose what is good and not pleasurable, and
sometimes what is not good and pleasurable?
Note the reasons for
Eudoxes's opinion: pleasure is chosen for its own sake, and therefore is
an end, and not a means to something else.
One may well inquire
whether this is important or relevant. The fact is that human beings
need and desire and value diverse things, whatever the further point
what these are for, or whether they are intermediates or means to
something else, that is also valued, needed or desired.
And the point that about
pleasure one does not ask why one would want it can be answered by
asking the question, and answering it: In fact one regularly asks
oneself whether one does want to have this or that specific pleasure, or
not, and may decide to choose another pleasure, or no pleasure but
something useful etc.
Furthermore, there is this
consideration: Suppose it is granted that pleasure and pain are natural
sensations, which seems true at least where the body is concerned, then
why make pleasure an end? (And why not breathing, say? Both seem
pointless, since they are ends or criterions one uses anyway.)
Also, it is not as if it
is the only possible end, even if one restricts oneself to pleasure and
pain, for in many ways the prevention of pain is a better end than the
pursuit of pleasure.
Those who object that that at which all things aim is not necessarily
good are, we may surmise, talking nonsense. For we say that that which
every one thinks really is so; and the man who attacks this belief will
hardly have anything more credible to maintain instead.
I suppose this harks back
right to the beginning of the Ethics, where I commented on it in note
 to Book I. In any case, it is
perhaps even in inferior creatures there is some natural good stronger
than themselves which aims at their proper good.
This Aristotle seemed to
have meant in the sense: Living things have their own spark of divinity. But again
that is not helpful.
if both pleasure and pain belonged to the class of evils they ought both
to be objects of aversion, while if they belonged to the class of
neutrals neither should be an object of aversion or they should both be
equally so; but in fact people evidently avoid the one as evil and
choose the other as good; that then must be the nature of the opposition
No, that is too simple.
What many presumably would agree to is something like the following:
What is pleasurable to one
is good, unless it does bad, and what is painful to one is bad, unless
it does good.
Hedonists and puritans may
disagree, but most others will not, for most others will insist the good
and the pleasurable are not identical, nor are the bad and the
The same proportion is not found in all things, nor a single proportion
always in the same thing, but it may be relaxed and yet persist up to a
point, and it may differ in degree.
This I extracted because I
(..) for the pleasures of learning and, among the sensuous pleasures,
those of smell, and also many sounds and sights, and memories and hopes,
do not presuppose pain.
This seems not to be so,
in general, and for two reasons - and I am here not speaking of "memories
and hopes", of which more at the end of this note.
First, there are smells
that are so strong and foul that they make most men puke, and that
anyway cause considerable distress, whereas also e.g. the sight of food
that is coloured blue seems to be naturally unpleasant, and there are
sounds most men dislike even if they are not overly loud, but because
they are too high.
The cases mentioned seem
mostly due to innate causes, and the distaste for blue food probably is
related with the fact that blueness often is associated with rot.
Second, obviously any
sensation may evoke memories of things or events that evoked the
sensation before, and these memories may be unpleasant.
Finally, why Aristotle
says "memories and
hopes" "do not presuppose pain" is
therefore unclear to me, unless he means that the processes of
remembering and hoping themselves do not involve pain or pleasure, which
And no one would choose to live with the intellect of a child throughout
his life, however much he were to be pleased at the things that children
are pleased at, nor to get enjoyment by doing some most disgraceful
deed, though he were never to feel any pain in consequence.
I suppose this is so, at
least for the vast majority, but one would like to know why. The most
plausible explanation seems to be that the vast majority wants to be
mostly like others, and not like some freak of nature, or like some
weirdo, even if this would feel very pleasant to them.
Even so, it is a somewhat
interesting question whether many men would accept a few years of
guaranteed continuous bliss, happiness, satisfaction and joy, based on
drugs or brain-surgery, followed by a painless death, over the more or
less humdrum ordinary lifes they would lead otherwise - and it is well
to keep in mind here that quite a few who go at least a considerable way
along this path of pleasure by indulging their preferences for drugs or alcohol.
And there are many things we should be keen about even if they brought
no pleasure, e.g. seeing, remembering, knowing, possessing the virtues.
This is true, and quite
important in principle, because Aristotle will discuss in this chapter
the question whether happiness is the summum bonum, and come to the
conclusion that it is.
But then that conclusion
is at variance with this true observation: People like many things that
come with little or no pleasure, and people also like many things not in
proportion to the pleasure they bring, but for other reasons, even if
these may be as simple as the values they hold.
seems to be clear, then, that neither is pleasure the good nor is all
pleasure desirable, and that some pleasures are desirable in themselves,
differing in kind or in their sources from the others.
Indeed, but Aristotle will
come to a somewhat different conclusion about pleasure, and in order to
do so he will discuss the nature of pleasure.
Since every sense is active in relation to its object, and a sense which
is in good condition acts perfectly in relation to the most beautiful of
its objects (for perfect activity seems to be ideally of this nature;
whether we say that it is active, or the organ in which it resides, may
be assumed to be immaterial), it follows that in the case of each sense
the best activity is that of the best-conditioned organ in relation to
the finest of its objects. And this activity will be the most complete
This is quite plausible
and sensible, in general terms, and comes to this:
Pleasure is generally
associated, at least if it is bodily pleasure (!), with the proper and
healthy functioning of one's organs and body, while bodily pain is
generally associated with failing or unhealthy functioning of one's
organs or body.
The reason why this would
be so is also fairly obvious, at least from a Darwinian evolutionary
perspective: Bodily pleasure and pain serve as indicators of what is
helpful or dangerous for an organism, and thus are in the nature of
reward and warning, respectively.
To this we should add two
points, of which the first one was certainly not known to Aristotle,
since it is a fairly recent finding of brain-physiology.
One. There is in the brain
a certain region that, when stimulated, give a considerable burst of
pleasure to the organism that has that brain. The region goes by the
name of "pleasure-center", and rats, when given the opportunity to
stimulate it by pushing a pedal seem to find very few things more
interesting or rewarding to do.
Two. Though pleasure and
pain can be explained fairly well from a Darwinian perspective, it
should be mentioned that in many ways they seem to be rather crude
indicators. Thus, relatively minor or unimportant wounds or ailments,
such as a hole in a tooth, may cause great pain, which itself is not
helpful and cannot be switched off, and likewise some things that are
not very important for one's own existence, such as sex, give great
For, while there is pleasure in respect of any sense, and in respect of
thought and contemplation no less, the most complete is pleasantest, and
that of a well-conditioned organ in relation to the worthiest of its
objects is the most complete; and the pleasure completes the activity.
Aristotle has a tendency
in common with many moralists, namely an inclination to argue that the
good and the pleasurable coincide, for those who are really and truly
This is not so, as I shall
argue at various places. Here we can consider his saying that the
strongest pleasure is "that of a well-conditioned
organ in relation to the worthiest of its objects" - as if it
would not be rather than "the worthiest"
the most pleasing, in cases where pleasure is concerned.
That pleasure is produced in respect to each sense is plain; for we
speak of sights and sounds as pleasant. It is also plain that it arises
most of all when both the sense is at its best and it is active in
reference to an object which corresponds; when both object and perceiver
are of the best there will always be pleasure, since the requisite agent
and patient are both present.
Of course, pleasant "sights
and sounds" comprise the beauties of nature, visual art, music
and the singing of birds, for example. And it is an interesting fact,
and one of the good things about life, that this is so, even though
there seems to be no direct utility at all in these joys.
Pleasure completes the activity not as the corresponding permanent state
does, by its immanence, but as an end which supervenes as the bloom of
youth does on those in the flower of their age. So long, then, as both
the intelligible or sensible object and the discriminating or
contemplative faculty are as they should be, the pleasure will be
involved in the activity
This is an important point
of principle about pleasure: It is an accessory to an activity,
mostly, that belongs to or comes with the activity, and ceases when the
activity ceases, and is also subject to other regularities that hold for
activities, like habituation.
But perhaps there is
another and more useful way of formulating this: Many pleasures and
pains are kinds of information that one's organs produce in order to
inform one about their states, activities and successes or failures.
The reason to add this is
that there are quite a number of pains associated with malfunctioning or
damaged organs, that also do not cease if the organ is not exercised.
How, then, is it that no one is
continuously pleased? Is it that we grow weary? Certainly all human
beings are incapable of continuous activity. Therefore pleasure also
is not continuous; for it accompanies activity. Some things delight us
when they are new, but later do so less, for the same reason; for at
first the mind is in a state of stimulation and intensely active about
them, as people are with respect to their vision when they look hard
at a thing, but afterwards our activity is not of this kind, but has
grown relaxed; for which reason the pleasure also is dulled.
Indeed, and Aristotle here
speaks of habituation. However, continuing what I said in the previous
note, two general points about pleasure and pain should be made:
One. It seems that for the
vast majority of human beings, as long as their natural needs are
satisfied, and they are not in pain, not ill, and not in fearful
expectation, being alive feels pleasant, in a mild way, even if
one is not doing anything specific that pleases. (Being bored here is
somewhat of an exception, but beyond noting it I will not discuss it
here, except by the remark that it seems a concommitant of the healthy
and well off who are fairly to very stupid, or are hemmed in by all
manner of useless conventions.)
Two. Although generally
pleasure ceases if the the activity with which it is associated ceases,
this is not true of most pains, for these tend to endure until the
malfunctioning or damaged organ has been repaired.
Next, sofar I have mostly
written my notes on the assumption that I am speaking of bodily
pleasures and pains, but these are not the only pleasures and pains, for
there are also mental pleasures and pains.
These seem to be related
to our values and ends, and whether we succeeded or failed in furthering
these, and it is noteworthy that these feelings - such as: love for a
person, grief for a person's death, joy because one's group succeeded in
something, fear because one's society is attacked - may be very strong,
and have various bodily manifestations, like increased pulse, tremor,
paleness, goose pimples etc., but generally have no specific organic
And what Aristotle has
said about pleasure does not clearly apply to mental pleasures, even
though these are quite important in a man's life. Also, it is important
to underscore here that mental pleasures and pains do depend on one's
values and ends - and that accordingly, these values and ends must have
existed before these pleasures and pains, and be mostly independent from
One might think that all men desire pleasure
because they all aim at life; life is an activity, and each man is
active about those things and with those faculties that he loves most;
e.g. the musician is active with his hearing in reference to tunes, the
student with his mind in reference to theoretical questions, and so on
in each case; now pleasure completes the activities, and therefore life,
which they desire.
Yes, this seems plausible,
and in line with what was said under 
But whether we choose life for the sake of pleasure or pleasure for the
sake of life is a question we may dismiss for the present. For they seem
to be bound up together and not to admit of separation, since without
activity pleasure does not arise, and every activity is completed by the
Somewhat of an academic
question, indeed. Besides there is a rather important fact of life: it
is imposed on one. Everybody gets born without any say in it, nor about
his or her native qualities and shortcomings.
For this reason pleasures seem, too, to differ in kind. For things
different in kind are, we think, completed by different things (we see
this to be true both of natural objects and of things produced by art,
e.g. animals, trees, a painting, a sculpture, a house, an implement);
and, similarly, we think that activities differing in kind are completed
by things differing in kind.
Indeed, and in view of
what was said above there may be as many different kinds of bodily
pleasures as one has organs. This does not seem to be quite true, but in
any case there are many kinds of bodily pleasure for any human being,
and generally these are valued more or less, depending on many things,
and there also normally are many kinds of mental pleasure for any human
being, to which the same applies.
And mental pleasures seem
to be mostly tied up with our own values and ends and their (apparent)
satisfactions, although laughter or humor and beauty seem to involve
special faculties - that may both have to do with proportion.
(..) each of the pleasures is bound up with the activity it
completes. For an activity is intensified by its proper pleasure, since
each class of things is better judged of and brought to precision by
those who engage in the activity with pleasure; e.g. it is those who
enjoy geometrical thinking that become geometers and grasp the various
propositions better, and, similarly, those who are fond of music or of
building, and so on, make progress in their proper function by enjoying
it; so the pleasures intensify the activities (..)
This will be even more apparent from the fact that activities are
hindered by pleasures arising from other sources. For people who are
fond of playing the flute are incapable of attending to arguments if
they overhear some one playing the flute, since they enjoy flute-playing
more than the activity in hand; so the pleasure connected with
fluteplaying destroys the activity concerned with argument. This
happens, similarly, in all other cases, when one is active about two
things at once; the more pleasant activity drives out the other, and if
it is much more pleasant does so all the more, so that one even ceases
from the other.
This is true, but the
reason seems to be more general and related to attention: One's
attention to things varies with the interest one takes in them (or in
what they seem to bring), both positively and negatively.
This is why when we enjoy anything very much we do not throw ourselves
into anything else, and do one thing only when we are not much pleased
by another; e.g. in the theatre the people who eat sweets do so most
when the actors are poor.
See the previous remark,
and note that the Greeks of Aristotle's days were quite similar to
(..) activities are made precise and more enduring and better by
their proper pleasure, and injured by alien pleasures (..)
Yes, but they are "injured"
- diminished, hindered, upset - not only by "alien
pleasures" but also by anything else that is different and
catches one's attention.
an activity suffers contrary effects from its proper pleasures and
pains, i.e. from those that supervene on it in virtue of its own nature.
And alien pleasures have been stated to do much the same as pain; they
destroy the activity, only not to the same degree.
Now since activities differ in respect of goodness and badness, and some
are worthy to be chosen, others to be avoided, and others neutral, so,
too, are the pleasures; for to each activity there is a proper pleasure.
The pleasure proper to a worthy activity is good and that proper to an
unworthy activity bad; just as the appetites for noble objects are
laudable, those for base objects culpable.
Yes, but in fact it would
seem rather as if, then, it is not "the pleasures"
that are chosen, but the activities that lead to pleasures one
desires, even in such cases where these pleasures are what is aimed at,
and not the activities that gives rise to them, or what is produced by
This observation is of
considerable relevance for the question whether men desire pleasures, or
whether doing what is pleasurable is the supreme end or standard of
But the pleasures involved in activities are more proper to them than
the desires; for the latter are separated both in time and in nature,
while the former are close to the activities, and so hard to distinguish
from them that it admits of dispute whether the activity is not the same
as the pleasure.
Indeed, and this is
another important point of principle:
Supposing for the moment
that what one desires to do is some activity, then there are two kinds
of pleasure involved in this, namely the pleasure that comes with the
doing of the activity, and the pleasure that comes from the result of
I remarked before on this,
under  in Book II.
Each animal is thought to have a proper pleasure, as it has a proper
function; viz. that which corresponds to its activity. If we survey them
species by species, too, this will be evident; horse, dog, and man have
different pleasures, as Heraclitus says 'asses would prefer sweepings to
gold'; for food is pleasanter than gold to asses.
Indeed, and different
kinds of animals have different constitutions, different organs,
different senses, different niches in nature, different needs a.s.o. and
what makes human beings special is their ability to reason, to think and
to speak with one another about possibilities and alternatives, and to
predict or foresee the future, and to use all manner of things as means
Also, it seems to me that
in this respect human beings, that indeed are animals, differ from all
other animals: they are creatures of their own imagination; their
reality is mostly not of the here and now, the present, or this day, but
of their lifes, their hopes, their fears, their expectations, and the
desires they mean to satisfy in many a year by their present efforts.
All of this is imaginary, even if - as is often not the case - what is
imagined is feasible or probable or practicable.
the pleasures of creatures different in kind differ in kind, and it is
plausible to suppose that those of a single species do not differ. But
they vary to no small extent, in the case of men at least; the same
things delight some people and pain others, and are painful and odious
to some, and pleasant to and liked by others.
See under . It is
difficult to pronounce with certainty on the feelings of other kinds of
animals, but noteworthy that their nervous systems and also their
neuro-transmitters and nerve-cells resemble the human ones, except that
the latter may involve more complication.
There are at least two
broad classes of reasons why different people have different pleasures:
Different tastes or needs, and different values or ends.
Apart from that, it is at
least somewhat interesting that many pleasures are acquired, and depend
on learning and habituation, and that accordingly they may be unlearned
as well. A good example are one's preferences in food.
The same happens in other cases. But in all such matters that which
appears to be good to the good man is thought to be really so. If this is correct,
as it seems to be, and virtue and the good man as such are the measure
of each thing, those also will be pleasures which appear so to him, and
those things pleasant which he enjoys.
Yes, and while it might be
objected that this sounds or is circular, this is appearance, for
Aristotle has made it rather clear what he thinks is to be understood by
"the good man" ......
Those which are admittedly disgraceful plainly should not be said to be
pleasures, except to a perverted taste (..)
No, I don't think so at
all, for this smells too much of Politically Correct terminology, and it
makes it also somewhat more difficult to understand bad men or bad acts
if one is not allowed to say that they do the bad things they do
predominantly because doing so gives them pleasure or gain, regardless
of the consequent pains or losses of others.
Whether, then, the perfect and supremely happy man has one or more
activities, the pleasures that perfect these will be said in the strict
sense to be pleasures proper to man, and the rest will be so in a
secondary and fractional way, as are the activities.
Indeed, and in more modern
terms one may say that every kind of character comes with its own needs
and pleasures, that will be somewhat difficult to comprehend for those
who have a quite different character.
A somewhat interesting
system on these lines is that of Sheldon and ....
Now that we have spoken of the virtues, the forms of friendship, and the
varieties of pleasure, what remains is to discuss in outline the nature
of happiness, since this is what we state the end of human nature to be.
As I have pointed out
before - see e.g. note  to
Book I - I do not believe that "happiness"
is the right term here, or else, if it is, then I don't agree that it is "the
end of human nature", for there is much more to life than merely
The much better term here
is "well-being" or "the good life", or "living well and doing well", and
if phrased in these terms there is much more to be said for Aristotle's
said, then, that it is not a disposition; for if it were it might belong
to some one who was asleep throughout his life (..)
However, it seems more
plausible to suppose it is due to a disposition, that may be exercised
(..) we must rather class happiness as an activity, as we have said
before, and if some activities are necessary, and desirable for the sake
of something else, while others are so in themselves, evidently
happiness must be placed among those desirable in themselves, not among
those desirable for the sake of something else; for happiness does not
lack anything, but is self-sufficient.
Here we have again the
difficulty that "happiness" is not a very
apt term, and that, as I use it, it is a feeling rather than an
activity. And if one substitutes "well-being" for "happiness", one has
the difficulty that this too is not plausibly "an
Pleasant amusements also are thought to be of this nature; we choose
them not for the sake of other things; for we are injured rather than
benefited by them, since we are led to neglect our bodies and our
property. But most of the people who are deemed happy take refuge in
such pastimes, which is the reason why those who are ready-witted at
them are highly esteemed at the courts of tyrants; they make themselves
pleasant companions in the tyrants' favourite pursuits, and that is the
sort of man they want.
Indeed, but then this is,
or should be, a considerable problem for Aristotle, for what is the
difference between "Pleasant amusements"
and "happiness"? And if the supreme end is
"happiness", then why would this supreme
end not be served if the "happiness" one
seeks is of the nature of "amusements" -
TV, film, music, theatre and so on?
(..) boys, too, think the things that are valued among themselves are
the best. It is to be expected, then, that, as different things seem
valuable to boys and to men, so they should to bad men and to good.
No doubt, but the moral
problem here is that the "bad men" too will
hold themselves to be good, or at least not silly and unpractical, and
even good men may be mistaken. But Aristotle comes with something like
an answer to this in the next point.
Now, as we have often maintained, those things are both valuable and
pleasant which are such to the good man; and to each man the activity in
accordance with his own disposition is most desirable, and, therefore,
to the good man that which is in accordance with virtue. Happiness,
therefore, does not lie in amusement; it would, indeed, be strange if
the end were amusement, and one were to take trouble and suffer hardship
all one's life in order to amuse oneself.
Even so, it would seem as
if, in case Eudoxus and Aristotle are right that pleasure or happiness
is the end of life, then so is amusement, even if a stern and strict
philosopher may frown on trivial pleasures, for trivial pleasures are
For, in a word, everything that we choose we choose for the sake of
something else - except happiness, which is an end. Now to exert oneself
and work for the sake of amusement seems silly and utterly childish. But
to amuse oneself in order that one may exert oneself, as Anacharsis puts
it, seems right; for amusement is a sort of relaxation, and we need
relaxation because we cannot work continuously. Relaxation, then, is not
an end; for it is taken for the sake of activity.
This does not seem to be
so, in at least two ways - and also see under .
First, it seems not true
that "everything that we choose we choose for the
sake of something else - except happiness", for there are, at
least, other things we choose for their own sakes, such as knowledge,
health, leisure, power, money, reputation, honor and other things that
seem to improve our chances, our social standing, or our situation.
And note that the possible
retort "But knowledge, health, leisure, power, money, reputation, honor
etc. have their pleasures too, and are chosen for their pleasure" is not
relevant, in that the point is that one may choose either of these over
any of the others, and in spite of the fact that one's choice, when
measured in mere pleasure, may be inferior to another choice one might
In brief, sometimes people
do not choose the most pleasurable, but the more valuable - whatever
their choices, reasons or motives.
Second, the argument that
"Relaxation, then, is not an end; for it is taken
for the sake of activity" is at best ingenuous but quite
implausible or impossible if pleasure is an end, for then relaxation,
which is chosen for the sake of pleasure, must be an end too. See under
Furthermore, if this is
not so in case of relaxation, there seems to be no reason why it would
be so in case of pleasure, for about that one might also maintain that
it is not chosen for its own sake, but to help one live life to its
fullest extent, as a kind of food.
The happy life is thought to be virtuous; now a virtuous life requires
exertion, and does not consist in amusement.
Here things seem to go
thoroughly confused, for clearly the life that is "virtuous"
is good rather than happy, and there is no impossibility at all in
conceiving a good man with an unhappy life - one may be and do good
without becoming happy because of this at all.
However, Aristotle seems
bend on "proving" that the good man must be happy. This seems
to me unwise and untrue, for the rather simple reasons that, first, one
may be a good man who must try to survive in bad circumstances, and
second, even for a thoroughly good man, the chances of happiness in the
Aristotelian sense, throughout one's life, for nearly all men, at least,
tend to be very much more dependent on external circumstances than on
one's own efforts.
If happiness is activity in accordance
with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the
highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us. Whether
it be reason or something else that is this element which is thought
to be our natural ruler and guide and to take thought of things noble
and divine, whether it be itself also divine or only the most divine
element in us, the activity of this in accordance with its proper
virtue will be perfect happiness. That this activity is contemplative
we have already said.
Here we have another
instance of Aristotle's penchant for making values and facts hang
together, which I don't believe makes sense, as I also don't believe in
a "divine element in us".
And we think happiness has pleasure mingled with it, but the activity of
philosophic wisdom is admittedly the pleasantest of virtuous activities;
at all events the pursuit of it is thought to offer pleasures marvellous
for their purity and their enduringness, and it is to be expected that
those who know will pass their time more pleasantly than those who
inquire. And the self-sufficiency that is spoken of must belong most to
the contemplative activity.
This should be doubted....
For while a philosopher, as well as a just man or one possessing any
other virtue, needs the necessaries of life, when they are sufficiently
equipped with things of that sort the just man needs people towards whom
and with whom he shall act justly, and the temperate man, the brave man,
and each of the others is in the same case, but the philosopher, even
when by himself, can contemplate truth, and the better the wiser he is;
he can perhaps do so better if he has fellow-workers, but still he is
the most self-sufficient. And this activity alone would seem to be loved
for its own sake; for nothing arises from it apart from the
contemplating, while from practical activities we gain more or less
apart from the action.
And happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we are busy that we
may have leisure, and make war that we may live in peace.
Indeed, but this again
introduces a good and an end that is not "happiness"
yet one that is indeed the reason why people work, which can be defined
as efforts that are not pleasant themselves, mostly, and that are
directed at the realization of pleasant or desirable ends.
(..) the action of the statesman is also unleisurely, and - apart from the political action
itself - aims at despotic power and honours, or at all events happiness,
for him and his fellow citizens (..)
This passage is extracted
to show that Aristotle was capable of being as realistic about
politicians and rulers as Machiavelli, while it is also noteworthy that
what Aristotle says here about politicians and their ends not only
agrees well with Machiavelli, but also with Max Weber's definition in
'Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft'.
(..) the activity of reason, which is contemplative, seems both to be
superior in serious worth and to aim at no end beyond itself, and to
have its pleasure proper to itself (and this augments the activity), and
the self-sufficiency, leisureliness, unweariedness (so far as this is
possible for man), and all the other attributes ascribed to the
supremely happy man are evidently those connected with this activity, it
follows that this will be the complete happiness of man, if it be
allowed a complete term of life (for none of the attributes of happiness
Actually, this gets - it
would seem - more true and of wider application if "the
activity of reason" is replaced by "the activity of fantasy",
since this seems to be what motivates most men and women: Their
fantasies - hopes, expectations, ends - about what they do things for.
See also under , for
the activity or fantasy or the imagination seems to be typically human.
But such a life would be too high for man; for it is not in so far as he
is man that he will live so, but in so far as something divine is
present in him; and by so much as this is superior to our composite
nature is its activity superior to that which is the exercise of the
other kind of virtue. If reason is divine, then, in comparison with man,
the life according to it is divine in comparison with human life.
Note that when this is
restated in accordance with , what we get is a far more realistic
sort of human end: A life directed at one's imaginary ideals, whatever
these may be, however (un)reasonable or (im)moral.
For this seems to be the
life most people lead in fact, though their imaginary ideals tend to be
everyday and material: To keep up with the neighbours, and to have
sufficient money to indulge one's chosen pleasures, say.
But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human
things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can,
make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance
with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, much more
does it in power and worth surpass everything.
Aristotle believed that
there was something like a divine spark in human beings, and that it
mostly coincides with, or at least is known as, one's sense of self.
I see no good reason for
making such a divine assumption, but I agree that there is a sense of
self, and indeed a theory of oneself, that all adult people have and
adopt, and that it is this sense of self, in sofar as it is mostly based
on facts, is the best approximation to what a person is. For more, see
the next point.
This would seem, too, to be each man himself, since it is the
authoritative and better part of him. It would be strange, then, if he
were to choose not the life of his self but that of something else. And
what we said before will apply now; that which is proper to each thing
is by nature best and most pleasant for each thing; for man, therefore,
the life according to reason is best and pleasantest, since reason more
than anything else is man. This life therefore is also the happiest.
But in a secondary degree the life in accordance with the other kind of
virtue is happy; for the activities in accordance with this befit our
human estate. Just and brave acts, and other virtuous acts, we do in
relation to each other, observing our respective duties with regard to
contracts and services and all manner of actions and with regard to
passions; and all of these seem to be typically human. Some of them seem
even to arise from the body, and virtue of character to be in many ways
bound up with the passions.
Practical wisdom, too, is linked to virtue of character, and this to
practical wisdom, since the principles of practical wisdom are in
accordance with the moral virtues and rightness in morals is in
accordance with practical wisdom. Being connected with the passions
also, the moral virtues must belong to our composite nature; and the
virtues of our composite nature are human; so, therefore, are the life
and the happiness which correspond to these.
The liberal man will need money for the doing of his liberal deeds, and
the just man too will need it for the returning of services (for wishes
are hard to discern, and even people who are not just pretend to wish to
act justly); and the brave man will need power if he is to accomplish
any of the acts that correspond to his virtue, and the temperate man
will need opportunity; for how else is either he or any of the others to
is debated, too, whether the will or the deed is more essential to
virtue, which is assumed to involve both; it is surely clear that its
perfection involves both; but for deeds many things are needed, and
more, the greater and nobler the deeds are.
See the Philosophical
Dictionary under Willing.
 But the man
who is contemplating the truth needs no such thing, at least with a
view to the exercise of his activity; indeed they are, one may say,
even hindrances, at all events to his contemplation; but in so far
as he is a man and lives with a number of people, he chooses to do
virtuous acts; he will therefore need such aids to living a human
Now if you take away from a living being action, and still more
production, what is left but contemplation? Therefore the activity of
God, which surpasses all others in blessedness, must be contemplative;
and of human activities, therefore, that which is most akin to this must
be most of the nature of happiness.
This is indicated, too, by the fact that the other animals have no share
in happiness, being completely deprived of such activity. For while the
whole life of the gods is blessed, and that of men too in so far as some
likeness of such activity belongs to them, none of the other animals is
happy, since they in no way share in contemplation.
No, or the sense in which
Aristotle uses "happy" here must be limited
to human beings anyway. In any case, it seems cats and dogs can be quite
happy (contented, joyful, pleased, etc.), and the same seems to be true of other mammals and of birds,
though it should be admitted that the happiness of animals is of a kind that
apparently is mostly peculiar to their species, and that certainly cannot involve the speculations,
expectations, hopes, fears, ideals and values that are typically human, and dependent on
Happiness extends, then, just
so far as contemplation does, and those to whom contemplation more
fully belongs are more truly happy, not as a mere concomitant but in
virtue of the contemplation; for this is in itself precious.
Happiness, therefore, must be some form of contemplation.
Aristotle again seems to
indulge in wishful thinking, for clearly there is a lot of human and
animal happiness outside contemplation. In any case, and only
considering humans, I would assume that for most men there is not much
happiness to be found in contemplation, and that most men seek most of
their joys in some kind of bodily actitivity, whether sport, sex or
But, being a man, one will also need external prosperity; for our nature
is not self-sufficient for the purpose of contemplation, but our body
also must be healthy and must have food and other attention. Still, we
must not think that the man who is to be happy will need many things or
great things, merely because he cannot be supremely happy without
external goods; for self-sufficiency and action do not involve excess,
and we can do noble acts without ruling earth and sea; for even with
moderate advantages one can act virtuously (..)
(..) private persons are thought to do worthy acts no less than despots -
indeed even more (..)
Indeed, and one reason
that the good private persons do is more
worthy than the good done by dictators and people in power is that it
tends to involve more risk to the doer and to be more difficult to do.
the life of the man who is active in accordance with virtue will be
happy. Solon, too, was perhaps sketching well the happy man when he
described him as moderately furnished with externals but as having done
(as Solon thought) the noblest acts, and lived temperately; for one can
with but moderate possessions do what one ought.
Yes, but I deny once more
that "the life of the man who is active in
accordance with virtue will be happy", for he may well be
virtuous in a bad society, and be cruelly punished or persecuted in
Anaxagoras also seems to have supposed the happy man not to be rich nor
a despot, when he said that he would not be surprised if the happy man
were to seem to most people a strange person; for they judge by
externals, since these are all they perceive. The opinions of the wise
seem, then, to harmonize with our arguments.
Yes, and it seems fair and
reasonable to say that the happiness ordinary men seek, which mostly
consists in social conformism in the hope of obtaining the social
benefits of such conformism, is mostly illusory, in that there is, apart
from safety, little human happiness to be found in comformity, for human
happiness seems to depend on being who one is, and living in accordance
with one's talents and values.
(..) the truth in practical matters is discerned from the facts of life;
for these are the decisive factor. We must therefore survey what we have
already said, bringing it to the test of the facts of life, and if it
harmonizes with the facts we must accept it, but if it clashes with them
we must suppose it to be mere theory.
And that all these attributes belong most of all to the philosopher is
manifest. He, therefore, is the dearest to the gods. And he who is that
will presumably be also the happiest; so that in this way too the
philosopher will more than any other be happy.
On one level we have here
a philosopher who proves to his own satisfaction that philosophers are
dearest to the gods and the most happy of mortals - and accordingly a
certain partiality may be suspected.
Surely, as the saying goes, where there are things to be done the end is
not to survey and recognize the various things, but rather to do them;
with regard to virtue, then, it is not enough to know, but we must try
to have and use it, or try any other way there may be of becoming good.
This is true, of course,
but one important problem is that, while most or all of the rules of
morals that are widely acceptable to men, such as the Golden Rule, have
been known for thousands of years, even so during all these years there
have been wars, enslavements, murders and repressions in great number,
and with horrible effects. Aristotle addresses the problem in the next
Now if arguments were in themselves enough to make men good, they would
justly, as Theognis says, have won very great rewards, and such rewards
should have been provided; but as things are, while they seem to have
power to encourage and stimulate the generous-minded among our youth,
and to make a character which is gently born, and a true lover of what
is noble, ready to be possessed by virtue, they are not able to
encourage the many to nobility and goodness.
Here are at least two
points that have to be considered.
First, homilies, sermons
and tracts on morals have not made a much better world, even though some
may have prevented it of becoming worse than it would otherwise be.
The main reason is that
the vast majority has no other effective choice than to conform in most
things to their social surroundings, if they want to survive or live
tolerably in it. And indeed, in Chamfort's words
"Les hommes sont si pervers que le seul espoir et même le seul désir
de les corriger, de les voir raisonnables et honnêtes, est un absurdité,
une idée romanesque qui ne se pardonne qu'à la simplicité de la première
Second, one may well ask -
seeing the ordinary state of the world, that has been, once again, well
summarized by Chamfort:
l'Histoire n'est qu'une suite d'horreurs."
- whether "the
many" want "nobility and goodness"
or are capable of it.
The answer must be that
they neither want it nor are capable of it, on their own initiatives and
strengths, and that the most they are capable of, usually, is to try to
have a pleasant life for themselves, their family and their friends,
while conforming to the norms and uses of their own society, whatever
these may be.
This does not exclude the
possibility of their being brave, noble, courageous or good, but only if
this mostly conforms to the norms of their society or if the individuals
involved are themselves extra-ordinary individuals.
For these do not by nature obey the sense of shame, but only
fear, and do not abstain from bad acts because of their baseness but
through fear of punishment; living by passion they pursue their own
pleasures and the means to them, and and the opposite pains, and have
not even a conception of what is noble and truly pleasant, since they
have never tasted it. What argument would remould such people? It is
hard, if not impossible, to remove by argument the traits that have
long since been incorporated in the character; and perhaps we must be
content if, when all the influences by which we are thought to become
good are present, we get some tincture of virtue.
Here is Aristotle's
version of the argument under : Ordinary people are moved mostly by
fear, not morality; they are motivated mostly by pleasure and pains, not
by ideals or values; and they are not capable of feeling the joys the
most intelligent or artistic are capable of feeling through philosophy,
contemplation or art.
Note that one main
implication of this and the previous point is that the best way to get a
good society is to try to find good laws for it, and see to their
maintenance: One can improve the majority of mankind only by improving
the laws by which they live - and only to the extent that they are
capable of such improvements.
Now some think that we are made good by nature, others by habituation,
others by teaching. Nature's part evidently does not depend on us, but
as a result of some divine causes is present in those who are truly
fortunate; while argument and teaching, we may suspect, are not powerful
with all men (..)
--> Gibbon as q by Feynman
For he who lives as passion directs will not hear argument that
dissuades him, nor understand it if he does; and how can we persuade one
in such a state to change his ways? And in general passion seems to
yield not to argument but to force. The character, then, must somehow be
there already with a kinship to virtue, loving what is noble and hating
what is base.
But it is difficult to get from youth up a right training for virtue if
one has not been brought up under right laws; for to live temperately
and hardily is not pleasant to most people, especially when they are
young. For this reason their nurture and occupations should be fixed by
law; for they will not be painful when they have become customary.
It is highly likely that
the sort of education that young men get in modern Western Europe and
the US would have seemed to be one that is virtually certain to
guarantee the existence of a large majority of weak, effeminate and
improperly educated and ignorant "democratic electors".
For more on this, see
Kitto's "The Greeks"; Bowra's "The Greek Experience",
Burckhardt's "Griechische Kulturgeschichte" and Thucydides' "The
(..) most people obey necessity rather than argument, and punishments
rather than the sense of what is noble.
This is true and
important, and one of the fundamental problems of both ethics and
morals, and of politics:
The great majority of
human beings is neither very rational nor very moral, and both seem to
be mostly due to innate incapacities, and not to education.
If this is true, it also
means that those who want to change the world in any major or radical way are
probably mistaken, as are those who believe major changes are possible
by changes in education.
If previous ages allow any
estimate of men's capacities for good and evil, then what men have done
in these ages show their capacities - and these must remain roughly the
same until the human genome has been altered.
This is why some think that legislators ought to stimulate men to virtue
and urge them forward by the motive of the noble, on the assumption that
those who have been well advanced by the formation of habits will attend
to such influences; and that punishments and penalties should be imposed
on those who disobey and are of inferior nature, while the incurably bad
should be completely banished.
This accords with Greek
practice in Aristotle's time, but the general recipe involved, namely
that "legislators" are to decide not only
the laws of society but also regulate the education it provides, suffers
from the problem phrased by Juvenal as "Quis custodiet ipse custodies?"
- say in the present terms: Who or what then guarantees that the "legislators"
are any good, or always wise and beneficient? Or that power is not
abused by the powerful in their own interests?
However that may be, if (as we have said) the man who is to be good must
be well trained and habituated, and go on to spend his time in worthy
occupations and neither willingly nor unwillingly do bad actions (..)
... then there will be no
more than a small minority of such men in any human society, it seems to
(..) the law has compulsive power, while it is at the same time a rule
proceeding from a sort of practical wisdom and reason. And while people
hate men who oppose their impulses, even if they oppose them rightly,
the law in its ordaining of what is good is not burdensome.
This shows a very
optimistic view of the working and reception of "the
law" - as if for many it has not appeared that the laws of their
society mostly existed and worked to protect the interests of the rich
and the élite, but not of them.
the Spartan state alone, or almost alone, the legislator seems to have
paid attention to questions of nurture and occupations; in most states
such matters have been neglected, and each man lives as he pleases,
Cyclops-fashion, 'to his own wife and children dealing law'.
No doubt both Plato and
Aristotle deplored this, and therefore it is well to point out that, at
least as far as the men are concerned, in case that "each
man lives as he pleases", such men are free, at liberty to do as
they please or see fit, even if their wifes and children may deplore the
use made of this.
 Now it is best that there should
be a public and proper care for such matters; but if they are
neglected by the community it would seem right for each man to help
his children and friends towards virtue, and that they should have the
power, or at least the will, to do this.
would seem, then, that the detail is worked out with more precision if
the control is private; for each person is more likely to get what suits
And surely he who wants to make men, whether many or few, better by his
care must try to become capable of legislating, if it is through laws
that we can become good.
Must we not, then, next examine whence or how one can learn how to
legislate? Is it, as in all other cases, from statesmen? Certainly it
was thought to be a part of statesmanship. Or is a difference apparent
between statesmanship and the other sciences and arts?
But those of the sophists who profess the art seem to be very far from
Possibly so, but one must
bear in mind that Aristotle probably looked down on
politics, in which - if so - he was mostly mistaken.
In any case, Thucydides
shows clearly that the Athenians were quite capable of understanding
Machiavelli, formulating much of his thoughts for themselves, and could
be very ruthless and cruel, especially if this furthered their own
Surely, then, while collections of laws, and of constitutions also, may
be serviceable to those who can study them and judge what is good or bad
and what enactments suit what circumstances, those who go through such
collections without a practised faculty will not have right judgement
(unless it be as a spontaneous gift of nature), though they may perhaps
become more intelligent in such matters.
Aristotle is reputed to
have collected some 150 constitutions of Greek city-states of his time,
but only that of Athens has survived. In any case, it seems as if he
seriously and empirically investigated the problem of what "collections
of laws" may do to mould people.
Now our predecessors have left the subject of legislation to us
unexamined; it is perhaps best, therefore, that we should ourselves
study it, and in general study the question of the constitution, in
order to complete to the best of our ability our philosophy of human
Of course, this is not
quite correct, as Aristotle must have known, for e.g. Plato's "Republic"
and "Laws" do consider legislation, and in considerable if not realistic
First, then, if anything has been said well in detail by
earlier thinkers, let us try to review it; then in the light of the
constitutions we have collected let us study what sorts of influence
preserve and destroy states, and what sorts preserve or destroy the
particular kinds of constitution, and to what causes it is due that
some are well and others ill administered. When these have been
studied we shall perhaps be more likely to see with a comprehensive
view, which constitution is best, and how each must be ordered, and
what laws and customs it must use, if it is to be at its best. Let
us make a beginning of our discussion.
And here Aristotle moves
on to his Politics, at least in his edited collected works, to
which the Ethics, accordingly, serves as an introduction.