Scholars do not agree on where the name for the Nicomachean Ethics comes from. Both Aristotle’s father and his son were named Nicomachus, so it is possible that the book is dedicated to either one. Other scholars suggest that Aristotle’s son may have edited the book after Aristotle died, so that the title “Nicomachean” may refer to this particular edition of Aristotle’s ethical works. Happiness is the highest good and the end at which all our activities ultimately aim. All our activities aim at some end, though most of these ends are means toward other ends. For example, we go grocery shopping to buy food, but buying food is itself a means toward the end of eating well and thriftily. Eating well and thriftily is also not an end in itself but a means to other ends. Only happiness is an end in itself, so it is the ultimate end at which all our activities aim. As such, it is the supreme good. The difficulty is that people don’t agree on what makes for a happy or good life, so the purpose of the Ethics is to find an answer to this question. By its nature, the investigation is imprecise because there are so many variables involved when considering a person’s life as a whole.
Aristotle defines the supreme good as an activity of the rational soul in accordance with virtue. Virtue for the Greeks is equivalent to excellence. A man has virtue as a flautist, for instance, if he plays the flute well, since playing the flute is the distinctive activity of a flautist. A virtuous person is someone who performs the distinctive activity of being human well. Rationality is our distinctive activity, that is, the activity that distinguishes us from plants and animals. All living things have a nutritive soul, which governs growth and nutrition. Humans and animals are distinct from plants in having a sensitive soul, which governs locomotion and instinct. Humans are distinct above all for having also a rational soul, which governs thought. Since our rationality is our distinctive...
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