What Does Aristotle Identify as the Ultimate Human Good? Why Does He Select That Condition?

Topics: Happiness, Meaning of life, Nicomachean Ethics Pages: 5 (1794 words) Published: November 11, 2008
In the quest to find out what is the ultimate human good, Aristotle dedicated Book 1 of the Nicomachean Ethics to provide an account of what is the ultimate human good, and what it consists of. This essay will examine why Aristotle thinks that eudaimonia (happiness), is the ultimate human good. Through this discussion, we will see Aristotle suggest four central views which are critical to eudaimonia being the ultimate human good. Firstly, one has to live a life according to one’s function. Secondly, natural, virtuous activity is required in order to live a life of happiness. Thirdly, one requires possessing external goods such as wealth, power and friends in order to be happy. Last but not least, in order to live a life of happiness, one has to live a whole life in accordance to virtue in order to determine if the person lived a happy life. Whatever we do in life, according to Aristotle, we do for the sake of some good, or at least something we perceive to be good (Ross, Book 1, chap. 1). Aristotle points out that ends pursued for some further purpose, such as wealth is said to be incomplete because it has not reached the final end (Ross, Book I). Without a final end, all actions will be pointless and empty. Aristotle’s search for the ultimate good is a search for the “highest good”. Aristotle argues that the good must be something complete, which is not desired for some further end (Ross, Book I). Therefore it is just to say that the most complete end is intrinsically valuable. Aristotle proposes that eudaimonia is the most intrinsically valuable. Eudaimonia is defined as happiness, or well-being. It is the universally recognized chief good (Runes, 2004). Happiness is the ultimate human good, because when we ask ourselves why we do something, ultimately we come to the conclusion – because it makes us happy. Happiness is an end to itself. It is the ultimate human good. Through this, we can see three distinct characteristics to happiness: it is desirable for itself, it is not desirable for the sake of some other good, and all other goods are desirable for its sake. Aristotle points out that different people translate happiness differently. Most commonly, people will identify happiness as pleasure, health, honour, wealth and etc. (Ross, Book 1, chap 4.). A sick person might wish for good health and less fortunate for monetary benefits. But Aristotle believed that those wishes/wants fail to achieve the highest status. This brings about three types of lives: 1) the life of enjoyment, 2) the political life, and 3) the contemplative life (Ross, Book 1, chap. 5). The first consisted of people who identified happiness as sensual pleasure (Ross, Book 1, chap. 5). According to Aristotle, this kind of life is “suitable to beast” (Ross, Book 1, chap. 5). Honor and virtue is associated with happiness for people who live a political life (Ross, Book 1, chap. 5). These kinds of life according to Aristotle are superficial and fake (Ross, Book 1, chap. 5). Lastly, people who live a contemplative life associates wealth with the source of happiness (Ross, Book 1, chap. 5). Aristotle believed that neither of these achieved the highest status (Ross, Book 1, chap. 5). He said that those things were imperfect by themselves because they are not permanent (Ross, Book 1, chap. 5). An honorable person is dependent on others' recognition of one's virtue or excellence. Therefore, the political life is a life of dependence on others, while happiness requires self-sufficiency or independence. Therefore that particular person cannot be called a happy person. And a business man’s life devoted to acquiring wealth cannot be called a happy life because it comes with many constraints (Ross, Book 1, chap. 5). For happiness is the final end and this means that it cannot be a mean to a further end; yet money is nothing but a mean, a pure mean. And thus, wealth in itself is not an admirable source of happiness and that is the reason it is not able to...

Cited: Runes, D. Dagobert. Dictionary of Philosophy. July 10, 2004. Digital Text International.
April 5th, 2007. http://www.ditext.com/runes/e.html
Ross, D. W. “Nicomachean Ethic, Book 1.” Nicomachean Ethics. 350 BC. March 28th,
2007. http://www.constitution.org/ari/ethic_01.htm#1.1
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