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Critically Examine Aristotle's Understanding Of The Good And Its Relationship To Human Function

1050 words - 4 pages

In Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle introduces several ideas about ethics, a key one being that ethics is teleological (goal-directed). According to Aristotle, everything has a purpose, or end, and this includes humans. Aristotle argues that this purpose or function is directly related to living a fulfilled life, depending on how well it is exercised, and this in turn is linked to what is "good".Since human beings have parts that all have functions and humans are composed of these parts, it makes sense to say that humans must have a function themselves. In the same way that these parts are part of the body as a whole, their functions are part of a whole function. However, to ascertain what the function of humans is we must first define what a function actually is: it is what makes a thing what it is, it makes it unique. In this way Aristotle can determine some things which the human function is not. The human function cannot be to live and reproduce or to perceive the world, because plants live and reproduce and animals perceive; They are not unique characteristics of humans. Aristotle then concludes that the thing which sets us apart from any other animal is our ability to reason, so the human function is to actively use good reason in our lives (because something's "good" is brought about by carrying out its function well, so a human's "good" comes from reasoning well). If we live well according to this, we will be able to achieve a "fulfilled" life which is the ultimate end of life.Aristotle put forward the idea that happiness is the ultimate end of life, the "chief good". He believed that if we asked ourselves why we desire certain things we could come out with happiness as the answer. In 1097b 24-25 he states that this can be found from identifying the function of man. Since we have already realised, good reason is the ultimate function of a human being, and by acting in such a way as to exercise this capacity we can achieve true happiness (along with a certain degree of good fortune). This may seem shallow to some, but Aristotle does not mean by happiness mere contentment or sensual gratification. A different type of happiness will come from using reason, and it may not always come about until the end of someone's life due to good or bad fortunes.One criticism of this argument would be to ask, could it be that humans don't actually have a function? Aristotle seems to argue that animals cannot perform certain functions that humans can, such as thinking, or playing chess for example. However, you might see that acts such as thinking can be seen in some animals, and are not characteristically human according to Aristotle's definition, which would make his view of what is characteristically human mistaken. However, Aristotle would deny that animals can think, as they act instinctively rather than thoughtfully. It could also be argued that, whilst many activities can be seen in animals as well as humans, they are much more complex when performed by...

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