Excellence Of Character And Understanding As The Good For Humans

2036 words - 8 pages

In book I of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposes that the good for humans is to have and exercise the excellences of character. Nevertheless in book X he proposes that the highest human good is contemplation as it is akin to Godly behaviour. I will first explain how human good is having and exercising the excellences of character, and second how human good is having the ability to understand. The tension that arises is that first Aristotle gives two answers to the single question 'what is the human good', and second he asserts that contemplation is the better answer as opposed to excellence of character. Aristotle says that the best life for a human is to have and exercise excellence of character, but he undermines this in book X by claiming that understanding is the better good for humans. Therefore, he contradicts himself on what the best life for humans must be. I will propose that Aristotle does not hold that virtues are undermined by contemplation, but that we hope that contemplation is consistent with our virtues. As such, they act together towards human good. I will show that this does not resolve the tension. On behalf of Aristotle I will conclude that we must first understand a question before we apply the parts of our soul on the question to make a decision.
In book I Aristotle claims that the highest good for humans is exercising and having the excellences of character. He first determines that the greatest good is eudaimonia, roughly translated to happiness, it is the only thing we choose for its intrinsic value (1094 a 20). There is no one definition of good, because different goods produce happiness, however all of these goods are good in an of themselves (1094b 20, 1096a 30-35). However of the three most favoured lives, of 'gratification', 'political activity' and 'study', only the life of study gives us a kind of happiness that is good in and of itself (1095b 15-25). Aristotle speculates that study is the way of life that can get us to the greatest good, and does not depend on pleasure like in 'gratification' or honour like in 'political activity' (1095b 25). In order to determine what a good life is, and what happiness is, we must first know what the function of a human is (1097b 25). The function of a human must be something that sets her apart from all other living things, such as plants or other animals (1098a). So our function is not nutrition, or growth, because plants and animals share this function with us (1098a) The action only human beings can perform is reason. The soul has two parts that function within reason. The first part is emotional (desiderative) and obeys reasoning. The second part is calculative and is reason itself as it allows us to think and decide what to do (1098a 5-10). Therefore a human's function is the activity of the soul as stated by reason (1098a 15). Acting reasonably is to act virtuously, thus the good for humans is the activity of the soul according to “the best and most complete...

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