Through books one to three in Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes between pain and happiness, clarifying the endless war that men face in the path of these two extremes. Man’s quest for pleasure is considered by the self-conscious and rational Aristotle; a viewpoint traditionally refuted in contemporary, secular environments.
Immediately, Aristotle alleges that all actions aim for good, thus proposing that all human activity is to be of some good. These activities attempt to meet a greater end; a chief good met by subordinate desires. However, Aristotle introduces that the nature of good is presumed by convention, not nature, and are administered by politics. Governments determine which sciences and arts are studied, who studies them, and the extent to which they are studied.
Aristotle accepts that there is an agreement that this chief good is happiness, but that there is a disagreement with the definition of happiness. Due to this argument, men divide the good into the three prominent types of life: pleasure, political and contemplative. Most men are transfixed by pleasure; a life suitable for “beasts”. The elitist life (politics) distinguishes happiness as honour, yet this is absurd given that honour is awarded from the outside, and one’s happiness comes from one’s self. The attractive life of money-making is quickly ruled out by Aristotle since wealth is not the good man seeks, since it is only useful for the happiness of something else.
The ultimate end is what the masses strive for. Aristotle proposes that this universal good be thoroughly understood before continuing. All actions are to be built upon another in order to achieve this good; an end that is chosen for the sake of itself, we “choose [happiness] for itself and never for the sake of something else” (370). However, mankind choses pleasure, excellence and honour as fit for happiness. Therefore, Aristotle concludes that happiness is self-sufficient. It is what makes life desirable and good; the ending of the action.
Further, to understand what is good, we need to understand the function of man, for good is found in the function. It cannot be life, since life is a shared trait with animals. The human good is to do excellent in one’s function, rather than just executing that function, “For the function of a lyre-player is to play the lyre, and that of a good lyre player is to do well” (371). Since excellence is displayed in function, the human good only exists when the soul is conformed to excellence. This excellence must be shown in activity rather than state, since the latter does not achieve results. Aristotle then describes a classical belief that those who are noble have a pleasant life, since all things noble are naturally pleasant. Thus, happiness is the best, noblest and most pleasant thing, aided by the existence of external pleasures.
Aristotle distinguishes two kinds of excellence: intellectual and moral. Intellectual excellence is learned through teaching,...