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Nicomachean Aristotle Happiness

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Happiness, the Ultimate Good

The ultimate good in a science is that for which everything else is done. For example, in the time of Aristotle, well bred horses and well made saddles were not ultimate goods, but were means to accomplish the ultimate good of strategy in warfare, which is to win battles. Aristotle explains in book one of Nicomachean Ethics that the ultimate good in life must also be that which is desired for its own sake. In other words, the ultimate good in life must be a final end that is not used as a means of obtaining anything else. He identifies the ultimate good in life as happiness, for happiness is desired for itself, and is not used to obtain any other thing.

After reasoning that happiness is the ultimate good in life, Aristotle discusses what, if anything, a man can do to in order to be happy. He says that happiness is achieved by those who live in accordance with complete virtue throughout a complete life, being sufficiently equipped with external goods, and who are likely to die without encountering numerous and major misfortunes.

Aristotle presents that happiness is a natural consequence of acting in accordance with virtue, for such activity causes pleasure without causing any harm. To act with complete virtue, a man must do all that is good for him and nothing that is bad for him from a natural disposition to do so. In order to act with virtue in some situations it only requires man to act or to abstain from action. For example, when there is a building burning down with people trapped inside, a man must decide whether to run in and try to save them, or whether to remain outside. However, in some situations a man must find a point of excellence; this being a point where doing any more would be excessive and where doing any less would be insufficient. Finding a point of excellence is apparent in the consumption of food. A man can put his health at risk by eating either too much or too little. For this reason, man must find the point of excellence, or the golden mean, by eating neither too much nor too little. By acting with excellence, or according to virtue, a man incurs all the good consequences and avoids all the negative ones. The remaining criterion for a man's actions to be considered virtuous is that he acts from a natural disposition. For example, a criminal may tell the truth only because he thinks it is best for him in the given situation and not because he has a habit of telling the truth. Therefore, the criminal's action is not considered a virtuous one. Only after one has developed a habit of acting according to virtue is it possible for him to act virtuously because of a natural disposition to do so.

Aristotle also explains that a man must act in accordance with virtue consistently in order to be happy. Vices of excess or deficiency have harmful consequences, such as illness or guilt, which can interfere with a man's happiness. A few vices can be enough to rob a man of the happiness afforded to him by his many virtues. For example, if man lived virtuously for many years and then committed some terrible act, the guilt, which is a natural consequence of terrible acts, would interfere with the man's happiness. In order to attain happiness and avoid all the harmful consequences of vice, a man must develop good habits by consistently acting in accordance with virtue.

For a man to act, virtuously or not, there must be both things to be acted upon and things with which to act. A man who is utterly isolated has no one on whom to act, and therefore does not act at all. Happiness for such a man would be impossible since it only comes by way of virtuous action. By the same reasoning a man who has more people on whom to act, as in more family, more friends, or more subordinates, has more opportunities



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