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    Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

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    Present and explain the main strands of argument from Book 1 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

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    Ethics, as Aristotle conceives it, aims to discover the rules and traits of character, which will help human lives to flourish; it is concerned with what is good for man . He claims that (1) all actions and choices are aimed at some good [1094a1], but (2) that is it the concern of ethics, or politics, which he understands as including ethics, to investigate and determine the highest good or final end. It will be useful to consider each of these in turn.

    1. When Aristotle says that every action is directed at some good, he seems to have in mind that our actions are aimed to realise certain goals. In this sense, an end in the realm of action is a goal which one aims to achieve by acting in a certain way. This end is describable as a good since a person performs the action because he or she sees something worthwhile about it. Roughly speaking, then, every intentional action is directed at a particular end, a good, which is the end given by the intention with which the action is done. For instance, when someone catches a train in order to get to work, the intentional action, catching the train, is meant to promote the end of getting to work, and, in a sense, this goal of getting to work (the intention with which the action is done) is regarded by the person as worthwhile or good.

    2. Now, Aristotle is concerned not with any old 'good', or goal, or end, but the 'highest' or 'ultimate good', the 'final end' of all action. In order to understand this one needs to distinguish between ends that are desired for their own sake, and those that are done only in order to achieve further ends. (Remember that adopting a particular end involves seeing something worthwhile about it, and in this respect, an end might be called a 'good'.) So, getting to work might be a person's end in catching a train, but this end, although worthwhile, is not really good in itself. Very few people, I suspect, would regard working as desirable for its own sake. Rather, working is itself an end that is meant to promote a further end, namely, earning money. Getting to work is worthwhile only insofar as it enables one to achieve another end, and so getting to work is not a final end. Getting to work is an instrumental good, insofar as it puts one in position for another good, the good of having money. Consider, in contrast, the good of happiness: Happiness is something desired for its own sake, an end, which one might promote, for no reason other than itself. It does not make much sense for someone to ask 'and why do you want to be happy?' Happiness is something that everyone seems to want for its own sake and so it seems to be an intrinsically valuable end. One doesn't deliberate about attaining happiness in order to achieve anything else: happiness is the final end.

    Aristotle's point regarding the aim of ethics is that it is concerned with the ultimate good for man.
    An ultimate good is not good in virtue of its bringing about something else that is good. Rather, an ultimate good is ...

    Solution Summary

    The solution presents and explains the main strands of argument from Book 1 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.