ARISTOTLE’S PHILOSOPHY AND CONTRIBUTIONS TO SCIENCE

ARISTOTLE’S PHILOSOPHY


Rafael's Aristotle

The primary goal of Aristotle’s search for knowledge was to find out as much about everything as possible and during the search explain things and ideally uncover important kernels of knowledge that could be applied to all things. Some have called this a search for common sense. Unlike Socrates, who questioned everything and sought to tear down the pretensions of his time, Aristotle sought universal truths and “what everyone believes is true.” He also disapproved of the Platonic emphasis on mathematics. Aristotle wrote: “The moderns have turned philosophy into mathematics.”

Aristotle saw the a world of change and motion and ultimately debunked some of Plato’s most basic theories. “So, goodbye to Forms. They are idle prattle, and if they do exist are wholly irrelevant.”Aristotle believed that the sensory world was real and argued that “individual things combined form and matter and that the forms they incorporated determined how they moved, grew and evolved.” He warned, however, of falling into the trap of oversimplification and often pointed out weaknesses and contradictions.

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Aristotle famously rejected Plato’s theory of forms, which states that properties such as beauty are abstract universal entities that exist independent of the objects themselves. Instead, he argued that forms are intrinsic to the objects and cannot exist apart from them, and so must be studied in relation to them. However, in discussing art, Aristotle seems to reject this, and instead argues for idealized universal form which artists attempt to capture in their work. [Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) <^>]

Describing the idea of change and the mind, Aristotle said. “That which is capable of receiving the object of thought, is mind, and it is active when it possesses it. This activity therefore rather than the capability appears as the divine element in mind, and contemplation the pleasantest and best activity. If then God is forever in that good state when we reach occasionally it is a wonderful thing---if in a better state, more wonderful still. Yet is so. Life too he has, for the activity of the mind is life, and he is that activity. His essential activity is his life, the best life and eternal. We say then that God is an eternal living being, the best of all, attributing to him continuous and eternal life. That is God.

Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Aristotle, Science and Categorization


Two of Aristotle's growth laws

In addition to being interested in almost everything, Aristotle was also obsessed with classifying everything. He classified a wide variety of things into branches of knowledge: logic, poetics, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, physics, astronomy, psychology and biology. These provided the foundations for the sciences as they exist today.

Within the major subjects, the classification process continued. Politics described different kinds of governments and communities In Poetics and Comedy in Poetics II he discusses the difference between tragedy, comedy and different kids of poetry. He also addressed different kinds of plots and characters.

Aristotle also grouped his subjects into more general branches of knowledge. All knowledge he said is practical, productive or theoretical. The three theoretical sciences as he defined them are: Physics (the science of nature), Mathematics (the sciences of quantitative aspects of things) and Theology (the “first philosophy,” or the science of being). Logic, or Analytics, as he called it was essential to understanding all things. He devised the idea of a premise and a conclusion, making a conclusion based on proof and winning debates based on reason.

Aristotle and the Universe

Aristotle provided the intellectual foundations of astrology and described many events---especially those involving growth and decay---as related to the movement of heavenly bodies and the path of the sun. Ptolemy later wrote extensively on the subject and argued that astronomy was based on physical laws not the whims of the Gods.

Aristotle elaborated on the conventional Greek model of the universe and described the heavens as a composite of 55 ethereal shells. Most of the universe was made of a transparent and weightless material known as ether, he said, and the different motions of the planets and the sun were explained by the fact that each of these heavenly bodies was attached to a different ethereal shell which rotated independently from the others. Aristotle's concept of the universe provided the basis for Western astrology and astronomy and endured through the Middle Ages until Copernicus's theory that the Earth revolved around the sun was accepted.

Aristotle believed the world was a sphere based on the shadow cast on the moon during an eclipse. His model of the universe explained how the planets followed different courses but it didn't explain whey the plants took such irregularly non-linear routes across the sky. Astrologers through the ages explained these deviations with a complicated system of epicycles, equants, eccentrics and deferents.

Aristotle and Natural Science

Aristotle carefully observed and recorded nature; he wrote treatises on biology and zoology. He believed that all materials were made of four elements: water, earth, air and fire. The nature and kind of a substance or material was based on the proportions of the four elements. This view of chemistry endured through the Renaissance.

"In all of nature," Aristotle wrote, in de Partibus Animalium , "there is something of the marvelous. We should study every kind of animal without hesitation, knowing that in all of them there is something natural and beautiful."


Aristotelian soul


Aristotle taught his students that arrows and stones were pushed by the atmosphere, the heart not the brain was the center of intelligence, heavy objects fell faster than light ones, and living creatures, like maggots, could be conceived spontaneously without ancestors. He believed that metals grew underground like plants.

The Aristotelean belief that all colors were created by mixing black and white endured until the 17th century. The "waterfall illusion" was first described by Aristotle in the forth century B.C. This phenomena occurs if you stare at a waterfall for a minute or so, then look at the rocks or trees---they appear to move upwards.╛

Aristotle and Animals

Aristotle devised a system of "blooded animals" and "bloodless animals." the former was further subdivided by their method of reproduction (egg-laying vs. live-bearing), habitat and structure (for instant soft shelled vs. hard shelled insects). Aristotle used a system of "genuses" and "species" but they weren't as clearly defined as our modern system.

Aristotle was the first man to carefully examine a sea urchin. The creature’s mouth was named Aristotle' Lantern in his honor. "The urchin has of hollow teeth inside," Aristotle wrote, "and in the middle of these a fleshy substance serving the office of a tongue...The mouth-apparatus of the urchin is continuous from one end to the other, but to outward appearance it is not so, but looks like a horn lantern with the panes of horn left out."

The Aristotelian view of plant reproduction was that higher form plants like trees and flowers were animated with a vegetable "soul" and lower forms such as fungus and moss was generated spontaneously in decaying matter. Aristotle wrote that flies, worms an other small animals were born from decaying matter through process of spontaneous generation.


mammalian urino-gential system


Aristotle and Humans

Aristotle’s views on humanity seem less sophisticated than his views on animals. He believed that if someone shared a feature of an animal, such as pantherlike penetrating eyes or an eaglelike aquiline nose, he shared qualities with the animals he resembled. Broad ape-like faces revealed stupidity, he said, and a small face honesty.

Aristotle kept slaves and justified slavery by classifying humanity into two kinds of people: The few, smart people destined to be masters and the multitudes of less talented people designated to be slaves. In Politics he wrote: “the first and fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children...He who is by nature not his own but another’s man, is by nature a slave: and he is said to be another’s man who, being a human being, is also a possession.”

Among Aristotle other observations were that man was the only living creature endowed with laughter and "beauty is a far greater recommendation than any letter of introduction." Aristotle wrote a treatise on laughter but it was lost to history.

Aristotle on Death, Fate and Lasting Achievement

Aristotle wrote in “Nichomachean Ethics”: “Must no one at all, then, be called happy while he lives; must we, as Solon says, see the end? Even if we are to lay down this doctrine, is it also the case that a man is happy when he is dead? Or is not this quite absurd, especially for us who say that happiness is an activity? But if we do not call the dead man happy, and if Solon does not mean this, but that one can then safely call a man blessed as being at last beyond evils and misfortunes, this also affords matter for discussion; for both evil and good are thought to exist for a dead man, as much as for one who is alive but not aware of them; e.g. honours and dishonours and the good or bad fortunes of children and in general of descendants. And this also presents a problem; for though a man has lived happily up to old age and has had a death worthy of his life, many reverses may befall his descendants- some of them may be good and attain the life they deserve, while with others the opposite may be the case; and clearly too the degrees of relationship between them and their ancestors may vary indefinitely. It would be odd, then, if the dead man were to share in these changes and become at one time happy, at another wretched; while it would also be odd if the fortunes of the descendants did not for some time have some effect on the happiness of their ancestors. [Source: Thatcher, ed., Vol. II: The Greek World, pp. 364-382; The Politics of Aristotle, trans. Benjamin Jowett, (New York: Colonial Press, 1900)]

“But we must return to our first difficulty; for perhaps by a consideration of it our present problem might be solved. Now if we must see the end and only then call a man happy, not as being happy but as having been so before, surely this is a paradox, that when he is happy the attribute that belongs to him is not to be truly predicated of him because we do not wish to call living men happy, on account of the changes that may befall them, and because we have assumed happiness to be something permanent and by no means easily changed, while a single man may suffer many turns of fortune's wheel. For clearly if we were to keep pace with his fortunes, we should often call the same man happy and again wretched, making the happy man out to be chameleon and insecurely based. Or is this keeping pace with his fortunes quite wrong? Success or failure in life does not depend on these, but human life, as we said, needs these as mere additions, while virtuous activities or their opposites are what constitute happiness or the reverse.


“The question we have now discussed confirms our definition. For no function of man has so much permanence as virtuous activities (these are thought to be more durable even than knowledge of the sciences), and of these themselves the most valuable are more durable because those who are happy spend their life most readily and most continuously in these; for this seems to be the reason why we do not forget them. The attribute in question, then, will belong to the happy man, and he will be happy throughout his life; for always, or by preference to everything else, he will be engaged in virtuous action and contemplation, and he will bear the chances of life most nobly and altogether decorously, if he is 'truly good' and 'foursquare beyond reproach'.

“Now many events happen by chance, and events differing in importance; small pieces of good fortune or of its opposite clearly do not weigh down the scales of life one way or the other, but a multitude of great events if they turn out well will make life happier (for not only are they themselves such as to add beauty to life, but the way a man deals with them may be noble and good), while if they turn out ill they crush and maim happiness; for they both bring pain with them and hinder many activities. Yet even in these nobility shines through, when a man bears with resignation many great misfortunes, not through insensibility to pain but through nobility and greatness of soul.

“If activities are, as we said, what gives life its character, no happy man can become miserable; for he will never do the acts that are hateful and mean. For the man who is truly good and wise, we think, bears all the chances life becomingly and always makes the best of circumstances, as a good general makes the best military use of the army at his command and a good shoemaker makes the best shoes out of the hides that are given him; and so with all other craftsmen. And if this is the case, the happy man can never become miserable; though he will not reach blessedness, if he meet with fortunes like those of Priam.

“Nor, again, is he many-coloured and changeable; for neither will he be moved from his happy state easily or by any ordinary misadventures, but only by many great ones, nor, if he has had many great misadventures, will he recover his happiness in a short time, but if at all, only in a long and complete one in which he has attained many splendid successes.

“When then should we not say that he is happy who is active in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life? Or must we add 'and who is destined to live thus and die as befits his life'? Certainly the future is obscure to us, while happiness, we claim, is an end and something in every way final. If so, we shall call happy those among living men in whom these conditions are, and are to be, fulfilled- but happy men. So much for these questions.

Aristotle and Logic


syllogism diagrams

Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do” and “One swallow does not make a summer.” According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “As the father of the field of logic, Aristotle was the first to develop a formalized system for reasoning. Aristotle observed that the validity of any argument can be determined by its structure rather than its content. A classic example of a valid argument is his syllogism: All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal. Given the structure of this argument, as long as the premises are true, then the conclusion is also guaranteed to be true. Aristotle’s brand of logic dominated this area of thought until the rise of modern propositional logic and predicate logic 2000 years later. [Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) <^>]

“Aristotle’s emphasis on good reasoning combined with his belief in the scientific method forms the backdrop for most of his work. For example, in his work in ethics and politics, Aristotle identifies the highest good with intellectual virtue; that is, a moral person is one who cultivates certain virtues based on reasoning. And in his work on psychology and the soul, Aristotle distinguishes sense perception from reason, which unifies and interprets the sense perceptions and is the source of all knowledge. <^>

“Aristotle's writings on the general subject of logic were grouped by the later Peripatetics under the name Organon, or instrument. From their perspective, logic and reasoning was the chief preparatory instrument of scientific investigation. Aristotle himself, however, uses the term "logic" as equivalent to verbal reasoning. The Categories of Aristotle are classifications of individual words (as opposed to sentences or propositions), and include the following ten: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, situation, condition, action, passion. They seem to be arranged according to the order of the questions we would ask in gaining knowledge of an object. For example, we ask, first, what a thing is, then how great it is, next of what kind it is. Substance is always regarded as the most important of these. Substances are further divided into first and second: first substances are individual objects; second substances are the species in which first substances or individuals inhere. <^>

Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Metaphysics is one of the main treatises of Aristotle and the first major work of the branch of philosophy with the same name. The principal subject is "being qua being," or being insofar as it is being. It examines what can be asserted about any being insofar as it is and not because of any special qualities it has. Also covered are different kinds of causation, form and matter, the existence of mathematical objects, and a prime-mover God. [Source: Wikipedia]

“Metaphysics” begins: “All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things. [Source: Aristotle, “Metaphysics,” translated by W. D. Ross Book]

Later, Aristotle says: “Since we are seeking this knowledge, we must inquire of what kind are the causes and the principles, the knowledge of which is Wisdom. If one were to take the notions we have about the wise man, this might perhaps make the answer more evident. We suppose first, then, that the wise man knows all things, as far as possible, although he has not knowledge of each of them in detail; secondly, that he who can learn things that are difficult, and not easy for man to know, is wise (sense-perception is common to all, and therefore easy and no mark of Wisdom); again, that he who is more exact and more capable of teaching the causes is wiser, in every branch of knowledge; and that of the sciences, also, that which is desirable on its own account and for the sake of knowing it is more of the nature of Wisdom than that which is desirable on account of its results, and the superior science is more of the nature of Wisdom than the ancillary; for the wise man must not be ordered but must order, and he must not obey another, but the less wise must obey him.

“Such and so many are the notions, then, which we have about Wisdom and the wise. Now of these characteristics that of knowing all things must belong to him who has in the highest degree universal knowledge; for he knows in a sense all the instances that fall under the universal. And these things, the most universal, are on the whole the hardest for men to know; for they are farthest from the senses. And the most exact of the sciences are those which deal most with first principles; for those which involve fewer principles are more exact than those which involve additional principles, e.g. arithmetic than geometry. But the science which investigates causes is also instructive, in a higher degree, for the people who instruct us are those who tell the causes of each thing. And understanding and knowledge pursued for their own sake are found most in the knowledge of that which is most knowable (for he who chooses to know for the sake of knowing will choose most readily that which is most truly knowledge, and such is the knowledge of that which is most knowable); and the first principles and the causes are most knowable; for by reason of these, and from these, all other things come to be known, and not these by means of the things subordinate to them. And the science which knows to what end each thing must be done is the most authoritative of the sciences, and more authoritative than any ancillary science; and this end is the good of that thing, and in general the supreme good in the whole of nature. Judged by all the tests we have mentioned, then, the name in question falls to the same science; this must be a science that investigates the first principles and causes; for the good, i.e. the end, is one of the causes.”


syllogism set diagrams


Nichomachean Ethics

The Nicomachean Ethics is the name normally given to Aristotle's best-known work on ethics. Consisting of ten books, originally separate scrolls, it played a major role in defining Aristotelian ethics and is believed to be based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum. The title is often assumed to refer to his son Nicomachus, to whom the work was dedicated or who may have edited it (although his young age makes this less likely). Alternatively, the work may have been dedicated to his father, who was also called Nicomachus. [Source: Wikipedia]

Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics reads: “In view of the fact that all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good, there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy. To judge from the lives that men lead, most men, and men of the most vulgar type, seem (not without some ground) to identify the good, or happiness, with pleasure; which is the reason why they love the life of enjoyment. For there are, we may say, three prominent types of life---that just mentioned, the political, and thirdly the contemplative life. The answer to the question we are asking is plain: Happiness lies in virtuous activity, and perfect happiness lies in the best activity, which is contemplative. Contemplation is preferable to war or politics or any other practical career, because it allows leisure, and leisure is essential to happiness. Practical virtue brings only a secondary kind of happiness; the supreme happiness is in the exercise of Reason, for Reason, more than anything else, is man. Man cannot be wholly contemplative, but in so far as he is so he shares in the divine life. The activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness, must be contemplative. And that all these attributes belong most of all to the philosopher is manifest. He, therefore, is the dearest to the gods. And he who is will presumably be also the happiest; so that in this way too the philosopher will more than any other be happy. [Source: Thatcher, ed., Vol. II: The Greek World, pp. 364-382; The Politics of Aristotle, trans. Benjamin Jowett, (New York: Colonial Press, 1900)]

“Now some think that we are made good by nature, others by habituation, others by teaching. But it is difficult to get from youth up a right training for virtue if one has not been brought up under right laws; for to live temperately and hardily is not pleasant to most people, especially when they are young. For this reason their nurture and occupations should be fixed by law; for they will not be painful when they have become customary. But it is surely not enough that when they are young they should get the right nurture and attention; since they must, even when they are grown up, practice and be habituated to them, we shall need laws for this as well, and generally speaking to cover the whole of life; for most people obey necessity rather than argument, and punishments rather than the sense of what is noble.

“If as we have said, the man who is to be good must be well trained and habituated, and go on to spend his time in worthy occupations and neither willingly nor unwillingly do bad actions, and if this can be brought about if men live in accordance with a sort of reason and right order, provided this has force---if this be so, the paternal command indeed has not the required force or compulsive power (nor in general has the command of one man, unless he be a king or something similar), but the law has compulsive power, while it is at the same time a rule proceeding from a sort of practical wisdom and reason. And while people hate men who oppose their impulses, even if they oppose them rightly, the law in its ordaining of what is good is not burdensome. Now it is best that there should be a public and proper care for such matters. It would seem from what has been said that he can do this better if he makes himself capable of legislating, and for this he needs a knowledge of Politics.”


Aristotelian universe


Nichomachean Ethics on Learning to Do Good

Aristotle wrote in “Nichomachean Ethics”: “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim. But a certain difference is found among ends; some are activities, others are products apart from the activities that produce them. Where there are ends apart from the actions, it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities. Now, as there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are many; the end of the medical art is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of strategy victory, that of economics wealth. But where such arts fall under a single capacity- as bridle-making and the other arts concerned with the equipment of horses fall under the art of riding, and this and every military action under strategy, in the same way other arts fall under yet others- in all of these the ends of the master arts are to be preferred to all the subordinate ends; for it is for the sake of the former that the latter are pursued. It makes no difference whether the activities themselves are the ends of the actions, or something else apart from the activities, as in the case of the sciences just mentioned. [Source: Thatcher, ed., Vol. II: The Greek World, pp. 364-382; The Politics of Aristotle, trans. Benjamin Jowett, (New York: Colonial Press, 1900)]

“If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is, and of which of the sciences or capacities it is the object. It would seem to belong to the most authoritative art and that which is most truly the master art. And politics appears to be of this nature; for it is this that ordains which of the sciences should be studied in a state, and which each class of citizens should learn and up to what point they should learn them; and we see even the most highly esteemed of capacities to fall under this, e.g. strategy, economics, rhetoric; now, since politics uses the rest of the sciences, and since, again, it legislates as to what we are to do and what we are to abstain from, the end of this science must include those of the others, so that this end must be the good for man. For even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state, that of the state seems at all events something greater and more complete whether to attain or to preserve; though it is worth while to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for city-states. These, then, are the ends at which our inquiry aims, since it is political science, in one sense of that term.

“Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.

“Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general. Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and, further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action. And it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the defect does not depend on time, but on his living, and pursuing each successive object, as passion directs. For to such persons, as to the incontinent, knowledge brings no profit; but to those who desire and act in accordance with a rational principle knowledge about such matters will be of great benefit.

Nichomachean Ethics on Working for the Greater Good

Aristotle wrote in “Nichomachean Ethics”: “Let us again return to the good we are seeking, and ask what it can be. It seems different in different actions and arts; it is different in medicine, in strategy, and in the other arts likewise. What then is the good of each? Surely that for whose sake everything else is done. In medicine this is health, in strategy victory, in architecture a house, in any other sphere something else, and in every action and pursuit the end; for it is for the sake of this that all men do whatever else they do. Therefore, if there is an end for all that we do, this will be the good achievable by action, and if there are more than one, these will be the goods achievable by action. [Source: Thatcher, ed., Vol. II: The Greek World, pp. 364-382; The Politics of Aristotle, trans. Benjamin Jowett, (New York: Colonial Press, 1900)]


Aristotle's constitutions


“So the argument has by a different course reached the same point; but we must try to state this even more clearly. Since there are evidently more than one end, and we choose some of these (e.g. wealth, flutes, and in general instruments) for the sake of something else, clearly not all ends are final ends; but the chief good is evidently something final. Therefore, if there is only one final end, this will be what we are seeking, and if there are more than one, the most final of these will be what we are seeking. Now we call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else.

“Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for self and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

“From the point of view of self-sufficiency the same result seems to follow; for the final good is thought to be self-sufficient. Now by self-sufficient we do not mean that which is sufficient for a man by himself, for one who lives a solitary life, but also for parents, children, wife, and in general for his friends and fellow citizens, since man is born for citizenship. But some limit must be set to this; for if we extend our requirement to ancestors and descendants and friends' friends we are in for an infinite series. Let us examine this question, however, on another occasion; the self-sufficient we now define as that which when isolated makes life desirable and lacking in nothing; and such we think happiness to be; and further we think it most desirable of all things, without being counted as one good thing among others- if it were so counted it would clearly be made more desirable by the addition of even the least of goods; for that which is added becomes an excess of goods, and of goods the greater is always more desirable. Happiness, then, is something final and self-sufficient, and is the end of action.

“Presumably, however, to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude, and a clearer account of what it is still desired. This might perhaps be given, if we could first ascertain the function of man. For just as for a flute-player, a sculptor, or an artist, and, in general, for all things that have a function or activity, the good and the 'well' is thought to reside in the function, so would it seem to be for man, if he has a function. Have the carpenter, then, and the tanner certain functions or activities, and has man none? Is he born without a function? Or as eye, hand, foot, and in general each of the parts evidently has a function, may one lay it down that man similarly has a function apart from all these? What then can this be? Life seems to be common even to plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man. Let us exclude, therefore, the life of nutrition and growth. Next there would be a life of perception, but it also seems to be common even to the horse, the ox, and every animal. There remains, then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle; of this, one part has such a principle in the sense of being obedient to one, the other in the sense of possessing one and exercising thought. And, as 'life of the rational element' also has two meanings, we must state that life in the sense of activity is what we mean; for this seems to be the more proper sense of the term. Now if the function of man is an activity of soul which follows or implies a rational principle, and if we say 'so-and-so-and 'a good so-and-so' have a function which is the same in kind, e.g. a lyre, and a good lyre-player, and so without qualification in all cases, eminence in respect of goodness being idded to the name of the function (for the function of a lyre-player is to play the lyre, and that of a good lyre-player is to do so well): if this is the case, and we state the function of man to be a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions of the soul implying a rational principle, and the function of a good man to be the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete. But we must add 'in a complete life.' For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy. Let this serve as an outline of the good; for we must presumably first sketch it roughly, and then later fill in the details.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy /plato.stanford.edu, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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