Ethics By Aristotle Summary and Analysis Book I: Chapter IX - How Happiness Is Acquired

Summary

What then is the source of happiness? Is it learning, discipline, reason, divine dispensation, chance, or something else? Certainly, if anything comes to man from the gods, it must be happiness, for it is the best of all human things. Yet, though happiness is divine, it is attained through virtue and some regimen of training and learning. Happiness, as the end of excellence and virtue, is the best of all things, divine and blessed, but men must attain it by their own efforts.

Since happiness is dependent on excellence, it can be shared by many people, for study and effort make it accessible to anyone whose capacity for virtue is unimpaired. It is reasonable to assume that happiness is acquired in this way and not by chance, for in nature things are arranged in the best way possible. The same must be true of all the other products and results of logical causation.

Earlier it was stated that happiness, the good of man, is some kind of activity of the soul in conformity with virtue, and that all other goods are either necessary prerequisites for happiness, instruments for attaining it, or adjuncts to its possession. This kind of happiness can only be developed by a man living in a community, for the main concern of politics is to engender a certain character in the citizens of a community, to make them good and disposed to perform noble actions. The end of politics is the best of all ends, for it is to create an environment suitable for exercise of reason and virtue and the development and maintenance of happiness.

In this connection it is worth pointing out that animals cannot be happy, for they are unable to participate in moral or rational activities, and children cannot be happy either, for they are too young to engage in such activities. At most a child can be called happy if he shows promise eventually to do so.

We must also recall that there are many changes and contingencies in life. True happiness requires complete virtue and also a complete lifetime for its expression. Thus, even a man who seems to be happy may come to a wretched end, and then no one will continue to call him happy.

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