Ethics By Aristotle Summary and Analysis Book I: Chapter V - Varying Views of the Good Life

Summary

It is generally assumed that a man's idea of happiness and the good is derived from the kind of life he leads. There are three main kinds of life:

  1. The life led by the masses of men, in which happiness (the good) is identified with sensual pleasure. This is vulgar and reveals a slavish, bestial mentality, little better than that of the brute animals.
  2. The life of the cultivated and men of affairs, in which happiness is identified with honor (achieved through political activity). This is too superficial a view, for honor is dependent on those who confer it, not on those who receive it, whereas the good is something personal that cannot be taken away or given. Furthermore, men seek to be honored for their virtue or excellence, and this makes it clear that virtue and excellence are superior to honor. Even excellence is an imperfect end, though, since such virtue is compatible with inactivity, suffering, and misfortune (e.g., one can have virtue while asleep, can possess it but not exercise it, can be virtuous but suffer bad luck or harsh treatment) and in any of these cases the possessor of virtue cannot be called happy.
  3. There remains the contemplative life, which is the source of true happiness, but discussion of this will be reserved until later.

It should also be pointed out that the life of the businessman, devoted to seeking wealth, is limited by many constraints and that wealth, while useful, is not an end in itself. Properly used, wealth is a means to something else, and thus is not in itself the source of happiness.

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