Summary and Analysis Book I: Chapter IV



All knowledge, activity, and choice is directed toward some good. The aim of politics (i.e., the highest good attainable by action) is generally called “happiness.” All people agree on giving it this name, but there is much disagreement as to its definition. Even the same man may define happiness differently at different times (e.g., the sick man defines it as good health, the poor man defines it as prosperity). The mass of men think that happiness comes from sensual pleasure, material well-being, and honorable status. Philosophers of the Platonic school aver that there is an abstract, absolute good from which all of specific goods are derived, and that this is the source of happiness. There are many other views. A detailed examination of all opinions on the nature of happiness would be pointless, and we must concentrate our efforts on those which are most in evidence or most seem to be based on good sense.

In regard to the method of this examination, it is important to note the difference between arguments which proceed from fundamental principles (deductive arguments) and arguments which lead up to fundamental principles (inductive arguments). In the study of ethics we must use the inductive approach. We begin with that which is known, more specifically, that which is known to us, and proceed from this to more comprehensive statements and awareness of the fundamental principle, or good. Thus, to be a competent student of what is right and just – ethics – it is necessary to have a good moral upbringing. In ethics we begin with the fact. If there is sufficient reason to accept it as such, there is no need to determine why it must be so, for the basis of our understanding of ethics is relative, not absolute. Without proper moral training, it is impossible to grasp the first principles of ethics, the foundation of our study.