Aristotle’s Ethics (Digested)

Continuing the occasional after a gap short enough that maybe “series” is the right word after all title series, in which philosophical classics are reduced to their elements as a service to students and scholars.

#2: Aristotle’s Ethics
What is the good life? Some say this, some say that, some say something completely different. The point is, they’re all a bit right and they’re all a bit wrong. It’s hard to be more precise than this because ethics isn’t precise and wise people know this, so never, ever, ask me to be less vague or ambiguous.
A good life is lived according to one’s nature. Vegetables grow, so a good vegetable life is one in which it grows in a vegetably way. Animals move, so a good animal life is one in which it moves in an animally way. Fox News lobotomises, so a good Fox news programme is one which lobotomises in a foxy way. Humans think, so a good human life is one in which it thinks in a humanly way. We also kill, act with prejudice, lust, look after number one and so on, but that doesn’t define our nature, because I don’t want it to.
What is virtue? It is finding the mean. For example, generosity isn’t the opposite of greed, it’s the inbetweeny virtue between the opposite vices of greed and profligacy. Courage is the mean between rashness and cowardice. Writing well is the mean between writing badly and writing in a way that is so good it’s bad. Having good judgement is the mean between being a bad judge and what might be called over judging, if you were foolish enough to take this mean idea to its logical conclusion. You may think this golden mean think doesn’t work all the time, but it’s not precise and only stupid people expect too much precision, remember.
A few other questions answered. How many friends should you have? Not too many, not too few, but enough. When can you say if a person’s life has ever been truly happy? Who knows? Why am I renowned as a subtle thinker when I’m really just a soggy one? Well, some say this, some say that, some say something else. I say they’re all right. And wrong.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Sean Anderson

    Do the Meditations next! 🙂

  2. I’m really enjoying this series – bravo Sir!

    Is an iconoclastic precis the mean on the scale of reverential disquisition and watching Fox news?

    Will this series end with the digest of Why Truth Matters? 😉

  3. How about Swinburne on theodicy?

  4. Very funny, though the construction “is one in which is (verb)” is a new addition to grammar as far as I know.

    Looking forward to “also sprach Zarathustra”.

  5. The new addition to grammar has been withdrawn! Now to fix typos in more recent post…

  6. I would say the Golden Mean would be somewhere between being lobotomized by Fox News or by Katie Couric, Dan Rather, the BBC, or the NY Times.. That would require more brains than lobotomies and still enough left over to avoid bad comparisons and picking the news you only prefer.

    This last is based on the presumption that in depending on the usual and multiple sources one spends much of their time in the operating room, with a Democratic surgeon, who picks your wallet before he picks your brains.

  7. Devin Carpenter

    haha. More!

  8. Perhaps I would only say this. Aristotle’s Ethics is not as vague as you claim. On the contrary, if you look at it carefully it actually shows how the virtues as lived by the citizen are deeply troubled. It is the citizen who seeks a certain mean in his actions. By living this way, and by guiding his life in terms of sacrifice towards the virtues, the citizen develops certain needs such as that involving the deep desire we have for recognition as humans. This is why at the and of the NE Aristotle places this life guided by the virtues as secondary in terms of happiness. But the path to understanding why this is so requires looking at the text much more carefully.


  9. Hilarious and incisive, thanks for this!

  10. According to Aristotle’s Ethics, what affirmation and negation are to thinking, similarly pursuit and avoidance are too rational desire.

    Hence our thinking must be good and our desires right in order to make good choices.

    This fella ought to proceed to Aristotle’s Politics and learn that when perfected by Law and Justice man is the best animal in all of the cosmos. But when bereft of Law and Justice he is the worst of all animals, the most unholy, greedy and savage of all animals.

    Luckily this fellow is merely smug and boring. Too smug and banal to be a good savage. Too smug and boring to be an actual philosopher.


  11. Correction:- The above should read “to (not too) rational desire”. Otherwise the rest seems O.K.


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