Nichomachean Ethics

Nichomachean Ethics

One of the most fundamental questions that philosophical minds ponder is the extent to the purpose of human beings. The Greek philosopher Aristotle attempted to derive this contemplation by practical, almost mathematical means, despite its variables being ridden with anomalies. This however is true to all philosophical thought and is part of the very definition of philosophy itself. Eventually Aristotle arrives on a reasonably justifiable answer, still widely accepted today, as to the basic function of man; a single unifying theme as to the meaning of human existence: happiness. But what exactly is happiness and how does one achieve this fate? The answer revolves around compliance of pursuing virtuous behavior and subsequently “improving” one’s soul. This act is manifest in the form of true “human good” and is the single vital component to virtuous behavior.

Aristotle, to prove his theory relevant, proves this point from countless directions. The theory in its most basic form, nevertheless, was the result of a variant of the Socratic Method called practical syllogism. Starting off, Aristotle knows that for every action, there is a desired end result or reaction. Whatever this result may be, it always is some form of human good, although some desires are not universally accepted as being positively good. These actions consist of all conscious action and choices humans make in their lifetime. Aristotle then applies this to human existence in its entirety. The ultimate desire of humans is the state of happiness. Short-sighted or not, all human thought is thoroughly based on achieving this fate.

This theory extends to all walks of life; for instance happiness is achieved in the animal kingdom through sustenance and survival (among other things). The human race is undeniably unique in circumstance as it possesses intellectual rationality and reason. These traits ascend our perception to a higher plain as we have developed a purpose other than mere survival. Rationality and reason allow humans to devise complex systems of morality and self development, also know as virtue. Virtuous behavior is the product of rational thought and is in the foreground of human consciousness rather than animalistic survival tendencies. Primitive instincts of survival are even governed by perceptions of virtue.

Aristotle then objectively defines what he agrees to be virtuous behavior. From the modern perspective, his claims are arrogantly definite, albeit mostly accurate to common western virtuosity. Adequate intellectual and moral development is necessary to fulfill these standards of virtue. Persistency is the key to maintaining a stable force of habit for which people instinctively learn the moral option. A sufficient grasp of various intellects allows a person to be in (apparent) full realization of his surroundings and more assertively independent. Superficially, these are the results of such behavior, but Aristotle believes of something underneath the obcious that exists but is not part of the physical realm. He believes that the soul, among its other functions, becomes consequentially more virtuous with each virtuous act. To clarify, Aristotle’s usage of the word soul does not imply anything religious in nature, as the word conjures thoughts of religion and implications of the afterlife, but of one’s developing subconscious with the precursor of cognizant choice.

Moderation between two extremes of self-necessity and desire is what Aristotle defines as moral behavior. Either an excess or a deficiency is incongruent with virtuous behavior and he stresses the importance towards total devotion to virtuous behavior. A great portion of the essay gives a blueprint on life, and it gives its readers an extensive list of human indulgences and misdeeds to avoid as Aristotle’s not-so-subversive attempt to reform society. Some of his statements justly define virtuous behavior but others unfairly demonize commonly practiced human actions in order to bolster his essay with calculative, unnecessary evidence. While the people of Ancient Greece needed guidance, as they remain an isolated bubble of wisdom, an essay of this nature can profoundly alter a person and thereby prohibiting independent realization.

During an age of constant warfare, the virtue of courage was very highly valued. The state of courage can be found between the extremes of rashness and cowardice. Courage is most commonly viewed in a warrior’s fearless behavior in the face of certain death. An honorable and virtuous death can be achieved while acting courageously, albeit painful and feared. The sacrifice of ones body is admirable as it is part of the greater good of society and can lead to happiness for all you have protected. Personally, the protector receives satisfaction at the moment of death, but does not receive any sustained happiness in this lifetime, but he serves to bring happiness to the people, and this could be a means of self satisfaction, or part of a vast connection that humans share. It may also promise eternal harmony in a future life, but these views are slowly becoming irrelevant to modern perception as war is viewed as a means to end all wars, and are not as common of an occurrence.

How do external or superficial pleasures place themselves into the equation of human purpose? These include sex, food, materialism, and even mood-altering drugs which is not covered by Aristotle. Absolute temperance in these areas is commonly argues to be the virtuous thing to do, but many take the liberal approach and see that one should indulge in these pleasures in a way that does not compromise any chance of attaining legitimate good through moral behavior. All humans and animals seek out pleasure and even good, virtuous people indulge accordingly so it obviously cannot be “sinful”. External pleasure is in no way related to virtue, but often can lead to immoral behavior and licentiousness. Necrophilia, gluttony, avarice, and drug addiction are prevalent in people whose short term desires cloud their outlook on life and often lead to imminent failure as a human being. True happiness, as Aristotle alludes, is only possible through introspective self-realization and being in harmony with one’s soul.

Friendship is another commonly pursued act that has many meanings and fates to the function of humanity. Purely self-centered friendships, or utility friendships, have no emotional value but are instrumental in receiving superficial pleasures, while intellectual gain is one positive benefit to utilitarian (pleasure) relationships. Loving friendships consist of reciprocal acceptance and support. Self-actualization is often reliant on friendships of this nature and is associated with the common human bond we share on a subliminal level. The experience of these connections implicates that humans share a common need for interaction and that we all may share a supernatural bond unexplainable but directly related to the loving sensation.

Aristotle argues that morality is not an automatic response triggered by inborn human survival instincts. Morality was devised by society to impress upon society a control over rational thought and structure to human existence. So if morality is learned, then it must be a voluntary reaction involving choice between good and bad. The choice is made easier by constant adherence to instructed ethics but the temptation towards choosing the comparatively “less good” action is very powerful at a young age and also if not instructed properly. Sometimes immoral deeds are unintentionally created due to ignorance in a certain situation, but this is affects the soul in a different way, as opposed to being a burden on one’s virtuous connection to one’s soul. Basically, an honest person is virtuous when he is honest to others and also unto himself.

The Greek Gods in ancient Greece were assumed to be perpetually contemplative, and therefore constantly happy. Aristotle compares this state as achievable with the human and his connection with the soul, but is not an achievable fate for all. As well, it is often only found late in life, and is different from the state of being that the gods are in, but it is still comparable to the gods, and Aristotle may be implying more than is specifically stated within the text. There are countless other ways to reach the ultimate goal of happiness but they are ephemeral to the nirvana-like state of philosophical enlightenment Aristotle considers himself to possess that is a constant state of psychological bliss.

As the soul is almost universally accepted as an existent entity, it can be “scientifically” explained to have a nature of being. It is directly correlated to virtuous behavior and is the only location of which the purpose of human existence can be located. External pleasures have nothing to do with the soul, but are not harmful unless used in excess. They also are not a neutral force, since it is the desire of all humans to fulfill this need, and participation in these acts are vital in sustaining transient states of happiness. These acts allow humans to experience superficial pleasures to give them temporary, short-term purpose to pass the time as they explore the realm of consciousness. This exploration can eventually lead to self-realization and superior knowledge of physical and spiritual processes. This is the highest function of man, and no greater fate can be achieved, so it should be necessary for all of humanity to devoutly pursue this divine ambition; the fate of one’s soul depends on it.


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