Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle postulates the highest human good is eudaimonia or what is loosely translated into English as happiness And a substantial component in the path to such human happiness is acting with the appropriate virtues over the course of an entire lifetime The details of these Aristotelean teachings form the Nicomachean Ethics, one of the most influential works in the entire history of Western Civilization As a way of sharing but a small example of Aristotle s extensive philosophy outlined in these pages, I will focus on Book IV Chapter 8 where the eminent Greek philosopher addresses the virtue of being witty, sensitive to others, discerning and perceptive, particularly when we are at our leisure Here are six Aristotle quotes and my brief accompanying comments Since life includes rest as well as activity, and in this is included leisure and amusement, there seems here also to be a kind of intercourse which is tasteful there is such a thing as saying and again listening to what one should and as one should Aristotle s focus on time spent outside of work, what we nowadays refer to as leisure time , makes this section of his ethical teachings particularly relevant for us today, most especially since we are bombarded by a nonstop barrage of advertisements, store signs, billboards, Muzak, etc etc., some subtle, many not so subtle The kind of people one is speaking to or listening to will also make a difference Very important who we associate with both at work and outside of work Aristotle is optimistic that we can actively participate in society and exercise discrimination as we develop wisdom to speak as we should and listen as we should In contrast, another Greek philosopher, Epicurus, was not so optimistic on this point Epicurus judged conventional society as blind and dumb, particularly as it pertains to men and women expounding values regarding such things as riches and fame and what constitutes our true human needs The answer for Epicurus withdraw into a separate community with like minded friends and philosophers Regarding people s views on humor there is both an excess and a deficiency as compared with the mean Those who carry humor to excess are thought to be vulgar buffoons, striving after humor at all costs, and aiming rather at raising a laugh than at saying what is becoming and at avoiding pain to the object of their fun while those who can neither make a joke themselves nor put up with those who do are thought to be boorish and unpolished Sounds like Aristotle attended the same junior high school and high school as I did Again, he is optimistic that someone who aspires to philosophic excellence, virtue and the mean maintaining a middle position between two extremes can live among buffoons and boors without being pulled down to their level The question I would pose to Aristotle What happens when we live in an entire society dominated by vulgar buffoon and uptight boors, where the buffoons and boors set the standards for what it means to be human Particularly, what happens to the development of children and young adults But those who joke in a tasteful way are called ready witted, which implies a sort of readiness to turn this way and that for such sallies are thought to be movements of the character, and as bodies are discriminated by their movements, so too are characters I had an opportunity to see the Dalai Lama speak You will be hard pressed to find someone with a lively sense of humor If you haven t seen him speak, you can check out Youtube The ridiculous side of things is not far to seek, however, and most people delight than they should in amusement and in jestingly and so even buffoons are called ready witted because they are found attractive but that they differ from the ready witted man, and to no small extent, is clear from what has been said Ha So Aristotle sees, in fact, how buffoonery can easily lapse into the social norm Thus our challenge is how to retain our integrity when surrounded by slobs and buffoons To the middle state belongs also tact it is the mark of a tactful man to say and listen to such things as befit a good and well bred man for there are some things that it befits such a man to say and to hear by way of jest, and the well bred man s jesting differs from that of a vulgar man, and the joking of an educated man from that of an uneducated Aristotle s overarching observation on how the wisdom of the middle way between two extremes applies here not good acting at either extreme, being a boor or being a buffoon Unfortunately, speaking and otherwise communicating in a buffoonish or boorish way is in no way restricted to the uneducated or dull I ve witnessed numerous instances of buffoonery and boorishness among the highly educated and intellectually astute The entire Nicomachean Ethics is available online I m a bit annoyed I wrote up my review to this last night and thought I d posted it, but it seems to have gone to god not happy about that amusingly enough This is my reconstruction of last night s review.There is a story that is almost certainly apocryphal about a French woman in the version I know, this is Madame De Gaulle who is in England towards the end of her husband s career and is asked at some sort of official function what she wants most from life She answers, a penis which, unsurprisingly, brings a near complete silence over the room, something see seems completely confused by Charles De Gaulle then says to his wife, I think they pronounce it appiness , darling Aristotle is writing about how to live a good life pretty much what ethics means and his answer is that a good life is a happy life Well, sort of Actually, the Greek word that is translated as happiness here not unlike Madame De Gaulle s mis pronunciation doesn t necessarily mean what we would normally take happiness to mean Eudaimonia is made up of two words meaning good and soul , but can also be translated as meaning human flourishing Now, if you asked me how I was going and I said, I m flourishing , that doesn t necessarily mean I m happy It is not that the two ideas are a million miles apart, but even Roget would be unlikely to slam them together in his little book of synonyms.This is a remarkably practical book not so much in that it tells you exactly how to behave at all times and in all circumstances, it isn t practical in that sense, but rather that it sets about giving you tools to help make a rational judgement about how you ought to behave given various circumstances It does this by discussing Aristotle s doctrine of the mean Aristotle says that every virtue falls between to extremes which are excesses of qualities that also go to make up that virtue So, if you think of courage, for example, it falls between cowardice and foolhardiness In one case you have an exaggerated regard for your own life despite being seen as a coward and the likely humiliation that will bring and in the other you are too prepared to throw your life away and therefore not giving your life its proper value Now, the point is that Aristotle isn t saying all that much here about how you might behave in a given situation, but rather giving you guiding lines to watch out for his point is that if you are called upon to be brave there may be times when it is rational to behave in ways that might otherwise look foolhardy, and at other times in ways that might look cowardly but a wise and happy person would do so on the basis of a rational assessment of where the mean lies given the time, place and circumstance and knowing there are extremes you need to avoid is useful here.There are bits of this that I found much annoying this time around than I did when I read it years ago 30 years ago, now yuck how did that happen In fact, I can t quite tell if Aristotle has become reactionary over the years or if I ve become progressive but it s one or the other.For instance, I found a lot of his discussions about women particularly annoying this time around Take this as a case in point from Book VIII, Sometimes, however, women rule, because they are heiresses their rule is thus not in accordance with virtue, but due to wealth and power page 157 People will tell you that one of the problems with Aristotle and Plato is the fact that they could never conceive of a society in which there were no slaves but one of the advantages of Plato is that he did think women could, and probably should, be educated Aristotle clearly does not but the point I would really like to make is that he notices when women rule due to their wealth and power, but not when men do the same Given so many men rule at all and so many of them rule due to the access their position gives them it seems an odd thing for someone like Aristotle not to notice.Because this is quite a practical ethics, he spends a lot of time talking about the sorts of things people ought to have in their lives to make them happy and this is why so much of the book is devoted to friendship I won t go over his arguments for the various types of friends one might have, but do want to talk about love and lovers I think I could mount a case for saying that Aristotle is arguing against having a lover Not that he is advocating a life of celibacy or even of abstinence, but rather that lovers come in what I like to think of as pairs after McCullers or Somerset Maugham who both said that there are lovers and the beloved and of the two everyone wants to be the lover, rather than the beloved and that since being either the lover or a beloved is basically irrational, given we fall in love by lightning strike as much as anything else, it might stop just as quickly as it all started, and then a lover who doesn t love any leaves a beloved who is no longer beloved not the basis for a lasting relationship The point being that friendship is based rationally on mutual benefits and mutual care if it was me, I d pick the latter over the former friendship over love every time if these things allowed for choices like that, that is.Now, I want to end by quoting a longer bit from Book X page 200 Some think we become good by nature, some by habit, and others by teaching Nature s contribution is clearly not in our power, but it can be found in those who are truly fortunate as the result of some divine dispensation Argument and teaching, presumably, are not powerful in every case, but the soul of the student must be prepared beforehand in its habits, with a view to its enjoying and hating in a noble way, like soil that is to nourish seed For if someone were to live by his feelings he would not listen to an argument to dissuade him, nor could he even understand it How can we persuade a person in a state like this to change his ways And, in general, feelings seem to yield not to argument but to force There must, therefore, somehow be a pre existing character with some affinity for virtue through its fondness for what is noble and dislike of what is disgraceful But if one has not been reared under the right laws it is difficult to obtain from one s earliest years the correct upbringing for virtue, because the masses, especially the young, do not find it pleasant to live temperately and with endurance For this reason, their upbringing and pursuits should be regulated by laws, because they will not find them painful once they have become accustomed to them I find this really interesting for a whole range of reasons Okay, so, he starts off by saying that nature is the main thing to ensure that one is capable of learning but it is interesting that this alone is not enough Nature is essential, but left on its own will not get you very far The other is teaching, but teaching too may not help unless you have been prepared to hear the lesson something Gramsci talks about at some length saying working class children need to be given discipline that they are unfamiliar with if they are to have any hope of succeeding in education What is stressed here is the development of habits and dispositions and that these are what allows the other two nature and teaching to be given any chance of success.Aristotle is keen to stress that he is talking about virtues but again, the Greek word here ar te doesn t just mean morally good behaviours, but rather something closer to the excellences that we associate with different kinds of behaviours so that a fisherman has virtues too, not in the sense of being morally upright, but rather, at knowing what is good for a fisherman to do and be A lot of this reminded me of Pascal s Pens es There is a bit in that where Pascal says that happiness really isn t related to the outcome, but to the process That is, that you won t make a hunter happy by giving him a couple of rabbits at the start of the day and saying to him, now you don t have to go out hunting today, relax, enjoy yourself Rather, even a mangy rabbit caught through the effort of the hunt will be worth to the hunter than a dozen plump ones handed over without effort at the start of the day Not always true, of course, but I m exaggerating to make the point In a lot of ways that is Aristotle s ethics find out what you are meant to do and do that as best you can and that will make you happy or good souled or flourishing one of those. This re read was perhaps a slight bit superfluous I remembered reading it way back in high school on my own just because I was that kind of geek.Get the foundations read, kid Know what the whole line of thought is all about Use it later to trounce your fellow debaters Yeah, whatever Logic and an examined life have since then been of an end rather than a means.Case in point This is about examining Happiness It does so in a fairly exhaustive but not exhausting way Aristotle just lays down the foundations, brings up the various opinions people usually hold about WHAT happiness entails, and then tries to pare away the flawed answers.Usually, a normal adventure tale is never about the end destination End destinations are usually a let down The effort to get there is usually a lot satisfying.Same for Aristotle It turns out I remembered the first journey perfectly And it brought me happiness. Happiness is the activity of a rational soul in accordance with virtue, writes Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics Activity means living Rational soul means a human being And virtue means human excellence So happiness means a human living excellently How does one live excellently One learns to be good at the things that are human and these are called virtues Aristotle discusses many virtues, but four are primary courage, temperance, justice and practical wisdom Courage is how we deal with pain and disappointment Courage is an example of the golden mean Courage is the mean between cowardice and rashness Temperance is how we deal with pleasure Temperance is the mean between over indulgence and self denial Justice is how we deal with human relationships Essentially, it means to give every person their due, which will be defined by their relationship to you Practical wisdom is the knowledge to understand how to discern the moderate path or the mean and how to moderate passions in order to think clearly and make good decisions But my favorite thing about the Ethics is that Aristotle devotes many pages to a discussion of friendship, which is fundamental to happiness Some scholars believe that Aristotle s writing on friendship is misplaced That is, when scrolls with the Ethics were first discovered, early scholars mistakenly mixed two books together Perhaps, this is true But it is heartening to read about happiness and find that much of the discussion has to do with being a good friend One thing about this great book It is difficult to read I am told that this is due to the fact that it was compiled from notes of Aristotle s students and was not written by Aristotle That is, these are notes of his lectures.They read like it My way of dealing with the impenetrability was to listen to lectures from the Teaching Company as I re read the Ethics a few years ago That made all the difference The Nichomachean Ethics is arguably the most important work on ethics in western culture But you might not be able read it on your own without constantly fogging out So figure out a way to get through it with patience and attention You will be rewarded for your effort. The Nicomachean Ethics is one of the greatest works of Aristotle, the famous philosopher who was really much of a scientist than a philosopher This is the book where he indulges in the discussion of happiness, virtue, ethics, politics, and really anything else describing the way in which human beings functioned together in the society of a Greek city state of early Antiquity.Especially in the field of politics, this work excels, and Aristotle puts forth a particularly interesting theory on the forms of government According to him, there are really only three different forms of government, but each of them comes with a corresponding corrupt deviation The finest form of government, he says, is the monarchy, the rule of one But its corresponding deviation, which is tyranny, is the worst form of government, and the line between the two is thin and sinuous Likewise, the second finest form of government is the aristocracy, the rule of the best And aristocracy in its corrupted form is oligarchy, the second worst form of government Lastly, the third finest form of government is timocracy, the rule of property owners, which was strikingly similar to the political system already existing in Aristotle s Athens But the corrupt form of timocracy, he says, is democracy, a system in which society has deviated into a constant squabble where everyone seeks to advance their own interests rather than the interests of the state The conclusion seems to be that as long as long as the rulers of the state are just and competent, it is better the fewer they are But if the rulers are unjust and incompetent, the opposite is true To those as interested in political theory as I am, I would recommend just reading Book VIII, and skipping all the rest.The most interesting thing about the book, however, is that the writing is absolutely terrible Not the language, mind you, but the style in which the book is written What is truly incredible is that the writing here is exactly how an average academic writer today would write his or her books On one hand, that made this book ridiculously boring to read On the other, it was really interesting because it proves how much modern academics owe to the legacy of Aristotle And that they should find another source of inspiration, since for instance Plato was a far better writer than his most famous pupil.I would recommend this book only to those particularly interested in philosophical, political and ethical theory, and even then I would suggest just opening the book and reading the parts that sound interesting to you instead of attempting the dreary business of reading it as a whole. One Swallow Does Not Make A Summer Neither Does One Day Similarly Neither Can One Day, Or A Brief Space Of Time, Make A Man Blessed And Happy In The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle Sets Out To Examine The Nature Of Happiness He Argues That Happiness Consists In Activity Of The Soul In Accordance With Virtue , For Example With Moral Virtues, Such As Courage, Generosity And Justice, And Intellectual Virtues, Such As Knowledge, Wisdom And Insight The Ethics Also Discusses The Nature Of Practical Reasoning, The Value And The Objects Of Pleasure, The Different Forms Of Friendship, And The Relationship Between Individual Virtue, Society And The State Aristotle S Work Has Had A Profound And Lasting Influence On All Subsequent Western Thought About Ethical MattersJ A K Thomson S Translation Has Been Revised By Hugh Tredennick, And Is Accompanied By A New Introduction By Jonathan Barnes This Edition Also Includes An Updated List For Further Reading And A New Chronology Of Aristotle S Life And WorksPreviously Published As Ethics Aristotle doesn t satisfy your whole soul, just the logical side, but here he is quite thorough The Nicomachean Ethics is his most important study of personal morality and the ends of human life He does little than search for and examine the good He examines the virtue and vices of man in all his faculties He believes that the unexamined life is a life not worth living happiness is the contemplation of the good and the carrying out of virtue with solid acts Among this book s most outstanding features are Aristotle s insistence that there are no known absolute moral standards and that any ethical theory must be based in part on an understanding of psychology and firmly grounded in the realities of human nature and daily life Though the over 100 chapters divided into ten books flow and build upon each other, you can benefit from reading just one of them One of my favorite philosophical reads, I cannot say enough for the depth of insight Aristotle has into living the good life. One lesson of our age is that barbarism persists under the surface, and that the virtues of civilized life are less deeply rooted than used to be supposed The world is not too richly endowed with examples of perseverance and subtlety in analysis, of moderation and sanity in the study of human affairs It will be a great loss if the thinker who, above all others, displays these qualities, is ever totally forgotten D.J Allan, author of The Philosophy of Aristotle, Oxford 1952 about Aristotle 384 BC 323 BC This is a book worth rereading every few years It is actually lecture notes by one of Aristotle s students, as are most of the extant writings attributed to Aristotle Not a work to be rushed through, the Ethics requires concentration and pondering, work that rewards the effort.Aristotle begins by investigating what is good for man, proceeding to examine both moral and intellectual virtues In each of these areas, he first defines his terms Then he examines various virtues and vices such as courage, temperance, justice, and others Next he discusses the differences between philosophic and practical wisdom before he turns to continence, incontinence, and pleasure Finally, he includes a long section on friendship.Anyone thinking seriously about the meaning of life must take into consideration Aristotle s views He is concerned with the mundane rather than metaphysical reality and is always intensely practical The enjoyment that derives from reading his works results from both his practical insights and the exercise of one s own mind as one accompanies him on his explorations.