Aristotle's Ethics: Top Ten Quotes

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References are to Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Trans. J.A.K. Thomson (London: Penguin, 2004).

  1. “Happiness, then, is found to be something perfect and self-sufficient, being the end to which our actions are directed.”

    Page 15, 1097b, lines 20-2.

    Book 1, chapter vii, in which Aristotle is explaining that the ultimate end or object of human life must be something that is in itself completely satisfying, an end pursued for its own sake. And this, he concludes, is happiness.

  2. “… the good for man is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, or if there are more kinds of virtue than one, in accordance with the best and most perfect kind.”

    Page 16, 1098a, lines 17-19.

    Book 1, chapter vii. In this passage Aristotle is arguing that once we have discovered the function of man we find that happiness is the virtuous activity of the soul.

  3. “So virtue is a purposive disposition, lying in a mean that is relative to us and determined by a rational principle, and by that which a prudent man would use to determine it. It is a mean between two kinds of vice, one of excess and the other of deficiency…”

    Page 42, 1107a, lines 1-5.

    Book 2, chapter vi. Aristotle is outlining a provisional definition of virtue.

  4. “It [Justice] is complete virtue in the fullest sense, because it is the active exercise of complete virtue; and it is complete because its possessor can exercise it in relation to another person, and not only by himself.”

    Page 115, 1129b, lines 30-3.

    Book 5, chapter I, in which Aristotle is defining justice and injustice.

  5. “…virtue is not merely a state in conformity with the right principle, but one that implies the right principle; and the right principle in moral conduct is prudence.”

    Pages 165-6, 1144b, lines 27-30.

    Book 6, chapter xiii. Here Aristotle is describing how prudence, “the right principle,” is related to virtue. His emphasis is designed to make it clear that moral and intellectual goodness are not just complementary, but in their highest form inseparable.

  6. “Between friends there is no need for justice, but people who are just still need the quality of friendship; and indeed friendliness is considered to be justice in the fullest sense.”

    Page 201, 1155a, lines 27-9.

    Book 8, chapter i. At this point, before he goes on to explain what friendship is, Aristotle makes the case for the importance, indeed the necessity, of friendship.

  7. “But a man’s best friend is the one who not only wishes him well but wishes it for his own sake (even though nobody will ever know it): and this condition is best fulfilled by his attitude towards himself – and similarly with all the other attributes that go to define a friend. For we have said before that all friendly feelings for others are extensions of a man’s feelings for himself.”

    Page 243, 1168b, lines 3-7.

    Book 9, chapter viii. In this passage Aristotle is countering the objections to self-love and the claim that it involves the selfishness of a bad man.

  8. “… the friendship of worthless people has a bad effect (because they take part, unstable as they are, in worthless pursuits, and actually become bad through each other’s influence). But the friendship of the good is good, and increases in goodness because of their association. They seem even to become better men by exercising their friendship and improving each other; for the traits that they admire in each other get transferred to themselves.”

    Page 253, 1172a, lines 8-14.

    Book 9, chapter xii. In this book Aristotle is describing the basis of friendship and the value that good friendship brings.

  9. “For contemplation is both the highest form of activity (since the intellect is the highest thing in us, and the objects that it apprehends are the highest things that can be known), and also it is the most continuous, because we are more capable of continuous contemplation than we are of any practical activity.”

    Page 270, 1177a, lines 20-5.

    Book 10, chapter vii. In this passage Aristotle is giving his reasons for thinking that the highest form and the best manifestation of happiness is to be found in cultivating the contemplative life.

  10. “Happiness, then, is co-extensive with contemplation, and the more people contemplate, the happier they are; not incidentally, but in virtue of their contemplation, because it is in itself precious. Thus happiness is a form of contemplation.”

    Page 275, 1178b, lines 29-32.

    Book 10, chapter viii. In this section Aristotle is assembling arguments to support his belief that happiness is contemplation.

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