The Ethics of Aristotle 2005 Informative Summary


The Nicomachean Ethics is a seminal work by Aristotle that explores the nature of virtue, happiness, and the good life. It begins by establishing that all human actions aim at some good, and that the ultimate good is happiness, which Aristotle defines as “a working of the soul in the way of excellence.” He then examines the various virtues, which are excellences of character developed through habituation. Aristotle argues that each virtue is a mean between two vices: excess and deficiency. For example, courage is the mean between cowardice and rashness.

Aristotle delves into the concept of justice, distinguishing between distributive justice (fair distribution of goods) and corrective justice (restoring balance after an injustice has occurred). He explores the nature of intellectual virtues, including practical wisdom and theoretical wisdom, and their relationship to moral virtues. The treatise culminates in a discussion of the contemplative life, which Aristotle considers the highest and most satisfying form of life for humans.

Key findings:

  • Happiness is the ultimate good and the aim of all human actions.
  • Virtue is an excellence of character developed through habituation, aiming at the mean between two vices.
  • Justice involves both fair distribution and restoring balance after an injustice.
  • Intellectual virtues, like practical wisdom and theoretical wisdom, are essential for living a good life.
  • The contemplative life, focused on intellectual pursuit, is the highest and most fulfilling life for humans.


  • Aristotle viewed happiness as the ultimate good for humans, not a mere byproduct of virtuous actions.
  • He believed virtue is acquired through repeated actions, not innate.
  • The mean is the ideal state for each virtue, avoiding both excess and deficiency.
  • Justice involves two aspects: ensuring fair distribution of resources and correcting imbalances after an injustice.
  • Practical wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge to practical situations, achieving the best outcome for oneself and society.
  • Theoretical wisdom involves the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, focusing on understanding the fundamental principles of the universe.
  • Aristotle considered the contemplative life, dedicated to intellectual pursuit, as the most fulfilling life.
  • He argued that the contemplative life is not distinctly human, but humans are capable of partaking in it.
  • The state, through its laws and institutions, has a vital role in promoting good character and happiness.
  • Aristotle believed that the good of one individual is not inherently different from the good of many.
  • He emphasized the importance of moral education for shaping good citizens.
  • He rejected Plato’s idea of a transcendent world of Forms, focusing on the “right earth” of human existence.
  • Aristotle saw pleasure as a natural consequence of fulfilling one’s potential, not the primary goal of life.
  • He believed that true happiness comes from actively living a life of virtue and excellence.
  • He stressed the need for both intellectual and moral development for a truly fulfilling life.
  • Aristotle viewed friendship as an essential component of a good life, highlighting different types of friendship based on utility, pleasure, and virtue.


  • No specific numbers are mentioned in the text.


  • Happiness: The ultimate good for humans, achieved through living a virtuous life.
  • Virtue: An excellence of character, developed through habituation and aiming at the mean between two vices.
  • Justice: A virtue that involves both fair distribution of resources and restoring balance after an injustice.
  • Practical Wisdom: The ability to apply knowledge to practical situations, making sound judgments.
  • Theoretical Wisdom: The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, focused on understanding fundamental truths.
  • Contemplative Life: A life dedicated to intellectual pursuit, considered the highest and most fulfilling form of life.
  • Self-Sufficiency: A state of being complete and fulfilled, requiring nothing beyond itself for happiness.
  • Habituation: The process of developing a virtue through repeated actions.
  • Mean: The ideal state of each virtue, avoiding both excess and deficiency.
  • Excess: The vice that results from having too much of a quality.
  • Deficiency: The vice that results from having too little of a quality.


  • Aristotle uses the example of a carpenter and a geometrician to illustrate the difference between practical and theoretical knowledge.
  • He compares the Olympic games to real life, where those who participate actively, not just those who are talented, are rewarded.
  • He compares the process of building character to developing physical strength, suggesting both require constant practice and effort.
  • He utilizes the example of a sick man who cannot be well with a wish alone to illustrate how habits, once formed, become difficult to break.
  • The analogy of a bent timber being straightened highlights how moving away from an extreme can bring one closer to the mean.
  • He compares the relationship of anger and reason to quick servants who misunderstand orders, emphasizing that anger can sometimes be misguided.
  • Aristotle uses the example of the Argives mistaken belief about the men of Sicyon to show how courage can be influenced by ignorance.
  • He uses the metaphor of a boxer to explain that in matters of skill and technique, being in the right state of mind is crucial, not just bravery.
  • The example of a child learning words but not understanding them is used to illustrate how people can act without genuine knowledge.
  • Aristotle draws on the example of a ship’s crew to explain how collective effort and shared goals contribute to a common good.

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