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Prior to a look at Aristotle's ethics, I feel it is important to look at the man and his background.
Aristotle, an Ionian, was born in Stagira, a Greek town on the northwest shores of the Aegean Sea in 384
B.C. At the age of eighteen he entered Plato's school called the Academy, staying there for nearly twenty
years. Plato was quick to realize Aristotle's abilities and called him the Academy's "brightest and most
learned student". While there he wrote "popular writings" for general discussion outside the Academy.
After Plato's death, Aristotle left the Academy and lived with a few disciples of Plato. It was
during this period of his life that he took a wife. Her name was Pithias, the adopted daughter of his friend
In approximately 342 B.C. Aristotle was invited by King Philip II to supervise the education of his
son Alexander. After Philip II was assassinated, Alexander took over the throne. He later conquered all of
Greece and the Persian Empire and soon became known as Alexander the Great.
In 334 B.C. Aristotle returned to Athens and opened a school called the Lyceum. It was there that
he took on the teaching practices of Socrates. He wrote treatises and memoranda to be used as student
guides and lecture notes.
In 323 B.C., after the death of Alexander, Aristotle was charged with impiety by the Athenians.
This charge was thought to stem from his friendship with Alexander. Aristotle fled Athens because he
remembered what had happened to Socrates. He went to Chalcis so the Athenians would not "sin twice
against philosophy". He died the following year.
Aristotle realized that happiness in the ultimate goal of a person's life. All that a person is and
does should be directed toward this end. To arrive at goodness one must contemplate what universal and
eternal truths are and how these can be mastered in terms of each person's life style. Wealth to many is a
pleasurable goal, but by itself it does not bring happiness. Wealth can limit a person's vision setting a
person up to live in excess, while at the same time causing a deficiency in other areas. Along the same line,
being powerful might seem an ultimate goal, but it too is an example of excessive living. Powerful people
are not always happy as they miss life's simple pleasures and often are isolated from other virtues. External
goods help someone to achieve happiness. These can include such things as friends and good looks. These
and other external goods are needed to ensure health, leisure and virtuous actions. Happiness then is
dependent on excellence, which r!
equires complete virtue and is developed over a lifetime.
Aristotle theorized that moral virtue is directly related to moderation. Virtue is a value a person
cannot have enough of because it leads to pleasure and happiness. Happiness therefore is the ultimate end
toward which all actions are directed. A man's actions are not in isolation. They are directly tied to society
and the politics of the time. However, no matter what the time in history or a person's place in society, a
person should use moderation in how he lives. To achieve this he must acquire knowledge, virtuous habits
and self-discipline. If a person has deficiencies he is not striving hard enough for happiness and his
ultimate goal. If he lives life in extremes he is apt to overdue in one area and be deficient in another. This
can be demonstrated by a person who uses drugs in excess and therefore does not appreciate or participate
in life's pleasures. Aristotle could not see into the future; however, what he said hundreds of years ago still
Aristotle was accurate when he taught that man has a moral responsibility for his actions. These
actions require a conscious choice because the person needs to be able to decide if the action is morally
correct. The good of the many outweighs the good of one. Therefore, it would be morally wrong to put
one's needs and desires first before considering whether these actions would take away the freedoms of
others or cause harm to anyone else. Without proper moral training it might be impossible to grasp the
principles of ethical behavior. Man is both a social and political being. He does not live in
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Philosophy, Ethics, Ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle, Virtue ethics, Social philosophy, Philosophy of life, Aristotelian ethics, Nicomachean Ethics, Socrates, Plato, Happiness
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