Nicomachean Ethics

by Aristotle
translated by W. D. Ross
Book I Book II Book III Book IV Book V Book VI Book VII Book VIII Book IX Book X



AFTER these matters we ought perhaps next to discuss pleasure. For
it is thought to be most intimately connected with our human nature,
which is the reason why in educating the young we steer them by the
rudders of pleasure and pain; it is thought, too, that to enjoy the
things we ought and to hate the things we ought has the greatest
bearing on virtue of character. For these things extend right
through life, with a weight and power of their own in respect both
to virtue and to the happy life, since men choose what is pleasant and
avoid what is painful; and such things, it will be thought, we
should least of all omit to discuss, especially since they admit of
much dispute. For some say pleasure is the good, while others, on
the contrary, say it is thoroughly bad-some no doubt being persuaded
that the facts are so, and others thinking it has a better effect on
our life to exhibit pleasure as a bad thing even if it is not; for
most people (they think) incline towards it and are the slaves of
their pleasures, for which reason they ought to lead them in the
opposite direction, since thus they will reach the middle state. But
surely this is not correct. For arguments about matters concerned with
feelings and actions are less reliable than facts: and so when they
clash with the facts of perception they are despised, and discredit
the truth as well; if a man who runs down pleasure is once seen to
be alming at it, his inclining towards it is thought to imply that
it is all worthy of being aimed at; for most people are not good at
drawing distinctions. True arguments seem, then, most useful, not only
with a view to knowledge, but with a view to life also; for since they
harmonize with the facts they are believed, and so they stimulate
those who understand them to live according to them.-Enough of such
questions; let us proceed to review the opinions that have been
expressed about pleasure.

Eudoxus thought pleasure was the good because he saw all things,
both rational and irrational, aiming at it, and because in all
things that which is the object of choice is what is excellent, and
that which is most the object of choice the greatest good; thus the
fact that all things moved towards the same object indicated that this
was for all things the chief good (for each thing, he argued, finds
its own good, as it finds its own nourishment); and that which is good
for all things and at which all aim was the good. His arguments were
credited more because of the excellence of his character than for
their own sake; he was thought to be remarkably self-controlled, and
therefore it was thought that he was not saying what he did say as a
friend of pleasure, but that the facts really were so. He believed
that the same conclusion followed no less plainly from a study of
the contrary of pleasure; pain was in itself an object of aversion
to all things, and therefore its contrary must be similarly an
object of choice. And again that is most an object of choice which
we choose not because or for the sake of something else, and
pleasure is admittedly of this nature; for no one asks to what end
he is pleased, thus implying that pleasure is in itself an object of
choice. Further, he argued that pleasure when added to any good,
e.g. to just or temperate action, makes it more worthy of choice,
and that it is only by itself that the good can be increased.
This argument seems to show it to be one of the goods, and no more a
good than any other; for every good is more worthy of choice along
with another good than taken alone. And so it is by an argument of
this kind that Plato proves the good not to be pleasure; he argues
that the pleasant life is more desirable with wisdom than without, and
that if the mixture is better, pleasure is not the good; for the
good cannot become more desirable by the addition of anything to it.
Now it is clear that nothing else, any more than pleasure, can be
the good if it is made more desirable by the addition of any of the
things that are good in themselves. What, then, is there that
satisfies this criterion, which at the same time we can participate
in? It is something of this sort that we are looking for. Those who
object that that at which all things aim is not necessarily good
are, we may surmise, talking nonsense. For we say that that which
every one thinks really is so; and the man who attacks this belief
will hardly have anything more credible to maintain instead. If it
is senseless creatures that desire the things in question, there might
be something in what they say; but if intelligent creatures do so as
well, what sense can there be in this view? But perhaps even in
inferior creatures there is some natural good stronger than themselves
which aims at their proper good.
Nor does the argument about the contrary of pleasure seem to be
correct. They say that if pain is an evil it does not follow that
pleasure is a good; for evil is opposed to evil and at the same time
both are opposed to the neutral state-which is correct enough but does
not apply to the things in question. For if both pleasure and pain
belonged to the class of evils they ought both to be objects of
aversion, while if they belonged to the class of neutrals neither
should be an object of aversion or they should both be equally so; but
in fact people evidently avoid the one as evil and choose the other as
good; that then must be the nature of the opposition between them.

Nor again, if pleasure is not a quality, does it follow that it is
not a good; for the activities of virtue are not qualities either, nor
is happiness. They say, however, that the good is determinate, while
pleasure is indeterminate, because it admits of degrees. Now if it
is from the feeling of pleasure that they judge thus, the same will be
true of justice and the other virtues, in respect of which we
plainly say that people of a certain character are so more or less,
and act more or less in accordance with these virtues; for people
may be more just or brave, and it is possible also to act justly or
temperately more or less. But if their judgement is based on the
various pleasures, surely they are not stating the real cause, if in
fact some pleasures are unmixed and others mixed. Again, just as
health admits of degrees without being indeterminate, why should not
pleasure? The same proportion is not found in all things, nor a single
proportion always in the same thing, but it may be relaxed and yet
persist up to a point, and it may differ in degree. The case of
pleasure also may therefore be of this kind.
Again, they assume that the good is perfect while movements and
comings into being are imperfect, and try to exhibit pleasure as being
a movement and a coming into being. But they do not seem to be right
even in saying that it is a movement. For speed and slowness are
thought to be proper to every movement, and if a movement, e.g. that
of the heavens, has not speed or slowness in itself, it has it in
relation to something else; but of pleasure neither of these things is
true. For while we may become pleased quickly as we may become angry
quickly, we cannot be pleased quickly, not even in relation to some
one else, while we can walk, or grow, or the like, quickly. While,
then, we can change quickly or slowly into a state of pleasure, we
cannot quickly exhibit the activity of pleasure, i.e. be pleased.
Again, how can it be a coming into being? It is not thought that any
chance thing can come out of any chance thing, but that a thing is
dissolved into that out of which it comes into being; and pain would
be the destruction of that of which pleasure is the coming into being.
They say, too, that pain is the lack of that which is according to
nature, and pleasure is replenishment. But these experiences are
bodily. If then pleasure is replenishment with that which is according
to nature, that which feels pleasure will be that in which the
replenishment takes place, i.e. the body; but that is not thought to
be the case; therefore the replenishment is not pleasure, though one
would be pleased when replenishment was taking place, just as one
would be pained if one was being operated on. This opinion seems to be
based on the pains and pleasures connected with nutrition; on the fact
that when people have been short of food and have felt pain beforehand
they are pleased by the replenishment. But this does not happen with
all pleasures; for the pleasures of learning and, among the sensuous
pleasures, those of smell, and also many sounds and sights, and
memories and hopes, do not presuppose pain. Of what then will these be
the coming into being? There has not been lack of anything of which
they could be the supplying anew.
In reply to those who bring forward the disgraceful pleasures one
may say that these are not pleasant; if things are pleasant to
people of vicious constitution, we must not suppose that they are also
pleasant to others than these, just as we do not reason so about the
things that are wholesome or sweet or bitter to sick people, or
ascribe whiteness to the things that seem white to those suffering
from a disease of the eye. Or one might answer thus-that the pleasures
are desirable, but not from these sources, as wealth is desirable, but
not as the reward of betrayal, and health, but not at the cost of
eating anything and everything. Or perhaps pleasures differ in kind;
for those derived from noble sources are different from those
derived from base sources, and one cannot the pleasure of the just man
without being just, nor that of the musical man without being musical,
and so on.
The fact, too, that a friend is different from a flatterer seems
to make it plain that pleasure is not a good or that pleasures are
different in kind; for the one is thought to consort with us with a
view to the good, the other with a view to our pleasure, and the one
is reproached for his conduct while the other is praised on the ground
that he consorts with us for different ends. And no one would choose
to live with the intellect of a child throughout his life, however
much he were to be pleased at the things that children are pleased at,
nor to get enjoyment by doing some most disgraceful deed, though he
were never to feel any pain in consequence. And there are many
things we should be keen about even if they brought no pleasure,
e.g. seeing, remembering, knowing, possessing the virtues. If
pleasures necessarily do accompany these, that makes no odds; we
should choose these even if no pleasure resulted. It seems to be
clear, then, that neither is pleasure the good nor is all pleasure
desirable, and that some pleasures are desirable in themselves,
differing in kind or in their sources from the others. So much for the
things that are said about pleasure and pain.

What pleasure is, or what kind of thing it is, will become plainer
if we take up the question aga from the beginning. Seeing seems to
be at any moment complete, for it does not lack anything which
coming into being later will complete its form; and pleasure also
seems to be of this nature. For it is a whole, and at no time can
one find a pleasure whose form will be completed if the pleasure lasts
longer. For this reason, too, it is not a movement. For every movement
(e.g. that of building) takes time and is for the sake of an end,
and is complete when it has made what it aims at. It is complete,
therefore, only in the whole time or at that final moment. In their
parts and during the time they occupy, all movements are incomplete,
and are different in kind from the whole movement and from each other.
For the fitting together of the stones is different from the fluting
of the column, and these are both different from the making of the
temple; and the making of the temple is complete (for it lacks nothing
with a view to the end proposed), but the making of the base or of the
triglyph is incomplete; for each is the making of only a part. They
differ in kind, then, and it is not possible to find at any and
every time a movement complete in form, but if at all, only in the
whole time. So, too, in the case of walking and all other movements.
For if locomotion is a movement from to there, it, too, has
differences in kind-flying, walking, leaping, and so on. And not
only so, but in walking itself there are such differences; for the
whence and whither are not the same in the whole racecourse and in a
part of it, nor in one part and in another, nor is it the same thing
to traverse this line and that; for one traverses not only a line
but one which is in a place, and this one is in a different place from
that. We have discussed movement with precision in another work, but
it seems that it is not complete at any and every time, but that the
many movements are incomplete and different in kind, since the
whence and whither give them their form. But of pleasure the form is
complete at any and every time. Plainly, then, pleasure and movement
must be different from each other, and pleasure must be one of the
things that are whole and complete. This would seem to be the case,
too, from the fact that it is not possible to move otherwise than in
time, but it is possible to be pleased; for that which takes place
in a moment is a whole.
From these considerations it is clear, too, that these thinkers
are not right in saying there is a movement or a coming into being
of pleasure. For these cannot be ascribed to all things, but only to
those that are divisible and not wholes; there is no coming into being
of seeing nor of a point nor of a unit, nor is any of these a movement
or coming into being; therefore there is no movement or coming into
being of pleasure either; for it is a whole.
Since every sense is active in relation to its object, and a sense
which is in good condition acts perfectly in relation to the most
beautiful of its objects (for perfect activity seems to be ideally
of this nature; whether we say that it is active, or the organ in
which it resides, may be assumed to be immaterial), it follows that in
the case of each sense the best activity is that of the
best-conditioned organ in relation to the finest of its objects. And
this activity will be the most complete and pleasant. For, while there
is pleasure in respect of any sense, and in respect of thought and
contemplation no less, the most complete is pleasantest, and that of a
well-conditioned organ in relation to the worthiest of its objects
is the most complete; and the pleasure completes the activity. But the
pleasure does not complete it in the same way as the combination of
object and sense, both good, just as health and the doctor are not
in the same way the cause of a man's being healthy. (That pleasure
is produced in respect to each sense is plain; for we speak of
sights and sounds as pleasant. It is also plain that it arises most of
all when both the sense is at its best and it is active in reference
to an object which corresponds; when both object and perceiver are
of the best there will always be pleasure, since the requisite agent
and patient are both present.) Pleasure completes the activity not
as the corresponding permanent state does, by its immanence, but as an
end which supervenes as the bloom of youth does on those in the flower
of their age. So long, then, as both the intelligible or sensible
object and the discriminating or contemplative faculty are as they
should be, the pleasure will be involved in the activity; for when
both the passive and the active factor are unchanged and are related
to each other in the same way, the same result naturally follows.
How, then, is it that no one is continuously pleased? Is it that
we grow weary? Certainly all human beings are incapable of
continuous activity. Therefore pleasure also is not continuous; for it
accompanies activity. Some things delight us when they are new, but
later do so less, for the same reason; for at first the mind is in a
state of stimulation and intensely active about them, as people are
with respect to their vision when they look hard at a thing, but
afterwards our activity is not of this kind, but has grown relaxed;
for which reason the pleasure also is dulled.
One might think that all men desire pleasure because they all aim at
life; life is an activity, and each man is active about those things
and with those faculties that he loves most; e.g. the musician is
active with his hearing in reference to tunes, the student with his
mind in reference to theoretical questions, and so on in each case;
now pleasure completes the activities, and therefore life, which
they desire. It is with good reason, then, that they aim at pleasure
too, since for every one it completes life, which is desirable. But
whether we choose life for the sake of pleasure or pleasure for the
sake of life is a question we may dismiss for the present. For they
seem to be bound up together and not to admit of separation, since
without activity pleasure does not arise, and every activity is
completed by the attendant pleasure.

For this reason pleasures seem, too, to differ in kind. For things
different in kind are, we think, completed by different things (we see
this to be true both of natural objects and of things produced by art,
e.g. animals, trees, a painting, a sculpture, a house, an
implement); and, similarly, we think that activities differing in kind
are completed by things differing in kind. Now the activities of
thought differ from those of the senses, and both differ among
themselves, in kind; so, therefore, do the pleasures that complete
This may be seen, too, from the fact that each of the pleasures is
bound up with the activity it completes. For an activity is
intensified by its proper pleasure, since each class of things is
better judged of and brought to precision by those who engage in the
activity with pleasure; e.g. it is those who enjoy geometrical
thinking that become geometers and grasp the various propositions
better, and, similarly, those who are fond of music or of building,
and so on, make progress in their proper function by enjoying it; so
the pleasures intensify the activities, and what intensifies a thing
is proper to it, but things different in kind have properties
different in kind.
This will be even more apparent from the fact that activities are
hindered by pleasures arising from other sources. For people who are
fond of playing the flute are incapable of attending to arguments if
they overhear some one playing the flute, since they enjoy
flute-playing more than the activity in hand; so the pleasure
connected with fluteplaying destroys the activity concerned with
argument. This happens, similarly, in all other cases, when one is
active about two things at once; the more pleasant activity drives out
the other, and if it is much more pleasant does so all the more, so
that one even ceases from the other. This is why when we enjoy
anything very much we do not throw ourselves into anything else, and
do one thing only when we are not much pleased by another; e.g. in the
theatre the people who eat sweets do so most when the actors are poor.
Now since activities are made precise and more enduring and better
by their proper pleasure, and injured by alien pleasures, evidently
the two kinds of pleasure are far apart. For alien pleasures do pretty
much what proper pains do, since activities are destroyed by their
proper pains; e.g. if a man finds writing or doing sums unpleasant and
painful, he does not write, or does not do sums, because the
activity is painful. So an activity suffers contrary effects from
its proper pleasures and pains, i.e. from those that supervene on it
in virtue of its own nature. And alien pleasures have been stated to
do much the same as pain; they destroy the activity, only not to the
same degree.
Now since activities differ in respect of goodness and badness,
and some are worthy to be chosen, others to be avoided, and others
neutral, so, too, are the pleasures; for to each activity there is a
proper pleasure. The pleasure proper to a worthy activity is good
and that proper to an unworthy activity bad; just as the appetites for
noble objects are laudable, those for base objects culpable. But the
pleasures involved in activities are more proper to them than the
desires; for the latter are separated both in time and in nature,
while the former are close to the activities, and so hard to
distinguish from them that it admits of dispute whether the activity
is not the same as the pleasure. (Still, pleasure does not seem to
be thought or perception-that would be strange; but because they are
not found apart they appear to some people the same.) As activities
are different, then, so are the corresponding pleasures. Now sight
is superior to touch in purity, and hearing and smell to taste; the
pleasures, therefore, are similarly superior, and those of thought
superior to these, and within each of the two kinds some are
superior to others.
Each animal is thought to have a proper pleasure, as it has a proper
function; viz. that which corresponds to its activity. If we survey
them species by species, too, this will be evident; horse, dog, and
man have different pleasures, as Heraclitus says 'asses would prefer
sweepings to gold'; for food is pleasanter than gold to asses. So
the pleasures of creatures different in kind differ in kind, and it is
plausible to suppose that those of a single species do not differ. But
they vary to no small extent, in the case of men at least; the same
things delight some people and pain others, and are painful and odious
to some, and pleasant to and liked by others. This happens, too, in
the case of sweet things; the same things do not seem sweet to a man
in a fever and a healthy man-nor hot to a weak man and one in good
condition. The same happens in other cases. But in all such matters
that which appears to the good man is thought to be really so. If this
is correct, as it seems to be, and virtue and the good man as such are
the measure of each thing, those also will be pleasures which appear
so to him, and those things pleasant which he enjoys. If the things he
finds tiresome seem pleasant to some one, that is nothing
surprising; for men may be ruined and spoilt in many ways; but the
things are not pleasant, but only pleasant to these people and to
people in this condition. Those which are admittedly disgraceful
plainly should not be said to be pleasures, except to a perverted
taste; but of those that are thought to be good what kind of
pleasure or what pleasure should be said to be that proper to man?
Is it not plain from the corresponding activities? The pleasures
follow these. Whether, then, the perfect and supremely happy man has
one or more activities, the pleasures that perfect these will be
said in the strict sense to be pleasures proper to man, and the rest
will be so in a secondary and fractional way, as are the activities.

Now that we have spoken of the virtues, the forms of friendship, and
the varieties of pleasure, what remains is to discuss in outline the
nature of happiness, since this is what we state the end of human
nature to be. Our discussion will be the more concise if we first
sum up what we have said already. We said, then, that it is not a
disposition; for if it were it might belong to some one who was asleep
throughout his life, living the life of a plant, or, again, to some
one who was suffering the greatest misfortunes. If these
implications are unacceptable, and we must rather class happiness as
an activity, as we have said before, and if some activities are
necessary, and desirable for the sake of something else, while
others are so in themselves, evidently happiness must be placed
among those desirable in themselves, not among those desirable for the
sake of something else; for happiness does not lack anything, but is
self-sufficient. Now those activities are desirable in themselves from
which nothing is sought beyond the activity. And of this nature
virtuous actions are thought to be; for to do noble and good deeds
is a thing desirable for its own sake.
Pleasant amusements also are thought to be of this nature; we choose
them not for the sake of other things; for we are injured rather
than benefited by them, since we are led to neglect our bodies and our
property. But most of the people who are deemed happy take refuge in
such pastimes, which is the reason why those who are ready-witted at
them are highly esteemed at the courts of tyrants; they make
themselves pleasant companions in the tyrants' favourite pursuits, and
that is the sort of man they want. Now these things are thought to
be of the nature of happiness because people in despotic positions
spend their leisure in them, but perhaps such people prove nothing;
for virtue and reason, from which good activities flow, do not
depend on despotic position; nor, if these people, who have never
tasted pure and generous pleasure, take refuge in the bodily
pleasures, should these for that reason be thought more desirable; for
boys, too, think the things that are valued among themselves are the
best. It is to be expected, then, that, as different things seem
valuable to boys and to men, so they should to bad men and to good.
Now, as we have often maintained, those things are both valuable and
pleasant which are such to the good man; and to each man the
activity in accordance with his own disposition is most desirable,
and, therefore, to the good man that which is in accordance with
virtue. Happiness, therefore, does not lie in amusement; it would,
indeed, be strange if the end were amusement, and one were to take
trouble and suffer hardship all one's life in order to amuse
oneself. For, in a word, everything that we choose we choose for the
sake of something else-except happiness, which is an end. Now to exert
oneself and work for the sake of amusement seems silly and utterly
childish. But to amuse oneself in order that one may exert oneself, as
Anacharsis puts it, seems right; for amusement is a sort of
relaxation, and we need relaxation because we cannot work
continuously. Relaxation, then, is not an end; for it is taken for the
sake of activity.
The happy life is thought to be virtuous; now a virtuous life
requires exertion, and does not consist in amusement. And we say
that serious things are better than laughable things and those
connected with amusement, and that the activity of the better of any
two things-whether it be two elements of our being or two men-is the
more serious; but the activity of the better is ipso facto superior
and more of the nature of happiness. And any chance person-even a
slave-can enjoy the bodily pleasures no less than the best man; but no
one assigns to a slave a share in happiness-unless he assigns to him
also a share in human life. For happiness does not lie in such
occupations, but, as we have said before, in virtuous activities.

If happiness is activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable
that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will
be that of the best thing in us. Whether it be reason or something
else that is this element which is thought to be our natural ruler and
guide and to take thought of things noble and divine, whether it be
itself also divine or only the most divine element in us, the activity
of this in accordance with its proper virtue will be perfect
happiness. That this activity is contemplative we have already said.
Now this would seem to be in agreement both with what we said before
and with the truth. For, firstly, this activity is the best (since not
only is reason the best thing in us, but the objects of reason are the
best of knowable objects); and secondly, it is the most continuous,
since we can contemplate truth more continuously than we can do
anything. And we think happiness has pleasure mingled with it, but the
activity of philosophic wisdom is admittedly the pleasantest of
virtuous activities; at all events the pursuit of it is thought to
offer pleasures marvellous for their purity and their enduringness,
and it is to be expected that those who know will pass their time more
pleasantly than those who inquire. And the self-sufficiency that is
spoken of must belong most to the contemplative activity. For while
a philosopher, as well as a just man or one possessing any other
virtue, needs the necessaries of life, when they are sufficiently
equipped with things of that sort the just man needs people towards
whom and with whom he shall act justly, and the temperate man, the
brave man, and each of the others is in the same case, but the
philosopher, even when by himself, can contemplate truth, and the
better the wiser he is; he can perhaps do so better if he has
fellow-workers, but still he is the most self-sufficient. And this
activity alone would seem to be loved for its own sake; for nothing
arises from it apart from the contemplating, while from practical
activities we gain more or less apart from the action. And happiness
is thought to depend on leisure; for we are busy that we may have
leisure, and make war that we may live in peace. Now the activity of
the practical virtues is exhibited in political or military affairs,
but the actions concerned with these seem to be unleisurely. Warlike
actions are completely so (for no one chooses to be at war, or
provokes war, for the sake of being at war; any one would seem
absolutely murderous if he were to make enemies of his friends in
order to bring about battle and slaughter); but the action of the
statesman is also unleisurely, and-apart from the political action
itself-aims at despotic power and honours, or at all events happiness,
for him and his fellow citizens-a happiness different from political
action, and evidently sought as being different. So if among
virtuous actions political and military actions are distinguished by
nobility and greatness, and these are unleisurely and aim at an end
and are not desirable for their own sake, but the activity of
reason, which is contemplative, seems both to be superior in serious
worth and to aim at no end beyond itself, and to have its pleasure
proper to itself (and this augments the activity), and the
self-sufficiency, leisureliness, unweariedness (so far as this is
possible for man), and all the other attributes ascribed to the
supremely happy man are evidently those connected with this
activity, it follows that this will be the complete happiness of
man, if it be allowed a complete term of life (for none of the
attributes of happiness is incomplete).
But such a life would be too high for man; for it is not in so far
as he is man that he will live so, but in so far as something divine
is present in him; and by so much as this is superior to our composite
nature is its activity superior to that which is the exercise of the
other kind of virtue. If reason is divine, then, in comparison with
man, the life according to it is divine in comparison with human life.
But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of
human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as
we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in
accordance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk,
much more does it in power and worth surpass everything. This would
seem, too, to be each man himself, since it is the authoritative and
better part of him. It would be strange, then, if he were to choose
not the life of his self but that of something else. And what we
said before' will apply now; that which is proper to each thing is
by nature best and most pleasant for each thing; for man, therefore,
the life according to reason is best and pleasantest, since reason
more than anything else is man. This life therefore is also the

But in a secondary degree the life in accordance with the other kind
of virtue is happy; for the activities in accordance with this befit
our human estate. Just and brave acts, and other virtuous acts, we
do in relation to each other, observing our respective duties with
regard to contracts and services and all manner of actions and with
regard to passions; and all of these seem to be typically human.
Some of them seem even to arise from the body, and virtue of character
to be in many ways bound up with the passions. Practical wisdom,
too, is linked to virtue of character, and this to practical wisdom,
since the principles of practical wisdom are in accordance with the
moral virtues and rightness in morals is in accordance with
practical wisdom. Being connected with the passions also, the moral
virtues must belong to our composite nature; and the virtues of our
composite nature are human; so, therefore, are the life and the
happiness which correspond to these. The excellence of the reason is a
thing apart; we must be content to say this much about it, for to
describe it precisely is a task greater than our purpose requires.
It would seem, however, also to need external equipment but little, or
less than moral virtue does. Grant that both need the necessaries, and
do so equally, even if the statesman's work is the more concerned with
the body and things of that sort; for there will be little
difference there; but in what they need for the exercise of their
activities there will be much difference. The liberal man will need
money for the doing of his liberal deeds, and the just man too will
need it for the returning of services (for wishes are hard to discern,
and even people who are not just pretend to wish to act justly); and
the brave man will need power if he is to accomplish any of the acts
that correspond to his virtue, and the temperate man will need
opportunity; for how else is either he or any of the others to be
recognized? It is debated, too, whether the will or the deed is more
essential to virtue, which is assumed to involve both; it is surely
clear that its perfection involves both; but for deeds many things are
needed, and more, the greater and nobler the deeds are. But the man
who is contemplating the truth needs no such thing, at least with a
view to the exercise of his activity; indeed they are, one may say,
even hindrances, at all events to his contemplation; but in so far
as he is a man and lives with a number of people, he chooses to do
virtuous acts; he will therefore need such aids to living a human
But that perfect happiness is a contemplative activity will appear
from the following consideration as well. We assume the gods to be
above all other beings blessed and happy; but what sort of actions
must we assign to them? Acts of justice? Will not the gods seem absurd
if they make contracts and return deposits, and so on? Acts of a brave
man, then, confronting dangers and running risks because it is noble
to do so? Or liberal acts? To whom will they give? It will be
strange if they are really to have money or anything of the kind.
And what would their temperate acts be? Is not such praise
tasteless, since they have no bad appetites? If we were to run through
them all, the circumstances of action would be found trivial and
unworthy of gods. Still, every one supposes that they live and
therefore that they are active; we cannot suppose them to sleep like
Endymion. Now if you take away from a living being action, and still
more production, what is left but contemplation? Therefore the
activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness, must be
contemplative; and of human activities, therefore, that which is
most akin to this must be most of the nature of happiness.
This is indicated, too, by the fact that the other animals have no
share in happiness, being completely deprived of such activity. For
while the whole life of the gods is blessed, and that of men too in so
far as some likeness of such activity belongs to them, none of the
other animals is happy, since they in no way share in contemplation.
Happiness extends, then, just so far as contemplation does, and
those to whom contemplation more fully belongs are more truly happy,
not as a mere concomitant but in virtue of the contemplation; for this
is in itself precious. Happiness, therefore, must be some form of
But, being a man, one will also need external prosperity; for our
nature is not self-sufficient for the purpose of contemplation, but
our body also must be healthy and must have food and other
attention. Still, we must not think that the man who is to be happy
will need many things or great things, merely because he cannot be
supremely happy without external goods; for self-sufficiency and
action do not involve excess, and we can do noble acts without
ruling earth and sea; for even with moderate advantages one can act
virtuously (this is manifest enough; for private persons are thought
to do worthy acts no less than despots-indeed even more); and it is
enough that we should have so much as that; for the life of the man
who is active in accordance with virtue will be happy. Solon, too, was
perhaps sketching well the happy man when he described him as
moderately furnished with externals but as having done (as Solon
thought) the noblest acts, and lived temperately; for one can with but
moderate possessions do what one ought. Anaxagoras also seems to
have supposed the happy man not to be rich nor a despot, when he
said that he would not be surprised if the happy man were to seem to
most people a strange person; for they judge by externals, since these
are all they perceive. The opinions of the wise seem, then, to
harmonize with our arguments. But while even such things carry some
conviction, the truth in practical matters is discerned from the facts
of life; for these are the decisive factor. We must therefore survey
what we have already said, bringing it to the test of the facts of
life, and if it harmonizes with the facts we must accept it, but if it
clashes with them we must suppose it to be mere theory. Now he who
exercises his reason and cultivates it seems to be both in the best
state of mind and most dear to the gods. For if the gods have any care
for human affairs, as they are thought to have, it would be reasonable
both that they should delight in that which was best and most akin
to them (i.e. reason) and that they should reward those who love and
honour this most, as caring for the things that are dear to them and
acting both rightly and nobly. And that all these attributes belong
most of all to the philosopher is manifest. He, therefore, is the
dearest to the gods. And he who is that will presumably be also the
happiest; so that in this way too the philosopher will more than any
other be happy.

If these matters and the virtues, and also friendship and
pleasure, have been dealt with sufficiently in outline, are we to
suppose that our programme has reached its end? Surely, as the
saying goes, where there are things to be done the end is not to
survey and recognize the various things, but rather to do them; with
regard to virtue, then, it is not enough to know, but we must try to
have and use it, or try any other way there may be of becoming good.
Now if arguments were in themselves enough to make men good, they
would justly, as Theognis says, have won very great rewards, and
such rewards should have been provided; but as things are, while
they seem to have power to encourage and stimulate the generous-minded
among our youth, and to make a character which is gently born, and a
true lover of what is noble, ready to be possessed by virtue, they are
not able to encourage the many to nobility and goodness. For these
do not by nature obey the sense of shame, but only fear, and do not
abstain from bad acts because of their baseness but through fear of
punishment; living by passion they pursue their own pleasures and
the means to them, and and the opposite pains, and have not even a
conception of what is noble and truly pleasant, since they have
never tasted it. What argument would remould such people? It is
hard, if not impossible, to remove by argument the traits that have
long since been incorporated in the character; and perhaps we must
be content if, when all the influences by which we are thought to
become good are present, we get some tincture of virtue.
Now some think that we are made good by nature, others by
habituation, others by teaching. Nature's part evidently does not
depend on us, but as a result of some divine causes is present in
those who are truly fortunate; while argument and teaching, we may
suspect, are not powerful with all men, but the soul of the student
must first have been cultivated by means of habits for noble joy and
noble hatred, like earth which is to nourish the seed. For he who
lives as passion directs will not hear argument that dissuades him,
nor understand it if he does; and how can we persuade one in such a
state to change his ways? And in general passion seems to yield not to
argument but to force. The character, then, must somehow be there
already with a kinship to virtue, loving what is noble and hating what
is base.
But it is difficult to get from youth up a right training for virtue
if one has not been brought up under right laws; for to live
temperately and hardily is not pleasant to most people, especially
when they are young. For this reason their nurture and occupations
should be fixed by law; for they will not be painful when they have
become customary. But it is surely not enough that when they are young
they should get the right nurture and attention; since they must, even
when they are grown up, practise and be habituated to them, we shall
need laws for this as well, and generally speaking to cover the
whole of life; for most people obey necessity rather than argument,
and punishments rather than the sense of what is noble.
This is why some think that legislators ought to stimulate men to
virtue and urge them forward by the motive of the noble, on the
assumption that those who have been well advanced by the formation
of habits will attend to such influences; and that punishments and
penalties should be imposed on those who disobey and are of inferior
nature, while the incurably bad should be completely banished. A
good man (they think), since he lives with his mind fixed on what is
noble, will submit to argument, while a bad man, whose desire is for
pleasure, is corrected by pain like a beast of burden. This is, too,
why they say the pains inflicted should be those that are most opposed
to the pleasures such men love.
However that may be, if (as we have said) the man who is to be
good must be well trained and habituated, and go on to spend his
time in worthy occupations and neither willingly nor unwillingly do
bad actions, and if this can be brought about if men live in
accordance with a sort of reason and right order, provided this has
force,-if this be so, the paternal command indeed has not the required
force or compulsive power (nor in general has the command of one
man, unless he be a king or something similar), but the law has
compulsive power, while it is at the same time a rule proceeding
from a sort of practical wisdom and reason. And while people hate
men who oppose their impulses, even if they oppose them rightly, the
law in its ordaining of what is good is not burdensome.
In the Spartan state alone, or almost alone, the legislator seems to
have paid attention to questions of nurture and occupations; in most
states such matters have been neglected, and each man lives as he
pleases, Cyclops-fashion, 'to his own wife and children dealing
law'. Now it is best that there should be a public and proper care for
such matters; but if they are neglected by the community it would seem
right for each man to help his children and friends towards virtue,
and that they should have the power, or at least the will, to do this.
It would seem from what has been said that he can do this better
if he makes himself capable of legislating. For public control is
plainly effected by laws, and good control by good laws; whether
written or unwritten would seem to make no difference, nor whether
they are laws providing for the education of individuals or of
groups-any more than it does in the case of music or gymnastics and
other such pursuits. For as in cities laws and prevailing types of
character have force, so in households do the injunctions and the
habits of the father, and these have even more because of the tie of
blood and the benefits he confers; for the children start with a
natural affection and disposition to obey. Further, private
education has an advantage over public, as private medical treatment
has; for while in general rest and abstinence from food are good for a
man in a fever, for a particular man they may not be; and a boxer
presumably does not prescribe the same style of fighting to all his
pupils. It would seem, then, that the detail is worked out with more
precision if the control is private; for each person is more likely to
get what suits his case.
But the details can be best looked after, one by one, by a doctor or
gymnastic instructor or any one else who has the general knowledge
of what is good for every one or for people of a certain kind (for the
sciences both are said to be, and are, concerned with what is
universal); not but what some particular detail may perhaps be well
looked after by an unscientific person, if he has studied accurately
in the light of experience what happens in each case, just as some
people seem to be their own best doctors, though they could give no
help to any one else. None the less, it will perhaps be agreed that if
a man does wish to become master of an art or science he must go to
the universal, and come to know it as well as possible; for, as we
have said, it is with this that the sciences are concerned.
And surely he who wants to make men, whether many or few, better
by his care must try to become capable of legislating, if it is
through laws that we can become good. For to get any one
whatever-any one who is put before us-into the right condition is
not for the first chance comer; if any one can do it, it is the man
who knows, just as in medicine and all other matters which give
scope for care and prudence.
Must we not, then, next examine whence or how one can learn how to
legislate? Is it, as in all other cases, from statesmen? Certainly
it was thought to be a part of statesmanship. Or is a difference
apparent between statesmanship and the other sciences and arts? In the
others the same people are found offering to teach the arts and
practising them, e.g. doctors or painters; but while the sophists
profess to teach politics, it is practised not by any of them but by
the politicians, who would seem to do so by dint of a certain skill
and experience rather than of thought; for they are not found either
writing or speaking about such matters (though it were a nobler
occupation perhaps than composing speeches for the law-courts and
the assembly), nor again are they found to have made statesmen of
their own sons or any other of their friends. But it was to be
expected that they should if they could; for there is nothing better
than such a skill that they could have left to their cities, or
could prefer to have for themselves, or, therefore, for those
dearest to them. Still, experience seems to contribute not a little;
else they could not have become politicians by familiarity with
politics; and so it seems that those who aim at knowing about the
art of politics need experience as well.
But those of the sophists who profess the art seem to be very far
from teaching it. For, to put the matter generally, they do not even
know what kind of thing it is nor what kinds of things it is about;
otherwise they would not have classed it as identical with rhetoric or
even inferior to it, nor have thought it easy to legislate by
collecting the laws that are thought well of; they say it is
possible to select the best laws, as though even the selection did not
demand intelligence and as though right judgement were not the
greatest thing, as in matters of music. For while people experienced
in any department judge rightly the works produced in it, and
understand by what means or how they are achieved, and what harmonizes
with what, the inexperienced must be content if they do not fail to
see whether the work has been well or ill made-as in the case of
painting. Now laws are as it were the' works' of the political art;
how then can one learn from them to be a legislator, or judge which
are best? Even medical men do not seem to be made by a study of
text-books. Yet people try, at any rate, to state not only the
treatments, but also how particular classes of people can be cured and
should be treated-distinguishing the various habits of body; but while
this seems useful to experienced people, to the inexperienced it is
valueless. Surely, then, while collections of laws, and of
constitutions also, may be serviceable to those who can study them and
judge what is good or bad and what enactments suit what circumstances,
those who go through such collections without a practised faculty will
not have right judgement (unless it be as a spontaneous gift of
nature), though they may perhaps become more intelligent in such
Now our predecessors have left the subject of legislation to us
unexamined; it is perhaps best, therefore, that we should ourselves
study it, and in general study the question of the constitution, in
order to complete to the best of our ability our philosophy of human
nature. First, then, if anything has been said well in detail by
earlier thinkers, let us try to review it; then in the light of the
constitutions we have collected let us study what sorts of influence
preserve and destroy states, and what sorts preserve or destroy the
particular kinds of constitution, and to what causes it is due that
some are well and others ill administered. When these have been
studied we shall perhaps be more likely to see with a comprehensive
view, which constitution is best, and how each must be ordered, and
what laws and customs it must use, if it is to be at its best. Let
us make a beginning of our discussion.