Greek Ethical Thought from Homer to the Stoics

By Hilda D. Oakeley | Go to book overview
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ARISTOTLE
384-322 B.C.

Born at Stagira, in Thrace, he was a student in Plato's Academy from 367 B.C. to Plato's death in 347 B.C. He was tutor to Alexander of Macedon, 343-340 B.C. After Alexander's accession he founded his school in the Lyceum at Athens, and presided over it for twelve years. Accused of irreligion by the anti-Macedonian party, he retired to Chalcis, where he died. Aristotle's philosophy shows traces of the profound influence of Plato upon him, but his method is wholly different, and he himself seems more conscious of divergence from his master than of agreement. In no department is the difference of his spirit and standpoint more striking than in that of Ethics.

The belief that the problem of practical life may be solved, it we can determine the nature of a supremely good and finally desirable end or goal of all action, and regard every part of our conduct as consisting in means to this end, which is the standard of all human life, has been the leading idea in a great deal of the history of thought about morals. The point of view is suggested in much that Plato writes, but it was first definitely and systematically stated as the central truth of Ethics, the one way to a rational existence, by Aristotle, in an unforgettably distinctive form.


The Doctrine of a Final End

THE NICOMACHEAN ETHICS I. i. Bywater's text has been used, as well as Grant's Edition of The Nicomachean Ethics.

Every art, and every pursuit, and enquiry, as likewise every act and purpose, seems to aim at some good. Therefore it has been well said that the good is that at which all things aim. But there appears to be a difference amongst ends. For sometimes the end consists in the exercise of a faculty for its own sake; at other times in certain external results beyond the activities. Now where there are ends beyond, in the case of these activities, the ends are regarded as higher than the activities. And since there are many actions and arts and sciences, many also are the ends that arise. For the end of medicine is health; the end of shipbuilding, a vessel;

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