Aristotle on the Perfect Life

Aristotle on the Perfect Life

Aristotle on the Perfect Life

Aristotle on the Perfect Life


Aristotle's teaching on the subject of happiness has been a topic of intense philosophical debate in recent years; it is of vital importance to the question of the relevance of his ethics in the present day. Aristotle's admirers struggle to read a comprehensive account of the supreme happiness into the Nicomachean Ethics; Kenny argues that those who are prepared to take the neglected Eudemian Ethics seriously preserve their admiration intact without doing violence to any of the relevant texts of the Nicomachean Ethics. Kenny has refined his position on the relation between the two works, offering a fresh examination and interpretation of the Eudemian Ethics on the basis of the 1991 Oxford Classical Text. He combines scholarly discussion of the Greek texts with reflection of the topics covered by Aristotle, taking account of post-Aristotelian treatments of themes such as moral vocation and moral luck.


This book is a contribution to a debate on the nature of happiness in Aristotle which has exercised many scholars in recent decades, and to which my own first contribution was made twenty-five years ago in a paper read to the Aristotelian Society entitled 'Happiness'. In its present form it is a development of four lectures given in a seminar 'The Good Life: Luck, Choice, and Vocation' under the auspices of the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium in April 1991. I am grateful to the organizers and members of that seminar, and in particular to my hosts Professor Michael Krausz and Professor Brice Wachterhauser.

Earlier brief treatments of the topics I have here addressed are to be found in papers contributed to two joint volumes: Aristotle on Moral Luck in theUrmson Festschrift Human Agency (Stanford, 1988) and The Nicomachean Conception of Happiness in theLloyd Festschrift Aristotle and the Later Tradition (Oxford, 1991).

Much of the present book is concerned with Aristotle's less well- known treatise, the Eudemian Ethics. I have had the advantage, in preparing for publication, of being able to use the new Oxford Classical Text (OCT) of the treatise, edited by R. R. Walzer and J. M. Mingay. It has been a great boon to be able to draw on the apparatus of that volume. However, I have not always agreed with the editors' reconstruction of the text. In the case of the text which I have chosen to study in greatest detail, the section on fortune in the final book of the treatise, I have set out my differences from the Oxford editors in an appendix. I am grateful for permission to reprint the text in order to do so.

In my book The Aristotelian Ethics (Oxford, 1978) I set out the case for believing that the three books which are best known as the fifth, sixth, and seventh books of the Nicomachean Ethics, and which are also assigned by the manuscript tradition to the Eudemian Ethics, originally belonged in the Eudemian and not the Nicomachean Ethics. I argued also that, whatever might be the original date of the Nicomachean Ethics, the Eudemian had a solid claim to be a late and definitive statement of Aristotle's ethical position. I have taken this opportunity, in an appendix, to revisit the relationship between the two treatises . . .

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