CHAPTER 6 Pleasure

I. Why the Investigation of Pleasure?

Following Aristotle's order of inquiry in NE VII, I turn to his general theory of pleasure and its place in the good life. This topic is investigated twice in the Nicomachean Ethics, in the form in which we have the treatise. There is one discussion in VII, a book which also belongs to the Eudemian Ethics; here Aristotle moves to the general question of pleasure after examining incontinence. The other account occurs at the beginning of Book X--not a common book--where it succeeds the lengthy discussion of friendship in VIII and IX. In what follows I consider both accounts and shall be mainly concerned with the lessons they hold in common. There are interesting differences, but the most significant lines of thought are the same in both, though more developed in X. 1

Whether this verdict is shared depends, of course, on what one considers 'most significant.' If we assume that Aristotle's primary task is to explain what pleasure is, we may make out important divergences between VII and X. Book X seems to suggest a different answer to the question 'What is pleasure?' from the answer given in VII; and it has even been argued 2 that VII is not concerned with this question at all, but with the different problem of characterising pleasures, or the things that please. The difference, roughly, is that between asking 'What is it to enjoy something?' and asking 'What is common to everything enjoyed or enjoyable?' But in neither book does Aristotle study pleasure because he wants above all to know what pleasure is. He seeks to understand pleasure to determine its ethical significance. 3 From this point of view differences between the accounts are not fundamental unless they indicate divergent doctrines about the rôle of pleasure in the good life for man and, in particular, about the relation of pleasure to human excellence and excellent activity.

On this score, however, his positive conclusions in both books are substantially the same. The detail of the arguments differs considerably, but this is perhaps because they respond to different concerns. In both, Aristotle maintains that the highest good is necessarily pleasant; but in X he is more concerned to locate his position in relation to the less discriminating hedonism of Eudoxus, whereas in VII his main adversaries

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Ethics with Aristotle
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Contents xi
  • Chapter 1 Happiness, the Supreme End 3
  • Notes 54
  • Chapter 2 Virtues and Parts of the Soul 57
  • Notes 118
  • Chapter 3 the Voluntary 124
  • Notes 174
  • Chapter 4 Practical Wisdom 179
  • Notes 260
  • Chapter 5 Incontinence 266
  • Notes 307
  • Chapter 6 Pleasure 313
  • Notes 363
  • Chapter 7 Aristotle's Values 366
  • Notes 433
  • Works Cited 439
  • Name Index 445
  • Subject Index 449
  • Index Locorum Aristotelis 453
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