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Aristotle and the Life of Excellence

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According to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, a life of excellence is the ultimate objective. He who aspires to achieve this life of excellence must understand the good, happiness, and morality. He must also understand how to live a life of temperance, without giving in to the pleasure of the extremes. If achieved, this life of excellence will ultimately lead to eudaimonia, which translates to happiness, success, and fulfillment. Aristotle states that every activity aims at some good. Although this is true, some activities are considered more virtuous than others.

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For instance, if one pursues something that they selfishly desire, then the result will be vain and not truly profitable. In order for the end result to be supremely good, one’s desire must be guided by the rational part of their soul. There are three parts of the soul: the rational, the appetitive, and the vegetative. The rational part should take precedence over the others, as it is the guiding light towards a life of excellence.

There is a supreme good that is greater than all others, but can only be achieved if one is guided by the rational part of their soul. This supreme good is happiness.

Although it is agreed that happiness is the supreme good, it is disputed as to which type of happiness will lead to a life of excellence. For instance, some believe that happiness is derived from pleasure, wealth, or honor. This type of happiness is not a final good, but is rather a superficial good that is desired and attained by the appetitive part of the soul. True happiness is something that is self-sufficient. Other virtues like pleasure, honor, and reason are chosen for the sake of happiness or other things, while happiness is always chosen for its own sake.

Aristotle states that “human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue” (Ch. 7, Book I). Since this is true, one must understand the nature of all virtues to understand the nature of true happiness. Aristotle describes two types of virtues: intellectual and moral. Intellectual virtues are either innate, or learned via instruction. Unlike the former, moral virtues must be consciously practiced. “From this it is also plain that none of the moral virtues arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature” (1, II).

Aristotle states this because, due to the appetitive part of the soul, it is an individual’s tendency to habitually desire excess or deficiency, which is not a moral virtue. Although this is true, we are nonetheless all born with the potential to be morally virtuous. Moral virtues are described as the mean between the extremes of deficiency and excess. According to Aristotle, right conduct is to always choose the mean in between these extremes. For example, the quality of temperance is the mean state with regard to physical pleasure and pain. One who exhibits an excessive yearning for physical pleasure is licentious.

He enjoys pleasure more than any, but feels excessive pain when he lacks pleasure. The deficiency of this quality does not have a standard name because it is so rare in human nature, but some refer to it as insensibility. In order to live a life of excellence, one must constantly practice acting temperately. Additionally, Aristotle states that this practice must be voluntary. A voluntary action is one that is done deliberately, rather than an involuntary action which is done with ignorance or under compulsion. If the action is done ignorantly or by force, then it will not lead to a life of excellence.

Aristotle also describes a few practical rules of conduct to consider while deliberating about how one should act. Firstly, if one cannot choose the perfect mean, then he must at least avoid the extreme furthest from the mean. Also, one must notice what errors we are susceptible to and deliberately avoid them. These errors are discovered via contemplation and introspection. Additionally, one must always be wary of pleasure, because it greatly impedes judgment. Pleasure is one of the biggest inhibitors to achieving a life of excellence, and its pursuit must be adequately moderated.

An incredibly important aspect in achieving a life of excellence is friendship. Aristotle states that “it is a virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living” (1, VIII). Friendship is defined as mutual feeling of goodwill between two people. Aristotle describes three different types of friendship: utility, pleasure and goodness. Friendships of utility are essentially selfish friendships in which the individuals only strive to attain benefit or something of need from the other. A friendship of pleasure is when one is drawn to the other’s wit, good looks, or other pleasant qualities.

Both of these are superficial friendships that do not lead to a life of excellence. The last type of friendship, a friendship of goodness, is the ultimate kind, wherein each individual admires the others goodness and seeks to help the other become better. If attained, this type of friendship leads to long lasting and true happiness. The most important concept in achieving a life of excellence and the highest form of happiness is contemplation. Contemplation is considered a god-like activity. This is because it is a process of the highest rational part of our soul and only a god could spend an entire lifetime filled with contemplation.

Contemplation, like the pursuit of happiness, is a self-sufficient and continuous process in which truth is constantly being sought out. Contemplation can only lead to a higher understanding of a life of excellence. Although an understanding of a life of excellence is very useful, it does not directly imply happiness. If this were so, then philosophy would be a more popular subject. In order to attain a life of excellence, one must not only understand, but must also constantly practice the moral virtues, contemplation, and moderation of pleasure. Once this practice becomes habit, a life of excellence can be attained.

Cite this Aristotle and the Life of Excellence

Aristotle and the Life of Excellence. (2016, Oct 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/aristotle-and-the-life-of-excellence/

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