THE ARISTOTELIAN BACKGROUND
At the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims that all arts and inquiries, acts and choices, aim at some good. Indeed, they presume an ultimate good. For if they sought no good at all they would not be chosen, and without an ultimate intrinsic good their rationality would collapse. Aristotle’s title for that ultimate aim, a title meant to be uncontroversial, is eudaimonia, loosely translatable as happiness. Its nature is not a given: philosophy has its work cut out for it in clarifying just what this ultimate human goal must be. Some seek happiness in pleasure, wealth, or honor; others scramble for whatever sensation appeals at the moment or blindly pursue domination. Aristotle, however, maintains that (1) eudaimonia is something objective, not mere gratification, euphoria, or complacency; (2) it is not merely a passive state of well-being but an active life of doing well (euprattein); and (3) the virtues are dispositions that promote the good life that we seek. Aristotelian moral virtues such as courage, generosity, and self-control are dispositions, or habits of acting in accordance with a mean discerned by reason. Phronesis, strength in deliberation, is an intellectual virtue, but sophia, the queen of the intellectual virtues, finds our most godlike activity in contemplation. As Aristotle sees it, the virtues point the way to happiness, much as Plato sought the nature of reality through his conception of knowledge.