ARISTOTLE: NICHOMACHEAN ETHICS - Study Questions

Book One and Book Ten

1. Why is Aristotle's approach to ethics called teleological? Do you believe that all actions lead to a goal, even if they turn into means to other goals? If this is true, is there only one final goal of all actions? What are some alternative views?

2. What is the summum bonum (the highest of all realizable goods?) Why is it the summum bonum? What do you view as the summum bonum? How is this similar to or different from Aristotle’s summum bonum?

3. What does Aristotle mean by happiness (eudaimonia)? How does his concept differ from some modern conceptions of happiness? What distinguishes human beings from animals and plants?

4. How does Aristotle evaluate the life of enjoyment(base pleasure), the life of the statesman (politics), the life of moneymaking, and the life of contemplation? What are his criteria for judging?

5. Can the masses achieve the summum-bonum or only an elite group? How is the summum-bonum related to the divine? In order to answer these questions, you will also need to know what the chief end or function of a human being is and how this is related to the summum-bonum.

6. For Aristotle, how are the good of the state (society) and the good of the individual related? By analogy, how would he relate the good of the university to that of the student, the good of a company to that of an employee, etc.?

7. Why can't ethics be an exact or a precise science according to Aristotle?

8. Why are young people not qualified to study politics according to Aristotle? What type of person is suited to study ethics? What would be a counter-argument?

9. Throughout the Ethics, Aristotle appeals to the justification "everyone agrees" or "all men call this...." Is this a valid form of ethical argument? What does it presuppose? What are its limitations?

10. What does Aristotle mean by saying that pleasure completes or perfects an activity and is inseparable from it? How and why does he divide pleasures into different kinds and determine their values? What is the test of whether a pleasure is truly good? What kinds of pleasures are distinctively human?

11. Why is the life of contemplation the road to happiness? Why is the moral life happy, but only to a secondary degree (i.e., less than the intellectual life)?

12. Aristotle conceives of male, elite citizens as most fully "human". To what extent does this affect his relevance for readers today?

Aristotle - Ethics - Book Two - Study Questions

1. How would you personally define a virtue? List your top five virtues and top five vices.

2. In Book Two, Aristotle is concerned with moral virtue. How does he define an arete (a virtue or excellence)? Make a list of Aristotle's virtues together with their corresponding vices (excesses and defects). What are the similarities and differences between your list and Aristotle's? What might be the similarities and differences between the list of an average middle class American and that of Aristotle? Do we still have the concept of virtue? In what ways have our contemporary views and situation changed since Aristotle's day? Remained the same?

3. How does one acquire moral virtue according to Aristotle? By nature? By habit or custom (repetition)? How does one learn an art (building, playing a lyre, etc.)? Why does Aristotle find this a useful analogy? Why is it important to train children to act in certain ways repeatedly? Does practice always make perfect?

4. A virtuous act must be in accord with reason, but it must also be a mean between excess (too much) and defect (lack). How does Aristotle illustrate this by analogy to strength and health? Is virtue as the "mean between extremes" the same as saying "everything in moderation?" Give an example of a virtue and explain how it is the mean between extremes.

5. What is the test or mark of having acquired a virtue? Is someone who does a virtuous act for the wrong reasons a virtuous person? (For example, soldiers who do not run in battle because they fear their superior will kill them or a student who doesn't cheat because he or she fears being caught) Is a person painfully following her conscience virtuous? (For example, leaving your name and phone number on a car you dented in a parking lot but regretting the fact you did).

6. What are the three conditions Aristotle sets down in Section 4 for a man to be said to be acting justly or temperately?

7. Why is it important to Aristotle that a virtue is not simply an emotion?

8 What are the 5 general elements of a moral virtue listed in class?

9. As a summary, explain what Aristotle means when he says a moral virtue is a mean between extremes. Be sure to describe a) the simple definition b) mean relative to us c) mean relative to nature of thing itself d) hitting the mean is difficult and e) not all acts admit of moderation. Use courage or temperance to illustrate your answer.