Wishing for fortune, choosing activity: Aristotle on external goods and happiness
In Book One of the Nicomachean Ethics (EN),1 Aristotle seeks to identify the human good, which he also calls eudaimonia2 or happiness (I 4, 1095a14-20) and which he explains as that for the sake of which one should do everything one does (I 7, 1097a22-24 and 1097a25- b21). After introducing the idea (in chapters one through three) and surveying some received accounts of it (in chapters four through six), he seems to give his definition in the seventh chapter, where he appeals to the human function and concludes that "the human good is activity of the [rational] soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are multiple virtues, in accordance with the best and most complete virtue" (I 7, 1098a16-18).3 This account is sketchy, as Aristotle admits (I 7, 1098a20-22): he needs to say what virtuous activity is, how many virtues there are, and whether some one virtue is best and most complete. But the account has enough content to suit Aristotle's initial purposes (I 7, 1098a22-b8) and to court interpretive controversy. Perhaps the most obvious controversy is this: Does Aristotle really mean that the human good is just virtuous rational activity? Are health and wealth, not to mention friends and lovers, not part of the goal for the sake of which one should do everything one does? Many readers think that Aristotle does not intend such a narrow account. Some point to what he says about happiness before he comes to the human function argument, or to what he says about the good..
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