January 8, 2008 political community and the highest good
The Nicomachean Ethics announces itself as a treatise on the highest human good, the “end” (t°low) of human life—eÈdaiµon€a or happiness. In the last chapter of the work (X 9) Aristotle makes it clear that the study of the happy lives of contemplation and political leadership, the virtues, friendship, and pleasure that has by then been carried out in investigating that good—these are the leading themes of the Ethics that he mentions there (1179a33-35)— leaves the treatise’s objectives not yet completely achieved. He began the work by saying (I 1- 2) that the study it contains is intended as a contribution to “political knowledge” (politikØ §pistÆµh) or the political capacity or power (dÊnaµiw).1 Its work will not be complete, he now says, until a successful reader (or hearer) has been brought actually to possess that knowledge or power—political knowledge, that is, the fully accomplished capacity for expert political engagement in affairs of state. In effect, the reader of the Nicomachean Ethics needs now to learn, further, the subjects of study to which Aristotle’s own Politics is devoted. Before the aim announced at the beginning of the Ethics can be achieved—that is, before we can fully define and explain in the right sort of way the highest human good, or eÈdaiµon€a (I’ll say more in just a moment about what this right sort of way is)—we need, as he puts it in NE X 9 (1180a32 ff.), to become expert in the establishment of good laws (noµoyetikÆ) and good constitutions (polite›ai, cf. 1181b14, 19, 21). One might find this a surprising claim. As Aristotle himself is in no doubt, eÈdaiµon€a is a feature of the lives of individual persons. On his account it is an activity, or a unified set of ac-.
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