Happy Lives and the Highest Good: An Essay on Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics"

Dissertation, Princeton University (2001)

This dissertation offers an interpretation of Aristotle's conception of happiness as he presents it in the Nicomachean Ethics. Chapter 1 is an introduction. ;Aristotle claims that we should think of happiness as a highest end to which all other good things are subordinated. In Chapter 2, I argue that no matter what Aristotle's substantive account of eudaimonia may be, it is unclear how it could play this teleological role in the happy life, assuming, as Aristotle does, that there are goods other that eudaimonia worth choosing for their own sakes. The problem becomes more acute since Aristotle believes that happiness is contemplation and that morally virtuous action is choiceworthy for its sake. Although so-called inclusivist interpretations of eudaimonia have been offered in part as a way to avoid these problems, I argue that they misunderstand Aristotle's technical concept of an end, and so that they cannot solve the problems they address. ;In Chapter 3, I argue that, in addition to instrumental and constitutive relations, Aristotle recognizes approximation as a teleological relation. This relation has been largely overlooked in interpretations of the NE but, I argue, it could solve the problems posed in Chapter 2. ;In Chapters 4--6, I argue that, for Aristotle, morally virtuous action is worth choosing as an approximation of contemplation. I discuss Aristotle's account of the intellectual virtues in NE VI, his notion of the fine , and the moral virtues of courage, temperance, and greatness of soul. In Chapter 7, I show that NE X.7--8 supports my interpretation. The Appendix discusses Aristotle's claim that happiness is a self-sufficient good
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