Notes on Money, Markets, and Economics
What I've Been Reading


Aristotle's Social Science. Salkever. Read Here..

The Goal Of Evolutionary And Neoclassical Economics As A Consequence Of The Changes In Concepts Of Human Nature, Anna Horodecka. Read Here..

Islam and the Economic Challenge, Umer Chapra. Read Here..

An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, Lionel Robbins. Read Here..

Retrospectives: On the Definition of Economics, Backhouse and Medema. Read Here..

Welfare and Welfare Economics: The Early Contribution of Alfred Marshall. Caldari and Nishizawa. Read Here..

Economics Controversies. Rothbard. Read Here..

Economics and its Ethical Assumptions. Long. Read Here..

The Economic Point of View. Kirzner. Read Here..

The Philosophy of Economics. Bowman. Read Here..



A summary of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Bartlett-Collins translation 2011)

Posted By Trevor Newton
October 15, 2017

Aristotle opens with the statement that “Every art [techne] and every inquiry, and similarly every action [praxis] as well as choice, is held to aim at some good” (1094a). And while there are many “actions, arts, and sciences [episteme]” - all of them, always, aim at some good (1094a5-10).

Further, every human action/art/science falls “under some one capacity [dunamis]… in all of them, the ends of the architectonic ones are more choiceworthy than all those that fall under them” (1094a7-17).

An example of this hierarchy could be jogging, which falls under exercise, which falls under health, which is good. Thus health is the end of exercise, which is the end of jogging. Since health (architectonic) is considered good on account of itself, then it is the best good of all goods under its capacity. Or, put into other words, health is that which is ultimately desired [orexis] by me when I exercise or jog.

It follows then, since every human endeavor aims at some good, we would do well to become knowledgeable regarding what is good, just as an archer who aims at a target ought to do his utmost to know his target and aim as accurately as he can (1094a20-25).

The knowledge then, of what is good, is “the most authoritative and most architectonic” (1094a23-28) of all endeavors (whether those endeavors are techne, episteme, or dunamis) and Aristotle refers to such knowledge as the political art [politike] (1094a28). Why Aristotle associates the knowledge of what is good with the political art appears to be because politike as a techne is concerned with the good of cities and whole nations, rather than simply the good of the individual.

However it seems to me that politike itself should fall under philosophy which is concerned with the good in every sense. So why doesn’t Aristotle acknowledge this? Perhaps because Nicomachean Ethics is meant to be practical and for the purpose of statesmanship (1094b12). Further, Aristotle’s intended audience is not the ethically immature or those ruled by passions. Rather, it is written for those who desire to act in accord with reason (1095a1-12). Thus Aristotle is speaking to those who already have some level of ethical understanding, but who desire practical ethical guidance.

Politike is concerned with happiness [eudaimonia], which is also “the highest of all the goods related to action” (1095a16), and eudaimonia is linked to right action (1095a20).

But before we can go any further we need to know, What is happiness? Aristotle acknowledges that there is no strict consensus on what constitutes happiness, although the hoi polloi normally equate it with pleasure, wealth, or honor (1095a23). Yet to Aristotle, the way to discover what eudaimonia is, is to start with what is known and proceed from there.

Aristotle observes that those of base character pursue pleasure because they equate it with ‘the good’ or ‘happiness’. The “refined and active, on the other hand, choose honor” which is why they pursue political life (1095b24), thus they equate honor with the good - yet Aristotle considers honor to be a second-rate substitute for virtue (1095b30).

As for those who pursue wealth as if it were the good, Aristotle maintains that since wealth is only useful for the attainment of something else, then it is clearly not ‘the good’ being sought in the action of money-making.

As for those who pursue the contemplative life, they are on the right track, because they are seeking after knowledge of the good and happiness, rather than simply pleasure, wealth, or honor. But before he expands further on this he pauses to discuss the idea of the universal good in the Platonic sense.

He does not hold to Plato’s doctrine of Forms, and criticizes it in several ways. First, in terms of being: those things which participate in a Form are not adequately explained in terms of the things themselves (1096a20). Second, since the good is understood in so many different ways (categories) then it cannot at the same time be considered universal (1096a27). Third, if the good were in fact universal then there could be a single area of study concerning it – but there isn’t (1096a31). Fourth, if the Form of a thing truly described the thing which participates in it, then the Form and the thing cannot be differentiated, nor could the Form be considered more good than the thing (1096b3). Fifth, the doctrine seems inconsistent and confusing, in terms of how it associates things with forms, and how it associates forms with the good (1096b10-34). And finally sixth, in practical terms it seems that no craftsmen bother to study the good for their craft, and even if they were to, it is unclear it would benefit them (1097a1-14).

But without Plato’s metaphysical foundation, how does Aristotle intend to proceed? What first principles is he going to base his ethics on? It seems that he isn’t intending to develop a philosophical argument in the theoretical or metaphysical sense, rather he is, through observation, attempting to deduce an ethics with limited reference to the metaphysical premises which may undergird it. Nicomachean Ethics is meant to be practical ethical wisdom supported by practical reasons which are easily observed. In this sense, the teaching is meant to be readily accessible even to those with little metaphysical or philosophical training.

He notes that human endeavors appear to have various ends, and some ends appear to be not ends in the strict sense but rather intermediate steps toward some best end (1097a26-34). This ‘best end’ is “that which is always chosen for itself and never on account of something else” (1097a34) – in other words, the ‘best end’ is happiness. And even though things like pleasure, honor, and virtue are often equated with happiness because they may result in it (1097b3-7), they are not the same thing as happiness. Happiness results from a certain state of self-sufficiency in one’s life, i.e. the absence of lack: to be in need of nothing, particularly relationships such as family and friends (1097b8-17).

Later in his discussion, and as further evidence that happiness is the good for humans, Aristotle notes that happiness is honored rather than praised, whereas lesser goods (justice for instance) are praised rather than honored. In this sense, happiness can be likened to the divine (1102a1-4).

While happiness is the best of all goods, “what it is still needs to be said more distinctly” (1097b24). Aristotle reasons that, if there is some capacity which is unique to humans in terms of our work and actions, then perhaps by doing well in this capacity we would be attaining to some extent the relevant good, and thus attaining happiness (1097b23-33). He observes that “the relevant good and the doing of something well seem to reside in the work, so too the same might be held to be the case with a human being ” (1097b28).

A simple analogy would be the assumption that when a horse, possessing a certain horse-ness, fully expresses his horse-ness, then he attains the relevant best of all goods relating to horses. With this in mind, Aristotle turns his attention to the work of the human being and the question of what work and action seem specifically unique to humans, in order to shed light on what happiness is.

Aristotle posits that the work in question is “an activity of soul in accord with reason” (1098a7) which he argues is also “an activity of soul in accord with virtue” (1098a17). This then, he argues, is the human good which is necessary for human happiness. Further, in order for it to be the good, it must be carried out habitually, not just once. Thus he is arguing that happiness involves action and is not just a state.

He summarizes that there are three areas of good things as relate to humans: external goods, those pertaining to body, and those pertaining to soul. Those pertaining to soul are “the most authoritative and especially good” (1098b16), and that this is consistent with the opinions of other philosophers and men of high repute. He further summarizes that eudaimonia involves living well and acting well [eupraxia] (1098b22). He argues that good activity is essential for the “noble and good things in life” (1099a6).

Thus it is not sufficient for one to simply possess virtue. Rather, virtue must be accompanied by virtuous (good) activity. Further, actions and things which by nature are pleasant, are found to be pleasant to those who are virtuous because such people delight in virtuous (good) actions. Thus pleasant things and virtuous actions are in themselves found to be pleasant by those who are virtuous (good) (1099a7-24).

Still, happiness “requires external goods in addition” (1099a31), because external goods (such as friends, wealth, political power, good looks, good lineage, etc) are instruments which can be used to carry out good actions. So external goods and good action are sometimes linked. Further, while eudaimonia may be a divine gift or may even come about apparently by chance, it is possible to acquire it through learning, habituation, or practice (1099b10-24).

So while both virtuous activity and external goods are necessary for happiness, do the transitory circumstances of life also play a role? Observing that the ‘fortunes’ of life seem to ebb and flow, and therefore so do one’s feelings, Aristotle differentiates eudaimonia from such circumstances by arguing that it is virtuous activity (good actions) which matter much more to one’s happiness than anything else, and therefore one can have eudaimonia even if the outward circumstances of life aren’t so pleasant (100b10-20). Further, the man who conducts himself virtuously (and consistently) will be steady even amidst adverse circumstances, acting in accord with virtue even under pressure. Thus such a man would be considered blessed (that is, he possesses eudaimonia) (1101a1-20) even if the circumstances of his life don’t always appear to support this (the book of Job comes to mind).

He now turns his attention back to virtue, “since happiness is a certain activity of soul in accord with complete virtue ” (1102a5). It follows then, that by studying virtue we may better understand happiness. This has special relevance to those in political power, since they should desire to “make the citizens good and obedient to the laws” (1102a9), i.e. they should desire that their citizens be virtuous.

It also follows that, since virtue and happiness are primarily of the soul, we must understand what we can of the soul, too (1102a19). Aristotle maintains that the soul is part rational, part non-rational; the latter consisting in part of the bodily functions, and in other part of the desires and longings (1102b3). But for now, Aristotle sets aside any in-depth discussion of the soul.

Returning then to the question of what is virtue, some “virtues are intellectual, others moral: wisdom, comprehension, and prudence being intellectual, liberality and moderation being moral ” (1103a6). The intellectual virtues come through being taught over time, and the moral virtues come through repetition or habit (1103a15-20). Further, none of the moral virtues are naturally present in humans, rather they must be acquired, and the only way to acquire them is by habitually doing them (1103b).

The civil authority, if it is good, will attempt therefore to habituate its citizens to moral virtue. If it fails to do this, it is bad (1103b5). Moral virtue is the result of habituation, but so also is moral depravity, thus “the characteristics come into being as a result of the activities akin to them ” (1103b22).

Hence the importance of habituating people to moral virtue, even right from childhood. Yet, to focus too much or too little on this is destructive, just as too much or too little food or exercise can be destructive (1104a15-20). Still, as we develop moral virtue through practicing it, we become more able to perform morally virtuous activities (1104b1). The degree to which one is/isn’t morally virtuous is made evident by the degree to which one experiences pleasure/pain as a result of virtuous activities (1104b10).

Actions themselves are not sufficient evidence of a person’s moral virtue, but rather also important is the state of the person acting: Did he knowingly act virtuously? Did he choose to act virtuously? Did he act virtuously “in a steady and unwavering state” (1105a34)? Thus the moral person’s actions must be morally virtuous, and he must carry out those actions in a way that is morally virtuous too (1105b9). Thus it is clear that merely philosophizing about moral virtue is not sufficient, rather one must act with moral virtue.

Aristotle next observes that there are three things present in the soul: passions (emotions such as fear, joy, etc); capacities (the extent to which we are able to have passions); and characteristics (the nature in which we govern our passions - this relates to Aristotle’s concept of the mean concerning moral virtue).

Virtues are characteristics. Further, virtue “both brings that of which it is the virtue into a good condition and causes the work belonging to that thing to be done well” (1106a17). Therefore the virtue of a human being is that characteristic which results in a human being becoming good, and results in his own work being done well (1106a23).

He now provides detail on the mean as it relates to virtue. As someone might seek to eat neither too much nor too little, but rather only that which is somewhere in the middle, so also is moral virtue “concerned with passions and actions, and it is in these that excess, deficiency, and the middle term reside” (1106b17).

Thus a person who governs their passions and actions to be neither in excess nor in deficiency, but rather in the degree that one ought, then this constitutes “the middle as well as what is best, which is in fact what belongs to virtue” (1106b23). “Virtue, therefore, is a certain mean, since it, at any rate, is skillful in aiming at the middle term” (1106b28). Therefore vice is excess/deficiency, and virtue is the mean between the two extremes (1106b33). The mean is specific to each person, and each situation, discovered through reason and prudence (1107a1).

As examples, he provides the following: courage is a mean between excessive fear and recklessness; moderation is a mean between licentiousness and insensibility; liberality is a mean between prodigality and stinginess; gentleness is a mean between irascibility and unirascibility; friendliness is a mean between obsequiousness and quarrelsomeness (1107b1-1108a30).

Since, then, there are three states in this continuum (i.e. deficiency [vice], mean [virtue], and excess [vice]), they all can be understood relative to each other: i.e. the person who is courageous is considered reckless by the one who is excessively fearful, yet cowardly by the one who is reckless (1108b20). Further, they can all be considered opposed to each other to a degree (1108b35), depending on how distant each state is from the other state (ex. cowardice from recklessness).

How to accurately know the mean in any given situation is not easy, but it is clear that “he who aims at the middle term must first depart from what is more contrary to it” (1109a31). Further, we can generally assume that those things which we naturally incline ourselves to as being pleasurable, are the very things we should be on guard against (1109b7).

Since Aristotle is dealing with actions, it is necessary for him to differentiate between human actions which are voluntary vs. those which are involuntary. Those actions which are the result of external force, or ignorance of the consequences, are involuntary (1110a1). However, some actions are clearly a mixture of both voluntary and involuntary (1110a12). It follows then that anyone who is corrupt must be “ignorant of what he ought to do and to abstain from” (1110b30).

Aristotle now turns to choice, and what pertains to it. While choice is voluntary, the two concepts are not identical. Choice involves will, but choice is not the same as desire (1111b15), nor is it the same as wish (1111b20), nor is it the same as opinion (1112a1). However it is clear that choice involves deliberation, where deliberation is not concerned with the ends but rather with those things through which the ends will come to exist (1112b12-16).

Further, “if the end in question appears to come about in several ways, (we) examine the easiest and noblest way it will do so” (1112b17). Thus deliberation is concerned with the means rather than the ends. Aristotle considers the object of our longings to be the ends which we strive for, but the objects of our deliberations and choices are the means conducive to said ends (1113b5). Aristotle concludes that choice is “a certain longing, marked by deliberation, for something… a deliberative longing for things that are up to us” (1113a12).

But as for what one longs for, is it for the good, or is it simply for what appears good? He considers both points of view, and concludes that the answer depends on the sort of person being observed. In the case of most people, they are deceived by what they perceive, and so they believe pleasure and good are equivalent. However, people who are of a better sort are more apt to correctly discern what is truly good (1113a32-1113b1).

Aristotle further observes that the actions we undertake as a result of our deliberations and choices, are voluntary (1113b5). These actions can be either virtuous, or not. Thus, virtuous activities are voluntary, i.e. they are up to us (1113b7). So, whether we act virtuously or not, such action is up to us. It follows then, whether we are good or bad, noble or base, it also is up to us (1113b14). Therefore it is false to claim (as Plato does in Timaeus 86d) that no one is voluntarily wicked (1113b15).

If “we are unable to trace the origins (of our actions) to any other origins apart from those within us, then these very actions are up to us and voluntary” (1113b20). Yet it is also true that, once a certain course has been voluntarily chosen, it may lead to subsequent involuntary wickedness: “… it was possible at the beginning for both the unjust person and the licentious one not to become such as they are, and hence they are what they are voluntarily; but once they become such, it is no longer possible for them to be otherwise” (1114a20). In other words, a wicked person becomes wicked by choice, and then becomes enslaved to his wickedness, unable to escape it. Yet in all cases of activities pertaining to virtue or vice, whether of the soul or body (1114a23-29), they originate in voluntary choices.

To summarize, virtues are means, they are characteristics, they are the result of our actions, they are voluntary, and they in turn cause us to act in the way reason commands (1114b27-30). Aristotle next sets out to define the individual virtues, as follows.

Courage is a mean on the fear/confidence continuum (1115a7). The courageous man may at times be afraid, but not of that which is the result of vice or his own doing (1115a17). He will endure his fear in the way he ought and as reason commands (1115b12). Thus the courageous man is undaunted (1115b12), and “endures and fears what he ought and for the sake of what he ought, and in the way he ought and when, and who is similarly confident as well… (he) suffers and acts in accord with what is worthy and as reason would command. Moreover, the end of (his) every activity is that which accords with the characteristic” (1115b18-22). Courage is noble, and that which is noble is his end.

There are various kinds of courage, such as the courage that is political in nature, as in the courage to act in the interests of the political body (or state) one is part of, as would be the case in war for instance (1116a17). But there can also be those actions which appear to be courageous but are not (1116a20-1117a25). True courage is a painful thing (1117a34), and the courageous man endures the pain “because it is noble to do so or because it is shameful not to” (1117b10). And, the more virtuous he is, the happier he is, but therefore so is the prospect of death all the more painful for him because his life exemplifies the good, and thus in facing death his courage must be all the greater (1117b8-17).

Moderation is a mean with respect to pleasures, lying between licentiousness and insensibility (1107b5-8), and is a virtue concerned with the bodily pleasures and not the non-bodily pleasures (1118a3). However it is not concerned with all bodily pleasures, mostly just with “the matters said to belong to Aphrodite” (1118a32), and to a lesser degree gluttony of food and drink. The licentious person is blameworthy not just for his excessive desire for certain bodily pleasures but also for the excessive pain he demonstrates when his desired pleasures are not attained (1118b32-1119a4). A child who is spoiled might be considered licentious as “it is clear that what comes later is named for what comes earlier” (1119b3) i.e. they want everything right now. Unless desires are properly checked in childhood, they can “drive out calculation” (1119b11). Thus desires must be controlled.

On the other extreme is insensibility, when one enjoys pleasure less than one ought, although Aristotle acknowledges this doesn’t often arise (1119a5).

Thus the moderate man readily takes pleasure in those things which are “conducive to health or good conditioning” (1119a15), and does not long for them except in a “measured way and as he ought” (1119a15). Thus the virtue of moderation has desire “in harmony with reason: the target for both is the noble, and the moderate person desires what he ought and in the way that he ought and when” (1119b15-16).

Liberality is a mean with respect to goods or property [chremata], lying between the extremes of prodigality and stinginess. The prodigal lacks self-restraint and is base (1119b32-33). The person who possesses liberality, however, uses wealth best, knowing to whom he should give wealth and when. Such a person is “perhaps loved most, for they are advantageous to others” (1120a22). He is also not careless with his own possessions, since it is from these possessions that he desires to give to others (1120b2). As with the other virtues, actions corresponding to liberality are noble but also are for the sake of the noble (1120a24).

Now in regards to prodigality and stinginess, prodigality is the better of the two since it is more easily curable and also because it at least benefits people, whereas stinginess benefits no one (1121a29) and is incurable (1121b13). Although stinginess can take different forms, it often manifests as “shameful greediness for gain” (1122a3).

Magnificence, as a virtue, is a mean between parsimony on the one extreme, and crassness or vulgarity on the other (1122a31). While having some similarity to liberality, magnificence is on a grander scale, such as might be the hallmark of a super wealthy person who provides a gift for some very substantial purpose. While the magnificent person is liberal, the liberal person is not necessarily magnificent (1122a29). The magnificent person knows what should be given and for what purpose, on a great scale (1122b3), and he acts in this way for the sake of what is noble, as is the case with all the virtues. (Perhaps King David setting aside 100,000 kilos of his personal gold holdings for the later construction of the Solomonic temple would be an example of magnificence).

However the person who is crass or vulgar spends more than what is fitting, “making an ostentatious display of himself contrary to what is proper” (1123a22). He does this to make himself an object of wonder (1123a26). As for the other extreme, the parsimonious person is “deficient in all respects” (1123a28), continually examining how to spend the least amount on whatever he may produce.

Greatness-of-soul is, of all the virtues, rather like a crown or ornament, and does not arise except in the presence of the other virtues (1124a1). The great-souled man is worthy of great things, particularly honor (1123b23), and he is good, even great, in each virtue. Greatness-of-soul is a mean between the extremes of smallness-of-soul (one who deems himself worthy of less than he ought) and one who is vain (one who deems himself worthy of more than he ought). The great-souled man takes measured pleasure in great honors, as that is proper for someone of his greatness, but has contempt for any honors beneath that which is proper. He also takes measured pleasure in wealth and political power, for the honor they bring (1124a18). He is in a position of superiority (1124a22), and justly looks down on others (1124b6). He is open “in both hate and love, for concealing these things is the mark of a fearful person” (1124b27). Conversely the small-souled man is timid, depriving himself of that which he is worthy of (1125a25). The vain man, however, is foolish and ignorant, believing himself to be worthy of much more than he actually is (1125a33).

Desire-for-honor is also a virtue, a mean falling between the extremes of an overly ambitious desire for honor, and a complete lack of desire for honor (1125b8-10). Aristotle spends little time explaining this virtue further.

Gentleness, as a virtue, is a mean with respect to anger, falling between irascibility and unirascibility (1125b30). The gentle person is “calm and not led by his passions” (1125b35), only getting angry in the proper way, and at the proper time. He is inclined toward forgiveness. The irascible person is, however, inclined to anger, toward those they ought not, to a degree they ought not, and at things they ought not. Conversely, the unirascible person does not get angry even when he ought to get angry.

Friendliness is a mean between obsequiousness (overly concerned with pleasing others) and quarrelsomeness (being totally unconcerned with pleasing anyone and disapproves of everyone) (1127a10). To manifest friendliness is to choose to “contribute to the pleasure of others (and be) cautious about causing others pain” (1127a1-3).

Honesty, in one’s estimation of oneself, is also a virtue. Perhaps it might be termed humility, in the Christian sense. It is a mean between the boaster who lies about himself and his pretended qualities, and the ironist on the other extreme who demonstrates false humility by pretending to lack the qualities he does in fact possess. The mean therefore is characterized by a certain truthfulness, and neither boasts about his qualities nor downplays his qualities (1127a25).

A certain decorum [eutrapeloi] which involves appropriate wittiness but also tactfulness, is also a virtue, and is a mean between buffoonery (excessive joking) and dourness (unwillingness to ever joke). The middle position is one that manifests as a willingness to joke in a suitable manner at the proper time, and generally to say that which is proper at the appropriate time (1128a1-18).

Justice as a virtue requires much consideration and Aristotle devotes considerable time to it. What sort of actions is justice concerned with? What is justice a mean of? To Aristotle, that which is legal according to civil law is lawful, and is therefore just (1129b14). He acknowledges however that civil law is not always “laid down correctly” (1129b26) but doesn’t explore this seeming inconsistency. The just is not only that which is lawful (legal), but also that which is equitable or fair (1129b1).

The unjust person, in breaking the law, is one who grasps for more than he is rightfully due (1129a33). In this way, the unjust person demonstrates that he too wants more unqualifiedly good things and less unqualifiedly bad things, to some extent (1129b2-8).

Because civil law at least purports to aim at the common advantage (happiness) in some way, and since civil law is just (according to Aristotle’s line of reasoning), then “we say that those things apt to produce and preserve happiness… are in a manner just” (1129b19). Therefore the civil law, in purporting to promote common happiness, must also purport to promote virtue and forbid vice (1129b25).

Since justice generally promotes virtue, then it is held to be “the greatest of the virtues” (1129b28). This is not only because justice sums up all of the other virtues, but also because justice is concerned with virtue in relation to one another and not simply in regards to oneself (1129b32-1120a5). “This justice, then, is not a part of virtue but the whole of virtue, and the injustice opposed to it is not a part of vice but the whole of vice” (1130a10). It follows then that “best is he who makes use of virtue not in relation to himself but in relation to another” (1130a9) which could perhaps be understood as social virtue.

Aristotle provides further detail on justice by differentiating between whole justice and partial justice (1130a33). Whole justice means all of justice (which includes all of virtue). Partial justice however only pertains to one type of justice or injustice - such as adultery, assault, cowardice, or that which involves inequality or unfairness – a grasping for more than one deserves.

Further, partial justice can be categorized as either distributive (i.e. inequality, unfairness, or both, in the distribution of money, honor, and other things which might be considered available to all), or corrective which relates to transactions – i.e. those transactions which are voluntary such as business transactions, or those which are involuntary such as theft, murder, and so on (1130b30-1131a9).

Justice can also be understood, at least in terms of its fairness aspect, in terms of geometrical proportions, as Aristotle describes in some detail. However, it is unclear how these representations could be practically applied. Nonetheless, the essence of what he is saying is that, in matters of dispute between two parties, justice can be achieved by making the parties equal or proportional (1131b17), where both parties are made to have an equivalent proportion of things which are in common and available to the society. This relates to the distributive aspect of justice, and involves the allocation of who is due what.

The corrective (or remedial) aspect of justice views the affected parties as equal by default, so if injustice occurs then the corrective action is to restore equality, taking away the unjust gain and correcting the unjust loss. It seems here that Aristotle is saying that corrective justice is concerned with returning each party to the state they were in prior to when the injustice occurred. In this way, corrective justice is a mean between the gain and the loss (1132a18).

Another category of justice (in addition to the distributive and corrective categories), is reciprocity. It can be likened to tit-for-tat, or eye-for-eye (1132b27). The Pythagoreans, says Aristotle, equated justice and reciprocity without qualification (1132b22). But in Aristotle’s view, reciprocity does not always necessarily equal justice, such as in the case where a common citizen strikes a ruler: clearly in this situation, the common citizen needs to be not only struck in return, but punished beyond that.

However, when the principle of reciprocity is applied to voluntary interactions, it becomes very important, regardless of whether the interaction is an economic one (the buying and selling of things) or a non-economic one. Reciprocity as a principle undergirds voluntary interactions (1133a1-10) and is essential to them. And, because voluntary transactions are what bind a community together, reciprocity is a principle which must be upheld in order for a community or state to function.

In economic interactions, reciprocity is facilitated by a medium of exchange (1133a20). Thus Aristotle identifies the fascinating connection between money, establishing proportional value, achieving reciprocity, and facilitating community (1133b16). Money plays a central and essential role in establishing community through its power to make diverse goods and services equivalent to the extent necessary to facilitate economic interactions (1133b15-20), and thus also the division of labor (1133a17). He also notes money’s role as a store of value (1133b12).

To summarize then, acting justly is a mean between “doing injustice and suffering injustice, for the former is to have more and the latter is to have less [than one ought]” (1133b31-33). Thus we are brought full circle back to Aristotle’s opening argument (1129b2-8) in this chapter, which is that injustice on an individual’s level is an excess of “what is unqualifiedly beneficial and a deficiency of what is harmful” (1134a11). Aristotle adds that to suffer injustice is of lesser wrong than to commit injustice (1134a14).

He next considers political justice, that is, justice on a societal-governance level. Political justice can only exist in those societies where three necessary qualities exist: freedom, equality, and a sense of self-sufficiency. These three qualities can exist either in a proportional way (as in an aristocracy) or an arithmetic one (as in a full democracy) (1134a25-28). Where the qualities are absent, political justice is also absent.

Further, in order for political justice to exist, there also needs to be law, and the law needs to apply to all men. Since political justice involves judgment between that which is just or unjust (1134a28-32), law itself must rule. Thus Aristotle argues that human rulers must themselves be subject to the law, and have as their function the guardianship of that which is just, in order for political justice to exist (1134b1).

Now in regards to domestic justice, (i.e. family justice), Aristotle provides little detail other than to say it is different than political justice, primarily because the household/family is in a sense the property of its head (the husband/father) (1134b15-17).

Aristotle next differentiates between natural political justice and conventional political justice. Natural appears to be a kind of natural law he is referring to, which transcends individual societies and applies universally (1134b20). Conventional however refers to laws (including regulations, ordinances, and the like) which vary from regime to regime (1134b25-30). However, he seems to suggest that the conventional is a subset of the natural, and is thus the day-to-day working out and implementation of the perfect and unchanging natural law (1134b28-1135a8).

Now he turns to the question of how to determine whether a person’s actions are truly just or unjust, and to what degree. He observes that there is a distinction between voluntary acts and involuntary acts. When an act is involuntary it is not just or unjust in the moral sense, because the doer is ignorant, acting under duress, or in some way not entirely responsible for his actions (1135a16-20). Conversely, in order for an act to be morally just or unjust, it must be done knowingly (1135b20). However, even if a man knowingly commits an unjust act, he himself is not unjust if he was acting out of spiritedness or passion (as opposed to deliberately and with forethought). Rather he can only be deemed unjust if he knowingly, deliberately, with forethought and by choice performed the unjust act (1135b20-1136a5).

Aristotle concludes that determining whether someone has acted justly or unjustly is complicated, because many factors may be involved. Was the act voluntary or involuntary? Was it unjust conventionally, naturally, or both? Was the person the doer of the unjust act, or simply a beneficiary? Were passions or ignorance involved? What was the person’s motivation (1136b15-1137a30)? From this, it also follows that to consistently act justly requires a wisdom which is not common, nor easily acquired (1137a12).

Next, Aristotle turns to the question of equity and the equitable. As a concept, ‘equity and that which is equitable’ is considered good. But is it always just? Can equitable and just be considered the same thing (1137b1-5)? The answer, he concludes, is that the equitable and the just are indeed the same thing, but the equitable is superior. How can this be? The equitable more fully approximates what is truly just than the civil law ever can, if for no other reason than the civil law is usually worded so as to apply generally rather than specifically (1137b15). The concept at work here is that the equitable is aligned with the spirit of the law, more than the letter of the law itself (1137b26).

Almost as a side note, Aristotle questions whether anyone can ever suffer injustice voluntarily, and concludes they can’t (1136b12). On its face, his conclusion might seem easy to refute, but I think his view on the matter might be better understood if we were to substitute the words ‘knowingly, deliberately, with forethought and by choice’ for the word ‘voluntarily’, and if the person committing the injustice were aware that their victim desired this course of action. Still, his conclusion is perplexing to me.

A related question is, Could a person voluntarily do himself injustice? The person who does himself injustice by his own choice could not, says Aristotle, actually be suffering voluntarily (since at 1136b12 he concluded that no one suffers injustice voluntarily), therefore he must not be acting unjustly toward himself but rather is acting unjustly toward the lawgiver (i.e. the city) (1138a12). Further, the concept of injustice must, says Aristotle, involve more than one person (1138a20).

There can be a sense, however, of treating oneself unjustly, by making irrational decisions and thus giving oneself over to foolishness. But even here, this instance would fall under the category of family/domestic justice (1134b15-17) since by harming ourselves we are, in a sense, harming our own property, thus it is outside the realm of justice in the social or political sense (1138b10).

Having now covered the moral virtues (courage, friendliness, justice and so on), Aristotle shifts his attention to the intellectual virtues. But first he lays some groundwork:

He reiterates that the human soul has two parts: the rational and the non-rational (1139a5). The rational part can be subdivided into the scientific [epistemonikon] and the calculative [logistikon], the former dealing with theoretical reasoning and the latter with practical matters of life. Or, put differently, the unchangeable and the changeable (1139a15). Or put another way, contemplative thinking and practical thinking (1139a27-30).

With this in mind, he then considers action, reasoning, desire, and choice:

Human action [praxis], stemming from choice, differs from animal action in that ours has moral relevance (1139a20). It is helpful here to pause for insight to the word praxis. “Broadly speaking, praxis is every goal-directed activity… including not only voluntary action… but clearly also involuntary action… Sometimes, however, praxis is restricted to actions stemming from prohairesis, choice… (Also) praxis can be used to refer to ethical activity… as opposed to poiesis, productive activity… ” (Heda Segvic, From Protagoras to Aristotle: Essays in Ancient Moral Philosophy, p. 135). “Phronesis [practical wisdom] guides the process of deliberation… and hence plays an essential role in purposeful choice (prohairesis), which in turn is the moving cause of praxis…” (MW Blundell, Ethos and Dianoia Reconsidered, p.156).

Aristotle is referring to action/praxis as a function of choice, which is a function of reasoning and desire (1139a18, 1139a32, 1139a24). But in order for a choice [prohairesis] to be a good one (one that leads to a good praxis), the reasoning involved must be true [alethes], the desire involved must be correct [orthe] (1139a23-25), and “what the reasoning asserts must be what the longing (desire) pursues” (1139a27) - in other words reasoning and desire must accurately align.

Sarah Broadie puts it this way: “The prohairetic agent confronts his situation in a state of general orectic readiness to do whatever he intellectually sees to be appropriate, and practical thinking provides the determinate logos that converts this into a definite orexis. His choice to do A is a good prohairesis if and only if two conditions are satisfied: (1) the logos or thought that A is right or good to do is true; (2) the general orectic readiness is right (orthe), i.e., ready to accept (and so be determined by) the correct logos, whatever it might be” (Ethics With Aristotle, p. 217).

He links all of this back to the rational part of the soul which involves practical thinking (logistikon): “Practical thinking is well done when truth is in agreement with the correct longing” (1139a30). In other words, one is aiming in the right direction when one’s desire lines up with truth.

Further, “there cannot be choice either in the absence of intellect and thinking (reasoning) or in the absence of a moral characteristic…” (1139a35). He seems to be saying that all human choice involves morality, always.

Choice is “either intellect marked by a certain longing or longing marked by thinking (dianoetike), and a starting point of this sort is a human bein” (1139b5). Here he is linking his observation back to his initial thought (1097b23-33) that whatever is distinctive about human beings is a key to understanding what determines happiness.

Further, and as an interesting note, choice is a function of one’s perception of what may happen in the future (1139b8), and always relates to events which haven’t happened yet, since “nothing that has already come into being is an object of choice” (1139b6).

These statements contain much depth, but they could perhaps be summarized as follows: doing good involves making good choices, which requires good reasoning and right desire, all of which requires knowledge and wisdom regarding truth. So our soul’s focus, i.e. its task, should be truth. Thus, the intellectual virtues we seek to identify are those characteristics of the intellect which will “to the greatest degree attain the truth…” (1139b13).

There are five ways by which the soul attains truth: science [episteme], art [techne], prudence [phronesis, i.e. practical wisdom], wisdom [sophia], and intellect [nous] – these comprise the intellectual virtues (1139b16).

Science is the knowledge of that which exists of necessity, is eternal (knowledge of that which cannot be any way other than the way it is because it is unchanging), and can be learned (1139b20-26). Vasilis Politis provides the following insight: “…explanatory knowledge, (episteme), i.e. knowledge why something is as it is. This kind of knowledge we may call ‘scientific knowledge’ and ‘science’; and Aristotle repeatedly speaks of metaphysics as a search for such knowledge... In particular, he says that metaphysics is the most fundamental science… for it is the search for the most fundamental explanations” (Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Aristotle and the Metaphysics, p. 4).

I take Aristotle to primarily mean mathematics and physics (physics in the sense that Aristotle meant in his Physics lecture - a much broader subject than the term means today) and metaphysics, when he speaks of episteme.

Art is skill in that it involves knowledge of how to make (or produce) something, accompanied by reason. It is concerned therefore with the process of coming into being (1140a10). Although art is concerned with making/producing, it is not necessarily concerned with action [praxis] (1140a18). Art [techne] could be likened to applied science yet also to craftsmanship or skilled workmanship.

Prudence [phronesis] involves deliberating about that which is good, i.e. it is “concerned with things good and bad for a human being” (1140a27, 1140b7). Thus it functions as practical wisdom for our daily lives (unlike the sophia wisdom which is related, but higher). It is neither science [episteme] nor art [techne]. Rather it involves action [praxis] accompanied by reason, concerning the good. Prudence involves contemplating the good concerning oneself and others (1140b9). Skilled household managers [oikonomike, related to the modern term ‘economics’] and skilled politicians would exemplify prudence (1140b10).

In order to be good, one must have prudence, and to have prudence one must have moral virtue (1142b32): “… it is not possible to be good in the authoritative sense in the absence of prudence, nor is it possible to be prudent in the absence of moral virtue” (1144b31-33).

Good choices are impossible without prudence and moral virtue, “for the latter makes one carry out the end, the former the things conducive to the end” (1145a4-7). Further, all the virtues will be present when prudence is present (1145a2). There is much food for thought in these past few paragraphs.

On a related note, while prudence is concerned with what is best for the individual, political art is concerned with what is best for society (1142b25). So, political art is similar to prudence, as is household management [oekonomike], and also legislation (1142b31). Political art can be subdivided into the judicial and the deliberative, although Aristotle gives no further detail on these here.

Wisdom [sophia] “is a science and intellectual grasp [nous] of the things most honorable by nature” (1141b4), and is “the most precise of the sciences” (1141a16). It is knowledge of what proceeds from first principles and also knowledge about first principles. Therefore it involves intellect and episteme but is more specifically focused on the higher (even divine) things, than things of man. Thus it differs from prudence, which is concerned with human things and what is best for man (1141b9,14).

There is an interplay between wisdom and prudence. Prudence takes from wisdom, and applies it to the affairs of life in order to produce happiness (1143b18-22). Thus both wisdom and prudence do in fact produce something (1144a3-10), namely happiness. “For wisdom… makes one happy by being possessed and by being active. Further, the relevant work is completed in accord with prudence and moral virtue. For virtue makes the target correct, prudence the things conducive to that target” (1144a5-10). Here he is referring to ends and means.

Intellect “is concerned with the ultimate things in both directions, for [what grasps] both the first defining boundaries and the ultimate particulars is intellect and not reason” (1143b1).

Aristotle discusses several virtues which seem to be subordinate to the main five intellectual virtues. They are deliberation, comprehension (i.e. understanding or learning), judgment, and cleverness.

Deliberation relates to prudence, and while it has similarities to the acts of investigating, shrewdness, forming opinions, and being calculating (1142a32-1142b7), it is not strictly the same as these. Rather, deliberation is a “correctness of thinking” (1142b12) which “guides us correctly” (1142b31) (i.e. means) toward the intended end. Prudence and good deliberation are thus linked.

Comprehension is concerned with the same things as prudence, yet differs from it in that “prudence is characterized by the giving of commands: its end is what one ought or ought not to do. But comprehension is characterized by decision alone” (1143a10) (i.e. not action).

Judgment “is the correct decision as to what is equitable” (1143a20).

Cleverness is “to be capable of doing what is conducive to the target posited and so hitting it” (1144a25), i.e. the capability to attain the intended end. Thus prudence, deliberation, comprehension, and cleverness together play a role in achieving the good.

Aristotle now considers three character states which humans must avoid: vice (which is the opposite of virtue), lack of self-restraint (the opposite of self-restraint/willpower), and brutishness (the opposite of excessive-virtue/saintliness) (1145a15-17). Of these, he primarily focuses the discussion on self-restraint and lack of self-restraint through most of the rest of Book 7.

Those who lack self-restraint (or, put another way, they exhibit unrestraint) act on account of their passions, whereas those who possess self-restraint control their actions on account of reason (1145b12-14). Yet there were various opinions in Aristotle’s day about the nature and causes of this character problem, some even going so far as to say that there is no such thing as lack of self-restraint because no one knowingly acts against their best interests, rather they only do so through ignorance (1145b25).

Yet Aristotle argues that indeed a man can lack self-restraint and commit wrong even while having the knowledge that his actions are wrong, because the knowledge may be unutilized, as would be the case if someone were asleep, intoxicated, or insane (1147a14). Further, a man can have knowledge that his actions are wrong, but be so much in bondage to his emotions or flesh desires that his reasoning is adversely affected (1147b12). 

Aristotle also notes that the man who lacks self-restraint (that is, who knows better but in weakness commits wrong) is different than the man who is licentious (pursues excess pleasure willfully), although the man who lacks self-restraint may at times also manifest licentiousness in various ways. Licentiousness is most often manifested in regards to eating, drinking, sexual immorality, “and all those pleasures and pains associated with taste and touch” (1148a7). Another characteristic of those who lack self-restraint is that they feel regret, unlike the licentious person (1150b31) who feels no regret and is thus incurable. The former type is thus aware of his sin, the latter however is not (1150b37).

In his present analysis, Aristotle sets aside those so-called ‘pleasures’ which might be claimed by barbarians. These would include such morally perverse and bizarre things as cannibalism, or those things arising from some diseased or perverted state. Aristotle excludes these from his discussion because, while certainly wicked and having an aspect of unrestraint about them, they are subhuman or related to some corrupt condition (1148b20-32). He also sets aside spiritedness/anger from his analysis, not because it is unimportant, but he considers it of less harm than excessive desire for pleasure (1149b1,13,17,24).

Self-restraint can sometimes take different forms: impetuosity (those who do not deliberate prior to acting, but rather give way to their passions), or weakness (those who deliberate but are too weak to resist their passions) (1150b19-22). Obstinacy can resemble self-restraint, too (1151b17). A person lacking self-restraint can also, at times, be driven by an excessive desire to avoid pain.

From this analysis, Aristotle concludes that unrestraint is not vice, strictly speaking, because unrestraint is contrary to one’s choice, whereas vice is not (1151a5-7). Or put another way, “those lacking self-restraint are not unjust, though they will commit injustices… (because they pursue) the bodily pleasures that are excessive and contrary to correct reason, without… having been persuaded to do so” (1151a12).

The self-restrained person “abides by his deliberations more” than does the person who lacks self-restraint (1152a28). Self-restraint is the mean between being thoroughly unrestrained on the one extreme, and severe asceticism on the other extreme. Both extremes are base (1151b29).

Aristotle continues his analysis but now focuses on what concerns pleasure and pain. As background, in Aristotle’s day some held the view that all pleasure is good, while others believed all pleasure is bad. Still others were saying that some pleasures are good, but in no way are they the highest good (1152b8-12).

Those who were saying that pleasure is not good were saying this because pleasure is: a means rather than an end; avoided by those who possesses moderation; disregarded by the prudent; and an impediment to prudent thinking (1152b12-17). And, since some so-called pleasures are shameful or harmful, then clearly all pleasures can’t be good.

But Aristotle argues that some pleasures are actually not really pleasures at all (1152b32). And, some pleasures are relative to the situation and the person and therefore can’t be considered pleasures in the unqualified sense (1152b28-32). Further, while some pleasures are means to ends, other pleasures appear to be ends in themselves. And finally, since pleasure can be varied and subjective, it is inaccurate to say that moderation or prudence is always incompatible with pleasure (1153a8-35).

Aristotle’s analysis of pleasure and pain becomes, at this point, a bit less persuasive. Pain is bad, and should therefore be avoided (1153b2). He rejects the possibility that someone who is experiencing great physical pain could be happy (1153b20). Thus if pain is bad, then the opposite (pleasure) must be good (1153b5). If pleasure were not good, then there would be no basis for the view that pain is bad (1154a5), and thus no basis for anyone seeking to avoid pain. It can even be argued that pleasure could be the highest good, in a sense (1153b7). All people, when they imagine a happy life, consider that it must be pleasant (1153b15). And since all creatures appear to pursue pleasure in some way, it is “a sort of sign that it is somehow the best thing” (1153b27. All humans, in order to be happy, need not only certain external things, but also internal things relating to the body (1153b17) (i.e. some degree of bodily pleasure or at least an absence of bodily pain). And since it is evident that the word ‘pleasure’ is most commonly associated with bodily pleasures, it must be examined as to why bodily pleasures “appear more choiceworthy than other pleasures” (1154a27). One reason is that bodily pleasures can expel pain (1154a27). Another is that some people are incapable of enjoying non-bodily pleasures (1154b3). But “it is for these reasons too that people become licentious and base” (1154b16).

He concludes this section with two excellent points. There seems to be a certain defectiveness in humans which results in the seeking of change through the pursuit of pleasure, which can become excessive and even a cause of pain (1154b17, 21-32). And while not all people pursue the same pleasures, all people do pursue pleasure - yet “perhaps they pursue not the pleasure they suppose… but in fact the same pleasure, for all things by nature possess something divine” (1153b32).

He now turns to friendship, which he acknowledges as a necessary good, because “without friends, no one would choose to live, even if he possessed all other goods” (1155a5-7). He is perhaps overstating things to make his point. Friendship seems to exist in humans and animals by nature, and is especially evident in the affection which parents have toward their offspring, and also between those who share likenesses or similarities (1155a20).

On a societal level, friendship acts like a glue that holds whole cities together, and this is recognized by lawgivers, who attempt to facilitate likemindedness (which resembles friendship) amongst the citizens and especially desire to eliminate discord (1155a23-27). Lawgivers consider likemindedness in the population to be of even greater value than justice (1155a24), because “when people are friends, they have no need of justice, but when they are just, they do need friendship in addition” (1155a27). Friendship is also noble, and therefore it is noble to have an abundance of friends.

Next, Aristotle considers the questions of whether it is possible for the wicked to ever experience genuine friendship, and also whether there are various types of friendship (1155b10-12).

To answer these, he asks, What is lovable? [philetos, i.e. what elicits friendly feeling]. He reasons that what is good, pleasant, or useful, is lovable. Further, that which is useful can be considered simply a means to that which is pleasant or good (1155b22). And, that which is pleasant or good must be qualified as that which is pleasant or good for oneself, and also that which appears to be (regardless of whether it actually is) good or pleasant (1155b23-26).

Thus Aristotle observes that there are three forms of friendship: one form based on utility, another on the pleasant, and another on the good (1156a6-9). Friendship based on utility is like a transaction, in that the parties may not love one another actually, rather they maintain the relationship for the sake of what each provides to the other. Similarly, friendship based on pleasure (the pleasant) is also transactional, in that the friendship exists for the sake of the pleasure that results. Thus both utility friendship and pleasure friendship are incidental to the good or pleasure being provided, and are not therefore based on actual love for one another (1156a10-18). They are therefore prone to dissolution. Utility friendships are particularly common amongst the elderly, and pleasure friendships are often seen amongst youth (1156a25,32). Still, both types of friendships are of course seen in all age groups. However, the perfect (complete) friendship is seen between those who are genuinely “good and alike in point of virtue” (1156b8).

This form of friendship is not incidental to anything; but rather it is genuine friendship between those who truly do desire what is good for the other, and who love one another in themselves rather than in exchange for something. This form of friendship is both stable (since virtue is stable) and pleasant (because that which is good is pleasant), but is also rare (1156b15,18,25). A friendship like this requires time in order to develop, because in order for people to actually know one another takes time (1156b26). Further, people who have these kind of friendships are not only good in regard to their characteristics, but also their actions (1157b6).

It is evident then, that while the wicked or base may have utility friendships, or pleasure friendships, they cannot have the perfect/complete friendships which are genuine and based on actual love for one another (1157a17-20), for “those who are bad to not delight in one another” (1157a20). Thus the “friendship of good human beings… is friendship in the primary and authoritative sense, the remaining friendships being such only by way of a resemblance” (1157a31-33). Further, it is not possible to have a large quantity of these perfect/complete friendships, unlike the utility or pleasure friendships which allow for a great number (1158a12,16). Yet all of these forms of friendship share a similar attribute: equality (1158b1), because people within the friendship wish for the same things for each other.

Another form of friendship is identified by Aristotle, perhaps a fourth kind: friendship based on superiority. This would be like father-son, elder-younger, husband-wife, ruler-ruled. They are examples of friendship based on superiority, but each is different (1158b11-15). These friendships tend to be stable and equitable, as long as the affection offered “accords with merit” so that “equality somehow arises” (1158b23-28). By this he means that the affection demonstrated by the lesser ought to be greater than the affection demonstrated by the greater. In the case of children and parents, for example, the children ought to demonstrate feelings of friendly affection to a greater degree toward their parents than their parents do to them (1158b20-28), although this does not mean the parent will love them less (1161b28).

Yet even in friendships based on superiority we see a counterfeit sort of relationship at times, arising when a person who craves honor surrounds himself with those who will offer a false sort of honor through flattery (1159a14-18). Still, “being loved would seem to be better than being honored” and yet true friendship seems to consist more in loving than in being loved” (1159a26-29).

Of friendship within the family, it is based on the reality that the children are produced from the parents and so there is mutual affection between them as a result (1161b18), and also that parents tend to love their children as they love themselves (1161b28).

Children feel toward their parents something like what one feels toward gods: friendly affection toward someone both good and superior (1162a7), for the parents have produced the child and are the cause of it (1162a8). As for the husband-wife friendship, it has aspects of both the utility friendship and the pleasure friendship, yet ideally it will also be a genuine friendship based on virtue, but only if both are decent (good) (1162a27).

He observes that “both friendship and the just are concerned with the same matters and are present among the same persons. For in every community, something just seems to exist, and friendships as well” (1159b25-28). Thus, friendship and justice have similarities, and are linked, even friendship of the utility/pleasure sort, and it would seem there are economic implications to this linkage (as seems evident in 1162b1-35, where friendships and market transactions appears to be linked, as I will cover shortly).

It also follows that in societies where justice is disappearing, so too, friendship will be disappearing, and so it follows that economic activity will be negatively affected when justice is negatively affected .

Because friendship and justice are related, Aristotle now looks at the various forms of civil regime, of which there are three: monarchy, aristocracy, and timocracy (rule is held by property owners). When corrupt, they deviate into tyranny, oligarchy, or democracy, respectively (1160a34;1160b1,11,17).

Monarchy is the best regime, because the king looks to the best interests of his subjects, but when it becomes tyrannical the ruler instead looks to his own gain at the expense of everyone else (1160b2). Aristocracy becomes oligarchy when a corrupt few hold office and look to increase their wealth by distributing goods to themselves rather than those who are of merit (1160b16). Timocracy deviates into democracy yet the difference between the two is only slight, thus of the three deviant regimes it is the least corrupt (1160b20).

Family government and its associated relationships has similarities to civil regimes, in that (ideally) a father is as a king to his children, however if he treats them as slaves then he has become tyrannical. As to his wife, a husband is as an aristocratic ruler, handing over the privileges and responsibilities to his wife which are due her; otherwise, if he keeps all privileges for himself, he has deviated into something like an oligarch (1160b35). Children, amongst themselves, are likened to a timocracy, except when the father shirks his position of rule and weakly allows his household to devolve into a democracy where each person does what he pleases, and there is no proper hierarchy (1161a5-9).

In all these regimes, civil or family, friendship will be evident to the extent that justice is evident (1161a10). Therefore in tyranny there is little-to-no friendship (1161a32).

Aristotle now considers how friends, be they within a family or otherwise, ought to act toward one another. He identifies various reasons why disputes may arise in friendships, describing what is just and unjust depending on the form or type of friendship. He elaborates on what are the correct responses to certain situations, with the guiding principle being that “those who are equal ought to love each other equally, in accord with the relevant equality, whereas those who are unequal ought to render to each what is proportional given the relevant superiorities” (1162b4).

Friendships based on utility are prone to problems, since the parties are using each other to obtain some benefit, and therefore each has a tendency to want more than the other is willing to provide, and each perceives they have not received as much as they believe is proper (1162b16-18). Thus there are often disputes regarding how the given benefit should be measured (1163a10-13): should it be valued from the perspective of the utility of the beneficiary, or valued from the perspective of the person supplying it?

While there is a similarity between the utility friendship and a market transaction, the friendship has no pricing mechanism to solve the perceived difference in value, thus disputes are many. But, “in friendships that accord with virtue, there are no accusations” (1163a22).

Disputes also may arrive in relationships based on superiority, because the better (i.e. the superior) of the parties feels he should get more than what is given him, thus there is a tendency for the relationship to have problems (1163a25). Since the parties are not equal, the one who is lesser ought to be given according to their need, and the one who is superior ought to be given the honor that is proper. Thus in this sort of relationship, aid and honor are exchanged (1163b1-5).

Within regimes (monarchy, aristocracy, timocracy), honor is given by the community to those in rulership who provide what is good for the community (1163b7). In this sense, honor is seen to be something that is “held in common” (1163b8). Someone who is “benefited in money or virtue must give honor in return” (1163b15). However, in the case of gods and parents, it is not possible to honor them to the extent that is merited, “for no one could ever repay what they merit” (1163b18) since they (gods/parents) are progenitors.

Friendships based on heterogeneity (ex. one party seeks pleasure, the other utility) are subject to the same potential problems as the other relationships/friendships Aristotle has discussed: that parties have disputes when they do not receive what they believe they are due (1163b33, 1164a15). Such disputes originate over the worth of what is being exchanged.

Throughout Books 8 and 9, Aristotle is perhaps inadvertently describing an essential part of Western economies regarding friendship or pseudo-friendship which operates alongside (and is crucial to) market transactions. In Aristotelian terms it is perhaps an honor economy, as market transactions involve trust, not only based on civil law, but also on the fear of dishonor and the desire for honor. This is evident, in particular, in his discussion on goodwill (1166b30-1167a20).

It seems that Aristotle recognizes three legal spheres: family law and civil law, both of which are subordinate to (and grasping to know and emulate) the divine law. He identifies the connectedness of market transactions, friendship, and justice, thus linking the household and political oikonomike to the divine (natural) economy, and recognizing the law-centeredness of each.

The rules of human interaction which Aristotle deduces have become cultural idiosyncrasies in the West, and ones which facilitate economic activity. He discusses the dispute arising when, in a non-market transaction like that which may happen between friends, the giver of a benefit and the receiver of the benefit disagree on the worth of the benefit, and how it must be that the receiver’s opinion must prevail (1164b10, similar to demand having principal role in determining subjective value), and that this is what happens in economic transactions (1164b13), and that it is just (1164b17). He further makes the insightful distinction that the perceived value is higher before the benefit is received than actually when the benefit is received (1164b20).

A guiding principle of Aristotle’s in identifying rules of behavior in human relationships is that of debt/debtor. Since “a person must in general pay back a debt” (1165a3), even non-market interactions and exchanges can happen justly because a sense of reciprocity (a type of justice identified back in 1132b27) resulting in an equality of sorts is being sought. Even in relationships based on superiority, they are made to function smoothly when we “distribute to each what is properly his and fitting” (1165a18). “For we do not owe the same honor to a father as to a mother… rather we owe them the honor due a father and a mother respectively” (1165a25-27).

He further makes the fascinating observation “most differences arise among friends when the sort of friends they supposes themselves to be is not the same as the sort of friends they actually are. When someone is deceived, then, and assumes that he is loved on account of his character, even though the other person does no such thing, he should blame himself. But when he is deceived by the other who is pretending, it is just to accuse the deceiver, and more so than to accuse those who are counterfeiting currency, insofar as the wrongdoing concerns a more honorable thing” (1165b6-13). These are foundational truths for human cooperation and progress.

What ought to happen when two people are friends, yet one of them changes by becoming much more virtuous than the other? The friendship will dissolve but they should still remain friendly, out of respect for what once was (1165b23-25,35).

He now turns to the question of What are the marks of friendship?

A friend is someone who wishes for good (and also does good) for the other person’s sake (1166a4). It is also evident that friendship is characterized by a type of reciprocal love, which involves wishing for good things for the other, in such a way that the reciprocal love is evident to the other (1156a3-5). A friend may also be someone who shares in “sufferings and joys” (1166a8).

Decent people thus make good friends, because a decent person exhibits these marks of friendship with himself (1166a30). That is, the decent (good) person wishes good things for himself and also does them. Further, he wishes for long life, delighting in his pleasant memories, hopeful toward the future, and he does all these for his own sake (1166a13-36). But as for the base, they only appear to have these qualities, and the more base they are, the less they appear to have them at all, and this is also true of the thoroughly corrupt (1166b6,14,17,26) who most definitely do not possess these qualities in any measure at all. “The base person, therefore, does not appear to be disposed in a friendly way even toward himself, because he possesses nothing lovable” (1166b26). Such people “desire some things but wish for others” and thus a defining attribute of the base is an inconsistency between their actions and what is actually good for them (1166b6-11).

There can be things which appear to be marks of friendship, but which are actually not. “Goodwill resembles something friendly, but it is surely not friendship” (1166b30). Although goodwill may appear to be the beginnings of friendship, it does not necessarily lead to friendship at all (1167a3). Goodwill arises “on account of virtue and a certain decency” (1167a19), and it is expected and proper for the one receiving the goodwill to render goodwill in return because that is what is just (1167a16). There is thus an exchange which takes place (even though it’s not a market transaction) however the benefactor did not initiate the exchange out of a desire to get something in return, rather he did so because he possesses virtue (1167a15-20).

Another seeming mark of friendship is like-mindedness, and while there is a sense of friendship about it, it is in the political sense. Like-mindedness [homonoia] is more than just agreeing about something, rather it is about agreeing and also taking action (1167a27-29), as might happen involving political or group matters.

Like-mindedness therefore may be expected to occur among those who are good, since they are likely to agree with each other concerning what ought to be done for the good of the group (1167b5-7). “But it is impossible for base people to be like-minded, except to a small degree, just as it is impossible for them to be friends: their aim is to grasp for more of what is beneficial to them ” (1167b10-12). Thus, where like-mindedness is genuinely present, there is cooperation for the common good. Otherwise, without like-mindedness, political factions compel one another by force (1167b15), and coercion prevails.

Another seeming mark of friendship is when someone performs some specific beneficial act for another. This seems in my view to be very similar to goodwill, yet more specifically directed, and greater in magnitude of benefit. Aristotle observes that it is curious that those who provide the benefit seem to love the recipient more than they are loved in return, and that the relationship appears unequal in a sense (1167b21) and therefore perplexing. But it should be remembered that the benefactor derives benefit not only from being loved in return, but also from the anticipation of providing the benefit, as well as from the memory of having provided it, because he has done a noble thing - whereas the recipient benefits from the utility of what has been provided, but not in the sense of having done anything noble or virtuous (1168a9-17). Further, because performing a benefit is more toilsome than receiving a benefit, it is more loving to give than to receive (1168a24).

For the remainder of Book 9, Aristotle seeks to answer a number of practical and specific questions about friendship.

Should one love oneself most, or someone else? The answer depends on the person. If one is good, then self-love will be profitable to everyone because a good person delights in noble and virtuous actions which benefit others. However if one is bad then self-love (if it were even possible) would result in harm to both himself and others because he is driven by base and corrupt desires (1169a11-14). The bad person is characterized as a person who does not do as he ought, whereas a good person does what he ought (1169a16).

Does someone who is truly happy need friends? Aristotle considers (genuine) friends to be the “greatest of the external goods” (1169b10), so it would seem then that if a happy person is a good person, and a good person is a blessed person, then surely having friends (which is a blessing) should be expected for those people who are happy.

But more specifically, since it is more virtuous to do good than to be done good, and to benefit someone else than to be the recipient of benefit, and to do good to friends above strangers, and also to spend time with friends rather than just anyone, then it follows that the happy (good) person needs friends (1169b10-13,22) – not because he is in need of anything they might provide him, but because he must be a friend to others by necessity of who he is as a person. Yet because the happy (good) person has no need of utility or pleasure friendships, he is mistakenly thought to not need friends at all (1169b27).

But then, must one make as many friends as possible? Whether the friendships be genuine (complete/perfect), utility, or pleasure, it is “superfluous, and an impediment to living nobly” to have more friends than necessary (1170b27). And anyways, in practical terms, good people generally have relatively few genuine friendships (1171a15). Those people who appear to be friends with everyone are not really friends with anyone (1171a17).

Does one have more need of friends during good times, or during bad times? While the presence of friends is a good thing in every kind of circumstance (1171b29), Aristotle observes that “those who are manly by nature are cautious of making friends share their grief ” (1171b7). Since genuine friends will share in one’s pain, one should avoid being the source of a friend’s pain, which itself then makes one feel even worse. ‘Now I feel bad because I made you feel bad’ --- thus Aristotle is describing something like a reinforcing loop which can happen when one shares grief with a good friend. However, in good times one ought to share with many.

Although Aristotle previously discussed pleasure in Book 7 (chapters 11-14), he returns to it in Book 10. Since developing virtue involves a knowledge of doing what one ought and avoiding the contrary, and since people by nature choose to do things which they find pleasant and avoid that which seems painful, then we should try to more fully understand what concerns pleasure (1172a21-27).

He summarizes several of the prevailing views on pleasure (much as he did in Book 7, 1152b1-1153b27), including those views of Eudoxus and Plato, which range from “pleasure is the good” to “pleasure is not the good” - and he concludes that “… pleasure is not the good, then, and not every pleasure choiceworthy” (1174a10) - yet this conclusion appears inconsistent with his views in Book 7 (1153b5,7). Perhaps this is because Book 10 was written at a later time, and Aristotle’s views had taken on greater clarity.

He goes on to acknowledge that pleasure is distinct from the activities it accompanies (1174b8), even though pleasure may complete an activity (1174b24). Further, pleasure itself is indivisible (1174b8), unlike the activities it accompanies which themselves are divisible (they are time-dependent). Pleasure, while there are degrees of it, can only be either present or absent, and resides in the instantaneous (1174b9). Without activity, pleasure does not arise, yet pleasure is distinct from the activity, and it also completes the activity (1175a23).

Further, pleasures can differ from one another, just as the activities they accompany can differ from one another (1175a24). And, the pleasures spur on whatever activities they accompany (1175a35). What pleases an animal may be different than what pleases a human, and what pleases humans differs from person to person (1176a5,20). As the activity may be choiceworthy or base, so also is the pleasure which accompanies it (1175b26). Pleasures which are base are not actually pleasures at all (even though they are perceived as such), and it is the good person who is the measure then of what is truly pleasurable and what is not (1176a17).

Aristotle turns to the question of What is happiness [eudaimonia]? It is not a characteristic (1176a33), rather it resides in those activities which are choiceworthy for their own sake (ends), rather than those activities which are means for the sake of something else (1176b5). Activities are choiceworthy for their own sake if nothing is being sought beyond the activity itself (1176b7) - and these are actions which accord with virtue. Happiness is thus self-sufficient (1176b6), and resides in virtuous actions.

But doesn’t happiness also reside in actions which accord with play? Surely people do pursue play for its own sake. However, happiness “does not consist in play” (1176b29) even though to some it may appear to be an end. So how can we know the answer to our question? Aristotle reminds us that the virtuous man, the man who is good, is the measure. Therefore we should look to the good man’s activities to reveal to us which actions result in happiness (rather than looking to the activities of those who are not good). And, when we consider the virtuous man, we observe that he certainly does play, yet it is not an end for him, but rather a means to virtuous activity, since by playing he is relaxing which in turn allows him to work more (1176b35-1177a2). Besides, as we observe the good man, we see that not only does he appear to possess happiness, but also that his activities tend to be in the pursuit of virtue, not the pursuit of play (1177a3). We also see that his activities tend to be serious rather than prompting laughter (1177a4).

Happiness resides in virtuous activity, and such activity that is best results in complete happiness, and this activity is contemplative in nature (1177a12-17), because “the intellect is the most excellent of the things in us, and the things with which the intellect is concerned are the most excellent of the things that can be known” (1177a22). Further, there is a pleasurable aspect to happiness, and “the most pleasant of the activities in accord with virtue is agreed to be the one that pertains to wisdom [sophia]” (1177a25).

Therefore the wise man is likely to be the most self-sufficient in terms of his happiness, because contemplation can be carried out alone and is not dependent on others, and the wise man is more capable of contemplation the more wisdom he possesses (1177a28-35).

While there are activities which the virtuous engage in which are not ends in themselves – such as those activities of politics or war – they have as their ends those conditions (such as peace and prosperity) which are necessary for wise contemplation (1177b17-23). Thus Aristotle differentiates between contemplative virtue and the non-contemplative virtues.

A life spent in wise contemplation would be more like a divine life than a human one (1177b27), because the intellect is something that is more divine than human, and thus the activities associated with it are divine-like (1177b30). And even though we are human and not divine, we ought to try to be divine (1177b33), inasmuch as that is possible. And besides that, if the intellect is what defines what it means to be human, and “what is proper to each is by nature most excellent and most pleasant for each” (1178a7), then the happiest life is one that accords with the intellect (1178a8).

While the life spent in accord with the non-contemplative virtues (ex. courage, justice) is certainly happy too, it is less so than the life spent in contemplative virtue (1178a23). Further, the non-contemplative virtues are often in relation to how men deal with one another, unlike the contemplative which may be pursued alone. The non-contemplative virtues can also require “external equipment” to facilitate, such as money and power, whereas this is less-so for contemplative virtue (1178a25) - even though external goods, including health and nourishment, are necessary goods to live a blessed life (1178b34-1179a3).

Further, it is unlikely that gods would have need or desire to pursue the same sorts of non-contemplative virtuous activities that humans do. Therefore it would seem that gods would focus themselves on contemplative activity. And if this is the case, then it would be further proof that the contemplative life is most happy (1178b10,17,21,22-24). It would also mean that humans who pursue contemplative virtue would be held in the highest esteem by gods, thus again resulting in even further happiness (1179a32) for those who spend their lives this way.

As Book 10 nears its end, Aristotle turns his attention to policy. The civil authority ought to promote virtue and punish vice, through the power of laws and punishments (1180a5-18). Civil laws thus ideally direct the citizens to noble and virtuous activity. He considers the family government to be insufficient to ensure a virtuous society (1180a19-33). Even so, the father of the household must, through his words [logos] and actions [ethos, i.e. customs, usage directed by habit or law] direct his children toward the noble and virtuous life (1180b1-8). Further in this spirit, Aristotle advocates for individualized education (as one-on-one tutoring might provide) over public education (1180b7-19), because the former would seem to be more effective.

But as for those who wish “to make others better” (i.e. more virtuous) then the most effective way may be through becoming a skilled legislator (1180a33,1180b24), which is part of the political art (1180b31) as previously described in Book 6 (1141b24-32). Yet it is no small matter to become well-learned in this art. In Aristotle’s day (as in ours) the field is dominated by Sophists who are in no way experts in political art, at all (1181a14). “Laws are like works (products) of the political art” (1181a25), and the selection of good civil laws requires much correct judgment (1181a17-19).

Aristotle concludes that it is necessary for us to investigate what pertains to correct legislation, and political regimes in general, so that our “philosophy concerning human affairs might be completed” (1181b15). He invites us therefore to “attempt to contemplate what sorts of things preserve and destroy cities” (1181b19). Thus Aristotle concludes Ethics, and segues into Politics.