Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: The Life Of Practical Virtue

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The Life of Practical Virtue and the Life of Study: Comparing the Means to Happiness in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle's ethics seeks to find the ways of living that are best suited for the human disposition to achieve eudaimonia, or happiness and flourishing. His philosophical project in Nicomachean Ethics defines the features of the good life and revolves around the discussion of human activity, the role of virtue, and eudaimonia as the ultimate telos of all human endeavour. The good life, according to Aristotle, is the life that is characterized by the cultivation of and enacting of virtues, which, in turn, results in the genuine experience of happiness. However, in Book X, Aristotle reveals the life of study and contemplation
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He ranks the life of contemplation as the happiest life of the most fulfilling experience, positioning it higher than the life of virtuous activity, which is now considered to be secondary (X.8.1). The life of contemplation, unlike the life of practical virtue, in solely concerned with “understanding”, or with philosophical thought (X.7.7). Thus it places emphasis primarily upon the inward experience of intellectual cultivation, rather than on practical aspects or manifestations. It then follows that contemplation is an activity of a distinctly inward quality, and so it may be said that in relation to the life of practical activity, it is an inactive life. The intellectual virtue associated with the life of contemplation is not prudence, as it was associated with the life of practical virtue, but is the virtue of wisdom (VI.7.5-6). The virtue of wisdom is described by Aristotle as being the most supreme of the intellectual virtues, for it is the most complete, and the one concerned with the highest, most “divine” elements of human life (VI.7.4-5). Finally, the life of contemplation differs from the life of practical virtue in its relation to happiness. Aristotle posits that the life of contemplation, by virtue of its supreme nature, guarantees the most highest and most enduring type of …show more content…
The two reasons that I will outline are 1) his argument that it most excellently fulfills the human function, and 2) the likeness of the contemplative life to divinity. First, Aristotle inherits the Platonic idea that the function of a thing, and its fulfillment, constitutes its excellence (I.7.9). Hence, Aristotle identifies the best activity to be that which allows us to cultivate, and maximize, our faculties as human beings. As human beings, our function and distinct faculty consist of reason and exercising of the intellect (1.7.13). The intellect is that which differentiates human beings from non-human animals, and is held by Aristotle - and similarly, Plato - as the most exalted and sophisticated element in the human constitution. The life of contemplation is the life that fulfills our function in the best way and is therefore considered the supreme

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