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Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

Nicomachean Ethics

by Aristotle

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Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle postulates the highest human good is eudaimonia or what is loosely translated into English as happiness. And a substantial component in the path to such human happiness is acting with the appropriate virtues over the course of an entire lifetime. The details of these Aristotelean teachings form the Nicomachean Ethics, one of the most influential works in the entire history of Western Civilization.

As a way of sharing but a small example of Aristotle’s extensive philosophy outlined in these pages, I will focus on Book IV Chapter 8 where the eminent Greek philosopher addresses the virtue of being witty, sensitive to others, discerning and perceptive, particularly when we are at our leisure. Here are six Aristotle quotes and my brief accompanying comments:

“Since life includes rest as well as activity, and in this is included leisure and amusement, there seems here also to be a kind of intercourse which is tasteful; there is such a thing as saying- and again listening to- what one should and as one should.”--------- Aristotle’s focus on time spent outside of work, what we nowadays refer to as ‘leisure time’, makes this section of his ethical teachings particularly relevant for us today, most especially since we are bombarded by a nonstop barrage of advertisements, store signs, billboards, Muzak, etc. etc., some subtle, many not so subtle.

“The kind of people one is speaking to or listening to will also make a difference.” --------- Very important who we associate with both at work and outside of work. Aristotle is optimistic that we can actively participate in society and exercise discrimination as we develop wisdom to speak as we should and listen as we should. In contrast, another Greek philosopher, Epicurus, was not so optimistic on this point. Epicurus judged conventional society as blind and dumb, particularly as it pertains to men and women expounding values regarding such things as riches and fame and what constitutes our true human needs. The answer for Epicurus: withdraw into a separate community with like-minded friends and philosophers.

“Regarding people’s views on humor there is both an excess and a deficiency as compared with the mean. Those who carry humor to excess are thought to be vulgar buffoons, striving after humor at all costs, and aiming rather at raising a laugh than at saying what is becoming and at avoiding pain to the object of their fun while those who can neither make a joke themselves nor put up with those who do are thought to be boorish and unpolished.” -------- Sounds like Aristotle attended the same junior high school and high school as I did. Again, he is optimistic that someone who aspires to philosophic excellence, virtue and the mean (maintaining a middle position between two extremes) can live among buffoons and boors without being pulled down to their level. The question I would pose to Aristotle: What happens when we live in an entire society dominated by vulgar buffoon and uptight boors, where the buffoons and boors set the standards for what it means to be human? Particularly, what happens to the development of children and young adults?

“But those who joke in a tasteful way are called ready-witted, which implies a sort of readiness to turn this way and that; for such sallies are thought to be movements of the character, and as bodies are discriminated by their movements, so too are characters.” ---------- “I had an opportunity to see the Dalai Lama speak. You will be hard pressed to find someone with a more lively sense of humor. If you haven’t seen him speak, you can check out Youtube.

“The ridiculous side of things is not far to seek, however, and most people delight more than they should in amusement and in jestingly and so even buffoons are called ready-witted because they are found attractive; but that they differ from the ready-witted man, and to no small extent, is clear from what has been said.” ---------- Ha! So Aristotle sees, in fact, how buffoonery can easily lapse into the social norm. Thus our challenge is how to retain our integrity when surrounded by slobs and buffoons.

“To the middle state belongs also tact; it is the mark of a tactful man to say and listen to such things as befit a good and well-bred man; for there are some things that it befits such a man to say and to hear by way of jest, and the well-bred man's jesting differs from that of a vulgar man, and the joking of an educated man from that of an uneducated.” ---------- Aristotle’s overarching observation on how the wisdom of the middle way between two extremes applies here – not good acting at either extreme, being a boor or being a buffoon. Unfortunately, speaking and otherwise communicating in a buffoonish or boorish way is in no way restricted to the uneducated or dull – I’ve witnessed numerous instances of buffoonery and boorishness among the highly educated and intellectually astute.

The entire Nicomachean Ethics is available online: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html

( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Excellent book; essential reading for all first year college students. ( )
  JessicaArmstrong | Dec 8, 2016 |
To paraphrase John Green...Aristotle is always wrong! ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
To paraphrase John Green...Aristotle is always wrong! ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
  JDHomrighausen | Mar 19, 2015 |
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The volume before us is much more than a translation. The translators, Robert C. Bartlett, who teaches Hellenic politics at Boston College, and Susan D. Collins, a political scientist at the University of Houston, have provided helpful aids. ... Together these bring the original text within the compass of every intelligent reader.

» Add other authors (105 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aristotleprimary authorall editionscalculated
Apostle, Hippocrates G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Broadie, SarahEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brown, LesleyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bywater, IngramEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Knuuttila, SimoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ostwald, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peters, F. H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ross, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rowe, C. J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thomson, J A KTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The ideas which Aristotle sets out in his Nicomachean Ethics make up one of the most celebrated and influential of moral philosophies. Ever since its construction in the fourth century BC, Aristotle's ethical system has had a profound and lasting effect: by later philosophers it has been warmly embraced and hotly repudiated, never coldly ignored; and in various ways it has helped to mould the common moral consciousness. Thus modern readers who take up the Ethics for the first time will find themselves already familiar, at least to some degree, with several of its leading notions. And the apparent perspicuity of the work's general structure may encourage them to sail with celerity through its long and winding channels of argument. [from Barnes's Introduction (2004) to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (ca. 350 BCE)]
Every art and every investigation, and similarly every action and pursuit, is considered to aim at some good. Hence the good has rightly been defined as 'that at which all things aim'. Clearly, however, there is some difference between the ends at which they aim: some are activities and others results distinct from the activities. Where there are ends distinct from the actions, the results are by nature superior to the activities. Since there are many actions, arts and sciences, it follows that their ends are many too—the end of medical science is health; of military science, victory; of economic science, wealth. In the case of all skills of this kind that come under a single faculty'—as a skill in making bridles or any other part of a horse's trappings comes under horsemanship, while this and every kind of military action comes under military science, so in the same way other skills are subordinate to yet others—in all these the ends of the directive arts are to be preferred in every case to those of the subordinate ones, because it is for the sake of the former that the latter are pursued also. It makes no difference whether the ends of the actions are the activities themselves or something apart from them, as in the case of the sciences we have mentioned. [from Tredennick's revision (1976) of Thomson's translation (1953) of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (ca. 350 BCE)]
Every art or applied science and every systematic investigation, and similarly every action and choice, seem to aim at some good; the good, therefore, has been well declared as that at which all things aim.
Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action as well as choice, is held to aim at some good.
Every art and every kind of inquiry, and likewise every act and purpose, seems to aim at some good: and so it has been well said that the good is that at which everything aims.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0872204642, Paperback)

Building on the strengths of the first edition, the second edition of the Irwin Nicomachean Ethics features a revised translation (without extensive editorial intervention), expanded notes (including a summary of the argument of each chapter), an expanded Introduction, and a revised glossary.

Terence Irwin is Susan Linn Sage Professor of Philosophy, Cornell University.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:20 -0400)

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"Happiness, then, is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world.' In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle's guiding question is: what is the best thing for a human being? His answer is happiness, but he means, not something we feel, but rather a specially good kind of life. Happiness is made up of activities in which we use the best human capacities, both ones that contribute to our flourishing as members of a community, and ones that allow us to engage in god-like contemplation. Contemporary ethical writings on the role and importance ofthe moral virtues such as courage and justice have drawn inspiration from this work, which also contains important discussions on responsibility for actions, on the nature of practical reasoning, and on friendship and its role in the best life. This new edition retains and lightly revises David Ross's justly admired translation. It also includes a valuable introduction to this seminal work, and notes designed to elucidate Aristotle's arguments"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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