Aristotle: Nichomachean Ethics or Happiness and Living Well In The 21st Century

Aristotle talks a lot in this book about happiness and living well, but what does this mean, and can it be applied to life today?  Happiness is the ultimate goal, and can be attained by living well, or leading a good life.  Happiness in this sense is the end that is the end in which all other ends are means, which is to say everything we do is to be happy, and any desired end is an effort to be happy.  So if living well leads to this happiness, what is living well?

Not much separates us from animals.  We have sensual pleasures like animals, and seek to grow and exist like plants.  The only profound difference is our ability to think more deeply.  In that, it’s the faculties of our mind that allow us to lead a good life, in that the same way any profession sees to be good and serve it’s means to it’s end well, we must seek to use our faculties well in an effort to be good at our means to the end, and in this we will find happiness.How is one good or how does one exercise these faculties well?  What would these good faculties be? Aristotle divides them between the internal and the external.  These categories, he’ll later describe as the moral virtues, and the intellectual virtues.

Not only is there the question of how one is good, but what defines someone as good.  The person who is good doesn’t simply show up and try, the person who is good must also display the traits of a good person, a runner doesn’t win the race because they stood at the starting line.  Again, the person who shows that they are good don’t do well on occasion, but develop it as a habit of character.  In this, they don’t simply do it because they should, but do it because they love the pursuit of what is good.

In this, to call someone good they must consistently show their character to be good, and while we might not truly know whether they do it because it pleases them to do well, in the very least they are displaying the character and speaking to it.  In this, it takes time and experience to understand someone as good, or living well.  Even through adversity, the good man will allow his character to triumph, and through blessings the good man will continue to display his good character, not allowing the vicissitudes of fortune to define him even momentarily.

How can any of this apply today?  A 2,500 year old text intuitively would have no intrinsic value to our lives today.  These things are relevant however, and can be used to live a good life even in the age of the Internet.  Happiness is still a goal that we strive for, self sufficiency, and consistent pleasure in what it is that we do.

Aristotle’s ideas still stand true, in that we can find happiness in living well, loving that which we do, both professionally and in life.  We no less have morals today, and no less have intellectual virtues.  As long as we act and think, we will have these categories of virtues.  Our faculties have not changed with the increasing complexity of our lives or technology (and truly, our lives may even be more simple now than it was in Ancient Greece).

The definition would stand as well, and we still use this criteria as a judge of character.  Who would the good man be?  The good man would be the man who has lived well long enough that we have judged him as good, which is to say that his actions and his thoughts have demonstrated to us that he is good in some capacity.  Much like Aristotle’s time, there will be differences between what is defined as good, moral, happy, or even intellectual; using his ideas however the moral and intellectual virtues can be brought up into a digital era.

All that said, a happy person is a good person, a good person lives well striving for moral and intellectual virtue in pursuit of the pleasures that they bring him, in and of themselves as they are good in and of themselves.


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