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Nicomachean Ethics   


that life in the sense of activity is what we mean; for this seems to
be the more proper sense of the term. Now if the function of man is an
activity of soul which follows or implies a rational principle, and if
we say 'so-and-so-and 'a good so-and-so' have a function which is the
same in kind, e.g. a lyre, and a good lyre-player, and so without
qualification in all cases, eminence in respect of goodness being
idded to the name of the function (for the function of a lyre-player
is to play the lyre, and that of a good lyre-player is to do so well):
if this is the case, and we state the function of man to be a certain
kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions of the soul
implying a rational principle, and the function of a good man to be
the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well
performed when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate
excellence: if this is the case, human good turns out to be activity
of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one
virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete.
But we must add 'in a complete life.' For one swallow does not make a
summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does
not make a man blessed and happy.
Let this serve as an outline of the good; for we must presumably first
sketch it roughly, and then later fill in the details. But it would
seem that any one is capable of carrying on and articulating what has
once been well outlined, and that time is a good discoverer or partner
in such a work; to which facts the advances of the arts are due; for
any one can add what is lacking. And we must also remember what has
been said before, and not look for precision in all things alike, but
in each class of things such precision as accords with the
subject-matter, and so much as is appropriate to the inquiry. For a
carpenter and a geometer investigate the right angle in different
ways; the former does so in so far as the right angle is useful for
his work, while the latter inquires what it is or what sort of thing
it is; for he is a spectator of the truth. We must act in the same
way, then, in all other matters as well, that our main task may not be
subordinated to minor questions. Nor must we demand the cause in all
matters alike; it is enough in some cases that the fact be well
established, as in the case of the first principles; the fact is the
primary thing or first principle. Now of first principles we see some
by induction, some by perception, some by a certain habituation, and
others too in other ways. But each set of principles we must try to
investigate in the natural way, and we must take pains to state them
definitely, since they have a great influence on what follows. For the
beginning is thought to be more than half of the whole, and many of
the questions we ask are cleared up by it.
8
We must consider it, however, in the light not only of our conclusion
and our premisses, but also of what is commonly said about it; for
with a true view all the data harmonize, but with a false one the
facts soon clash. Now goods have been divided into three classes, and
some are described as external, others as relating to soul or to body;
we call those that relate to soul most properly and truly goods, and
psychical actions and activities we class as relating to soul.
Therefore our account must be sound, at least according to this view,
which is an old one and agreed on by philosophers. It is correct also
in that we identify the end with certain actions and activities; for
thus it falls among goods of the soul and not among external goods.
Another belief which harmonizes with our account is that the happy man
lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as
a sort of good life and good action. The characteristics that are
looked for in happiness seem also, all of them, to belong to what we
have defined happiness as being. For some identify happiness with
virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophic
wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or
not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity.
Now some of these views have been held by many men and men of old,

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