Colloquium 5 Aristotle on What to Praise and What to Prize: An Interpretation of Nicomachean Ethics I.12

In: Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
Author: Jan Szaif 1
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  • 1 University of California, Davis


This essay offers an analysis and interpretation of the rarely commented-on chapter I.12 of the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle’s goal in this chapter is to prove that human happiness belongs to the class of prized goods, also characterized as divine goods, whereas virtue ranks lower, being a merely praiseworthy good. It is not easy to see why this chapter is placed at the end of Aristotle’s general discussion of the highest human good in Book I or why he included it at all. My goal is to show that it does make a contribution to the architecture of the Nicomachean Ethics as a whole by helping to prepare the ground for one of the main argumentative strategies in the treatise X.6–8 on scientific contemplation as the key component of supreme happiness. To this end, I analyze each step of the argumentation in I.12, drawing also on relevant material from other Aristotelian texts, and then demonstrate the connection with some of the arguments in X.6–8.

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