The Pursuit Of Happiness In Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

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The main topic of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is eudaimonia, i.e. happiness in the “living well” or “flourishing” sense (terms I will be using interchangeably). In this paper, I will present Aristotle’s view on the role of external goods and fortune for the achievement of happiness. I will argue that he considers them a prerequisite for virtue. Their contribution to happiness is indirect, via the way they affect how we can engage in rational activity according to the relevant virtues. I will then object that this view threatens to make his overall account of happiness incoherent. Fortunately, there is a way to reconcile the apparent tensions, in book III.
Any account of human happiness is subject to certain criteria to assess its satisfactoriness.
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Other things also play a role, as Aristotle recognizes: “happiness obviously needs the presence of external goods as well” (I 8 1099a30); and “[good fortunes] are required as complementary to a fully human life” (I 10 1100b5). In the next paragraphs, I will explain what Aristotle means by this.
External goods are goods external to oneself, that fall outside what we can completely control. For instance: friends, political power, wealth, high birth or children. On Aristotle’s account, some external goods are a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for happiness. They are a precondition for human flourishing insofar as they permit virtue. Their role is merely instrumental, and can be cashed out in two ways: by being a necessary condition for the exercise of the virtuous activity, and for their
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For instance, the flute player needs a flute to perform his characteristic activity (playing it) well. The shoemaker needs leather to perform her characteristic activity (making shoes) well. Similarly, us humans need certain external goods to engage in our characteristic activity well: e.g. we need friends and citizens because we are by nature political (I 7 1097b11). Exercising certain virtuous actions without external goods is impossible, because for them “we employ, as if they were instruments at our disposal, friends, wealth and political power” (I 8 1099a30). Here, Aristotle means that to engage in the relevant actions and activities, the presence of external goods is indispensable. We need people around us to act in a just manner; to engage in courageous activity, one needs to face some dangerous situations; to exercise magnificence, one needs to be in possession of some material goods; and so on and so forth. Thus, the performance of activities and actions in accordance with the virtues requires some external

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