Pleasure, Honor, and Virtue in Conversation with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

According to Aristotle in Book I.5 of his Nicomachean Ethics, neither pleasure, nor honor, nor virtue is equivalent to happiness.

Those who consider happiness to be equivalent to pleasure are those who are most vulgar. Aristotle compares those who live a life seeking pleasure to grazing animals, who in a sense do not have the ability to reason, living slavishly, and unable to determine a course in their lives. Because these individuals spend all of their energy on pleasure, it seems, they give up their power to dictate their own lives. These individuals will always have a ruler, someone to tell them what is best for their life.

Next, those who consider happiness to be equivalent to honor are those who are active in politics. Yet, Aristotle says that happiness as honor is too superficial, because it “seems to depend more on those who honor than on the one honored”(1095b25). Aristotle wants ‘the good,’ or happiness, to be something that is uniquely our own. Each man’s own truth can be said to be divinely or metapsychically bestowed here, because he comes to find it through his own contemplation or suffering. Because these people seek to be honored for their virtue, Aristotle says, they seem to value virtue more than honor anyway, so happiness (the ultimate ‘good’) cannot be equivalent to honor.

Finally, one might also consider virtue to be the ultimate end of the political life. Yet this cannot be equivalent to happiness because, according to Aristotle, it is possible for someone possessing virtue to to be asleep or inactive throughout their life, or for them to have virtue and suffer from evils and misfortunes (1096a1). Even an innocent man is sometimes wrongly convicted of a crime, such that he would be unhappy and not see ‘the good’. This would be an example of an evil to be suffered by an individual possessing virtue. In this case virtue cannot be equivalent to happiness because it is not the true good. Only happiness is the true good, and by seeking pleasure, honor, or virtue, one can only find fleeting happiness, not the true happiness that can only come with wisdom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *