Happy Lives and the Highest Good: An Essay on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Lear, Gabriel. Happy Lives and the Highest Good: An Essay on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 2004.


“Aristotle invites us to conceive of the human good as a special kind of end.  In the very first line of the Nicomachean Ethics he says “Every  craft and every inquiry, and likewise every action and every choice, seem to aim at some good; for which reason people have rightly concluded that the good is that at which all things aim.” He calls this ultimate goal of the successful life eudemonia,  or happiness. Just as an archer aims at a target, so, Aristotle thinks, the happy person aims at the human good in everything he does.  In effect, he proposes that we think of happiness not as the property of being happy—a certain feeling of contentment or satisfaction— but as the goal or end for the sake of which the happy person acts. Aristotle’s investigation into happiness is the us decidedly practical. Not only does he want to arrive at a theory of happiness that will actually help us to live well, his investigation is guided by the thought that happiness is the ultimate object of rational desire and action. If we know what’s a good must be like in order to serve as the end of all of our rational pursuits, then we can use those criteria to evaluate goods, such as pleasure, wealth, honor, moral virtue, and philosophical contemplation, which people have at one time or other taken to be keys to happiness.”