Aquinas's Commentary On The Metaphysics

#46- Defining Happiness: Scott and Karl Discuss Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

This week, Scott and Karl discuss Book I of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle may seem like an intimidating figure that you can’t tap into, but this just isn’t true. As the author of the first book on ethics, Aristotle treats human behaviors like a science. If you believe in reason, if the world is a place you want to learn about and explore, what things must hinge on each other? Are things good because we aim at them or do we do things because they aim at the good?

Aristotle asks readers to consider the highest good and how it can be achieved. In doing so, he devotes his first book to a preliminary account of happiness. But as Karl points out, you must first differentiate the English and Greek definitions of happiness.

Happiness is not the correct word for what Aristotle is talking about but it’s as close as we could get. “In English, happiness means a smile on your face, it is related to the word happen,” Karl continues, “so you’re walking down the street and find $20 and you’re happy because something happened to you. But you didn’t make it happen.”

Aristotle uses the Greek word eudaimonia, meaning “good spirit” or flourishing. Unlike the English definition, Aristotle believes this is the only human good that is desirable for its own sake. According to Aristotle’s definition, happiness is action in accordance with virtue, not contentment. It’s an activity, not a product.

Tune in to this week’s episode and let us know your thoughts!

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defining happiness 

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle definition of happiness is action in accordance with virtue. 


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  1. Dan Shell

    Comment: I love the podcast–both the older interview format and the more recent discussion format. The Emerson podcast, and the quote Scott read at the end, hit me hard.
    I read the essay and printed off that quote–it is now framed in my office. Thank you for the podcast. I’m signing up for the service during the next registration period.

    Suggested reading material for podcast: Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, Gettysburg Address, The Declaration of Independence, The Federalist #10

    Question: Scott has suggested a couple times that he is not a fan of Lincoln. He also–I’m guessing relatedly–mentioned the Monroe Doctrine as a cause for the Civil War. I was curious as to why Scott seems to not be a Lincoln fan. Maybe reading one of his speeches would be an excuse to cover Lincoln, or potentially cover it on the Scott Stream podcast.

    Thank you.

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