In the first section of the first book of The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle asks what we mean by “good.”

Most of what you do can be thought of as the means to some end, to some “good.” Some of those ends are perhaps real end ends, but many others are themselves component means to other more complex ends. Is there implicitly some ultimate end to which all of these intermediate ends are subordinate?

This translation of The Nicomachean Ethics seems to be using “good” and “end” somewhat interchangeably here, and “the good” for what I meant when I said “ultimate end.”

Because of this, my first reaction when reading this section was to be suspicious of linguistic trickery. It seems to me that we use the word “good” a lot differently from how we use the phrase “The Good” and that if we just try to casually slide between them without paying careful attention to that, we’re going to get confused.

Anyway, if there are these nested hierarchies of goods/ends, it makes sense to try to figure out what the ultimate or most-ultimateish ones are, so we don’t waste time pursuing intermediate ends that aren’t themselves worthwhile means to these more comprehensive ends. This, anyway, appears to be the task Aristotle has set for himself in this opening book of The Nicomachean Ethics.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

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