The concluding sections of book seven of The Nicomachean Ethics concern pleasure, and whether it is something good, bad, or it-depends. Pleasure is also the subject of book ten.
These sections also appear in The Eudemean Ethics, which seems to be considered a less-mature treatment of the subject by Aristotle. For this reason, some of our panel of translators and commentators omit them in favor of book ten (Browne, Gillies, Lewes, Vincent), include them as an appendix (Chase), or include them but label them “superfluous” (Grant); others are content to include them on equal footing with the rest of The Nicomachean Ethics.
I think what I’ll do is go through these sections through to the end of book seven, then skip ahead to book ten before circling back and finishing off with books eight and nine (both of which concern friendship).
But first, a quick review of what Aristotle has already said about pleasure and pain:
- Only to vulgar people is pleasure the ultimate good.
- Pleasure and pain are primary motivators. A virtuous person takes pleasure in virtuous activity. “[T]he whole concern both of virtue and of political science is with pleasures and pains; for the man who uses these well will be good, he who uses them badly bad.”
- A brave person loves courage more than he or she fears pain; similarly, a temperate person loves virtue more than pleasure (at least those pleasures having to do with touch).
- The pleasure of being virtuous is distinct from “disgraceful pleasure” and it’s no vice to pursue the pleasure of virtue.
- When trying to find the virtuous mean between vicious extremes in some dimension of behavior, a good rule of thumb is to aim toward the less-pleasant extreme as this may help counteract your natural bias toward the more-pleasant one.
- While pleasure and pain are primary motivators, they do not compel action; acts motivated by pleasure or pain are still voluntary acts.
- Pleasure can lead you to wish for something that is objectively bad.
- There are three ways to go wrong in seeking pleasure: you can delight in the wrong thing, in the right thing but to excess, or in the wrong manner (or some combination of the three).
- Appetite is a form of pain — an unfulfilled desire for pleasure. Temperate people are not overpained by such appetites.
- Giving in to pain is less shameful than giving in to pleasure.
- If you are careful, as you form your moral character you will develop a nous that aims toward truth and virtue; if not, your nous will be dominated by a love for pleasure.
- The promise of pleasure can blind us to inconvenient particular premises and lead to loss of self-control.
- Some pleasures are necessary, like food and sex; others are things that are worth pursuing but can be taken to excess, like victory, honor, and wealth. The first sort of pleasure is the concern of self-control and temperance.
- There are pathological pleasures pursued due to disease, injury, trauma, ingrained habit, or an innately disturbed nature.
- Putting up with pain in order to do the right thing — endurance — is the flip-side to self-control, or resisting the temptation of pleasure in order to do the right thing.
Index to the Nicomachean Ethics series
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
- Book Ⅰ
- Book Ⅱ
- Book Ⅲ
- Book Ⅳ
- Book Ⅴ
- Book Ⅵ
- Book Ⅶ
- Book Ⅷ
- Book Ⅸ
- Book Ⅹ