Thesis: ethics informs us about the good life, which we achieve by rationally developing virtues that moderate our emotions and appetites.

Happiness is the highest good.

All actions aim at a highest good

Happiness (eudaimonia), that is “to live well,” is the ultimate goal which we all seek for its own sake.

Happiness not identical with pleasure, honor or wealth.

Three Different lives: the sensual, the political, and the speculative

Pleasure (sensual life)

Honor (political life)

Speculative (virtuous life)

Wealth: but this is not desired for its own account

Happiness and the human function

Happiness is something final and self-sufficient, and the end of all action

We find this in our function

Human function and the three parts of the soul

Nutritional: life in common with plants

Sensation (perception and appetite): in common with the animal

Rational: the true function of humans

The function of humans is a kind of life which is an activity of the rational soul in accordance with virtue

Happiness and the divisions of the soul

Division of the soul:

                        Nutritional faculty

Irrational <

                        Appetitive faculty (moral virtues)

Rational  <

                        Purely rational (intellectual virtues)

Divisions of the soul regarding virtue

Nutritional: takes place even during sleep, and has no role in virtue

Appetitive: partly irrational, but partly rational insofar as it can be governed and controlled by reason (moral virtues)


Intellectual virtues: wisdom, intelligence, prudence

Moral virtues: liberality, temperance

c. The Nature of Virtue.

Virtues are acquired through training

Good habits, acquired through training from our youth, ensure that our emotions and appetites will be rational

The study of virtue

Not merely a speculative study; involves studying actions

We should act in accord with right reason (practical wisdom)

No scientific exactness

These good habits, or virtues, are at a mean between two extremes of excess and deficiency

e.g., in response to the emotion of fear when facing danger, we developed the virtue of courage, which is midway between the vices of cowardice and rashness

Virtues are character traits

Three qualities of the soul: emotions, faculties, character traits

Emotions: mean desire, anger, fear, courage, envy, joy, love, hatred, regret, emulation, pity

We are not called good or evil in respect of our emotions but in respect of our virtues or vices

We are not praised or blamed for getting angry, but for getting angry in a certain way

Faculties: we are not called either good or bad for having an abstract capacity for emotion

Virtues are a mean between extremes

The virtue of people will be a moral state that makes them good and able to perform their proper function well

Two means

Absolute mean: mathematical, e.g., 6 as a mean between 2 and 10

Relative mean: the mean between extremes varies with the individual

The mean in science and art

All arts and sciences aim at a mean; virtue does this too, but with even more accuracy

Definition of virtue: “Virtue then is a state of deliberate moral purpose consisting in a mean that is relative to ourselves, the mean being determined by reason, or as a prudent person would determine it.”.

Some emotions or actions do not admit of a mean state, e.g., adultery, theft, and murder

Catalog of the virtues


Desire                         || Vice of Deficiency | Virtuous Mean | Vice of Excess


1. Fear of danger         || Cowardice                Courage                       Rashness

2. Pleasure                  || Insensibility              Temperance                 Overindulgence

3. Small giving            || Stinginess                  Generosity                   Extravagance

4. Great giving            || Pettiness                    Magnanimity                Vulgarity

5. Honors                    || Timidity                    Self-confidence           Conceit

6. Achievement           || Under-ambition         Proper ambition          Over-ambition

7. Anger                      || Impassivity               Good temper               Ill temper

8. Truth                        || False modesty           Truthfulness                 Boastfulness

9. Amusement              || Humorlessness          Wittiness                     Buffoonery

10. Social life             || Unfriendliness           Friendliness                Flattery

11. Fear of disgrace    || Shamelessness          Proper shame              Excessive shame

12. Resent injustice     || Malice                       Righteous indignation  Envy


Difficulty of the virtuous life

It is hard to find the virtuous mean

Begin by staying away from the more immoral extreme

Beware of pleasures, since we are not impartial judges of them

It is especially hard in particular cases, e.g., determining the right manner, objects, occasions, and duration of anger