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account of this science will be adequate if it achieves such clarity
as the subject-matter allows; for the same degree of precision is
not to be expected in all discussions, any more than in all products
This statement, which appears in Book
I, Chapter 3, is the first of a number of
caveats with which Aristotle warns us not to expect any precise
rules or codes of conduct. This is not laziness on Aristotle’s part,
but, as he explains, the nature of the beast. Ethics deals with the
vagaries of human life and must remain flexible enough to account
for the great deal of variety and possibility.
Furthermore, Aristotle tells us that virtue cannot be
taught in a classroom but can be learned only through constant practice
until it becomes habitual. If virtue consisted of hard and fast
rules, it would indeed be possible to lay them out explicitly in
a classroom. Unfortunately for those hoping for the easy road to
success, no such rules exist. Knowing what to do is a matter of
applying phronesis, or prudence, on a case-by-case
Ace your assignments with our guide to Nicomachean Ethics!