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good for man is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue,
or if there are more kinds of virtue than one, in accordance with
the best and most perfect kind.
This quotation from Book I, Chapter 7,
connects Aristotle’s conception of happiness and the good life with
his conception of virtue. We should observe first that “the good
for man is an activity.” The word activity translates
from the Greek energeia, which signifies not only physical
activity but also mental activity as seemingly inactive as contemplation
or daydreaming. The point is that the good life is not an end state
that we achieve but rather a way of life that we live. We might
consider the cliché “life is a journey, not a destination”
to convey some sense of the distinction Aristotle has in mind.
The bulk of the Ethics is devoted to
discussing the various moral and intellectual virtues. These virtues
are dispositions to behave in the correct way. They are not themselves
activities, but they ensure that our activities will be of the right
kind. To live “in accordance with virtue,” then, is to live in such
a way that our activities flow naturally from a virtuous disposition.
In Books VI and X, Aristotle suggests that the intellectual
virtue of wisdom is the “best and most perfect kind” of virtue,
and he ultimately concludes that the good for man is rational contemplation
in accordance with the intellectual virtue of wisdom.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Nicomachean Ethics!