Nicomachean Ethics

by: Aristotle

Important Quotations Explained

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[C]ontemplation is both the highest form of activity (since the intellect is the highest thing in us, and the objects that it apprehends are the highest things that can be known), and also it is the most continuous, because we are more capable of continuous contemplation than we are of any practical activity.

Near the end of the Ethics, in Book X, Chapter 7, Aristotle concludes that contemplation is the highest human good. Aristotle distinguishes rationality, and the intellect in particular, as the highest human functions, since these are the functions that distinguish us from other animals. It is also through the intellect that we can think about philosophy, God, and nature, which Aristotle considers to be far more noble objects of thought than the daily matters of human society. Consequently, he reasons that a life of continuous contemplation is the best possible human life. Of course, life cannot consist solely of contemplation, since practical matters always need dealing with, but in Aristotle’s view, the more contemplation the better. Practical wisdom and the moral virtues are noble and essential to securing the good life, but the good life itself consists foremost of contemplation.