The relationship between aristotle’s ethical and political discourses (NE x 9)

Rachana Kamtekar

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Overview of NE x 9 and our Questions. In the closing chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics (x 9), Aristotle reminds his audience that while his discourse has provided an account of happiness as virtuous activity, and of the contributions to the happy and good life made by virtue, practical wisdom, pleasure, friendship, and so on, their goal (telos) is not knowledge but becoming good (1179a31-b4; cf. 1103b26-29, 1095a5). How does one become good? Aristotle reviews two further points from earlier in the NE: first, that arguments, which is what Aristotle’s discourses provide, are not sufficient to make us good, for they motivate (protrepsasthai kai parormēsai) only those who already love the fine (philokalon, 1179b7-10; cf. 1095a10). Second, this love for the fine is produced by habits (ethesi, 1179b24-26; cf. ii 1 and 4). Only at this point does Aristotle introduce the main idea of x 9, which is that law is the best means for the formation of character. Why law? Aristotle explains that right habits are not easy for the majority or the young (1179b31-34), and the law’s prescriptions combine reasoning with compulsion without incurring resentment, as would an individual who opposed our impulses (1180a15-25). Aristotle seems to think that we need laws because virtuous conduct requires us to do things that conflict with some of our natural desires, and until and unless we become used to doing this so that it no longer brings us any pain, we need the threat of punishment - greater pain - from the law. But Aristotle also thinks that virtue, which involves acting for better reasons than the fear of punishment, can be inculcated in at least some people by the right laws. Further, Aristotle maintains that in states that leave the inculcation of virtue up to the family (1180a25-32), the private individual would do well to study legislation to guide his attempts to make others, say the members of his household, virtuous - just as one would want to know the universals in medicine (and not just rely on experience) whether one was responsible for the health of a few or many (1180a32-b3, 1180b20-28).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781139022484
ISBN (Print)9780521192767
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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