Living Politically and Living Rationally: Choosing Ends and Choosing Lives

in Confronting Aristotle's Ethics

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780226283982
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226284019 | DOI:
Living Politically and Living Rationally: Choosing Ends and Choosing Lives

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Aristotle notoriously ends the Ethics by asking about whether the political or the philosophical life is the best life. Instead of presenting a contest between the active and contemplative lives, he shows how the philosophical life completes the political and practical life; how it is not an alternative to the practical life but its fulfillment. It is the good person, and not the theologian, who truly understands the assertion that people are not the best thing in the universe (NE VI.7.1141a20–21), because only the good person can understand and act on that thesis as a practical truth. These final questions about the best life revive questions raised in Chapter 3 about the relation between virtue and happiness. The virtues, as good conditions of the soul, are what Aristotle in the De Anima calls first energeiai, powerful structures that make possible virtuous activities. Both virtuous activity and happiness are energeiai of the virtues. Therefore the question: How are individual acts of virtue integrated into a virtuous and happy life? Aristotle sees two possibilities for unification: the political life and the philosophical life. In his argument, we never choose between them—we never face the two as alternative options for a practical decision—yet we can see the superiority of the life of contemplation.

Keywords: Aristotle; Ethics; political life; philosophical life; best life; virtues; happiness; energeiai

Chapter.  16674 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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