Nicomachean Ethics - The Rational Soul


Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotle's robust examination of the art of living well.  His approach, which sees this art as distinct from any theoretical science, is both novel in comparison to Plato (who did not treat ethics separately this way or have a treatise on it) and is influential for the concept of "practical reason" which shapes modern philosophy many centuries after it.  Probably edited by his son, Nicomachus, the work is Aristotle's most detailed and accessible effort to explain the unification of our moral thinking with the emotions and appetites.

So far, we've been discussing some of the qualities of good character, as it relates to our goal of achieving and understanding the soul's happiness.    

This week, we read Book 6, which covers intellectual virtue, or how we come to know what ends to have and what predispositions to avoid.  As philosophers. I think we will find this the hardest hitting of the ten books in this series.  It covers the types of knowledge and wisdom through which the soul can disclose truth and merge it with its own happiness: techne, episteme, phronesis, sophia and nous.

Feel free to bring any or no translation of the text, as we should be reading it aloud clearly enough for everyone to follow.  Familiarity with the content is of course encouraged but not required.


For the relation of this text to Socratic thought, I recommend Ronna Burger's book.  

The major political philosopher Leo Strauss' lecture course on NE (h/t Brian) is also worth mentioning. 

The great Saint Thomas Aquinas has written the authoritative commentary on the work.

A note on translations: Most of us are using the Revised Oxford translation by Ross which is in the public domain. This is good and I want us to continue using it.  It is widely regarded as the standard English translation.  In my opinion, it's the strongest conceptually and the least clumsy to read aloud.  However, it is heavily crafted by Ross' own fluency with the subject matter and can stray in precision from the original text.  For those of us who are, or will be, more concerned about translation issues at home (especially when arguments become longer in the later books) I am linking a couple of more translations to cross-reference. 

The Bartlett and Collins translation is the most modern and tries to be as literal as sound English allows when translating.  It notes Greek words that need special attention.

The Crisp translation is intended to be readable by a nonspecialist audience, while also being faithful to the Greek.  It's free of some of the more dated English usage in Ross and handles the later syllogistic arguments more clearly.

Both books include introductions and footnotes that some may find valuable to read as supplements.

I've also linked the Ross translation in a format that includes Bekker (original Greek text) notation to make cross-referencing easier.

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  • Brian

    BOOK 1, CH 7: Happiness is activity in accordance with the best virtue. BOOK 6, ch 7: Sophia(contemplative) is superior to practical wisdom. : BOOK 10: Perfect Happiness is contemplative activity. Before we sail away from the land of moral virtue, we should try to secure its place while its still in our sights. Prudence seems to have a foot in each, both moral and intellectual virtue, so lets pay attention

    May 12

  • Brian

    Id be curious to read Aquinas' commentary on prudence.

    May 8

    • Rick O.

      If it's not online I can loan you the book.

      May 8

    • Brian

      I see versions online. I do think itd be helpful to read Aristotle together with Aquinas' voice occasionally.

      May 12

  • Mike B.

    Let's reschedule so that Brian can attend.

    May 2

    • Imran M.

      Yeah, let's do that. Mike suggested it as well.

      May 4

    • Imran M.

      Bad news: I'll be unavailable on Tuesdays. Unless another day (Friday or Sunday) works for us, I think Mondays may remain our best option, though I hate to lose mike. Thoughts? I'll tentatively schedule this Meetup for Monday, May 12 while waiting for feedback.

      May 5

  • Brian

    Can't make it first tuesdays. Practical wisdom is the key to greek thought (imo, all of philosophy) so enjoy- I'll catch up next time.

    May 2

    • Imran M.

      Yeah, that sucks. Maybe we could talk about it at a meetdown for some other night.

      May 2

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