. 4
( 12)


is associated with honor, with the love of magni¬cence, recognition, and
reputation. It remains, therefore, crucially bound to the order of appear-
ances and, most notably, to the vain cultivation of one™s own glory. Its
limit seems to lie here, and not so much in its “practicality” as such. It
is the narcissistic turn of its involvement in action (praxis) that makes
this life somewhat partial. Concerning the “theoretical” life, besides the
anticipation just mentioned, for the moment let us simply signal another
passing remark around the beginning of the Eudemian Ethics:

the [things] related to the happy deportment [ˆgwgŸn] being three, the things
mentioned ¬rst as the greatest goods for human beings “ virtue and prudence and
pleasure “ we see that there are also three ways of life [tre±v ¾r¤men kaª b©ouv] in
which all those who happen to be in power choose to live [proairo“ntai z¦n], the
political, the philosophical, and that of sensual pleasure. Of these the philosoph-
ical life wishes [bo…letai] to be about prudence [fr»nhsin] and contemplation
[qewr©an] of truth, the political life about beautiful actions [pr†xeiv t‡v kal†v]
(and these are the actions from virtue), and the life of sensual pleasure about the
bodily pleasures. (1215a32“b5)

The third shape of life, then, is distinguished by a concern with the truth,
that is, by the pursuit of wisdom. It is in the context of such a philosophi-
cal (desiring and striving) character that the contemplative aspect of this
life should be understood. Such a life is moved by the wish to see beyond
the phantasmagoria of political standing, and yet entails by no means an
abstraction from political involvement. (Let it be said merely parentheti-
cally, for now: Book Kappa, concluding the Nicomachean Ethics, constitutes
at once the locus of the discussion of the “theoretical” life and the moment
at which the treatment of ethics shifts to its more properly political mode.)
The life thus led wishes to bring mindfulness to itself: to enact the virtues
(i.e., to live and act excellently) in a more conscious way, developing a
prudent awareness of itself. Not simply practicing the virtues, but also
illuminating the practice of excellence in this way, the philosophical life
opens itself up to the possibility of contemplating beyond itself.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

Thus, it should be noticed already that, to whatever degree the¯ria may
be attainable, it will not have been without quali¬cation: the¯ria will always
have taken place in the midst of the unraveling of life, of one life. This
is, indeed, the meaning of bios: that life, unique and ¬nite, that provides
an unrepeatable taking-place of z¯n, inde¬nite and all-encompassing life.
Qua bios, the bios the¯r¯tikos is a matter of action, of praxis. In other words,
the¯rein is a manner of life, neither outside nor above life, hence always
involved in life even as it tries to examine it. The¯rein will, in this sense,
never have meant separation from life, privation of the implication and
enfoldment within it.10

2.4. A More Complete De¬nition of Happiness
Once again, happiness is acknowledged almost unanimously as living
and acting well. On this basis, progressive clari¬cations are proposed.
(1) Happiness as living and acting well, to be more precise, indicates a
manner of life and of action distinguished by excellence (aret¯ ): eudai-
monia and eudaimonein, says the author of Magna moralia, lie “in living
well [–n t e” z¦n] . . . and living well in living according to the virtues [–n
t kat‡ t‡v ˆret‡v z¦n]” (1184b28“30). (2) In the Nicomachean Ethics we
¬nd a further polished description specifying that happiness, that is, the
venture of living, is an activity (energeia) and that its excellence must be
“complete” or “perfect,” “perfectly achieved” (tele©an): “happiness is an
activity of the soul in accordance with complete virtue” (1102a5“6). (3)
Another remark in Magna moralia speci¬es that activity, energeia, occurs
in terms of a having, of a possession, hexis, set to use, khr¯sis. In other
words, activity occurs in terms of structures acquired through repeated
practice, or habits. Whatever is accomplished by habits is accomplished
well by those particular habits that are the virtues: “Happiness would be
in the use and activity of something [possessed]. For where something is a
possession [having, habit] and used, its use and activity are its end. Virtue

10 It is relevant to point out that Aristotle never uses the direct opposite of the adjective
praktikos, namely, the¯rikos. He only utilizes the term the¯r¯tikos, which designates at once
o oe
the modality of knowing for its own sake (and not for extrinsic goals) and the way of
life, the bios, devoted to the pursuit of such a knowing. Because of this, Hadot notices,
“˜theoretical™ is not opposed to ˜practical™; in other words, ˜theoretical™ may be applied
to a philosophy that is practiced, lived, active, bearing happiness. . . . In this perspective,
˜theoretical™ philosophy is at the same time ethics,” such that, on strictly Aristotelian
ground, we may venture the phrase “theoretical praxis” (Che cos™` la ¬loso¬a antica? 79“
On Happiness 91

is a possession of the soul” (1184b32“4). A whole range of terminologi-
cal and speculative resources is deployed around the theme of happiness,
casting light on its various implications. The crucial terms drawn together
in these formulations of happiness will demand close inspection: activity,
energeia; soul, psukh¯ ; excellence or virtue, aret¯ ; habit, having, or posses-
e e
sion, hexis; completeness or perfection, telei¯sis.
Living is the enactment or activity, the energeia of the soul. Living indi-
cates the soul at work, carrying out its task, its ergon. Something realizing
or actualizing itself means something carrying out its exquisitely unique
assignment. For the soul, this is living, and it is in virtue of the soul that
anything alive lives (Magna moralia 1184b27).
Now, living well, that is, according to excellence, means to live fully, to
actualize one™s potential completely: to be fully who or what someone or
something is. Accordingly, living well indicates that the soul carries out
its work excellently. This, in turn, reveals that the soul has been struc-
tured and shaped through habituation in such a way that, when it enacts
itself, when it has to act, to live, and to measure itself against the various
circumstances in which it may ¬nd itself, the soul does so well. It does so
well thanks to the con¬guration it has acquired, thanks to those paths
and channels that habit has carved within it, as it were “ in virtue of those
tracks that, though in a sense invisible, make themselves unmistakably
manifest in and as the course and design of one™s actions. Habits are fully
what they are when enacted, activated, and not simply dormant posses-
sions in the psyche. Invisible when merely a latent psychological feature,
it is as habitus, as outward appearance and manifestation of character in
action, that habit is most completely what it is.
One™s task is actualizing, realizing oneself. It is the movement from
potentiality to actuality, from one™s potential to one™s self-realization. The
ful¬llment of the movement to self-realization constitutes one™s telos, one™s
end, completion, and perfection. Such is happiness, the highest good.
Again, we read in Magna moralia: “Since the best good is happiness, and
this in activity is an end and a complete end, by living in accordance
with the virtues we shall be happy and have the best good” (1184b37“
40). What is crucial here is the continuity between belonging in the
highest, most embracing ¬nality and actualizing one™s own unique, ¬nite
potential. Genuinely becoming who or what one potentially already is
means at once contributing to and partaking in the good without qual-
i¬cation. In this sense, ful¬lling one™s potential, setting one™s power to
work in the fullness of its possibility, points less to a discrete plenitude
than to the movement of over¬‚owing into an enveloping, comprehensive
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

attainment that exceeds the singular being. The perfection or completion
of happiness, its suf¬cing to itself and depending on no further factors
(autarkeia), must be understood in this light. An extended set of consid-
erations in Nicomachean Ethics gathers the multifaceted phenomenon of

Since the ends appear [fa©netai] to be many, and since we choose some of them
(e.g., wealth, ¬‚utes, and instruments in general) because of others, it is clear
that not all ends are complete; but the highest good appears [fa©netai] to be
something that is complete. So if there is only one end which is complete, this
will be the good we are seeking, but if there are many, the most complete of
these will be that good. Now what we maintain [l”gomen] is this: that which is
pursued according to itself is more complete than that which is pursued because of
something else, and that which is chosen but never chosen because of something
else is more complete than other things which, though chosen according to
themselves, are also chosen because of this; and that which is complete without
any quali¬cation is that which is chosen always according to itself and never
because of something else. Now happiness is thought to be [doke±] such an end
most of all, for it is this that we choose always and never because of something else;
and as for honor and pleasure and intellect [no“n] and every virtue, we choose
them because of themselves (for we would choose each of them when nothing
else resulted from them), but we also choose them on account of happiness,
believing that through these we shall be happy. But no one chooses happiness on
account of these nor, in general, because of some other thing.
The result appears [fa©netai] to be still the same if we proceed from self-
suf¬ciency, for the perfect good is thought to be [doke±] self-suf¬cient. By “self-
suf¬cient” we do not mean [l”gomen] oneself alone, living a solitary life. . . . Now
we posit [t©qemen] the self-suf¬cient to be that which taken by itself alone makes
one™s life worthy of choice and lacking in nothing; and such we consider [o«»meqa]
happiness to be. Moreover, we posit happiness to be of all things the most worthy
of choice and not capable of being increased by the addition of some other good
[sunariqmoum”nhn], since if it were capable of being increased by the addition
even of the least of the goods, the result would clearly be more worthy of choice;
for the result would exceed [the initial good, happiness] and the greater of two
goods is always more worthy of choice. It appears [fa©netai], then, that happiness
is something perfect and self-suf¬cient, and it is the end of our actions. (1097a26“

Aside from the frequent quali¬cations signaling the belonging of this
discourse in the order of phenomena and dialectical stipulations, we
should note the way in which the intellectual pursuit is illuminated by the
logic of progressively encompassing ¬nality. Even manners of intellectual
excellence such as nous are desired, pursued, because of the happiness
they bring. Their self-suf¬ciency and worth seem to be quali¬ed, in that
they are not loved simply for their own sake. Happiness surpasses them
On Happiness 93

in the order of ¬nality, for it is not for the sake of them. Its plenitude
alone is found to be unquali¬ed.
The accomplishment of one™s task constitutes one™s end, that is, ulti-
mately, happiness. But how to determine one™s task? The determination
of the task, of what or who one is to become, is guided by an insight
into one™s being, into who or what one is, and hence is to be. Being a
certain kind of being already entails a certain trajectory projected toward
the ful¬llment of such a being. The peculiar potential of the soul, and
hence the task it must carry out, is living. But what about the potential
distinctive of the human being? For the human being shares the over-
all task of living with everything else animated, whether plants or other
animals. And yet, it is clear that “living well,” ful¬lling one™s potential,
will have meant something different according to who or what one may
be. Aristotle denounces the vagueness of the elaboration of happiness
carried out so far and proposes the consideration of distinctively human
purposiveness: “Perhaps to say that happiness is the highest good is some-
thing which appears to be agreed upon [¾mologo…menon]; what we miss,
however, is a more explicit statement as to what it is. Perhaps this might
be given if the task [›rgon] of the human being is taken into consider-
ation” (1097b22“4). Indeed, it must be assumed that the human being
as such does have an assignment or function, because the carpenter or
the shoemaker do have one, and, “just as an eye and a hand and a foot
and any part of the body in general appear to have a certain function,
so a human being has some function other than these” (1097b31“4).
The assignment at stake, therefore, will have concerned the human being
not according to his or her speci¬c occupational pro¬le, let alone accord-
ing to any particularity pertaining to a ¬nite life, but rather according to
his or her humanity.11 Clarifying the function or task of the human being
would deepen our understanding of human happiness, for the measure
of one™s accomplishment rests in and with one™s undertaking: “just as in a
¬‚ute-player or a statue-maker or any artist, or, in general, in anyone who

11 The “hierarchy of ends” in the opening page of the Nicomachean Ethics (1094a) should be
understood in this light. The subordination of bridle-making to horsemanship, and of the
latter to military strategy, indicates the inclusion of partial ¬nalities within increasingly
more comprehensive ones, and the coming of the various sciences under the science
eminently architectonic. As the most architectonic science or faculty, ethics or politics
undertakes precisely to illuminate an order of priority inherent in each human being:
before being anything speci¬c, functionally and professionally delimited, identi¬ed with
a particular role (e.g., an artist, a scientist), a human being is a human being, and that
is his or her highest task and assignment. This work or task is shared in common by all
human beings qua human.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

has a function or an action to perform, the good and excellence [t¼ e”]
are thought to be [doke±] in that function [–n t ›rgw„], so it would appear
to be the case [d»xeien] in a human being” (1097b26“8).
Aristotle proceeds, then, to complete the de¬nition of happiness by
reference to the pivotal distinction among the lives of plants, of animals,
and of the human animal, a distinction re¬‚ecting the threefold division
of the soul and the three main shapes of life considered above. Again,
the passage is worth quoting extensively:

Now living [z¦n] appears to be common to plants [as well as to human beings];
but what we seek is proper [­dion] [to human beings alone]. So let us leave aside
the life [zwžn] of nutrition [qreptikŸn] and growth [aÉxhtikŸn]. Next there would
be a certain life of sensation [a«sqhtikž]; but this, too, appears to be common
also to a horse and an ox and all animals. There remains, then, the life of action
[praktikž] of a being having logos [l»gon ›contov]. Of that which has logos, (a)
one [part] has it in the sense that it may obey it, (b) the other [part] has it in the
sense that it has [›con] it or in the sense that it is thinking [dianoo…menon]. Since
we speak of part (b), too, in two senses, let us con¬ne ourselves to the life with
logos in activity [kat¬ –n”rgeian], for it is this sense which apparently is said to be
more important [kuriÛteron]. Accordingly, if the function of a human being is
an activity of the soul according to logos or not without logos, and if we say that the
function of a human being is generically the same as that of a good [spouda©ou]
human being, like that of a lyre-player and a good lyre-player, and of all the others
without quali¬cation, when excellence [Ëperoc¦v] with respect to virtue is added
to that function (for the function of a lyre-player is to play the lyre while that of
a good lyre-player is to play it well [e”], and if so, then we posit the function of a
human being to be a certain life [zwžn], namely, activity and actions of the soul
with logos, and of a good man [spouda©ou d¬ ˆndr¼v] we posit these to be well [e”]
and beautifully [kal¤v] done; so since each thing is performed well according
to its proper [o«ke©an] virtue), then the good [ˆgaq¼n] for a human being turns
out to be an activity of the soul according to virtue, and if the virtues are many,
then according to the best and most complete virtue. And we should add “in a
complete life [b©w„],” for one swallow does not make a spring, nor does one day;
and so too one day or a short time does not make a human being blessed or
happy. (1097b38“1098a20)

The decisive operation here is carving bios, the unity of a ¬nite and indi-
viduated life, out of z¯¯, the undifferentiated continuum of physical/
physiological life. This means carving human life, each human life in its
singularity, out of (1) life as metabolic function, that is, the elemental/
elementary stratum of life common to all, even blades of grass, and (2)
the life of sensual exposure and sensory stimulation shared by all the
animals. It is in this way that the distinctively human work, and hence
the traits of human happiness, are incisively captured. Human beings
On Happiness 95

do indeed partake of common metabolic processes as well as sensory
life. The latter seems to entail emancipation with respect to the mere
maintenance and well functioning of organic life, and it is such an over-
¬‚owing of sensuous solicitation beyond necessity that makes possible the
life (bios) of bodily overindulgence discussed above. However, these fea-
tures do not ultimately seize human speci¬city. The latter has to be caught
in action, praxis, and reason, logos, in fact, in action according to reason,
for the two aspects are introduced in their intertwinement. The being
that “has” logos is a being that acts, practices, a being whose activity has
a distinctively practical character. “Practicing” seems here to designate
the uniquely human feature, namely, a comportment exhibiting a delib-
erate character, consciously accompanied or sustained. For the moment,
Aristotle does not dwell on the distinction between the “having” reason
that indicates simply the ability to listen, follow, and obey reason and that
“having” that is the enactment of thinking, dianoia, properly speaking.
Instead, he limits himself to underlining that such a “having” logos may
be latent, that is, inactive or de-activated, as if dormant, or, on the con-
trary, activated, actualized, at work (energeia names precisely this), in brief,
If, then, the psychological (i.e., in this context, psychophysical) con-
¬guration distinguishing the human being entails such a threefold func-
tionality (metabolism, sensibility, action with logos or logos in action),
Aristotle concludes that its proper end and assignment is “activity and
action” (energeia, praxis) according to logos and excellently performed.
Here is indicated the human being setting itself to work according to its
fullest potential, in a way that encompasses and realizes its being in its
manifoldness. Again, it should be underlined that, much as energeia and
praxis, it is said, must be guided by logos, take place “according to logos”
or “not without logos” (kata logon or m¯ aneu logou), logos itself is a matter
of energeia, is more fully itself when “according to energeia” (kat™energeian),
when operative. And it operates in action.

2.5. Happiness as “Being-at-Work” and “Action”
Let us review what has been found so far. (1) The lyre player™s task is
playing the lyre; (2) the player™s virtue is accomplishing this well, that is,
playing well; (3) the player™s end is being a good player, a good musician,
a musician in the fullest sense. Analogously, (1) the human being™s task
is an activity or action of the soul as a whole according to logos; (2) the
human being™s virtue is accomplishing this well, that is, living well, fully;
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

(3) the human being™s end is being oneself fully, that is, being happy,
being good.
(1) Ergon may be translated as “function,” “work,” “task,” “assignment,”
or even “product.” The ergon of the human being is a certain energeia,
literally, “being-at-work,” also translated as “activity,” “enactment,” “actu-
alization.” Indeed, the ergon is articulated in terms of energeia and praxis.
(2) Aret¯, virtue, broadly speaking designates a sense of excellence. It nei-
ther primarily nor exclusively pertains to matters of ethics. It does not
even strictly pertain to human matters alone. aret¯ is a having (ekhein),
that which is possessed and belongs (a structure, an ability), whether
activated or not, actual or dormant; it is a hexis, a disposition or habit
acquired through exercise, repetition, practice. Energeia or praxis is its
awakening and enactment. In other words, virtue designates the “how,”
the manner or quality of activity, the excellence displayed in carrying out
a task. In the excellent carrying out of a task, that is, in an activity marked
by excellence, virtue becomes actual. (3) The end names the carrying out
of the human task in an excellent way. It is energeia or praxis in the mode
of aret¯. For the human being as such, this is happiness or the good.
But the identi¬cation of the human ergon as an energeia and the associ-
ation, or even the interchangeability, of energeia and praxis carry a crucial
implication. Happiness, and this means the good, is a being-at-work, a
matter of praxis. Far from a detached inertness, it is a being-at-work char-
acterized by excellence and making manifest logos in action. Indeed, that
in the soul which thinks (dianooumenon) shines through such a being-at-
work. We will have to remain mindful of this, for here lies the possibility,
in fact the necessity, of calling into question the apparently obvious but all
too problematic disjunctions of action and contemplation, of the prac-
tical and the speculative, of ethics and theoretical discourse, ¬nally, of
physics and metaphysics. Indeed, while “reason” or “thinking” may not
simply be the same as “action,” still they may not be separable from action
either “ or they may be separable from the practical only in logos, in dis-
course, only provisionally and for the sake of analysis. Accordingly, far
from appearing in its partiality and opposition to the theoretical, the
practical would have to be seen as that which underlies the moment of
contemplative insight or the exercise of reason, that in which reason is
nestled and belongs. A remark in the Politics is utterly relevant in this

If the above things are beautifully stated and if happiness should be posited as
being actions well performed [eÉprag©an], then the best life [b©ov] for every
On Happiness 97

polis as well as for every individual [kaq ¬ ™kaston] would be the practical life.
But the practical is not necessarily in relation to others, as some suppose; and
practical thoughts [diano©av], too, are not only those occurring on account of what
comes to be from acting, but much more those which are complete in themselves
[aÉtotele±v] and are speculations [qewr©av] and thoughts [dianožseiv] for their
own sake; for a good deed [eÉprax©a] is an end, and so it is a certain action
[prŽx©v tiv]. Outward actions [–xwterik¤n pr†xewn] in the highest sense, too, we
say to be mainly those which master artists [ˆrcit”ktonav] perform [pr†ttein] by
thoughts [diano©aiv]. (1325b14“23)

Dianoia, thinking as such, is, then, disclosed in its highest dignity as praxis.
Indeed, Aristotle proceeds to explain more incisively that thinking is inher-
ently practical and relational, even when a human being is not relating to
others. The suggestion here is that an “individual” is a community “ that,
just like a polis, an individual is composite, one is many, and the structure
of thinking is analogous to the exchanges that may take place within a
polis, however isolated from others. The practical character of thinking
has to do with the fact that unity is complex, that the one is not simple:

Moreover, communities [p»leiv] which are founded in isolation from others and
intend to live so, too, are not necessarily devoid of action [ˆprakte±n]; for actions
may occur among the parts of the polis since there are many associations of those
parts with each other. This is similarly true also with any one individual human
being, for, if not, god and the whole universe, whose actions are not outward
[–xwterikaª] but appropriate [o«ke©av] to themselves, would not fare beautifully.

Again, the consequences of these re¬‚ections are boundless. We shall
return to them time and again, especially when considering the relation-
ship between the intellectual virtues of prudence and wisdom and, later
on, the “theoretical life.”

2.6. Addenda to the Question of Happiness
2.6.1. Inseparability of Ends and Means
When Aristotle says that happiness is an activity of the soul according
to virtue and that this marks the accomplishment of the human task or
function, what he is saying is that happiness is an activity in and as which
the human task is carried out. The task, ergon, is an energeia; the work
is being-at-work, and being-at-work well is the end “ indeed, the highest
end: happiness, the good.
In its highest manifestation, then, the end is not an outcome separate
from the activity leading to it (we should especially avoid a na¨ve temporal
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

understanding of ¬nality here), but, rather, the activity itself. The end
is manifest in and as the action, from the start. It already informs the
unfolding of the activity, of a certain way of living. According to Aristotle,
“it is rightly said that the end is certain actions [pr†xeiv] or activities
[–n”rgeiai]; for it is in such a manner that the goods regarding the soul
come to be, and not from external goods” (1098b18“20). The highest
end presents itself as inseparable from means, that is, as an activity for
its own sake. In this sense, happiness is nothing to be grasped: it is a
way of living that constitutes its own end “ an end in play at every stage
and orienting a certain growth, maturation. As Aristotle also suggests,
happiness may be grasped in the unity, in fact, the identity of end, cause,
and principle or beginning: “happiness is a principle, for it is on account
of this that all actions are done by everyone; and we posit that the principle
and the cause [a­tion] of good things is something worthy of honor and
is divine” (1102a3“4).
After all, it is in and of itself signi¬cant that the proportion thanks to
which Aristotle casts light on the human being revolves around the ¬gure
of the instrument player. Unlike the maker of an external artifact, the lyre
player does not pursue an end separate from his or her activity, as the out-
come of a productive activity. As “playing well,” the end is accomplished
in every moment of the musical performance, of the player™s enactment
as such. Far from entailing a clear-cut distinction between means and
ends, that is, a purely instrumental view of activity, Aristotle posits that,
in the case of the good or happiness, a certain activity is its own end,
task, and product. It is on ¬nality thus understood that happiness casts
But even when addressing instances of ends as discrete artifacts, as
is the case in the productive activities, such activities are hardly seen as
extraneous to their results. Aristotle does not display the terminological
resources allowing for a nominalization, for a substantiation and substan-
tive conception of the means. He lacks a noun designating the altogether
modern notion of the means as an instrument or expedient leading to an
end that may be altogether discontinuous and unrelated. Rather, in these
discussions we ¬nd the language of that which promotes, sustains, encour-
ages an end, that which is projected “toward” or “relative to” (pros) an end.

12 Granted, Aristotle says that, if and when “ends are apart from [par‡] actions, the prod-
ucts [›rga] are by nature better than the corresponding activities [–nergei¤n]” (1094a6“
7). Yet it is not qua products that they are better (1094a17“18), but qua further, broader
ends “ because they are the fruit and ¬nal cause of those activities, because they are that
for the sake of which those activities are undertaken.
On Happiness 99

It is from the end, from the binding orientation of the end, that the thrust
toward the end is disclosed. This necessary alignment between means and
ends as well as the understanding of ultimate ¬nality in light of happiness,
to be sure, problematize the logic of ends and means understood more
moderno, not to mention the possibility of objecti¬cation that this logic
inaugurates. In the “hierarchy of ends,” the highest end is not that which
presents itself as emancipated from its material conditions (conditions
set aside, objecti¬ed, and merely used), but rather the end which is most
all-embracing, beyond which no further reference to other goals is think-
able, and, most importantly, which remains thoroughly implicated in its

2.6.2. The Place and Time of the Individual
As we saw above, happiness involves the assumption of a “complete life,” a
sense of continuity and sustained achievement, “for one swallow does not
make a spring” (1098a19“20). Aristotle returns to this question shortly

For happiness requires, as we have stated, both complete virtue and complete life,
since many changes and all sorts of chance occurrences come to be in a lifetime;
and it is possible for the most prosperous human being to suffer great calamities
in his old age, as is told of Priam in the Trojan [or heroic] stories, and one who
has met such fortunes and has come to a wretched end would not be considered
happy by anyone. (1100a5“9)

Happiness is here assumed as concerning “complete” or adult human
beings alone. However, the dif¬culty lies in ¬nding the con¬nes prop-
erly delimiting a life as “complete,” as a unity enjoying identity and self-
suf¬ciency. Do the beginning and ceasing of physical life de¬ne such
a unity? How are we to delimit the phenomenon of individuality in its
spatiotemporal unfolding? Is individuality a matter of monadic discrete-
ness, or is the individual as such constitutively traversed by concomitant
occurrences and lives, a locus of relations and intersecting forces? In the
¬nal analysis, the issue broached here is that of a certain immortality,
of the quali¬ed endurance obtained through procreation and belong-
ing in familial or communal structures. These inherently human ways
of extending oneself, reaching out beyond oneself through one™s roots
and branches, as it were, entail living on beyond one™s allotted biological
duration, while being caught in a relational web not in one™s control. At
stake is nothing less than the possibility of being happy when around us,
whether spatially or temporally, reversals of fortune and great sufferings
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

take place. This line of investigation encounters problems at every turn,
as Aristotle repeatedly acknowledges:

Should we consider no human being happy, then, while he is living, but wait, as
Solon said, “to see the end” [of his life]? And if we posit also such a requirement,
will it not be the case, too, that a human being is happy when dead? But is this not
entirely absurd [Štopon], especially since we have maintained that happiness is a
certain activity? Now if we do not mean to say that a dead human being is happy
and if Solon did not wish to say this, but instead that one might safely consider
a human being blessed only when he is already beyond the reach of evils and
misfortunes, this too would be subject to dispute; for it seems that something
good as well as something bad may come to someone dead, if indeed it does also
to someone living when he is not conscious [mŸ a«sqanom”nw„], e.g., honors and
dishonors, and also good actions and misfortunes of children and descendants in
general. But this too presents a problem [ˆpor©an]; for if a human being has lived
according to logos a blessed life till old age and died as be¬tted him, many changes
may occur in his descendants, for some of them might turn out to be good and to
attain the life they are worthy of, while with others the contrary might be the case.
It is clear, too, that the distance in the relationship between these descendants
and the human being might vary in all sorts of ways. It would thus be absurd
[Štopon] if also the dead one were to change along with his descendants and
become at one time happy and at another wretched; but it would also be absurd
[Štopon] if that which pertains to descendants contributed nothing at all, nor
for some time, to the happiness or unhappiness of their ancestors. (1100a10“31)

Aristotle proceeds to point out that, at any rate, even within the limited
scope of one life understood as the span of physical survival, we can notice
¬‚uctuations in the conditions of happiness: the “same” human being,
whatever this may mean, can at one time enjoy good fortune, at another
undergo misfortune. However, analogously to the vicissitudes that may
befall others (whether friends, ancestors, or descendants), fortune and
its demise are extrinsic factors. Fortuitous events as well as the ventures
of those who are related to us in space and time affect our lives in a
way that we cannot control or can control only very partially. These are
factors more removed from our power, which we undergo with a measure
of passivity and impotence. Because of this, Aristotle resists the notion
that happiness may be decisively based on them: “For goodness [t¼ e”]
or badness in someone does not depend on these, although, as we have
stated, human life needs them, too; but it is the activities in accordance
with virtue which play the dominant role in happiness” (1100b8“11). This
set of considerations, then, is mainly preoccupied with the coherence
and constancy of happiness: “For in none of human actions is there so
much certainty as in activities in accordance with virtue, which appear to
On Happiness 101

be more enduring than even scienti¬c knowledge” (1100b13“15; emphasis
And yet, the uncontrollable ¬‚uctuations of fortune and the accidents
of fate remain indispensable ingredients in the quest for the attainment
and preservation of eudaimonia. For, even though an excellent human
being may be capable of remaining steady in the midst of dif¬culty and
of bearing “many and great misfortunes with calm and ease, not through
insensibility to pain, but through nobility [genn†dav] and highminded-
ness [megal»yucov]” (1100b31“33), the imponderable dynamics in one™s
environment will not have left one untouched. Aristotle, thus, concludes:

As for the fortunes that may befall a human being™s descendants and all his friends,
to regard them as not contributing anything at all appears very unwelcome and
contrary to the opinions [of human beings]. . . . Now just as some of a human
being™s mishaps have some weight or in¬‚uence on his life, while others seem
rather light, so the things that happen to all of a human being™s friends are
similarly related. (1101a23“31)

Although to a limited degree, this is held even for the dead: “Good actions
of friends, then, and bad actions similarly, appear to contribute something
to the dead, but they do so to such a degree and extent as not to change
happy into unhappy human beings or to make some other such change”
(1101b6“9). It is through the network of relations that one entertains
with family, kin, friends, and others that the individual human being is
disclosed. This entails the emergence of a dilated, choral sense of oneself
out of the experience of interdependence. Far from self-enclosed, the
singular human being articulates him- or herself through the conscious
inscription in a community both synchronically and diachronically under-
stood “ a community of place and time.

2.6.3. Critique of the Good of the Platonists
Aristotle™s evaluation of the Platonic conception of the good will be con-
sidered here only very succinctly. These brief remarks aim at casting light
on the peculiar “critical” strategy vis-` -vis the Platonists and on the com-
prehension of the good thus delineated.
Aristotle develops his critical assessment without naming names. He
refers to “friends,” in the plural, who speak of the “ideas” (probably Pla-
tonists such as Speusippus and Xenocrates), but never mentions Plato
himself. The issue is introduced as follows:

As for the good according to the whole, perhaps it is better to examine it and
go over the dif¬culties [diapor¦sai] arising from the way it is stated, although
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

such an inquiry is made with reluctance because those who introduced the forms
[e­dh] are friends. Yet it would perhaps be thought better, and also our duty, to
forsake even what is close to us in order to preserve the truth, especially as we
are philosophers; for while both are dear, it is sacred to honor the truth above
friendship. (1096a11“18)

It should be underlined that here Aristotle is echoing what is written in
one of Plato™s own “exoteric” writings. Indeed, in Book X of the Republic,
Socrates is made to declare that, even in light of his friendship with and
admiration for Homer, he will pursue the truth above all (595b“c). This
does not escape Thomas, who, in his commentary to the Nicomachean
Ethics, observes with regard to the apparent tension between friendship
and truth: “Along the same lines is also the judgment of Plato who, in
rejecting the opinion of his teacher Socrates, says that it is necessary to
care more for truth than for anything else. Somewhere else he af¬rms
that Socrates is certainly a friend, but truth is even more so (amicus quidem
Socrates, sed magis amica veritas). In yet another place he says that one
should certainly care little for Socrates but a lot for truth” (I.6.5). The
¯thos of the philosopher seems to entail precisely this: a love of the truth
that does not remain caught in dogmatically con¬rmed alliances or forms
¬delity demanding the suspension of questioning. But, as we shall see
later, not only the friendship with wisdom, but also friendship as such
demands this kind of posture: in the philosophical love as well as in the
love of another, what is at stake is the sharing of what exceeds the bond
between two human beings. In this sense, there is no con¬‚ict between
philosophy and friendship, because both are animated by the love of the
truth. It is indeed the desire for truth, for that which cannot be reduced
to the two friends, which the friends share. They ¬nd in one another
the reminder of that which is irreducible to oneself as well as the other,
they love one another precisely because each sees in the other the same
over¬‚owing love, the same openness that does not con¬ne them to the
exiguous and exclusive bond between two.
Without examining the argumentation in detail, let us simply notice
that the central problem diagnosed in the doctrine of the Platonists is
the assumption of eidetic separation, kh¯rismos. For, says Aristotle, “even
if there is some one good which is commonly predicated or which is
separate by itself, clearly it cannot be practicable [a matter of action] or
attained by a human being; but it is such a good that we are seeking now”
(1096b32“6). In fact, Aristotle goes so far as to deny that the knowledge of
a separate and “universal” good would at all be relevant to an investigation
into the human good and human action:
On Happiness 103

Perhaps one might think that the knowledge [gnwr©zein] of such a separate good
would be better for those goods that can be attained and practicable, for having
it like a paradigm we shall also know more [e«s»meqa] the things which are good
for us, and if we know [e«d¤men] them, we shall succeed in obtaining them. This
argument [l»gov] carries indeed a certain persuasion, but it seems to be dissonant
with respect to the sciences [–pistžmaiv]. For all of them aim at some good and
seek what is lacking, yet they leave out the knowledge [gn¤sin] of it; and it is
unreasonable that all the artists [tecn©tav] should be ignorant of so great an aid
and make no attempt at all to seek it out. (1096b36“1097a8; emphasis added)

Action and, in general, the conduct of human life need not be and are
not based on knowledge, on eidetic foundations. Even in the course of
scienti¬c or creative pursuits, one has always already acted on the ground of
an otherwise than scienti¬c knowledge, that is, on the ground, shifting yet
no less reliable, of an intuitive and often implicit or imprecise awareness.
As in the discourse of Diotima in Plato™s Symposium, it seems that the
desire and thrust toward the good (that which is lacking) need not rest
on knowledge. A sense of what is pursued, however inde¬nite, will suf¬ce.
It should be noticed that, despite the critique of a transcendent
good, Aristotle™s pursuit is still oriented to the good in a comprehen-
sive (some may be tempted to say “metaphysical”) sense. The divergence
from Platonism does not signal a less ambitious pursuit, the exploration
of some “local” or partial good, but what could be called a difference
in method. The polemic here is against the inclination, especially pro-
nounced among certain followers of Plato, to bring any discussion back
to the study of number, thus attempting to account for the particular
in terms of the abstract (“they demonstrate from numbers that justice
and health are good . . . on the assumption that the good belongs in num-
bers and monads because the good itself is the one” [Eudemian Ethics
1218a18“21]). On the contrary, Aristotle insists that it is appropriate to
proceed from matters widely agreed on (ek t¯n homologoumen¯n) to more
o o
encompassing or “abstract” conclusions: to start, for instance, from things
usually experienced as beautiful or good, such as “health, strength, and
temperance, and to demonstrate that the beautiful is even more in the
unmoving” (Eudemian Ethics 1218a21“3).
Thus, the human good sought after in the ethico-political discussion
presents itself as neither partial nor secondary. It may be the case that we
are seeking neither the “idea of the good” nor the good as “common” (for
the former is both “unmoving and impracticable” and the latter is “mov-
ing yet impracticable”). Yet the good we are discussing is “the best as end,
as that for the sake of which, and the cause of those [goods] subordinate
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

to it and ¬rst of all; so the good itself [aÉt¼ t¼ ˆgaq»n] is the end of those
[goods] practicable for the human being. This is the good that comes
under that [discipline] authoritative [kur©an] among all, which is politics
and economics and prudence” (Eudemian Ethics 1218b7“14).13 The good
that directs the various human goods, thus orienting the human desirous
teleology, is, therefore, the proper subject matter of ethics or politics. For
this is the discipline that not only aims at the contemplation of the good
exceeding human affairs but also, conversely and quite self-consciously,
exhibits the awareness of the altogether human, ethical conditions for
such a contemplation. We shall return to this, especially when consider-
ing more closely the intellectual virtue of wisdom. For the time being,
let us simply recall that, as the Eudemian Ethics reports, Anaxagoras may
have said the noblest human pursuit is “contemplating the sky and the
order of the whole cosmos,” and yet, such a transcendence of human
affairs entails by no means the abstraction from them. On the contrary, it
requires “coming into being” and “living” (1216a11“16). The good here
at stake is neither separate not abstract, yet no less “universal,” according
to the whole.
In broaching the theme of the highest good, Aristotle does not avoid
the question “what it is” (Eudemian Ethics 1217b1), though he also warns
us that “what excellence [t¼ e”] or the good in living is escapes [diafe…gei]
our investigation” (1216a9“10). These considerations prompt the discus-
sion of the fact that the good, just like being, can be said in “many ways”
and that, subsequently, it cannot unproblematically fall under one sci-
ence (Nicomachean Ethics 1096a24“34, Eudemian Ethics 1217b27“1218a1).
As for the alleged contrast with Plato, however, it is hardly necessary to
point out that Plato himself posits something like the “idea of the good”
only in a highly quali¬ed fashion. Even though we ¬nd such a phrase
in the Republic, we cannot fail to acknowledge that in that dialogue the
good is also said to be “beyond being,” that is, also beyond that articula-
tion of being that the eidetic constitutes. Book VI is crucial in this regard:
just as the sun is the source of light revealing the visible things, so the
good is the source of intellection casting light on intelligible things and
thereby disclosing them. Accordingly, the good, far from being an idea
among ideas, is the condition for the possibility of the intellectual per-
ception of ideas as well as the lighting up of the ideas “ the very source
of the intelligible domain, and so of the eidetic. As such a source, the
good exceeds the order of knowledge, even the highest segment of the

13 See also Magna moralia 1184a8“14.
On Happiness 105

so-called divided line. To continue on these terms, we might say that the
good constitutes the very possibility of the line, that is, of the ascent to
increasing levels of luminosity and apprehension.

2.6.4. Further Questions (On Convention and Nature)
In the wake of what has been said thus far, we are in the position of for-
mulating a series of questions regarding, broadly speaking, the relation
between nature and convention, or that which most properly belongs
in the sphere of human affairs. It commonly appears that ethical or
political matters are “by custom [n»mw„] alone and not by nature [f…sei]”
(1094b16“17). This is due to the “differences and ¬‚uctuations” character-
istic of them and associated less with natural becoming than with human
determinations. While the fact that human beings are political and dis-
tinguished by certain intellectual powers is given by nature, nature does
not seem to prescribe how such “logo-political” potentials are to be devel-
oped and actualized, that is, what they (and, thus, the human being) are
to be. In this sense, the various and variable human constructions, the
many ways in which human beings interpret their task and potentiality,
appear to supplement nature, to make up for the void of natural determi-
nations, to extend order and structure there where nature remains silent
or inscrutable. As Aristotle puts it, “every art and [kind of] education
wishes to ¬ll up [ˆnaplhro“n] nature™s de¬ciencies” (Politics 1337a2“3).
But how, then, is such a supplementation related to that which it
sets out to supplement? In what way, and with what entitlement, would
the human being or, more precisely, a human community, undertake
to extend natural order, as though making up for what nature has not
ordained and, thus, “completing” the work of nature? For any constitu-
tion and institution of political order as such lays such a claim, because its
self-presentation in terms of mere contingency and arbitrariness would by
de¬nition preclude its authority and establishment. Moreover, the human
being, considering its psycho-physiological endowment, ¬nds itself nec-
essarily bound to acknowledge its belonging in nature, even if exceeding
to some degree the scope of nature™s mechanical causality. Hence, it ¬nds
itself bound to wonder about the continuities or discontinuities in the
trajectory from natural determination to what we call human freedom.
In this connection, Aristotle seems to suggest, however obliquely, that
the human supplementation of nature may aptly be grasped in terms of
imitation, of an imitative interpolation into nature. Much as he empha-
sizes the role of culture and custom in the discussion of ethical matters,
Aristotle displays little or no propensity toward a relativism that would
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

super¬cially reduce human institutions to purely random shapes. Despite
their multiplicity and transient character, the determinations of human
convention aim at prolonging the operations of nature, claim to parallel
nature, to mirror it, and to belong in the same logic. Because of this,
the character acquired through education and upbringing is designated
as a “second nature.” For the same reason, Aristotle speaks of “natural
virtue,” aret¯ phusik¯, which is latent or unconscious, and which human
e e
practices undertake to make explicit, turning it into “virtue in the main
sense” (1144b1“1145a11).
In this perspective, the articulation of human construction would
bespeak an attempt at reading what is not immediately readable, at mak-
ing nature accessible there where it seems to withdraw into an enigmatic
silence. In effect, at times Aristotle seems to resort to the ¬gure of the wise
human being precisely in order to recompose the apparent rift between
nature and human matters. Thus, for instance, he observes that “things
which give pleasure to most human beings are in con¬‚ict with each other
because they are not by nature such. But things which give pleasure to
those who love beautiful things [filok†loiv] are by nature pleasant; and
such are the actions according to virtue, and these are both pleasant to
such human beings and pleasant according to themselves” (1099a12“
15). The suggestion that the excellent human beings (or “lovers of the
beautiful”) may enjoy a privileged access to nature and thereby provide a
standard in the quest for truth, is echoed later on: “a serious [spouda±ov]
human being judges things correctly, and in each case what appears to
him is the true; for there are beautiful and pleasant things which are
proper to each disposition [™xin], and perhaps a virtuous human being
differs from others most by seeing the truth in each case, being like a
standard [kanÜn] and measure [m”tron] of them” (1113a30“35).14 Thus,
while human custom at large, despite its claims and self-assertion, can
hardly be referred to nature in any linear way, that which virtuous human
beings perceive and practice seems to carry intrinsic value. However mis-
recognized, these human beings constitute a normatively authoritative
point of reference, for their opinions tend to converge in such a way
as to distinguish themselves from convention. Indeed, they approximate
If convention, the shape of human coexistence, aims at supplement-
ing nature, ¬lling a void or underdetermined margin left by it, how-
ever, we must in addition pose the question concerning individual
self-determination. To be sure, above we have shown that individuality

14 See also, e.g., Eudemian Ethics 1215a3.
On Happiness 107

emerges from certain Aristotelian texts in a problematic fashion, as the
intersection of communal as well as genealogical in¬‚uences, and thereby
demands the utmost caution around notions such as unquali¬ed self-
mastery or monadic autonomy. And yet, even in light of such an expanded
view of the individual, we still wonder about the possibility for a human
being (in the utter singularity, if not absolute autarchy, of his or her con¬g-
uration and circumstance) to break through necessitating forces, whether
natural or cultural. What is at stake is the capacity of a human being to
puncture, or even to disrupt, the automatism following either natural
necessities or cultural formation broadly speaking. In other words, this
is a question concerning the possibility of change in spite of established
conditions that would seem to impose a certain course. This will lead us to
consider the phenomena of volition, intention, deliberation, and, more
generally, the relation between drive, motivation, moving forces, on the
one hand, and reason, logos, on the other.
We should highlight ulterior facets of the question of the relation
between phusis and nomos. The human being is crucially, if not exclu-
sively, determined by surrounding conditions. The focus of the ethical
discussion is the treatment of the exquisitely communal or political con-
ditions. And yet, what about natural or “biological” factors? We should
not ignore the role of this order of necessity in ethical matters, merely
on account of its being hardly intelligible and of the disquieting con-
sequences of biological determinism in various guises. Concomitantly,
how are we to think through the distinction, whether in kind or degree,
between humans and other animals? This, in turn, leads us to ask: How
is reason, logos, related to embodiment, broadly speaking to animality?
Does rationality require, belong to a physiological support? How does
reason give itself in and through the living? How is life in¬‚ected through
such a “having”?
We will elaborate on these issues as we proceed in our analysis of the
Aristotelian discussion. For the moment, however, in a merely suggestive
fashion, I would like to recall a passage near the beginning of the Poli-
tics in which Aristotle tightly weaves together matters pertaining to the
essentially logo-political character of human beings and considerations
pertaining to human embodiment and that which a particular physical
conformation makes possible. The re¬‚ection starts with an acknowledg-
ment of the teleological reliability of nature (an acknowledgment literally
ubiquitous in De anima):

It is clear, then, why the human being is more of a political animal than a bee
or any other gregarious animal; for nature, as we say, does [poie±] nothing in
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

vain [m†thn], and the human being alone, of all animals, has [›cei] logos. Voice,
of course, serves as a sign [shme±on] of the painful and the pleasurable, and for
this reason it belongs to the other animals also; for the nature of these advances
only up to the point of having the sensation of the painful and the pleasurable and
of signaling [shma©nein] these to one another. But logos is to make clear what is
bene¬cial or harmful and so what is just or unjust; for what is proper [­dion] to
the human being compared with other animals is this: the human being alone
has the sensation of what is good or evil, just or unjust, and the like, and it is a
community [koinwn©a] of such beings which makes [poie±] a household and a
polis. (1253a7“19; emphasis added)

Neither randomly nor by folly, then, did nature endow the human being
with logos. It is such an endowment that constitutes the distinctive human
trait and makes human beings unique vis-` -vis other animals. Aristotle
attempts to provide a sharp demarcation between the human and other
animals, locating it in the shift from voice, ph¯n¯, and sign, s¯meion, to logos.
oe e
Such a shift entails the transition, mysterious in its discontinuity, from the
immediacy of the vocal signal, from a vocal sound conveying a present
experience, to an altogether other order of communication entailing the
mnemonic stabilization of contents, noetic elaboration, and the possibil-
ity of an in¬nitely more re¬ned articulation. For the communication that
logos designates, a communication granting the communal character of
humans, entails the retention and projection of pleasure and pain in
terms of that which brings about bene¬ts and harms, and hence of the
just and unjust.
And yet, despite his eagerness to underline the propriety and exclu-
siveness of logos as human endowment, Aristotle preserves the language
of sensation and sensibility, aisth¯sis, to connote both the mere power of
vocalization common to many animals and logos proper. Aisth¯sis emerges
here as if continuously underlying the allegedly discontinuous shift from
ph¯n¯ to logos, so much so that both the perception of pleasure and pain
and the perception of good and evil are said to be a manner of sensation.
In this way, the difference between ph¯n¯ and logos may be understood
less in terms of kind than in terms of degree (indeed, the very difference
between difference in kind and difference in degree becomes an issue).
After all, even the mere fact that the term logos semantically ranges from
reason, informing order, to discourse, speech, articulation of sound con-
veying meaning, sums up the problematic relation between phusis and
nomos, between s¯ma and psukh¯, and so forth. To be most concise here,
o e
let us simply note that the in De anima this problem is further ampli¬ed.
At the end of Beta 8, the intertwinement of voice (as “sound of an animal”
On the Soul 109

and “sound that signals,” s¯mantikos) and logos is viewed in its indissolubil-
ity and decisively cast in terms of its physiological conditions (apparatus
of the pharynx, oral cavity, and tongue, which allows for the emission of
a certain acoustic variety, and breath, whose work is communication or
articulation, dialektos, that is, the vocal explication of thought, herm¯neia).
What is noteworthy, in this discussion, is that it is nature itself that is
said to “use” (katakhr¯tai ) the process of inhalation for the sake of the
outcome of logos, which situates the phenomenon of logos within natural
teleology. As an ulterior sign of the “physical” character of signi¬cation,
we are told that logos is voice, the sound produced by an animate being,
“accompanied by imagination,” ph¯n¯ meta phantasias (420b6“421a7).15

3. on the soul
Through the introductory remarks and the discussion of happiness, an
analytic of the soul imposes itself as necessary and begins to ¬nd a delin-
eation. As seen above, happiness, the highest good, is principle, cause,
and end. It is energeia of the psukh¯ according to aret¯. Aret¯, excellence,
e e e
belongs to the soul, indicates the way in which the soul properly enacts
itself: in this light we may understand excellence as a possession, property,
or propriety of the soul, as a hexis “ that which the soul “has” and, when
in action, shows. To gain an insight into the virtues, therefore, we must
project, at least in broad terms, a comprehension of the soul. Aristotle
states the necessity of a psychological investigation in connection with
the political task of shaping human beings:

it is clear that the human being involved in politics [t¼n politik¼n] should under-
stand [e«d”nai] in some way that which pertains to the soul, like a doctor who
cures the eyes or the whole body, and to the degree that politics is more honor-
able and better than medicine. Now the cultivated among the doctors endeavor
[pragmate…ontai] to acquire knowledge [gn¤sin] of the body. So the political
human being, too, should contemplate [qewrht”on] that which pertains to the
soul, contemplating it both on its own account and as much as is adequate to what
is sought, for greater precision is perhaps rather burdensome in view of what he
is aiming at. (1102a19“28)

Politics is more architectonic than medicine, for it comprehends the
human being as a whole, not merely as a bodily organism, however much
ensouled or animated. In the wake of this re¬‚ection Aristotle undertakes

15 On these issues, see also the connected discussions in Categories 4b34“5a1 and On Inter-
pretation 16a20“17a8.
Ethik¯ n Nikomakhei¯ n Alpha to Eta
o o

to present the structure of the soul construed most broadly as that which
informs the phenomenon of living as a whole. Even without consider-
ing here in detail the dif¬culties of Aristotelian psychology, let alone the
controversies marking the history of its transmission, for the sake of coun-
terbalancing an almost irresistible tendency we should emphasize that, in
this context, nothing is to be assumed less straightforwardly than a notion
of psukh¯ as a personal spiritual principle.

3.1. Living
Psukh¯ names the vitality of the living being, including the automatic
metabolic processes, whereby life is maintained, and unconscious emo-
tional contents, feelings, thoughts, and so on. In his analytic of the psukh¯,
Aristotle proposes that two “parts” may be distinguished within it, at least
in logos, that is, in the order of discourse or inquiry. This proviso is a cru-
cial reminder of the caution necessary when speaking of “components”
of the soul: “It makes no difference for the present whether these parts
are distinct [diÛristai], like the parts [m»ria] of a body or of any other
divisible whole [merist»n], or whether they are two for logos [t l»gw„]
but inseparable [ˆcÛrista] by nature, like the convex and the concave
in the circumference of a circle” (1102a30“34). The issue of separability
is not developed further here. For practical-political purposes, it may not
be essential to know whether that which can be separated or discerned
in logos is substantially separable or separate. However, this comment sig-
nals a problem that we, even if and precisely because under the spell of
logos and its operation of “taking apart,” would better not forget. This
taking apart in and by logos properly de¬nes the mathematical strategy as
such, as we read in the Metaphysics: “Something can best be contemplated
if that which is not separate [kecwrism”non] [from the thing] is laid down
[qe©n] as separate [cwr©sav], and this is what the arithmetician and the
geometrician do” (1078a21“23). However, in that context Aristotle also
warns that, while “prior in logos,” the “mathematical [objects],” that into
which something is analyzed, are neither “substances to a higher degree,”
nor “prior in being,” nor yet “capable of being separately [kecwrism”na]”
Following the “mathematization” of the psukh¯ provisionally attempted
in logos, we ¬nd a ¬rst distinction between an irrational part, alogon, and
one that is rational, that has logos, logon ekhon (1102a29“30). The former
would designate the physiological stratum shared by all that is alive. Logos
would appear to be grafted upon a layer of life discontinuous with logos
On the Soul 111

because lacking it (receiving it at most, but without possessing it, as we
shall see). In this investigation concerning the soul, then, logos attempts to
embrace itself as well as its other, that dimension of the soul that remains
foreign to it, in which it does not dwell.
Thus, the human soul, that manner of animation distinctive of human
beings, may be understood in terms of its rational and irrational compo-
nents. In the course of these considerations (1102a5“1103a4), however,
the twofold structure of the soul receives further elaboration. In one
sense, indeed, it could be said that the life of nutrition and growth as well
as sensation is irrational, while the part that has logos, the part where logos
dwells, is the properly rational part. And yet, in another sense, it could
be said that the strictly irrational part of the soul is the nutritive one, that
pertaining to organic sustenance, while the life of sensation and appetite
may be with or without logos or, better, with or against it. To the extent that
the life of sensing and instinctual drives exceeds the bounds of the neces-
sary (of metabolism), it may both be against and follow, resist and listen
to logos. The seat of desire (orexis, epithumia) may be subjected to logos,
neither indifferent nor impervious to logos, and may therefore adjust to it.
In this limited sense, it could be said that the “part” of the appetites and
desires “has” logos: it does not itself possess logos but may be informed and
determined by it. It has the ability to entertain an exchange with logos,
to hear it. What remains to be seen is whether such a dialogue, such an
exchange between logos and that which is irreducible and partially foreign
to logos, is merely a matter of “obeying” logos, as a child does his or her
father, or whether logos and desire may communicate with one another,
listen to one another, in¬‚ect one another, indeed, entertain a relation of
mutual affection. This would be the case if, for instance, logos were itself an
“object” of desire and not extraneous to the order of pleasure.
The soul, then, is articulated into a threefold structure, involving the
life of the organism, the properly desiring aspect, and logos. Of course,
this analysis corresponds to the distinctions among plants, animals, and
the human animal mentioned above. As for the ways of life available to
human beings, the hedonistic life rests on the activation of the ¬rst two
parts, the metabolic and the desiring, while the life of honors and the life
pursuing contemplation both require the activation of the third factor,
logos, albeit to different degrees and in different ways. This illuminates
yet another problem concerning the life of pleasures: devoting one™s life
only to the satisfaction of bodily desires entails living beneath a human
being™s potential, not enacting oneself as a whole, as a human being, but
remaining at the level shared in by other animals. As Aristotle says in the
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Politics, “all other animals live by nature most of all, but few of them live
also by habit [›qesin], and to a slight extent. The human being lives by
logos as well, for it alone has logos” (1332b4“6).
What is at stake, then, is self-realization without residue. It is important
to notice that such a complete self-enactment, if it ever were attainable,
would at once pertain to the human being as that particular individual
and to the human being as such. It would involve no contrast between
singularity and humankind, for belonging in humankind, being human
in the fullest sense, signi¬es to respond and act excellently in any given
circumstances, at any given time. It signi¬es a ¬delity, an adherence to
place-time and its ¬‚uctuations, at all times. This we shall see better in the
course of the analysis of virtue as middle.
We should also notice that, through this set of considerations, logos
itself emerges as a matter of “having,” as an ekhein “ to put it more starkly, as
a hexis, habit. Once again, we wonder about logos, thus continuing on the
line of questioning broached above. What does it mean to “have” (ekhein)
logos? What does it mean to activate or actualize oneself according to logos,
if logos itself must be acquired or stabilized into a habitual shape? How
does logos belong to a living body, that is, how can an animal, a growing,
sentient, and desiring organism “have” logos? What is the relation between
logos and embodiment, animality “ life itself? What does it mean to enact
that mode of animality that “has” logos? How is this peculiar animal that
the human being is related to other living beings? These questions lie
at the heart of the present investigation, and we shall return to them at
various junctures. The discussion of Book Zeta, devoted to the intellectual
virtues, through which the “part” that thinks and “has” logos is articulated,
will be crucial in the elucidation of some of these issues. But we can already
see a few anticipations of these themes in Books Beta, introducing the
virtues, and Gamma, on voluntary action and deliberation.

3.2. Excellences
3.2.1. Acquisition
The distinction between ethical and intellectual virtues rests on the
“mathematization” of the soul just laid out (1103a4“10). Book Beta opens
with an explication of this difference:

Since virtues are of two kinds, intellectual [dianohtik¦v] and ethical [ qik¦v], an
intellectual virtue comes to be [›cei kaª tŸn g”nesin] and grows [aÎxhsin] mostly
from teaching and, in view of this, it requires experience and time, whereas
On the Soul 113

an ethical virtue is acquired by habituation [›qouv], as is indicated by the name
“ethical,” which varies slightly from the name ethos. From this fact it is also clear
that none of the ethical virtues comes to be in us by nature, for no thing that is by
nature can be changed into something else by habituation; e.g., no stone, which
moves downward by nature, can be habituated to move upward, even if one were
to keep on throwing it up countless times, nor can ¬re be similarly habituated to
move downward, nor can anything else that is by nature be altered by habituation.
Hence virtues come to be in us neither by nature nor aside from nature [par‡
f…sin]; but by our nature we can receive [d”xasqai] them and perfect them by
habituation. (1103a14“26; emphases added)

We will consider in a moment the decisive traits of the virtues of thinking
succinctly signaled already in this inception. For now let us simply note,
without downplaying the distinction between teaching and habituation,
that they both are modalities of repeated practice, of practical exercise.
So much so that Aristotle makes it explicit that teaching is an experi-
ential and temporal matter, not to mention the materiality involved in
all education. It could indeed be said that the phenomenon of teach-
ing and learning should be understood as a species of habitual training
and that it would differ from, say, habituation in matters such as eat-
ing, only in terms of varying degrees of awareness involved. Thus, to the
extent that the virtues of the intellect come to be from teaching, just like
those of character they come to be through practical formation (¯thos). In
time, they become stabilized as “possessions,” acquired structures or dis-
positions of the soul (1105b20“1106a13). This is what hexis and diathesis
Neither by nature nor against it, neither within the compass of nature
nor beside it, the virtues come to be thanks to our receptivity, to our
being by nature exposed to and informed by our environs, whichever
they may be. Thus, while the susceptibility to conditions is by nature, the
unique conditions affecting one™s life from birth onward are not. This
means that the acquisitions of certain habits rather than others does not
occur as a transition from potentiality to actuality, as is the case for natural

Again, of things which come to us by nature, we ¬rst bring along the powers
and later exhibit the [corresponding] activities. This indeed is clear in the case
of sensations; for it is not by seeing often or hearing often that we acquired the
[corresponding powers of] sensation, but conversely: having [the power] we used
it, and not: using it, we came to have it. In the case of the virtues, on the other
hand, we acquire them as a result of prior activities; and this is like the case of the
other arts, for that which we are to perform [poie±n] [by art] after learning, we
¬rst learn [by performing], e.g., we become builders by building and lyre players
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by playing the lyre. Similarly, we become [gin»meqa] just by doing [pr†ttontev]
what is just, temperate by doing what is temperate, and brave by doing brave
deeds. (1103a27“b3)

What is by nature requires no exercise in order to be enacted: to begin
with, one has the power of seeing and sees. To be sure, one™s ability to see
can subsequently be re¬ned and trained further, but the enactment of
such a power is immediate and unintentional. In matters of habituation,
instead, one proceeds from the acquisition of an activity to its further
reenactment, from actuality to actuality. Or, to put it even more sharply,
instead of the transition from potentiality to actualization, in matters of
virtue it is the acquisition of actualities that gives rise to our power. Not
only, then, do we receive an actuality and enact it ourselves, but our very
receptivity with regard to what surrounds us, our exposure to the worldly
and communal circumstances, frees our potentiality as human beings. It
is in this way that we genuinely become who and what we are and are to
be, that human potential may as such be released.
Aristotle could hardly insist more emphatically on this apparent cir-
cularity, according to which one must “have” already what one is in the
process of acquiring, becoming, or learning, so that a certain “having”
appears to be both beginning and end of one™s endeavor, both necessary
condition and ¬nal cause:

Again, it is from the same [actions] and because of the same [actions] that every
virtue comes into being or is destroyed, and similarly with every art; for it is by
playing the lyre well or badly that human beings become good or bad lyre play-
ers, respectively. In the case of architects and all the rest, too, the situation is
analogous; for human beings become good architects by building houses well,
and bad architects by building houses badly. For if such were not the case, there
would not have been the need for a teacher, but all would have become good
or bad [artists]. Such indeed is the case with the virtues also; for it is by our
actions with other human beings in transactions that we are in the process of
becoming just or unjust, and it is by our actions in dangerous situations [–n to±v
deino±v] in which we are in the process of acquiring the habit of being coura-
geous or afraid that we become brave or cowardly, respectively. It is likewise with
desires and with anger [½rg†v]; for, by behaving in a way or in the contrary way
in [corresponding] situations, some human beings become temperate or intem-
perate, good tempered or irascible. In a word, it is by similar activities that habits
come to be [in human beings]; and in view of this, the activities in which human
beings are engaged should be of quality, for the kinds of habits which develop
follow from the [corresponding] differences in those activities. So in acquiring
a habit it makes no small difference whether we are acting in one way or in the
contrary way right from our early youth; it makes a great difference, or rather all
the difference. (1103b7“25)
On the Soul 115

This extensive quotation occasions various remarks. First, we should
highlight the parallelism, repeatedly proposed, between the productive
endeavors (the arts) and the acquisition of virtues and vices, of the habits
in general. Living is thereby disclosed as a making “ to be sure, not sim-
ply a matter of making oneself, let alone creating or inventing oneself,
if indeed the notion of individual autarchy was effectively shown above
as implausible in this context. And yet, however heteronomous and dis-
seminated its moving forces, the work of living shapes, brings one forth
throughout life. So much so that we may say that awareness regarding
one™s living, the conscious steering and coming together according to
both one™s thrust and enveloping conditions, constitutes a kind of archi-
tecture. However, this statement requires some quali¬cation “ and thus
we come to our second point. An architect becomes an architect by doing
what architects do. This is so, says Aristotle, for the arts in general, and
most notably for that architectonic endeavor that is human living or
becoming. But this, very much in line with what we already surmised
above, involves a quite signi¬cant shift in the understanding of making
or production “ the shift that earlier led us to speak of ethics as archi-
tecture without geometry. Far from resting on the separation between
intelligent agency and material execution, or eidetic determination and
its reproduction, the poiein, the performing or producing here at issue
emerges as a practice that is always already under way, prior to the ¬x-
ation of an intelligible end or guiding principle. In other words, poiein,
doing and making, does not unfold according to the directives of a con-
templated eidos subsisting aside from action. Rather, poiein is disclosed as
a bringing forth simultaneous with the investigation/clari¬cation of that
which is to be brought forth, a bringing forth that demands to be thought
in terms of the interpenetration of purposive projection and receptivity
to available solicitations and/or de¬‚ections “ that is, in terms of the abil-
ity to divine surrounding possibilities and respond to necessities. In this
sense, poiein appears as the methodic pursuit and, at once, the ¬nding
(or discovery) of an ergon.
This is clearest in ethical and political matters: here bringing forth,
whether the constitution of communities or the formation of individuals,
means working through present conditions in order to realize a vision
of that which is not yet, a vision that itself arises from said conditions.
One is making, bringing forth, prior to any ¬rm knowledge of one™s
making and that which is to be made. Needless to say, this does not
at all amount to some random initiative. Lack of ultimate and guiding
knowledge should not be equated with mere groping in the dark. But this
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should be evident. While we need to be just in order to be together in the
most conducive ways, we must come together in order to become just. We
will always already have been together as we pursue the ongoing task of
justice to come. The making of ourselves and of our togetherness will as
such always already have taken place by reference to the not yet (justice)
and, by the same token, have provided the parameters for the pursuit
A third issue to be underlined is the centrality of teaching and learning
in the human experience. The human being is illuminated as essentially
teachable, as a being eminently capable of learning. This also makes the
human being especially vulnerable to kinds of teaching and upbringing
that spoil or even pervert one™s potential by conveying unskilled habits.
As Aristotle notices, receiving this kind of direction from early age may
be utterly compromising. It is the crucial ¬gure of the teacher who, aside
from natural “gifts” in the one who receives teaching, will determine
the quality of his or her acquisition and capacity for re-enactment. It is
teaching broadly understood, one™s environment and vicissitudes as a
whole, that in every respect will transmit habits of one kind or another,
virtues or vices. Likewise, it is by teaching, whether in the form of ver-
bal instruction, practical exercise, or otherwise, that desires and even
emotions can be reached, touched, led. This domain of the soul, not
altogether unconscious and yet, for the most part, rarely and dimly illu-
minated by awareness, can as well be available to transformation. Teach-
ing (training) provides habits as “second” nature, the soul™s acquired
nature and structure. When the structured soul en-acts itself, what would
otherwise be a mere possession, property, or latent state constitutes the
guideline of such an enactment, the course that such an enactment
The habits, then, whether excellent or otherwise, are acquired in this
way. In order to have a virtue, one must have it already, enact it to begin
with. Virtue appears to be necessary before virtue: it is always already
actual in the environment, in the teacher from which or whom one
acquires or learns it.

3.2.2. Virtue before Virtue
Aristotle devotes considerable attention to the problem of the necessity of
virtue in order to obtain virtue. These considerations will lead to a deep-
ening of the phenomenon of learning and “acquiring.” They announce
as well a perplexing case of in¬nite regress, which Aristotle, contrary to
On the Soul 117

his usual alertness to this issue, allows to remain latent. The dif¬culty is
diagnosed yet again:

not only does each virtue come to be, or grow [aÉxžseiv], or undergo destruction
from the same and by the same [kind of actions], but also the activities [according
to each virtue] will depend on that same [virtue], for such is the case with other
things which are more apparent, as with strength; for not only does strength
come into being by taking much nourishment and undergoing many exertions,
but it is also the strong human being who is most able to do such things. Such
too is the case with the virtues; for from abstaining from [excessive] pleasures we
become temperate, and, in turn, when we have become temperate we are most
able to abstain from such pleasures. And similarly with bravery; for by becoming
habituated to show contempt for and endure what is fearful we become brave,
and when we have become brave we are most able to endure what is fearful.

But the restatement of this problem does not signal an indulgent reveling
in paradox. Rather, Aristotle is preparing to bring the examination of
the process of learning and acquisition to a further depth. True, the
process unfolds from a “having” to a “having,” through the enactment
of a “having”: “One might raise a dif¬culty [ˆporžseie]: how can we say
that human beings should do what is just in order to become just, and
act temperately in order to become temperate? For if they do what is just
or temperate, they are already just or temperate, just as if they do what
is grammatical or musical, they are already grammarians or musicians,
respectively” (1105a17“21). Yet, on closer inspection it becomes clear
that what is at stake is a certain transmission, or even translation, of a
given “having.”
A certain activity is transferred from the outside to the inside, as it were.
Someone learning takes something in and makes it one™s own. Whether
a way of acting is acquired from a teacher or from prevalent custom,
the principle of action (that which directs and subtends it) is brought
inside from the outside, substantially assimilated. Both in the case of the
arts and in the case of habituation or education, acting in a certain way
is not enough: a certain inner modality or awareness accompanying the
outward action is needed. Indeed, even in the case of the arts, whose work
is either a separate object or a performance “having their excellence
[t¼ e”] in themselves,” we say that someone is genuinely a maker (a
musician, a grammarian) when we perceive that he does what he does
with lucidity and skillfulness. This is all the more the case if an action
does not lead to an end separate from itself, to a product. For a product
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may in itself appear quite well executed, and yet be achieved by chance,
even without actual virtue, while in matters of action

things [done] according to virtue . . . are done justly or temperately not [only] if
(1) they themselves are of a certain quality, but also if (2) the one who acts holds
together in a certain way when acting, namely, (a) when he knows [e«dÛv] what
he does, (b) when he intends [proairo…menov] to do what he does and intends to
do it because of itself, and (c) when he acts with certainty and ¬rmness. Now with
the exception of (a) knowledge [e«d”nai], these [b, c] are not taken into account
as requirements in the possession of the various arts; but in the possession of the
virtues knowledge has little or no weight, while the others [b, c] count for not a
little but for everything, for it is indeed from repeated practice of what is just and
temperate that [virtue] results [perig©netai]. (1105a29“b5)

Thanks to time and consistent exercise a kind of autonomy may be
acquired. One becomes one™s own source and point of reference, comes
to have the actuality of habitual structures inside. One does not begin
in this way, but only appears to, while in fact imitating without fully pos-
sessing and understanding what one is doing. At this juncture, Aristotle
emphasizes the full integration of practice and awareness, which only time
can yield. Without genuine training, a practice is unskilled, a knowledge
formal and empty. That is to say, in the initial stages of learning or taking
up a particular practice, one presents the appearance of dexterity, while
depending on the examples furnished by an outside guide. The trajec-
tory, thus, leads one to increasing degrees of independence, as it were “
although, again, we would do well to remain mindful of the constitutive
heteronomy of the individual, of the fact that one will signi¬cantly have
been constituted by interactions and common practices.
Thus, one learns to continue on one™s own. The capacity for delib-
erate and skillful action is activated in one, and one is transformed. At
some point, in some way, a shift occurs, an authentic quantum leap: one
is no longer following and imitating, but fully carrying out a given action.
What is learned by practice and consistently lived out is unforgettable,
cannot be reabsorbed into latency, l¯th¯ (1100b17). One is being culti-
vated, cultivating oneself. Once again, Aristotle seizes the opportunity to
underscore the irreplaceable role of praxis in such a development and
the danger of “philosophizing” as a withdrawal from action:

while things are said [to be] just or temperate if they are such as a just or temperate
human being would do, a just or temperate human being is not one who [just]
does these, but one who also does them as a just or temperate human being would.
So it is well said that it is from doing what is just or temperate that a human being
becomes just or temperate, respectively; and no one who is to become good will
On the Soul 119

become good unless he does good things. Yet most human beings do not do
these; instead, they resort to talking [l»gon] about them and think that they are
philosophizing and that by doing so they will become serious [spouda±oi], thus
behaving somewhat like patients who listen to their doctors attentively but do
none of the things they are ordered to do. And just as these patients will not cure
their body by behaving in this way, so those who philosophize in such a manner
will not better their soul. (1105b5“18)

We already had more than one occasion to call attention to Aristotle™s
warning against the alienation of logos from worldly engagements. We
shall encounter this preoccupation time and again, most articulately
exposed in the course of the discussion of incontinence, akrasia. For the
moment, let us, instead, conclude by casting light on a latent problem
regarding this whole genetic analysis of habits. We understand very well
how the foregoing re¬‚ections illuminate the transition from childhood
and adolescence to adulthood, and more broadly, in any given domain
of endeavor, the movement from the stage of initiation to that of mature
and stabilized practice. The beginner, whether in a speci¬c work or in the


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