Aristotle on Pursuits of Good, the Nature of Political Science, & Happiness


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Aristotle – The Nicomachean Ethics


Chapter I: The Object of Life

I. Every rational activity aims at some end or good. One end (like one activity) may be subordinate to another.

Arts, sciences, etc. All of these strive for the outcome of a good or purpose (Aristotle defines good as ‘that at which all things are aimed’), some activities are thus directly linked to outcomes that are done for a particular end goal in mind. Some are done for their own sake, while others are done for a ‘supreme good’. Aristotle uses the example of horse trapping being subordinate to horsemanship which is related to military action with the intended outcome being of victory. It doesn’t matter what you are doing only that all outcomes are recognized to be generally achieved for the good. Does it not follow, then, that a knowledge of the good is of great importance to us for the conduct of our lives? Are we not more likely to achieve our aim if we have a target? This is why Aristotle believes it is important to outline the definition of what is ‘Good’ and how that is achieved by these (or specific) activities.

II. The science that studies the supreme good for man is politics.

Here, Aristotle points out that political science when done as served, facilitates the good of all man. Or, at least, that it should. Politics makes use of other activities and sciences for the aim of a desired ‘good’, it tells us what we should do and what we shouldn’t in most, if not all, things. But Aristotle highlights that a more perfect achievement and thus a greater good is that of the community, rather than of the individual. For while it is desirable to secure what is good in the case of an individual, to do so in the case of a people or a state is something finer and more sublime.

III. Politics is not an exact science.

This needs little explanation from Aristotle, but how you can have separate political forces with polarizing agendas on how to achieve this “good” is verifiable in modern day. Instances of morally fine and just conduct–which is what politics investigates–involve so much difference and variety that they are widely believed to be such only by convention and not by nature. Instances of goods involve a similar kind of variety, for the reason that they often have hurtful consequences. So which is the right way and which is the wrong way? Aristotle says we must approach these disagreements by arguing for what can broadly be defined as true with premises and conclusions drawing along the same level of validity, but that it is still an imperfect model given the nature of political science. For demanding logical demonstrations from a teacher of rhetoric is clearly about as reasonable as accepting mere plausibility from a mathematician.” 

The student should have some general knowledge and experience of life.

Upon first glance, it may appear that Aristotle is being ageist in the assumption that youth cannot understand politics due to lack of life experience and knowledge, but that’s not at all what he is suggesting. “It makes no difference whether he is young in age or youthful in character; the defect is due not in lack of years but to living, and pursuing one’s various aims, under sway of feelings; for to people like this knowledge becomes as unprofitable as it is for the incontinent.” What is more dangerous than someone who knows what is right but does not act on it? Or, alternatively, someone who acts willfully on feelings alone without restraint or forethought? Aristotle is suggesting that someone who does not regulate their impulses, or live their life in congruence with these principles of knowledge, has no business participating in political science.

IV. The end is no doubt happiness, but views of happiness differ.

Now that Aristotle has established that all knowledge and pursuits aim at a good, what is the highest form of good for political science? Happiness. Of course, since Aristotle is a philosopher, he has issues with the definition of happiness and what that might entail. Some people say happiness is health, some say it to be pleasure, others financial security. So which is real happiness? Aristotle also cautions that people have a tendency to go along with whatever smarter people say, Conscious of their own ignorance, most people are impressed by anyone who pontificates and says something that is over their heads.

Learners must start from beliefs that are accepted or at least familiar.

Those who do have a handle on themselves as described above, are ready to invest themselves in the study of ethics and political science. But it is important to start with what is already known, and that can be both what is known to the individual and what is also known as an absolute truth (Think, the sky is blue). This is where Aristotle references Hesiod’s line about wisdom.

V. The three types of life. Neither pleasure nor public honour seems to be an adequate end; the contemplative life will be considered later.

The three main types of happiness in life, according to Plato’s Republic as denoted by Pythagoras is: Pleasure, political, and contemplative. Aristotle is sure that people who seek only pleasurable experiences are basic and servile, plebeians in both nature and potential. People with an ounce more culture will seek honor as their happiness, but this too might be superficial. Honor is given and people seem to seek it in order to convince themselves of their own goodness. He argues that it might seem that this goodness, then, is the intended outcome but that this is an active nature that can not be done while asleep or dormant, and that sometimes the act of being good is in retaliation to atrocities and suffering, which can’t then have anything to do with happiness. Aristotle supposed there might be something more sufficient in contemplation. He also notes that for the life of a businessman who seeks money as his source of happiness, “Wealth is obviously not the good that we are seeking, because it serves as a means for getting something else.”


In the next section to be continued, Aristotle takes a few swipes at Plato, discusses the concept of a Universal Good, and further attempts to define Happiness!


Fact Check it, yo!

[1] Aristotle, The Nicomacheon Ethics. Trans. A.K. Thomson, Penguin Classics. 2004 ed.


A Touch of Classical Wisdom XI

Bamboo books, so much cooler than paper

So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War [1]

‘Know Thyself’ has been a principle going back all the way to Ancient Greece, and possibly, even later. Sun Tzu is suggesting that even that is not enough–one would do well to also know others. Sun Tzu was clearly talking about battle, but his work has been co-opted into general wisdom from everything to self-help and business acumen today. From the sense that this advice is helpful exclusively in war, Chang Yu (a commentator in The Art of War and contemporary scholar of the time) expounds: “Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive.” And though most of us aren’t in the middle of a torrid war among several small kingdoms, the advice could still be applicable to every day life. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses allows you the self-awareness to make a good decision, but without also evaluating either the enemy, the situation, another person, etc, how can you truly make the best decision? One must also be aware that they are not the only actor on the stage of life, you can certainly do right by yourself in singular thought and will probably live fruitfully, but a true strategist evaluates all angles and possibilities, and part of that is anticipating and attempting to know beyond oneself and the actions and needs of others. Ignorance in both, surely, will get you nowhere.

Fact Check It, Yo!

[1] Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. Translated by Thomas F. Cleary, Shambhala, 2005.

Levitating Caesar, a Wild Honeymoon, and a Whole Lotta Death

This week on History Around the Web, find out how Elizabeth Bennet afforded all those books, how King’s used a bit of magic to wow their subjects, and how ancient people built things (without the help of extra terrestrials, okay):


Vintage Pictures From a Dramatic, Five-Year Honeymoon Around the World

One imagines Eleanor and Harris Phelps must have traveled with a great deal of luggage. Things tend to pile up during half a decade of world travel: clothes, toiletries, visas, curios … and, in their case, more than a thousand souvenir photographs.

Old real life drama is the best drama. Eleanor and Harris Phelps were wealthy high-society New York scions in the later 1800’s. Eleanor came from Old Money and married the ambitious lawyer Harris, much to the chagrin of her family. After marrying for real (They initially eloped because clearly these two are wild and rebellious), they went on a whirlwind romp around the world and took as much photo-graphical evidence as they could. Back then, it seemed an easy feat for the wealthy–the pair got up to all corners of the world. But, naturally, what good would a wild ride be without some serious drama? Apparently, the honeymoon phase ended rather abruptly when Eleanor enjoyed some flirtations with a few officers in Tehran and Harris wasn’t having any of that (Despite the fact that his wife was paying for the whole trip, but I digress). They fought, made up, and continued on their trek but not without being chased across the border into Russia because this story needs a bit more color if it’s going to ever get optioned for a Netflix series (PLEASE). The drama doesn’t end there…lawsuits, kidnapping, war. Seriously. This needs a small-screen retelling. Check out the article for the full story!

How does a preindustrial society put a 13-ton hat on a statue?

As if the Easter Island statues weren’t enigmatic enough, a few of them are wearing hats-6.5-foot-wide, 13-ton cylinders of cindery red volcanic rock called scoria. The hats are as much of an enigma as the statues themselves. For starters, archaeologists aren’t actually sure they’re supposed to be hats at all.

Say it with me folks, “stone ramps not aliens”. Repeat, repeat, repeat!

Archaeologists Dig Up Mass Grave of Soldiers Crushed by Napoleon’s Troops

DEUTSCH-WAGRAM, Austria -Just under the topsoil of the farm fields in this small town northeast of Vienna, there are traces of one of the biggest battles of the Napoleonic Wars. According to some estimates, 55,000 soldiers died when Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops clashed with the Austrian army during the Battle of Wagram between July 5 and 6, 1809.

Man, the Napoleonic Era was particularly gruesome. One of the biggest battle sites is finally getting a good sweep by Archaeologists, and the results are about has bone-chilling as you’d expect. They’ve discovered around 50 skeletal remains so far, with data suggesting the age range being from 16-30, with traces of scurvy, inflammation from exhaustion related to long marches, pneumonia, and other infectious diseases. There’s also an interesting comparison between bodies found at a battle a few weeks prior to this one–suggesting particular wearing as there is evidence of respiratory ailments among the skeletons found at the Battle of Wagram site. With another 54,950 or so of skeletons to find, I’m sure we’ll have even more interesting observations to come.

How Lizzie Bennet Got Her Books | JSTOR Daily

There are plenty of mentions of novels and popular literature in Jane Austen’s books. But books were expensive in the early nineteenth century, and women weren’t necessarily encouraged to read them. How, then, did her heroines get their book fix? Literature scholar Lee Erickson uncovers the frivolous (and serious) secrets of circulating libraries.

A $100 for a book?! No thanks, I’d rather go to a library. Thank goodness the Regency era had some kind of proto-Netflix-esque subscription membership based…thing. According to scholarship, these were like if Barnes & Noble also doubled as a Golf Club, a place were wealthy folks could hang around socially while hob-nobbing with the latest reads. And while women weren’t exactly encouraged to read at the time, making an event of the whole thing was something they could surely write-off to their husbands or fathers. Elizabeth Bennett was probably not as unwell-off as she seemed.

Why Do Genes Suggest Most Men Died Off 7,000 Years Ago?

Modern men’s genes suggest that something peculiar happened 5,000 to 7,000 years ago: Most of the male population across Asia, Europe and Africa seems to have died off, leaving behind just one man for every 17 women. This so-called population “bottleneck” was first proposed in 2015, and since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what could’ve caused it.

A lot of men died off according to genetic evidence and researchers weren’t exactly sure why. The latest study and theory suggests the reason being that men in clans were murdering the hell out of each other, decimating entire familial lines. I mean, yeah, that’d probably do it.

The Marvelous Automata of Antiquity | JSTOR Daily

Walking into the throne room of the palace of Constantine VII, visitors were treated to an elaborate special-effects spectacle. First, they passed a golden tree, with gilt leaves fluttering and branches bedecked with twittering golden birds. Next, they came to the throne, framed by two gilded lions, their tails thumping the ground.

Practical effects being used to astonish and dismay have been around for a loooong time. Check out this article for some well-known examples from antiquity, including a levitating Julius Caesar!

A Touch of Classical Wisdom X


Earth, like a lover, longs for rain

The holy heaven, too, being filled with rain,

Yearns on the Earth to fall.

-Euripides, Fragment 898 [1]

Aristotle referenced this line in his Nicomachean Ethics on The Kinds of Friendship, specifically. In it, he explains the idea of like attracting like, how friendships are thought by some to be a symbiosis of two halves giving and needing equally with one another. Aristotle, however, believes there to be three explicit distinctions of the kinds of friendship–Friendships based on Utility, Friendships based on Pleasure, and Friendships based on Goodness.

According to Aristotle, Friendships based on Utility are formed on the premise of mutual benefit and circumstances. These friendships are not born from affection, but from the artificial consensus that the relationship is advantageous in some way. Aristotle believes these friendships to be short-lived, easily dissolved, and sometimes with a lack of adoration for the other person in it. These friends have found one another because they have something the other needs and they will most likely only see each other when they can get something out of it. See: Networking, Frenemies, Name-dropping, and that friend who only calls you when they need help moving.

Friendships based on Pleasure, Aristotle assigns to the young. He suggests that youth are pre-occupied with their feelings, and so gravitate themselves towards individuals likely to initiate or aid in seeking pleasurable experiences. These friendships are likely not to last, changes in interests and familiarity can easily break them. See: Casual Dating, Old High School Friends, Party Friends, and that friend you only text when you have ‘all Caps’ feelings about the latest television show you watched.

And lastly, Friendships based on Goodness are the holy mecha of friendships in Aristotle’s point of view. This is the perfect friendship, when two individuals have found each other and genuinely wish to see good for the other. This one is based on mutual affection and love, wishing the best for the person’s sake, and striving to support and better oneself. Aristotle claims that these friendships are rare, but when found, are permanent. They take a long time to build and form, but that this happens naturally through mutual affection and likeness in goodness rather than through desire alone. See: Best Friends, Soul Friends, and that friend you’re thinking of fondly right now in gratitude after reading this.

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] Aristotle, The Nicomacheon Ethics. Trans. A.K. Thomson, Penguin Classics. 2004 ed.

An Ancient Decapitation, Great Flood, & Greek Double Standards

This week on History Around the Web: a U.K. library experienced some wrath of nature and Twitter Historians were as hilarious about it as you’d expect, Pompeii continues to surprise with some well-preserved macabre, and more!

New excavations at Pompeii uncovered evidence of a gruesome death by a poor victim who was crushed by a stone while trying to escape the destruction following the eruption of Vesuvius. If you were ever wondering what would have happened to Indiana Jones if he hadn’t managed to dodge that bolder, well, uh, you have your visual.

AskHistorians Odysseus

Odysseus has sex with several women (Hecuba, Circe, Calypso) but Penelope remains loyal to his husband. Odysseus’ infidelity is not chastised in the story, so how commonplace was this ideology of sex in ancient Greece? Were men expected to be monogamous? from r/AskHistorians

AskHistorians, the super strict and super history sub on Reddit, has a trending conversation regarding the perceived double-standards and value of monogamy in Homer’s Odyssey while also looking at cultural standards for sexuality in Ancient Greece. Can we make this a staple topic when covering the Odyssey in curriculum? Think of how many people would pay attention!

Archaeology report confirms no evidence of Norse presence at Point Rosee in southwestern Newfoundland | The Telegram

Despite all the initial hype and the hope of it being a tourism boon for southwestern Newfoundland, there is no evidence the Norse once occupied Point Rosee. An archaeological team, led by renowned American archaeologist Sarah Parcak, spent parts of the summers of 2015 and 2016 investigating the small point of land jutting out from the Codroy Valley into the Gulf of St.

Well, this is embarrassing. It’s a bummer when speculation and theories by archaeologists end up leading no where, especially after years of work. In this case, Parcak was hoping to uncover evidence of a Norse settlement at Point Rosee but fell a bit short of expectations. Initial topographical satellite imagery produced some anomalies that might have suggested a possible Norse footprint, with further digging uncovering possible evidence of longhouses and a hearth. The hype machine started rolling immediately, with Parcak and PBS airing a documentary in confidence and other articles buzzing up the potential of new Norse findings. Unfortunately, no confirmation of a Norse settlement has been found at the site.

Italy’s oldest olive oil discovered in peculiar pot

CASTELLUCCIO, ITALY- (May 30, 2018)- Olive oil is a staple of Italian cuisine. It’s been that way for thousands of years. And new chemical analysis conducted on ancient pottery proves the liquid gold has existed in Italy hundreds of years longer than what anthropologists have previously recorded.

Olive oil’s history as the lifeblood of all Italians has been officially pushed back a bit further than previously known. Speaking of outlandish archaeological theories, I’m still waiting on confirmation on whether or not olive oil literally runs in my veins.

Is This Inscribed Stone a Notorious Forgery-or the Answer to America’s Oldest Mystery?

This is a follow-up to a story that appears in the June 2018 issue ofNational Geographic magazine. On a fall morning in 1937, an Emory University geologist was walking down a hallway in the alumni building when he bumped into a middle-aged man carrying a rock.

The Lost Colony at Roanoke is one of the few enduring mysteries of North America. Established in the 16th century as an English settlement in North Carolina, 100+ colonists supposedly vanished, the colony found abandoned. Archaeological evidence has yet to provide conclusive evidence on what the hell might have happened– some speculate that the colonists integrated themselves into Native American tribes or something a little less ‘consensual’, had a violent brush with the Spanish, or simply moved. One of the other theories resides with these stones which supposedly detail the gruesome fate of the colonists. Question still is, are these even real?!

Check out this hilarious Twitter Thread about the unfortunate leak that happened over at IHR in London this week. The humor was not lost on anyone!

A Touch of Classical Wisdom IX


Anselm Feuerbach (1829–1880), Das Gastmahl des Platon, 1869 [1] Agathon as depicted in Plato’s Symposium

Art has a love of chance, and chance for art.

-Agathon, Fragment 4. He means to say that the two are inseparable from one another. [2]

Agathon (5th c. BC) was a Greek Tragic Poet (and apparently super smexy, according to ancient sources) whose poems and plays do not survive today. Some of his work is referenced in Aristotle and he is depicted in works of Plato and Aristophanes, the former seeming to have some kind of artistic crush oh him. He was a mainstay at the court of Macedon and was also broskis with Euripides.

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] “14. Some Notable Afterimages of Plato’s Symposium [1].” Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite – SB,

[2] Aristotle, The Nicomacheon Ethics. Trans. A.K. Thomson, Penguin Classics. 2004 ed.


Harry Potter and the Arthurian Shipwreck Grave (Also, Hitler was a Vegetarian)

This week’s History Around the Web brings us some Boy Who Lived mixed with King Arthur, Anne Frank’s newly discovered ‘naughty’ pages, Royal Wedding humor, and more!

King Arthur Harry Potter

Harry Potter, the Arthurian Romance | JSTOR Daily

Twenty years after the U.S. publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the “Boy Who Lived” shows no sign of dying, with a record-smashing Broadway show, new editions of all seven novels, and a traveling museum exhibit (the most successful of all time at the British Library).

Disturbing picture aside, this article is a fantastic read. It’s no secret that Harry Potter follows the same storied structure of the Hero’s Journey like other epic fantasy franchises like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. This article posits that there’s an even more specific relationship with Arthurian Romance. J.K. Rowling herself studied French Literature in college, so one can expect she was made quite familiar with Arthurian legends which surged in popularity among the medieval French after Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae hit the manuscript copying Monk-press. A few of the notable parallels between the two stories are the human/divine coupling creation of King Arthur & Harry Potter, the Medieval influence upon the Wizarding World/Order of Merlin, The Trio reflecting the Arthurian Knights of the Round-table, and more obvious monsters and legends!

Researchers Uncover Two Hidden Pages in Anne Frank’s Diary

AMSTERDAM – Anne Frank tried to cover up two pages of writing in her diary that contained dirty jokes and a description of what she referred to as “sexual matters,” pasting brown paper over the pages in her red-and-white plaid notebook.

It’s always a good day when something new is uncovered from Anne Frank’s diary. Especially when it’s some of her more naughty writings! Part of what made Anne Frank so memorable and iconic is her unabashed honesty in her writing. That’s why it’s extremely interesting to find that she attempted to censor some of her work. Researchers point to this case as demonstrating Frank’s desire to publish her work one day, covering these pages in an effort to self-edit her writing. These particular pages also point to a growth in literary narrative which proves, once again, that it’s a real shame we never got to see what she would have come up with had she survived. The Anne Frank House will be posting the full text eventually, but it will be in Dutch with no named plans to release in English translation.

Archaeologists Find ‘Holy Grail of Shipwrecks’ Carrying Stash Worth Up to $17 Billion

In 1708, the San José- a Spanish galleon ship carrying a stash of gold, silver and emeralds – sank during a fierce battle against the British in the Caribbean Sea. Now, after sitting at the bottom of the ocean for 310 years, the San José’s shipwreck has finally been officially identified, thanks to an analysis of the distinctive bronze cannons that sank with the ship.

Somebody call Dirk Pitt!

Thousands of Human Bones Reveal ‘Barbarian’ Battle Rituals

Archaeologists working in a sprawling wetland in Denmark have uncovered 2,000-year-old human remains that are challenging traditional ideas about “barbarian” warfare in northern Europe. The research, which was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also provides a unique look at how Germanic tribes memorialized their battles.

According to findings, most of the bones found at this site were young adult males with plenty of trauma wounds. Along with weapons found alongside, it’s suggested they all died in a battle event that took place on the site around the 1st century AD. They haven’t finished excavating the entire site yet, but a portion of it exists in bogs which means I’m crossing my fingers for some Bog Bodies likely to be uncovered. One of the reasons researchers are so excited about this recent find, is that it gives us a good idea as to the size of armies in the Iron Age. One of the first lessons I learned from my History professor in college was that you should “never trust ancient numbers” especially when you’d find a source claiming a present number of troops. Finding actual archaeological evidence fixes that problem!

New Analysis of Hitler’s Teeth Confirms Nazi Leader’s Vegetarianism

Since his death on April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler has become synonymous with evil. A new study of his teeth by French researchers, however, has revealed more clues to Hitler’s life, including confirmation of his vegetarianism.

Did I just commit Godwin’s Law against my own blog?! Yes, Yes I did.

And lastly, don’t lie–you’re still not over the Royal Wedding.