In my opinion Aristotle is the greatest of the ancient Greek philosophers. I think he was one of the brightest minds to have ever lived and you can see the depth of which he thinks in this book: The Nicomachean Ethics. When he wrote this book, it is said he was in about his 50-60’s and he writes that young people shouldn’t read this book because young people cannot be moral. Being moral requires time and effort and young people have not yet lived enough to have that sort of experience. Now young people can still do good deeds, but to call them moral was a step to far according to Aristotle (and most of the Greek philosophers for that part).
So obviously as a young person does, I said screw it, I’ll read your book. The message in this book is marvelous. It is extremely difficult to read sometimes. But his arguments are well thought out and well-structured. He begins with what the supreme good is. He calls it Eudaimonia which translates to Happiness. But it isn’t really like being happy as in having pleasure in something. It is a state of character. I would say it is fulfillment. That would also explain why it takes many years to achieve it. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, but it’ll take a long time before I might have fulfillment.
So how do you become a moral person? How do you attain happiness? You have to live according to the virtues. You have to live a virtuous life. What is a virtue? It is the mean between two extremes which would be vices. Do this for the rest of your life and you’ll be a good person and attain true happiness. Only it is a hard thing to do and according to Aristotle, though nearly everyone has the capacity for it, there are only a few who actually get there.
Then he proceeds to give some examples of virtues like courage, temperance, liberality, studious, just and the list goes on and on. You yourself can make a list as well. If you write down virtues which you find important find their two extremes and then act upon those virtues. Here you go, you have an ethical system. In my opinion the virtue ethics (which has inspired Martha Nussbaum for example) is the best way to try and live the best possible life and to become a good person. Nearly all the other ethical theories ask: “What is the right action?” But Aristotle goes further. He asks: “What is the good person?” And this is the more meaningful question in my opinion.
This book is a philosophical powerhouse. It should be read by anyone who is trying to grasp ethical theories nowadays. Even though it is nearly 2500 years old it seems like it is one of the most original ideas in ethical theories. Also, it is one of the first philosophical books I have read which stresses the importance of good friendships. Aristotle takes two chapters explaining what kinds of friendships there are, and which are the best ones and why it is absolutely necessary for us to have meaningful friendships. He wrote about the topic marvelously in my opinion.
I can only say that this is a must-read book to anyone interested in philosophy or trying to be a good person in general. You will have a hard time reading this book, it’s an absolute struggle sometimes, but it is absolutely worth it. You peer into the mind of one of the greatest minds of history and you get a humble depiction of what it is to be a good person. Because the good way is not the most extreme to the left or the right. It’s the path in the middle that goes forward.