Nicomachean Ethics summary

Every human action is done toward an end. All human activities have purpose. And there exists the ultimate end at which all human actions are directed. This ultimate end is ‘happiness’ which is translated from Greek word ‘Eudaimonia.’ This word can be also translated as ‘human flourishing’ or ‘man fully alive.’

Okay, let’s say we all agree with this assumption that all human activities are done for the ultimate end, which is happiness. However, how can we define this ‘Eudaimonia’, happiness? What is it exactly? What is the nature of it?

Before moving further, Aristotle assumes that human happiness consists in fulfilling the natural function of a human being. For example, knife fulfills its function when it cuts well, and when the knife cuts well, we can say knife is in well-being. Then, what is the function of man?

Aristotle first defines function proper to man. What is uniquely human activity? What is uniquely human function? Aristotle says it is our ability to reason, think intelligently. All other activities of human being such as digestion and respiration seem to be shared by animals. However, our reason and intellect is what distinguishes us from animals.

Therefore, man can attain happiness when he is fully engaged in this intellectual activity of reasoning and thinking. More practically, when man directs his action according to this reason and behaves deliberately and willfully, he is fulfilling his function as a human being and this will lead to his happiness. And this intellectual activity is expressed by ethical virtues, which are habit disposed toward right action according to right reasoning.

According to Aristotle, therefore, ethics is entirely by-product of reasoning.

For us, Christians, we know that the function of a human being is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We are created by God to glorify Him. Therefore, when we glorify God and live in fellowship with Him, we can truly be happy. When we are truly holy, that is, when we live in conformity to God’s law, we fulfill our function as a human being, and happiness follows (or we become men fully alive).

Aristotle was indeed bestowed the common grace of the Holy Spirit and much natural light can be found in his argument. His philosophical works have been a great help to preserving human race and restricting sinful nature. How can we not say that this is God’s providential grace.