A Deep Dive into the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle: A Comprehensive Commentary


Aristotle. A philosopher par excellence. His profound oeuvre paves the way for modern ethical philosophy, political science, and much more. One could argue that his magnum opus is the Nicomachean Ethics, an unassuming title for a groundbreaking ethical system. This article aims to dissect and interpret this document, offering comprehensive commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle.

Part 1: From Pleasure to Virtue

In Aristotle’s initial dialogue, he posits that eudaimonia, often translated as happiness or flourishing, is the end-goal of human actions. It’s an infectious idea. A single state of being that encompasses our most profound desires, serving as a compass guiding our actions towards meaning and fulfilment. However, Aristotle is quick to distinguish happiness from fleeting pleasures, asserting instead that it is accumulated through ethical virtue and wisdom.

Part 2: Defining Virtue

Defining virtue proves to be a Herculean task. Unlike platitudes, Aristotle’s understanding of virtue is deeply nuanced. His perspective is that of the golden mean. Virtue, in his view, is a middle ground between excess and deficiency, a perfect balance that would make even the most tightrope walker blush. Courage, for example, is not the absence of fear, but the regulation of it, being neither excessively fearless (recklessness), nor overly fearful (cowardice).

Part 3: The Role of Rationality

Rationality is a topic that Aristotle handles with immense finesse in the Nicomachean Ethics. He partitions the soul into rational and irrational parts, drawing a distinction between what we can and cannot control.

For Aristotle, the practical wisdom (phronesis) required for virtuous action is born not from knowledge, but from the ability to act rationally upon that knowledge. This undercurrent of practicality is one of the key differentiators that add substantive weight to his ethical framework.

Part 4: The Politics of Ethics

Aristotle’s ethical doctrine is not purely individualistic. He roots ethics firmly within the context of politics, surmising that a just society nurtures virtuous citizens. Aristotle succinctly argues that ethics is inextricably intertwined with the political structure, ultimately aiming at the common good. This perspective subliminally anchors the Nicomachean Ethics within the wider discourse of socio-political structures.

Part 5: The Life of Contemplation

In the penultimate book of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle takes an intriguing philosophical detour. While all hitherto has been centered around practical virtue, here he introduces a new contender: the notion of a contemplative life (theoria).

A contemplative life, in Aristotle’s eyes, offers the highest form of happiness, found within the divine pleasure of thought itself. This notion has become central to monastic traditions worldwide, testifying to the enduring power of Aristotle’s philosophical vision.

Part 6: Relevance of Nicomachean Ethics Today

The relevance of the Nicomachean Ethics in today’s context is unquestioned. Aristotle’s prodigious philosophical contribution within the realm of ethics continues to light the path for contemporary thought. From the halls of academia to the wider societal discourse, his insights into the good life continue to reverberate, providing profound direction in our quest for a fulfilling existence.


The Nicomachean Ethics remains one of Aristotle’s crowning achievements, a powerful testament to his philosophical genius. Delving through its intricate layers continues to yield deeper understanding and delight, making it a timeless treasure in the world of philosophical literature. As we continue our moral journey into an uncertain future, the enduring wisdom of the Ethics helps to illuminate our path, reminding us all of what truly matters as we endeavor towards the ultimate good.

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