My Java Journal

On Learning: Exploring Aristotle And The Best Life

Light reading …

This week we explore Aristotle! I am excited about this week’s post. Two week’s ago I lamented not taking the time to write, other than superficially. It felt that I was always working in haste against a self-imposed Sunday morning deadline. Last week I took the time to write throughout the week. As a result, I finally pieced together my thoughts on ‘my best life‘. That work was influenced by an article I read many years ago about Sun Valley. This week, I am going to follow on from that stream of consciousness and take things deeper. This post required me to study and prepare in a way I have not yet done.

I’m going deeper into philosophy this week. I will also explore the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (otherwise known as ‘frequency illusion’ or ‘blue car syndrome’). In the past week I have noted a convergence of interests, or perhaps I am just noticing them more as I become introduced to new ideas.

Let’s begin.

After writing last week about my ‘best life’ I was presented the following question; “What are your thoughts on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics?” I was very excited by this. I’ve been previously exposed to, and understood Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics at the surface level. This was an excuse to go deep. I am more familiar with Aristotle’s Eudaimonian Ethics, but I’ve never had to contemplate either in a direct way before. This is why I had to study and prepare for this week.

First, for those not exposed, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics are a volume of ten books. They explore what Aristotle refers to as the good life. It is not presented in a way you would expect today, which is to suggest that there are no lists or ‘how to’ guides provided. Rather, it is a journey that explores man as animal; only one with the responsibility of reason. It considers that humans need to seek happiness, but again, not in the way we understand it today. Happiness to Aristotle comes by way of what he terms, Eudaimonia, or contentedness, or maybe better stated, satisfaction. Satisfaction though, is neither an end, nor transient state. It is a way of life. You achieve Eudaimonia by living a good life, not by striving for one. Much of this is based on virtue.

I related how this week was exciting because of the convergence of my various interests. This is where the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon kicks in. Let me explain. I just finished Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It explores the worst characteristics of capitalism, consumerism and a distracted populace; controlled by the few to stabilize the many. In parallel, the Art of Manliness, my go-to blog, also recently released a new related podcast; the Problem of Self-Help in a Liquid Age. It explores Instrumentality and our inability to function Intrinsically in today’s consumerist, ‘liquid modernity‘. This podcast points one towards Aristotle, as the father of anti-instrumentality, to understand that;

“There are certain values in the human world that are intrinsically valuable. There are certain things that we ought to do just to do them, and if we instrumentalize them we do them no good, nor justice.”

The question then, “What are your thoughts on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics?” is apropos. To further highlight the convergence of this week’s stumble into the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, that podcast on Liquid Modernity also references Hannah Arendt. She presents a view that “Even if there is no truth, man can be truthful“. This suggests that freedom needs to be tied to responsibility. That freedom cannot exist as a result of emancipation from responsibility, but rather that responsibilities and constraints are pre-conditions to freedom. One will note the link as Aristotle also deliberates responsibility.

This is interesting because my book club just chose Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in  Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil as it’s next book. This was independent of any consideration to podcasts, my Huxley reading, or being asked about my thoughts on ethics. I did not know of Arendt previously.  Now I have a better understanding and appreciation for the author. I am excited to dig into a philosophical book once again; especially one related to my current interests.

So, lots we could explore here. Certainly an intersection, for me, of the numerous areas of interest to me. Am I only experiencing this convergence as a result of my cognitive bias to it now, or is it just coincidence?

The question remains though, what are my thoughts on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Let’s finish with an answer to that question.

What are my thoughts on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics?

I agree that the highest human good is happiness. Aristotle suggests that happiness is an active state, a journey, which is in itself (intrinsically) a measure of its intent.

I believe virtue, as Aristotle details, is a middle path between deficient virtue and excess virtue. Context and circumstance are necessary aspects to consider. My reading is that Aristotle allows for growth and error. This is manifest in what he terms phronesis, or practical wisdom.

My blog has consistently considered how one must live deliberately. How one lives is a choice. Deliberation is critical to the application of virtue –  that we are, each of us, responsible for our actions but that so long as one’s intentions are good, that we should be alright in the end.

I was excited to read in Book 4 that he dealt with money and scale (in spending), which is especially relevant in today’s current state of consumerism and liquidity.

The notions of intellect, perhaps even growth, and self-restraint as a discussion of vice in relation to virtue (not necessarily in contrast) are both critically important in, again, this liquid age.

You will again, if you read this blog, know that friends, relationships, and shared experience are very important to me and my view of the best life. Aristotle touches on this in Book 8. I think it presents a good foundational concept for managing our relationships.

There is so much more in Aristotle’s work on ethics. Amazing that what was considered, and relevant 2000 years ago is so, critically, relevant today. To answer the question directly I offer this:

It seems I have been on a Nicomachean ethical journey for some time now. I recognize now, that there are two aspects to this exploration of the good life, or in achieving the highest good. I have both been deliberate in considering the theoretical aspects of ethics, while trying to apply them practically.

Now I can be better guided in my journey and can only better myself as a result of being more intimately exposed to Aristotle’s ethics. It is interesting, and exciting that so much of what I have become interested in is converging, whether this is only as a result of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon or from the breadth of my interests and growth, isn’t important to me, only that I have a new appreciation for the intrinsic value of doing (certain) things (like learning these concepts). Moving forward I think I will focus on three things:

  1. Better enjoying doing things that are intrinsic in nature and for which more value comes from the doing of them for the sake of doing them;
  2. Exploring philosophy, and especially Aristotle’s ethics, further; and
  3.  To continue to share my journey in hopes that others may find benefit and similar growth.

The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival. – Aristotle