“Magna Moralia” by Aristotle

The Philosophical vs Practical Mind

The part of the soul which is possessed of reason has two divisions, of which one is the deliberative faculty, the other the faculty by which we know. That they are different from one another will be evident from their subject-matter. For as colour and flavour and sound and smell are different from one another, so also nature has rendered the senses whereby we perceive them different. Therefore, when the subject-matters are different, we must suppose that the parts of the soul whereby we cognise these are also different.

There is a difference between the object of thought and the object of sense; and these we cognise by soul. The faculty of deliberation and purpose has to do with objects of sense that are liable to change, and generally all that is subject to generation and destruction. Those things which depend upon us and our purpose to do or not to do are sensible objects. For philosophy has to do with things that can be demonstrated and are eternally the same, but wisdom has not to do with these, but with things that undergo change.

In Defence of Pleasure

First, then, let us mention the reasons which some people give for thinking that one ought not to regard pleasure as part of good. First, they say that pleasure is a becoming, and that a becoming is something incomplete, but that the good never occupies the place of the incomplete. Secondly, that there are some bad pleasures, whereas the good is never to be found in badness. Thirdly, And that it is an impediment to right action, and what tends to impede right cannot be good.

First, about becoming. To begin with, not every pleasure is a becoming. For the pleasure which results from thought is not a becoming, nor that which comes from hearing and (seeing and) smelling. For it is not the effect of want, as in the other cases; for instance, those of eating and drinking. For these are the result of defect and excess, owing to the fulfilment of a want or the relief of an excess ; which is why they are held to be a becoming.

But generally no pleasure is a becoming. For even the vulgar pleasures of eating and drinking are not becomings. They think that pleasure is a becoming because it ensues on the application of the remedy; but it is not. For there being a part of the soul with which we feel pleasure, this part of the soul acts and moves simultaneously with the application of the things which we need, and its movement and action are pleasure. The application is visible, but the part of the soul is invisible. It is like thinking that man is body, because this is perceptible by sense, while the soul is not: but the soul also exists. So it is also in this case ; for there is a part of the soul with which we feel pleasure, which acts along with the application. Therefore no pleasure is a becoming.

Second, about some pleasures being bad. This sort of objection and this kind of judgement is not peculiar to pleasure, but applies also to nature and knowledge. For there is such a thing as a bad nature, for example that of worms and beetles and of ignoble creatures generally, but it does not follow that nature is a bad thing. In the same way there are bad branches of knowledge, for instance the mechanical; nevertheless it does not follow that knowledge is a bad thing, but both knowledge and nature are good in kind. For since the natures of creatures differ in the way of bad and good, and since pleasure is a restoration of each to its own nature from that which runs counter to it, it follows that this will be appropriate, that the bad nature should have the bad pleasure. Since their natures are different, their pleasures also are different. For pleasure, as we saw, is a restoration, and the restoration, they maintain, restores to nature, so that the restoration of the bad nature is bad, and that of the good, good.

Third, about pleasure being an impediment. The pleasure that comes from the performance of the action is not an impediment; if, however, it be a different pleasure, it is an impediment; for instance, the pleasure of intoxication is an impediment to action. Pleasure is an incentive to increased action, if it comes from the action itself. For suppose the good man to be doing his acts of virtue, and to be doing them pleasantly ; will he not much more exert himself in the action? And if he acts with pleasure, he will be virtuous, but if he does the right with pain, he is not virtuous. For pain attends upon what is due to compulsion, so that if one is pained at doing right, he is acting under compulsion; and he who acts under compulsion is not virtuous.

Speaking generally, it is not the case, as the rest of the world think, that reason is the principle and guide to virtue, but rather the feelings. For there must first be produced in us (as indeed is the case) an irrational impulse to the right, and then later on reason must put the question to the vote and decide it. One may see this from the case of children and those who live without reason. For in these, apart from reason, there spring up, first, impulses of the feelings towards right, and reason supervening later and giving its vote the same way is the cause of right action.

Nobility and Goodness

We make a dual division, and say that some things are noble and others good, and that some goods are absolutely good and others not so, calling ‘noble’ such things as the virtues and the actions which spring from them, and ‘good’, office, wealth, glory, honour, and the like.

The noble and good man is he to whom the things that are absolutely good are good, and the things that are absolutely noble are noble. But he to whom things absolutely good are not good is not noble and good, any more than he would be thought to be in health to whom the things that are absolutely healthy are not healthy. For if the accession of wealth and office were to hurt anybody, they would not be choiceworthy, but he will choose to have for himself such things as will not hurt him. But he who is of such a nature as to shrink from having anything good would not seem to be noble and good. But he for whom the possession of all good things is good and who is not spoilt by them, as, for instance, by wealth and power, such a man is noble and good.


When people find their friends bad, the result is complaint and expressions of surprise; but it is nothing extraordinary. For when friendship has taken its start from pleasure, and this is why they are friends, or from interest, so soon as these fail the friendship does not continue. Having entered into a partnership in pleasure, they expect virtue, but it is impossible. For virtue does not follow upon pleasure and utility, but both these follow upon virtue.

When we wish to see our own face, we do so by looking into the mirror, in the same way when we wish to know ourselves we can obtain that knowledge by looking at our friend. For the friend is, as we assert, a second self. If, then, it is pleasant to know oneself, and it is not possible to know this without having some one else for a friend, the self-sufficing man will require friendship in order to know himself. Again, it is a fine thing to do good when one has the goods of fortune, to whom will he do good ? It cannot be without friendship. Therefore, the self-sufficing man will need friendship too.


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