Nicomachean Ethics

Book 1, Chapters 1 & 2


Translated by W.D. Ross

Book 1, Chapter 2 (Nic.Eth., I.2)

If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is, and of which of the sciences or capacities it is the object. It would seem to belong to the most authoritative art and that which is most truly the master art. And politics appears to be of this nature; for it is this that ordains which of the sciences should be studied in a state, and which each class of citizens should learn and up to what point they should learn them; and we see even the most highly esteemed of capacities to fall under this, e.g. strategy, economics, rhetoric; now, since politics uses the rest of the sciences, and since, again, it legislates as to what we are to do and what we are to abstain from, the end of this science must include those of the others, so that this end must be the good for man. For even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state, that of the state seems at all events something greater and more complete whether to attain or to preserve; though it is worthwhile to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for city-states. These, then, are the ends at which our inquiry aims, since it is political science, in one sense of that term.

Book 2, Chapter 1 (Nic.Eth., II.1)

Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching (for which reason it requires experience and time), while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name (ethike) is one that is formed by a slight variation from the word ethos (habit). From this it is also plain that none of the moral virtues arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature. For instance the stone which by nature moves downwards cannot be habituated to move upwards, not even if one tries to train it by throwing it up ten thousand times; nor can fire be habituated to move downwards, nor can anything else that by nature behaves in one way be trained to behave in another. Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them and are made perfect by habit.

Again, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit the activity (this is plain in the case of the senses; for it was not by often seeing or often hearing that we got these senses, but on the contrary we had them before we used them, and did not come to have them by using them); but the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

This is confirmed by what happens in states; for legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every legislator, and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.

Again, it is from the same causes and by the same means that every virtue is both produced and destroyed, and similarly every art; for it is from playing the lyre that both good and bad lyre-players are produced. And the corresponding statement is true of builders and of all the rest; men will be good or bad builders as a result of building well or badly. For if this were not so, there would have been no need of a teacher, but all men would have been born good or bad at their craft. This, then, is the case with the virtues also; by doing the acts that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or unjust, and by doing the acts that we do in the presence of danger, and being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave or cowardly. The same is true of appetites and feelings of anger; some men become temperate and good-tempered, others self-indulgent and irascible, by behaving in one way or the other in the appropriate circumstances. Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to the differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.


Book 1, Chapters 1 & 2; Book 3, Chapters 1 & 4; Book 4, Chapter 1.


Translated by Horace Rackham

Book 1, Chapter 1 (Politics, I. 1) [The Genetic Definition][1252a1] Every state [polis] is as we see a sort of partnership [association], and every partnership is formed with a view to some good (since all the actions of all mankind are done with a view to what they think to be good). It is therefore evident that, while all partnerships aim at some good the partnership that is the most supreme of all and includes all the others does so most of all and aims at the most supreme of all goods; and this is the partnership entitled the state, the political association. Those then who think that the natures of the statesman, the royal ruler, the head of an estate and the master of a family are the same, are mistaken they imagine that the difference between these various forms of authority is one of greater and smaller numbers, not a difference in the kind—that is, that the ruler over a few people is a master, over more the head of an estate, over more still a statesman or royal ruler, as if there were no difference between a large household and a small city; and also as to the statesman and the royal ruler, they think that one who governs as sole head is royal, and one who, while the government follows the principles of the science of royalty, takes turns to govern and be governed is a statesman; but these views are not true). And a proof that these people are mistaken will appear if we examine the question in accordance with our regular method of investigation. In every other matter it is necessary to analyze the composite whole down to its uncompounded elements (for these are the smallest parts of the whole); so too with the state, by examining the elements of which it is composed we shall better discern in relation to these different kinds of rulers what is the difference between them, and whether it is possible to obtain any scientific precision in regard to the various statements made above. 

Book 1, Chapter 2 (Politics, I.2) In this subject as in others the best method of investigation is to study things in the process of development from the beginning. The first coupling together of persons then to which necessity gives rise is that between those who are unable to exist without one another: for instance the union of female and male for the continuance of the species (and this not of deliberate purpose, but with man as with the other animals and with plants there is a natural instinct to desire to leave behind one another being of the same sort as oneself); and the union of natural ruler and natural subject for the sake of security (for he that can foresee with his mind is naturally ruler and naturally master, and he that can do these things with his body is subject and naturally a slave; so that master and slave have the same interest). 

[1252b1] Thus the female and the slave are by nature distinct (for nature makes nothing as the cutlers make the Delphic knife, in a niggardly way, but one thing for one purpose; for so each tool will be turned out in the finest perfection, if it serves not many uses but one). Yet among barbarians the female and the slave have the same rank; and the cause of this is that barbarians have no class of natural rulers, but with them the conjugal partnership is a partnership of female slave and male slave. Hence the saying of the poets— 

'Tis meet that Greeks should rule barbarians,”—

implying that barbarian and slave are the same in nature. From these two partnerships then is first composed the household, and Hesiod was right when he wrote 

“First and foremost a house and a wife and an ox for the ploughing”—

for the ox serves instead of a servant for the poor. The partnership therefore that comes about in the course of nature for everyday purposes is the ‘house’ [household or family], the persons whom Charondas speaks of as ‘meal-tub-fellows’ and the Cretan Epimenides as ‘manger-fellows.’

 On the other hand the primary partnership made up of several households for the satisfaction of not mere daily needs is the village. The village according to the most natural account seems to be a colony from a household, formed of those whom some people speak of as ‘fellow-sucklings,’ sons and sons' sons. It is owing to this that our cities were at first under royal sway and that foreign races are so still, because they were made up of parts that were under royal rule; for every household is under the royal rule of its eldest member, so that the colonies from the household were so too, because of the kinship of their members. And this is what Homer means:

“ And each one giveth law/To sons and eke to spouses”—


 for his Cyclopes live in scattered families; and that is the way in which people used to live in early times. Also this explains why all races speak of the gods as ruled by a king, because they themselves too are some of them actually now so ruled and in other cases used to be of old; and as men imagine the gods in human form, so also they suppose their manner of life to be like their own. 

The partnership finally composed of several villages is the city-state [polis]; it has at last attained the limit of virtually complete self-sufficiency, and thus, while it comes into existence for the sake of life, it exists for the good life. Hence every city-state exists by nature, inasmuch as the first partnerships so exist; for the city-state is the end of the other partnerships, and nature is an end, since that which each thing is when its growth is completed we speak of as being the nature of each thing, for instance of a man, a horse, a household. Again, the object for which a thing exists, its end, is its chief good; [1253a1] and self-sufficiency is an end, and a chief good. From these things therefore it is clear that the city-state is a natural growth, and that man is by nature a political animal, and a man that is by nature and not merely by fortune city-less is either low in the scale of humanity or above it (like the “ clanless, lawless, hearthless” man reviled by Homer, for one by nature unsocial is also ‘a lover of war’) inasmuch as he is solitary, like an isolated piece at draughts [checkers]. And why man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal is clear. For nature, as we declare, does nothing without purpose; and man alone of the animals possesses speech. The mere voice, it is true, can indicate pain and pleasure, and therefore is possessed by the other animals as well (for their nature has been developed so far as to have sensations of what is painful and pleasant and to indicate those sensations to one another), but speech is designed to indicate the advantageous and the harmful, and therefore also the right and the wrong; for it is the special property of man in distinction from the other animals that he alone has perception of good and bad and right and wrong and the other moral qualities, and it is partnership in these things that makes a household and a city-state. 

Thus also the city-state [polis] is prior in nature to the household and to each of us individually. For the whole must necessarily be prior to the part; since when the whole body is destroyed, foot or hand will not exist except in an equivocal sense, like the sense in which one speaks of a hand sculptured in stone as a hand; because a hand in those circumstances will be a hand spoiled, and all things are defined by their function and capacity, so that when they are no longer such as to perform their function they must not be said to be the same things, but to bear their names in an equivocal sense. It is clear therefore that the state is also prior by nature to the individual; for if each individual when separate is not self-sufficient, he must be related to the whole state as other parts are to their whole, while a man who is incapable of entering into partnership, or who is so self-sufficing that he has no need to do so, is no part of a state, so that he must be either a lower animal or a god. 

Therefore the impulse to form a partnership of this kind is present in all men by nature; but the man who first united people in such a partnership was the greatest of benefactors. For as man is the best of the animals when perfected, so he is the worst of all when sundered from law and justice. For unrighteousness is most pernicious when possessed of weapons, and man is born possessing weapons for the use of wisdom and virtue, which it is possible to employ entirely for the opposite ends. Hence when devoid of virtue man is the most unholy and savage of animals, and the worst in regard to sexual indulgence and gluttony. Justice on the other hand is an element of the state; for judicial procedure, which means the decision of what is just, is the regulation of the political partnership.

Book 3, Chapter 1 (Politics, III.1) [The Analytic Definition][1274b32] For the student of government, and of nature and characteristics of the various forms of constitution, almost the first question to consider is in regard to the state: what exactly is the essential nature of a state? As it is, this is a matter of dispute: a public act is spoken of by some people as the action of the state, others speak of it as the action not of the state but of the oligarchy or the tyrant in power1; and we see that the activity of the statesman and lawgiver is entirely concerned with a state as its object, and a constitution is a form of organization of the inhabitants of a state. But a state is a composite thing, in the same sense as any other of the things that are wholes but consist of many parts; it is therefore clear that we must first inquire into the nature of a citizen; for a state is a collection of citizens, [1275a1] so that we have to consider who is entitled to the name of citizen, and what the essential nature of a citizen is. For there is often a difference of opinion as to this: people do not all agree that the same person is a citizen; often somebody who would be a citizen in a democracy is not a citizen under an oligarchy. We need not here consider those who acquire the title of citizen in some exceptional manner, for example those who are citizens by adoption; and citizenship is not constituted by domicile in a certain place (for resident aliens and slaves share the domicile of citizens), nor are those citizens who participate in a common system of justice, conferring the right to defend an action and to bring one in the law-courts (for this right belongs also to the parties under a commercial treaty, as they too can sue and be sued at law—or rather, in many places even the right of legal action is not shared completely by resident aliens, but they are obliged to produce a patron, so that they only share in a common legal procedure to an incomplete degree), but these are only citizens in the manner in which children who are as yet too young to have been enrolled in the list and old men who have been discharged must be pronounced to be citizens in a sense, yet not quite absolutely, but with the added qualification of ‘under age’ in the case of the former and ‘superannuated’ or some other similar term (it makes no difference, the meaning being clear) in that of the latter. For we seek to define a citizen in the absolute sense, and one possessing no disqualification of this nature that requires a correcting term, since similar difficulties may also be raised, and solved, about citizens who have been disfranchised or exiled. A citizen pure and simple is defined by nothing else so much as by the right to participate in judicial functions and in office. But some offices of government are definitely limited in regard to time, so that some of them are not allowed to be held twice by the same person at all, or only after certain fixed intervals of time; other officials are without limit of tenure, for example the juryman and the member of the assembly. It might perhaps be said that such persons are not officials at all, and that the exercise of these functions does not constitute the holding of office; and yet it is absurd to deny the title of official to those who have the greatest power in the state. But it need not make any difference, as it is only the question of a name, since there is no common name for a juryman and a member of the assembly that is properly applied to both. For the sake of distinction therefore let us call the combination of the two functions ‘office’ without limitation. Accordingly, we lay it down that those are citizens who participate in office in this manner. 

Such more or less is the definition of ‘citizen’ that would best fit with all of those to whom the name is applied. But it must not be forgotten that things in the case of which the things to which they are related differ in kind, one of them being primary, another one secondary and so on, either do not contain a common nature at all, as being what they are, or barely do so. Now we see that constitutions differ from one another in kind, and that some are subsequent and others prior; [1275b1] for erroneous and divergent forms are necessarily subsequent to correct forms in what sense we employ the terms ‘divergent’ of constitutions will appear later). Hence the citizen corresponding to each form of constitution will also necessarily be different. Therefore the definition of a citizen that we have given applies especially to citizenship in a democracy; under other forms of government it may hold good, but will not necessarily do so. For in some states there is no body of common citizens, and they do not have the custom of a popular assembly but councils of specially convened members, and the office of trying law-suits goes by sections—for example at Sparta suits for breach of contract are tried by different ephors in different cases, while cases of homicide are tried by the ephors and doubtless other suits by some other magistrate. The same method is not1 followed at Carthage, where certain magistrates judge all the law-suits. But still, our definition of a citizen admits of correction. For under the other forms of constitution a member of the assembly and of a jury-court is not ‘an official’ without restriction, but an official defined according to his office; either all of them or some among them are assigned deliberative and judicial duties either in all matters or in certain matters. What constitutes a citizen is therefore clear from these considerations: we now declare that one who has the right to participate in deliberative or judicial office is a citizen of the state in which he has that right, and a state is a collection of such persons sufficiently numerous, speaking broadly, to secure independence of life. 

Book 3, Chapter 4 (Politics, III.4) [1276b11] The next thing to consider after what has now been said is the question whether we are to hold that the goodness of a good man is the same as that of a good citizen, or not the same. However, if this point really is to receive investigation, we must first ascertain in some general outline what constitutes the excellence of a citizen. Now a citizen we pronounced to be one sort of partner in a community, as is a sailor. And although sailors differ from each other in function—one is an oarsman, another helmsman, another look-out man, and another has some other similar special designation—and so clearly the most exact definition of their excellence will be special to each, yet there will also be a common definition of excellence that will apply alike to all of them; for security in navigation is the business of them all, since each of the sailors aims at that. Similarly therefore with the citizens, although they are dissimilar from one another, their business is the security of their community, and this community is the constitution, so that the goodness of a citizen must necessarily be relative to the constitution of the state. If therefore there are various forms of constitution, it is clear that there cannot be one single goodness which is the perfect goodness of the good citizen; but when we speak of a good man we mean that he possesses one single goodness, perfect goodness. Hence it is manifestly possible to be a good citizen without possessing the goodness that constitutes a good man. Moreover it is also feasible to pursue the same topic by raising the question in another manner in relation to the best form of constitution. If it is impossible1 for a state to consist entirely of good men, and if it is necessary for each person to perform well the work of his position, and to do this springs from goodness, then because it is impossible for all the citizens to be alike, [1277a1] the goodness of a good citizen would not be one and the same as the goodness of a good man; for all ought to possess the goodness of the good citizen (that is a necessary condition of the state's being the best possible), but it is impossible that all should possess the goodness of a good man, if it is not necessary that all the citizens in a good state should be good men. Again, since the state consists of unlike persons—just as an animal (to take this instance first) consists of soul and body, and a soul of reason and appetite, and a household of husband and wife and [ownership involves]1 a master and slave, in the same manner a state consists of all of these persons and also of others of different classes in addition to these,—it necessarily follows that the goodness of all the citizens is not one and the same, just as among dancers the skill of a head dancer is not the same as that of a subordinate leader. It is clear then from these considerations that the goodness of a good citizen and that of a good man are not the same in general; but will the goodness of a good citizen of a particular sort be the same as that of a good man? Now we say that a good ruler is virtuous and wise, and that a citizen taking part in politics must be wise. Also some people say that even the education of a ruler must be different, as indeed we see that the sons of kings are educated in horsemanship and military exercises, and Euripides makes his king say 

“No subtleties for me, but what the state/Requireth”—

implying that there is a special education for a ruler. And if the goodness of a good ruler is the same as the goodness of a good man, yet the person ruled is also a citizen, so that the goodness of a citizen in general will not be the same as that of a man, although that of a particular citizen will; for goodness as a ruler is not the same as goodness as a citizen, and no doubt this is the reason why Jason3 said that when he was not tyrant he went hungry, meaning that he did not know the art of being a private person. Another point is that we praise the ability to rule and to be ruled, and it is doubtless held that the goodness of a citizen consists in ability both to rule and to be ruled well. If then we lay it down that the goodness of the good man is displayed in ruling, whereas that of the citizen is shown in both capacities, the two capacities cannot be equally laudable. Since therefore both views are sometimes accepted, and it is thought that the ruler and the subject do not have to learn the same arts but that the citizen must know both arts and share in both capacities, . . . . And it may be discerned from the following illustration: one form of authority is that of a master; by this we mean the exercise of authority in regard to the necessary work of the house, which it is not necessary for the master to know how to execute, but rather how to utilize; the other capacity, I mean the ability actually to serve in these menial tasks, is indeed a slave's quality. But we distinguish several kinds of slave, as their employments are several. One department belongs to the handicraftsmen, who as their name implies are the persons that live by their hands, [1277b1] a class that includes the mechanic artisan. Hence in some states manual laborers were not admitted to office in old times, before the development of extreme democracy. The tasks of those who are under this form of authority therefore it is not proper for the good man or the man fit for citizenship or the good citizen to learn, except for his own private use occasionally (for then it ceases to be a case of the one party being master and the other slave). But there exists a form of authority by which a man rules over persons of the same race as himself, and free men (for that is how we describe political authority), and this the ruler should learn by being ruled, just as a man should command cavalry after having served as a trooper, command a regiment after having served in a regiment and been in command of a company and of a platoon. Hence there is much truth in the saying that it is impossible to become a good ruler without having been a subject. And although the goodness of a ruler and that of a subject are different, the good citizen must have the knowledge and the ability both to be ruled and to rule, and the merit of the good citizen consists in having a knowledge of the government of free men on both sides. And therefore both these virtues are characteristic of a good man, even if temperance and justice in a ruler are of a different kind from temperance and justice in a subject; for clearly a good man's virtue, for example his justice, will not be one and the same when he is under government and when he is free, but it will be of different kinds, one fitting him to rule and one to be ruled, just as temperance and courage are different in a man and in a woman (for a man would be thought a coward if he were only as brave as a brave woman, and a woman a chatterer if she were only as modest as a good man; since even the household functions of a man and of a woman are different—his business is to get and hers to keep). And practical wisdom alone of the virtues is a virtue peculiar to a ruler; for the other virtues seem to be necessary alike for both subjects and rulers to possess, but wisdom assuredly is not a subject's virtue, but only right opinion: the subject corresponds to the man who makes flutes and the ruler to the flute-player who uses them. 

The question whether the goodness of a good man is the same as that of a good citizen or different, and how they are the same and how different, is clear from these considerations.

Book 4, Chapter 1 (Politics, IV.1) [1288b10]

Bottom of Form

In all the arts and the sciences that are not merely sectional but that in relation to some one class of subject are complete, it is the function of a single art or science to study what is suited to each class,2 for instance what sort of gymnastic exercise is beneficial for what sort of bodily frame, and what is the best sort (for the best must naturally suit the person of the finest natural endowment and equipment), and also what one exercise taken by all is the best for the largest number (for this is also a question for gymnastic science), and in addition, in case someone desires a habit of body and a knowledge of athletic exercises that are not the ones adapted to him, it is clearly just as much the task of the trainer and gymnastic master to produce this capacity also; and we notice this also happening similarly in regard to medicine, and shipbuilding, and the making of clothes, and every other crafts [arts, techne].

Hence it is clear that in the case of the constitution as well it is the business of the same science to study which is the best constitution and what character it must have to be the most ideal if no external circumstance stands in the way, and what constitution is adapted to what people (since for many it is doubtless impossible to attain the best one, so that the good lawgiver and the true statesman must be acquainted with both the form of constitution that is the highest absolutely and that which is best under assumed conditions), and also thirdly the form of constitution based on a certain supposition (for he must be also capable of considering both how some given constitution could be brought into existence originally and also in what way having been brought into existence it could be preserved for the longest time: I mean for example if it has befallen some state not only not to possess the best constitution and to be unprovided even with the things necessary for it, but also not to have the constitution that is practicable under the circumstances but an inferior one); and beside all these matters he must ascertain the form of constitution most suited to all states, since most of those who make pronouncements about the constitution, even if the rest of what they say is good, entirely miss the points of practical utility. For it is proper to consider not only what is the best constitution but also what is the one possible of achievement, and likewise also what is the one that is easier and more generally shared by all states. But as it is, some students inquire which is the highest form of all even though requiring much material equipment, while those who rather state some general form sweep aside the constitutions actually existing and praise that of Sparta or some other; [1289a] [1] but the proper course is to bring forward an organization of such a sort that men will easily be persuaded and be able in the existing circumstances to take part in it, since to reform a constitution is no less a task than to frame one from the beginning, just as to re-learn a science is just as hard as to learn it originally; in addition therefore to the things mentioned the student of politics must also be able to render aid to the constitutions that exist already, as was also said before. But this is impossible if he does not know how many kinds of constitution there are; but at present some people think that there is only one kind of democracy and one kind of oligarchy, but this is not true. Hence he must take in view the different varieties of the constitutions, and know how many there are and how many are their combinations. And after this it needs this same discrimination also to discern the laws that are the best, and those that are suited to each of the forms of constitution. For the laws should be laid down, and all people lay them down, to suit the constitutions—the constitutions must not be made to suit the laws; for a constitution is the regulation of the offices of the state in regard to the mode of their distribution and to the question what is the sovereign power in the state and what is the object of each community, but laws are distinct from the principles of the constitution, and regulate how the magistrates are to govern and to guard against those who transgress them. So that clearly it is necessary to be in possession of the different varieties of each form of constitution, and the number of these, even for the purpose of legislation; for it is impossible for the same laws to be expedient for all oligarchies or democracies if there are really several kinds of them, and not one sort of democracy or oligarchy only.