In the writings of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics’ and the Book X, he discusses the idea of contemplative life how happiness can be established through virtue. In this paper, I will argue the reasons Aristotle has provided in establishing his theory that a contemplative life is the best life to live, and provide reasons as to why I believe his arguments are compelling enough to be considered truthful.
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To establish an understanding on Aristotle’s ideas about contemplative life, we must first recognize the relations he makes between pleasure and virtue. Aristotle refers to the ences to virtue are in relation to virtues linked to the soul instead of the body. He divides the soul into three parts, the nutritive soul, the desiring soul and the reasoning soul. Of the three parts of the soul, only the reasoning soul is unique to humans and thus sets us apart. Reasoning is what sets us apart from all other animals, which leads Aristotle to conclude that reasoning is the function of human life. He goes on to state that “â€¦evidently happiness must be placed among those desirable in themselves, not among those desirable for the sake of something else; for happiness does not lack anything, but is self-sufficientâ€¦ And of this nature virtuous actions are thought to be” (Aristotle, p.46).
Aristotle begins by stating that pleasure “â€¦ is thought to be most intimately connected with our human nature â€¦ it is thought, too, that to enjoy the things we ought and to hate the things we ought has the greatest bearing on virtue of character” (Aristotle, p.43). Aristotle starts to discuss what would be accepted as a good pleasure and a bad pleasure, and believes that there are certain lives we would reject because they are bad no matter how much pleasure it may bring. He continues to conclude that pleasure is due to activity and since “no one is continuously pleasedâ€¦ human beings are incapable of continuous activity” (Aristotle, p. 45).
Aristotle comes to the conclusion that “If happiness is activity in accordance with virtue … it should be in accordance with the highest virtue” (Aristotle, p. 47), this brings about the question of what the highest virtue is. Based on his earlier conclusions, pleasure is related to activity and virtue, so the highest virtue must produce the most pleasure; Aristotle believes that the function of man is reasoning and thus continues to conclude that the greatest virtue would be to fulfill the function of man. This concludes that the highest virtue would be reasoning and thus a life of contemplation would be the best life.
Aristotle continues to support this conclusion, “firstly, this activity is the best (since not only is reason the best thing in us, but the object of reason are the best of knowable objects); and secondly, it is the most continuous, since we can contemplate truth more continuously that we can do anything. And we think happiness has pleasure mingled with it, but the activity of philosophic wisdom is admittedly the pleasantest of virtuous activities” (Aristotle, p.47). He believes that contemplation is not only the highest virtue but it is self-sufficient, which he believes is another reason why contemplation is the best type of life, it does not rely solely on intrinsic values that other lives depend on. “And the self-sufficiency that is spoken of must belong most to the contemplative activity. For while a philosopher. As well as a just man or one possessing any other virtue, needs the necessaries of life, when they are sufficiently equipped with things of that sort the just man needs people towards whom and with whom he shall act justly, and the temperate man, the brave man and each of the others is in the same case, but the philosopher, even when by himself, can contemplate truth, and the better the wiser he is; he can perhaps do so better if has fellow-workers, but still he is the most self-sufficient. And this activity alone would seem to be loved for its own sake; for nothing arises from it apart form the contemplating, while from practical activities we gain more or less apart from the action” (Aristotle, p.47).
Aristotle switches focus to the life of the Gods’. He states, “We assume the gods to be above all other beings blessed and happy” (Aristotle, p.48). Aristotle continues in saying that the gods have no need for the things humans fuss about. He sees these actions as “trivial and unworthy of the gods” (Aristotle, p.48). Still the gods live and must do something to occupy the time, he does not believe that they sleep, and such if they do no worry about human worries and are not in a state of constant sleep Aristotle concludes that they must be in a state of contemplation. “â€¦if you take away from a living being action, and still more production, what is left but contemplation?” (Aristotle, p.48).
Aristotle argues that the life of reason and contemplation will be the happiest, since the Gods are the happiest of us all, and they a life of contemplation. “Therefore the activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness, must be contemplative; and of human activities, therefore, that which is most akin to this must be most of the nature of happiness” (Aristotle, p.48).
When examining Aristotle’s reasoning behind his belief that the contemplative life is the best life, his explanation for the belief that pleasure is linking to the fulfillment of the function of humans – reasoning – and thus contemplation is very well thought out and the ideas are very plausible. Aristotle’s belief is further strengthened by his explanation of the gods and their way of life.
Aristotle’s explanation of mankind and the life of contemplation are very convincing. He’s idea that the functional character of humans is reason, seems to be true, since it is indeed what separates us from all other animals (as far as we know). If that is the difference in which separates humans from animals, and that pleasures are drawn from virtues, then Aristotle’s link between the function of humans and the highest virtue leads to a contemplative life. It would seem only logical that best life for a human to live would be a contemplative life that is self-sustaining.
Aristotle believes that since the gods live a contemplative life that we should as well. He explains that the gods have no need for things that humans worry about, “will not the gods seem absurd if they make contracts and return deposits, and so on? Acts of brave men, then confronting dangers and running risks because it is noble to do so? â€¦the circumstances of action would be found trivial and unworthy of the gods” (Aristotle, p.48). Aristotle continues to point out that since they do not part-take in these actions that they would only be lift with the action of contemplation. This action would be most worthy of the gods since contemplation is seen as acquiring wisdom, and since the gods are wise and powerful, it would only make sense that the wise are continuously contemplating. Since humans fear gods, we push ourselves to please them, use the gods as an example of how to live one’s own life. Therefore it would only be logical that if the gods lived a life of contemplation, that as the followers of god one would try to live a life of contemplation as well.