Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics

Three ethical treatises

Three Aristotelian ethical works survive today which are considered to be either by Aristotle, or from relatively soon after:

  • Nicomachean Ethics, abbreviated as the NE or sometimes (from the Latin version of the name) as the EN. The NE is in 10 books, and is the most widely read of Aristotle's ethical treatises.
  • Eudemian Ethics, often abbreviated as the EE.
  • Magna Moralia, often abbreviated as the MM.

The exact origins of these texts is unclear, although they were already considered the works of Aristotle in ancient times. Textual oddities suggest that they may not have been put in their current form by Aristotle himself. For example, Books IV-VI of Eudemian Ethics also appear as Books V-VII of Nicomachean Ethics. The authenticity of the Magna Moralia has been doubted,[3] whereas almost no modern scholar doubts that Aristotle wrote the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics himself, even if an editor also played some part in giving us those texts in their current forms.

The Nicomachean Ethics has received the most scholarly attention, and is the most easily available to modern readers in many different translations and editions. Some critics consider the Eudemian Ethics to be "less mature," while others, such as Kenny (1978),[4] contend that the Eudemian Ethics is the more mature, and therefore later, work.

Traditionally it was believed that the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle's son and pupil Nicomachus and his disciple Eudemus, respectively, although the works themselves do not explain the source of their names. Although Aristotle's father was also called Nicomachus, Aristotle's son was the next leader of Aristotle's school, the Lyceum, and in ancient times he was already associated with this work.[5]

A fourth treatise, Aristotle's Politics, is often regarded as the sequel to the Ethics, in part because Aristotle closes the Nicomachean Ethics by saying that his ethical inquiry has laid the groundwork for an inquiry into political questions (NE X.1181b6-23). Aristotle's Ethics also states that the good of the individual is subordinate to the good of the city-state, or polis.

Fragments also survive from Aristotle's Protrepticus, another work which dealt with ethics.

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