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Excellence of Thought

Excellence of Thought

(p.109) 4 Excellence of Thought
Aristotle's Dialogue with Socrates
University of Chicago Press

In turning from ethical to intellectual virtue, Book VI of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics brings to completion the investigation of virtue that began in Book II and, with that, returns in the end to the question that initiated that investigation: What is human happiness? Approaching this question through the lens of its account of intellectual virtue, Book VI looks down on the insignificance of all things human; from that perspective, it finds happiness to consist in sophia, or theoretical wisdom, which has as its object the cosmos as a whole or the highest beings in it, while phronēsis, or practical wisdom, is found inferior precisely because of its concern with the human good. Book VI plays a pivotal role because it completes not the argument of the Ethics as a whole, but what turns out to be only its first phase. And the figure who dominates this pivotal point is Socrates. What was originally the duality of virtue of character and virtue of thought becomes the unity of practical virtue, or excellence of action.

Keywords:   Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, virtue, happiness, sophia, wisdom, phronēsis, human good, thought, excellence

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