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Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and HappinessAristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness


Aristotle (384-322 BC)


Greek philosopher (pictured right) , student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great.

He was an expert in ethics, physics, biology, politics, economics, literature and psychology!


His most famous book is...

He wrote many great works including Nicomachean Ethics that had a huge effect on our ideas about ethics.


His tips on how to be happy and successful


1. Do your best at what your best at


a) do good

Happy people use their virtues and knowledge to achieve something useful and worthwhile, particularly to:

  • achieve excellence in something.
  • improve your relationships.


b) do your best

Choose something you’re really good at and work your hardest to make the most of your talent.


c) smile

Overcome your problems by being positive and cheerful.


d) do your duty

Do what is right and what you ought to do (your duty).


“Happiness depends upon ourselves”, Aristotle said.

Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness

2. Virtue and self-discipline

Make these virtues a habit:

  • courage (the greatest virtue, because it makes all the others possible).
  • moderation and self-control.
  • justice (fairness and legality).
  • prudence (being careful and looking ahead).
  • liberality (tolerance and open-mindedness).
  • patience, generosity and honesty.
  • self-respect, gentleness, and modesty.
  • magnanimity (avoiding revenge)

Good people are:

  • useful to others.
  • make good communities and countries.

Morality is the habit of being virtuous through:

  • making the right choices.
  • controlling your desires (i.e. self-discipline and moderation in all things).

But this is difficult.

“The hardest victory is over yourself”, he said.


3. The “Golden Mean”

Every virtue lies in the middle of two related vices (the “Golden Mean”):

  • one associated with excess and Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness
  • the other with deficiency.

This view is also shared by the Chinese philosopher, Confucius (pictured right).

Here are some examples:

 Virtue  Excess  Deficiency
 Generosity  Profligacy  Meanness
 Courage  Over-confidence  Cowardice
 Self-respect  Vanity  Self-neglect
 Modesty  Shamelessness  Shyness
 Resolution  Violence  Indifference



4. Think, reflect and learn

Learners are the best and happiest people, because “all men by nature desire to know”, he said.

Work out the best thing to do after considering all the advantages and disadvantages of all your different options.

Learning is:

  • vital to success.
  • hard work but rewarding.

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet”, Aristotle said.

You learn and find knowledge from:

 Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness

a) experience

Observing, doing and experimenting.


b) reason

  • start with a hypothesis
  • find all the relevant facts and
  • make a conclusion.

Theory must be tested by practice and experience.


c) logic

Make conclusions from related ideas.

For example, all snowmen are made of snow, all snow is white, so all snowmen are white.    


d) generalizations

(e.g. fruit is good for you),

But be aware of:

  • exceptions (e.g. people allergic to fruit).
  • stereotypes (e.g. all women are bossy).


e) non-contradiction

Aristotle’s principle of non-contradiction says:

You can’t contradict what you do or say

(e.g. your coat can’t be red, if it’s black).


f) listening and acting

Listening to wise people and acting upon their advice.


 Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness

5. Money

Money is important but use it to do something useful and satisfying.

Happiness doesn’t come from material pleasures, but from being good, loved and fulfilled.

What you really need (like virtue and water) will make you happier than what you want (temptations and fizzy drinks!).

People must buy less, because not enough can be produced to satisfy their unlimited wants.

Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness

6. Friends

Close relationships are vital to your happiness.

“Man is a social animal”, Aristotle said.

Best friends:

  • care for each other and
  • are like “a single soul dwelling in two bodies” (i.e. two friends have different bodies but the same aims and principles).


7. Variety

Doing new and different things make you happy.

But work isn’t everything.

Aristotle said we should educate ourselves to make the best use of our leisure, doing something useful, not just watching the TV!

You can learn a lot about life from literature and drama.


8. Wisdom and experience

He believed wise people are happiest and wisdom comes from:

  • knowledge of science and the arts.
  • prudence (practical knowledge). Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness
  • intelligence and intuition (knowing what’s right).

So wisdom comes from experience, i.e. knowing and understanding the world.

Don’t believe in anything you don’t experience (Aristotle’s principle of “saving the appearances”).

So he attacked Plato’s (pictured right) Theory of Forms, which said there is a more important ideal world beyond this one.


9. Action and self-motivation

What you do results from one or more of seven causes:Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness

  • chance.
  • nature.
  • appetite.
  • habit.
  • reasoning.
  • anger.
  • compulsion.

If you’re compelled to do something, it isn’t your fault.

You must be determined to do what makes you happy and successful, whatever difficulties or temptations you face (i.e. the will to win).


10. Be law abiding

Obey laws, if they are just and made by a democratic government.

The government can’t make people good and happy but only help them to be so by making sure:

  • they live happily together.
  • each individual develops his (or her) full potential.

Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness 

11. Understand how things change

There are four reasons for change:

a) material cause

What it is made up - for example:

  • an organization’s resources like people money and machinery.
  • marble in a marble statue.


b) efficient cause

How it is made - for example:

  • management organizing resources.
  • a sculptor hammering and chiselling the marble.


c) formal cause

What gives it the shape by which it is identified - for example:

  • an organization’s brands and logo.
  • the design of a statue.


d) final cause

Why something is made - for example:

  • to serve customers.
  • to give people pleasure.


Change requires stability, because the thing that changes must remain the same.

For example, an organization or person changes but still remains an organization or person.


Aristotle - Philosophy, Ethics and Happiness

12. Think about the whole of your life

Happiness isn’t just one happy event

“One swallow does not make a summer”, Aristotle said.

But you must work hard to:

  • make sure your life is full of a series of happy events.
  • realize that your happiness is affected by things you can’t control (like fate and other people’s behaviour).


Key quotes on fear and pain

He who has truly overthrown his fears will truly be free.

Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.


Key quote on motivation

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.

Man is a social animal


Key quotes on  learning

The energy of the mind is the essence of life.

All men by nature desire to know.


Key quotes on ethics

All persons ought to endeavour to follow what is right, and not what is established.

The greatest virtues are those which are most useful to other persons.


Key quotes on education and wisdom

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d rather have been talking.

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet”,


Key quotes on happiness

Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life

One swallow does not make a summer.


Key quote on peace of mind

The ultimate value of life depends on awareness and the power of contemplation.


Key quote on leadership

He who is to be a good ruler must have first been ruled.


Key quote on quality

Quality is not an act, it is a habit.


Key quote on science and wisdom

Wisdom is both scientific knowledge and understanding about what is by nature most honourable.


Key quote on influencing people

Good action...cannot exist without a combination of intellect and character.


Key quote on economics

The weaker are always anxious for justice and equality. The strong pay no heed to either.


Key quote on society

Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.

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