Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, properly construed, is the only sound, pragmatic, and undogmatic work in moral philosophy that has come down to us in the last twenty-five centuries.
by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D.
Philosophy, seeking to establish itself as knowledge rather than mere speculation and unfounded opinion, is afflicted with a series of errors that have occurred in modern times. These must be corrected in order for philosophy to succeed in its effort to provide us with ethical and political knowledge.
In my opinion, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, properly construed, is the only sound, pragmatic, and undogmatic work in moral philosophy that has come down to us in the last twenty-five centuries (it is the ethics of common sense and is both teleological and deontological). Its basic truths are as true today as they were in the fourth century B.C. when that book was delivered as a series of lectures in Aristotle’s Lyceum.
Of course, it contains some errors. All books do. Of course, not everything it says or every distinction it makes is of equal importance. But when it is carefully read with an eye to its main theses, we are as enlightened by it today as were those who listened to Aristotle’s lectures when they were first delivered.
The reason this can be so is that the ethical problems that human beings confront in their lives have not changed one bit over the centuries. Moral virtue and the blessings of good fortune are today, as they have always been in the past, the keys to living well, unaffected by all the technological changes in the environment, as well as those in our social, political, and economic institutions. The moral problems to be solved by the individual are the same in every century, though they appear to us in different guises.
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