Volume 42, Issue 4, December 2002
Thomas P. Sherman
Human Happiness and the Role of Philosophical Wisdom in the Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle describes human happiness as a life of virtuous activity in Book One of the Nicomachean Ethics but as a life of contemplative activity and a life of ethically virtuous activity in Book Ten. In which kind of life does Aristotle ultimately believe that happiness consists? The answer lies in the role of philosophical wisdom within ethically virtuous activity. I argue that philosophical wisdom has a dual role: its exercise is the end of ethically virtuous activity and the virtue by which that end is rationally apprehended. Just as ethically virtuous activity depends on the exercise of philosophical wisdom in this dual way, so human happiness can be understood as a single life of virtuous activity whose end is the exercise of philosophical wisdom in contemplative activity. The exercise of philosophical wisdom will include ethically virtuous activity as an end that includes what is desired for its sake.