Happiness is Living like the Gods

Human Happiness is Some Form of Contemplation

It seems that Aristotle thinks that the "best virtue" is wisdom because "action of the [part of the soul] having reason" in accordance with this virtue makes a human being most like the gods.

Endymion is a character from myth who is said to have chosen eternal sleep so that his beauty would never fade.

θεωρία means "a looking at, viewing, or beholding." It transliterates as theoria and is the root of the English word theory. The translation as "contemplation" derives from the translation of θεωρία into Latin as contemplatio.

"Now it is agreed [that happiness] is the greatest and best of human goods (and we say 'human' because there might very likely also be a happiness (εὐδαιμονία) belonging to some higher being, for instance a god); since none of the other animals, which are inferior in nature to men, share in the name, for a horse is not happy (εὐδαίμων), nor is a bird nor a fish nor any other existing thing whose designation does not indicate that it possesses in its nature a share of something divine (θείου), but it is by some other mode of participating in things good that one of them has a better life and another a worse" (Eudemian Ethics I.1217a).
"We all suppose that the gods are alive and in work, since surely they are not asleep like Endymion. And if someone is alive, and action is excluded, and production [the making of things] even more, nothing is left but contemplation (θεωρία). Hence the activity of the gods superior in blessedness is contemplation. The human activity most akin to this is most conducive to happiness. An indication is that other animals have no happiness, being completely deprived of contemplation. The whole life of the gods is blessed, and human life is blessed to the extent it resembles this sort of activity, but none of the other animals is happy because none shares in contemplation. Happiness extends just so far as contemplation, and those to whom contemplation more fully belongs are more truly happy, not incidentally but according to contemplation, since contemplation is valuable according to itself. It follows that happiness is some form of contemplation" (Nicomachean Ethics X.8.1178b).

Theological Cosmology



"The most sovereign part of our soul is god's gift to us, given to be our daemon (δαίμονα). ... It raises us up away from the earth and toward what is akin to us in heaven, as though we are plants grown not from the earth but from heaven. ... And so if, on the one hand, a man has become absorbed in his appetites or his ambitions and takes great pains to further them, all his opinions are bound to become merely mortal. ... On the other hand, if a man has seriously devoted himself to the love of learning and to true wisdom, if has exercised these aspects of himself above all, then there is absolutely no way that his opinions can fail to be immortal and divine, should truth come within his grasp. And to the extent that human nature can partake of immortality, he must fall short thereof in no degree. And inasmuch as he is for ever tending his divine part and duly magnifying that daemon who dwells along with him, he must be eminently happy (εὐδαίμονα). Now there is but one way to care for anything, and that is to provide the nourishment and the motion proper to it; and for the divine part within us the congenial motions are the intellections and revolutions of the universe. These each one of us should follow, rectifying the revolutions within our head, which were distorted at our birth, by learning the harmonies and revolutions of the universe, and thereby making the part that thinks like unto the object of its thought, in accordance with its original condition, and having achieved this likeness attain finally to that goal which is set before men by the gods as the best life (ἀρίστου βίου) both for the present and for the time to come" (Timaeus 90a).

"Man, instead of forelegs and forefeet, has arms and hands. He is the only animal that stands upright, and this is because his nature and substance is divine (τὴν φύσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν οὐσίαν εἶναι θείαν). Now the business of that which is most divine is to think and to be intelligent (ἔργον δὲ τοῦ θειοτάτου τὸ νοεῖν καὶ φρονεῖν); and this would not be easy if there were a great deal of the body at the top weighing it down, for weight hampers the motion of the intellect and of the general sense (τὴν διάνοιαν καὶ τὴν κοινὴν αἴσθησιν)" (Aristotle, Parts of Animals IV.686a).
In this approach to understanding "happiness" (εὐδαιμονία) relative to the life of the gods, Aristotle works against the background of a view he knew as a student in the Academy. The view is difficult to understand in detail, but the general picture is the following.

The universe is a cosmos, and it is alive. It is an intellect in a soul in a body (Timaeus 30b) and is a "blessed (εὐδαίμονα) god" (Timaeus 34b). This god is a starting-point for explanation. The stars, for example, move in the way they do because of what this cosmic god thinks (Timaeus 38c, Timaeus 40a). Happiness too is understood relative to this god. A human being must "rectify the revolutions" in his head that were "distorted" at birth. He must make them like "the harmonies and revolutions of the universe." Since these "harmonies and revolutions" are what the god thinks, a human being with this theoretical understanding of the universe exists in a way that most resembles the existence of this god enjoys. Accordingly, this "is set before men by the gods as the best life both for the present and for the time to come" (Timaeus 90d).

Aristotle rejects some of the details, but he accepts this general viewpoint.

Aristotle understands the universe in terms of "blessed" gods. He thinks that primary among the gods is the first unmovable mover, and he thinks that a human being becomes good by becoming like this mover as much as possible. In part, this becoming happens according to nature. Induction is the natural process in which human beings acquire reason and the knowledge that belongs to reason, but they must perfect this cognition by acquiring expertise in science, most of all in the science of theology. The first unmovable mover is somehow fixed in thought, and the life of contemplation is the way human nature allows human existence to most resemble the existence and life that characterizes the first unmovable mover.

To understand why Aristotle thinks the life of contemplation is an existence that resembles the existence of the first unmovable mover, we need to more clearly undertand

• what is the cognition Aristotle calls "reason"
• what is true of "reason" when it has the virtue Aristotle calls "wisdom."

The Part with the Potential for Knowledge



"Knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) is a state affording demonstration (ἕξις ἀποδεικτική)" (Nicomachean Ethics VI.3.1139b).

"Knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) is a taking up (ὑπόληψις) about universals (καθόλου), things that are by necessity" (Nicomachean Ethics VI.6.1140b).

"Intellect (νοῦς) is the starting-point of knowledge (ἐπιστήμης)" (Posterior Analytics II.19.100b).

"We said before [Nicomachean Ethics 1.13.1102a] that there are two parts of the soul, one with reason and one without reason. Now we divide the part with reason. Let us assume it has two parts, one with which we consider things that do not admit of being otherwise, and one with which we consider things which do admit of being otherwise. For when the beings are of different kinds, the parts of the soul naturally suited to each are also of different kinds, since the parts possess awareness by being somehow similar and appropriate to their objects. Let us call one of these the part for knowledge (ἐπιστημονικὸν), and the other the part for calculating (λογιστικόν), since deliberating is the same as calculating, and no one deliberates about what cannot be otherwise. Hence the calculating part is one part of the part of the soul that as reason" (Nicomachean Ethics V1.2.1139a).
Aristotle is part of a tradition of understanding reason that goes back to Parmenides' distinction between "reason" and "experience." In Parmenides, this distinction appears in an indeterminate form. He gives an example of the cognition that belongs to reason, associates experience with perception, and does not further identify the different cognition that constitutes reason and experience. Even so, his distinction remained influential. In the subsequent tradition, reason rather than experience is the cognition that understands things. Further, it is part of this tradition that reason is the cognition that distinguishes human beings from animals.

As part of his contribution to this tradition that stems from Parmenides, Aristotle divides the part of the soul with reason into two parts. In the last lecture, we say that

The human soul =
        1. part having reason
              1.a. part with reason
                    1.a.1. part with reason about theoretical matters
                    1.a.2. part with reason about practical matters
              1.b. part with reason as its controller
        2. part not having reason

Now, in Aristotle's terminology, the "part with reason" has two parts

              1.a. part with reason
                    1.a.1. the ἐπιστημονικόν
                    1.a.2. part with reason about practical matters

The ἐπιστημονικόν is the part of the soul with reason capable of ἐπιστήμη, which he thinks is the cognitive state that grasps "things that do not admit of being otherwise."

The traditional translation of ἐπιστήμη is 'knowledge,' but this can be misleading if one does not keep in mind that Aristotle has a particular conception of knowledge. For Aristotle, ἐπιστήμη grasps relations of consequence and incompatibility among universals.

Aristotle's Conception of Knowledge




"Whereas the other animals live by impressions and memories, and have but a ([comparatively] small share of experience, the human race lives also by art and reasoning (τέχνῃ καὶ λογισμοῖς). ... Experience seems very similar to science and art, but actually it is through experience that men acquire science and art (ἐπιστήμη καὶ τέχνη). ... Art is produced when from many notions of experience a single universal (καθόλου) judgment is formed with regard to like objects. To have a judgment that when Callias was suffering from this or that disease this or that benefited him, and similarly with Socrates and various other individuals, is a matter of experience; but to judge that it benefits all persons of a certain type, considered as a class, who suffer from this or that disease (e.g. the phlegmatic or bilious when suffering from burning fever) is a matter of art. ... We consider that knowledge and proficiency belong to art rather than to experience. .... Men of experience know that the thing is so, but do not know the why, while the others know the why and the cause (οἱ μὲν γὰρ ἔμπειροι τὸ ὅτι μὲν ἴσασι, διότι δ᾽ οὐκ ἴσασιν: οἱ δὲ τὸ διότι καὶ τὴν αἰτίαν γνωρίζουσιν)" (Metaphysics I.1.980b).
In the Metaphysics, the contrast we saw between the medical practitioner and theorist helps show how he understands the cognitive state he identifies as "knowledge."

As a matter of experience, the practitioner forms the generalization that patients who look a certain way respond to a certain treatment. The practitioner, however, does not have "knowledge" because he does not grasp the universal feature that distinguishes those who benefit when they suffer from the disease from those who do not benefit. Aristotle cites a phlegmatic condition as an example of such a feature. It is only by grasping such a feature that one can form more than an empirical generalization and thus have the "knowledge" that all patients characterized by the feature will benefit from the treatment. The universal is part of the explanation of why the patients benefit. There is a necessary and hence universal connection between patients of the kind and benefiting from the treatment, and Aristotle thinks this connection explains why the treatment is successful for patients with the disease.

This conception of "experience," and the contrast with the "knowledge" the theorist possesses, helps clarify how Aristotle understands the ἐπιστημονικόν. He understands this part of the soul to have the capacity to grasp universals and calls this capacity "intellect" (νοῦς).

All animals, according to Aristotle, have an innate capacity for discrimination.
"[All animals] have an innate faculty of discrimination (δύναμιν σύμφυτον κριτικήν), which we call perception" (Posterior Analytics II.99b).
The animals without reason have the capacity to discriminate certain features of the world in terms of perception. Some of them also have the capacity to discriminate among things in terms memory and imagination. Human beings, once they become adults, also have reason.

The possession of reason gives human beings the capacity to discriminate in terms of universals (as the medical theorist does). Moreover, since this capacity does not develop as a capacity first to grasp some one universal in isolation, and then another, and so on, this capacity does not exist in the soul without the advent of the cognitive state Aristotle calls "knowledge."

"Wisdom" in the Soul

Given this understanding of the thinking in the ἐπιστημονικόν, we can begin to understand the state of this part of the soul when it has the virtue Aristotle calls "wisdom" (σοφία).

"[W]isdom is the most exact [form of] knowledge. The wise man must not only know what follows from the starting-points, but also must have the truth of the start-points. Hence, wisdom is intellect and knowledge (ἡ σοφία νοῦς καὶ ἐπιστήμη).... [It] is knowledge and intellect about what is most honorable by nature" (Nicomachean Ethics VI.7.1141b).

When a human being acquires reason as he becomes an adult, the reason he acquires is something he can develop and perfect. The knowledge he has acquired, and in which reason initially consists, can be perfected so that he has the knowledge in science.

So Aristotle thinks, it seems, that "wisdom" (σοφία) is the "best virtue," that this virtue is the perfection of the part of the soul he calls the ἐπιστημονικὸν, and that the perfection of this part of the soul consists in the possession of the kind of knowledge about the world that he understands a human being to possess when he has knowledge in the sciences, such as physics but most of all in the science of theology, which he identifies as first philosophy.

The Activity of Contemplation

If wisdom is the "best virtue," then we can get some insight into why "activity in accordance with the best virtue" is the activity of "contemplation" (Nicomachean Ethics X.7.1177a). "[I]t is manifest that happiness also requires external goods" (Nicomachian Ethics I.9.1099a).

"[Happiness for a human being] requires in addition the goods of the body, external goods and the gifts of fortune, in order that his activity may not be impeded through lack of them. Those who say that, if a man be good, he will be happy even when on the rack, or when fallen into the direst misfortune, are intentionally or unintentionally talking nonsense" (Nicomachean Ethics VII.14.1153b).
When the ἐπιστημονικὸν has wisdom, and thus possesses the knowledge that constitues a science, a human being can engage in the activity of "contemplation" if there is nothing to impede this activity. In this activity, he is somehow holding the knowledge fixed in his mind.

In this activity of contemplation, Aristotle thinks, human beings are most like the gods.

The Part with the Potential for Calculation

It is now a little clearer how Aristotle understands the state of the ἐπιστημονικὸν when it has wisdom, but we also need to know how he understands the activity of the second part of the "part [of the soul] with reason." Aristotle calls this second part the λογιστικόν. So, in Aristotle's terminology, the "part [of the soul] with reason" has two parts

              1.a. part with reason
                    1.a.1. the ἐπιστημονικόν
                    1.a.2. the λογιστικόν

The λογιστικόν is the part capable of "calculation" (λογισμός), which Aristotle understands as the cognition that grasps "things that do admit of being otherwise."

This translation of λογισμός can be misleading. Aristotle identifies this cognition with what he calls "deliberation" (βούλευσις), and he understands "deliberation" in a specific way.

We need to know how Aristotle understands the cognition in the λογιστικόν, but first it is helpful to realize that he divides the "part [of the soul] with reason" in two in an effort to clarify the Platonic conception of reason he knew as a student in the Academy.

The Two Lives of the Soul in Plato

In Plato's early dialogues, the suggestion is that there is a certain competency involved in living a good life, that it is a state of the soul, and that a human being who has the virtues of character has this competency. He chooses wisely and thus arranges things so that he is happy.

In the Republic, Socrates articulates this view in terms of the three parts of the soul. He explains that justice is the state of the soul that constitutes the competency and that justice in the soul is a matter of the three parts each doing its own job. If the soul is just, "the calculating part," the λογιστικόν, leads and directs action through "forethought in behalf of the entire soul."   "And so it is fitting for the calculating part (λογιστικῷ) to rule, being wise and exercising foresight on behalf of the whole soul, and for spirit to obey it and be its ally?
  Assuredly, Socrates" (Republic IV.441e).

Moreover, in the Phaedo, the soul exists before and after its time in the body and thus has competing interests. Its own interest is knowledge of the forms, but because it is in the body, it has to take on the practical concerns of managing its time in the body. In managing these concerns, the soul must not lose sight of its interests if it is to live a good life. The soul needs to take control of its life in the body so that it spends as much time as possible in the contemplation of forms it enjoyed outside the body when it was completely free of practical concerns.

"Life according to the Other Virtue"

It is against the background of this understanding of reason in the soul that Aristotle divides the "part with reason" into what he calls the ἐπιστημονικόν and the λογιστικόν. He does not think that the soul has a life apart from the body, but he too thinks there is cognition in the soul that controls action and that this cognition is a form of the cognition he calls "reason."

Further, although Aristotle does not think the soul exists apart from the body, and so he does not accept the Platonic idea that the life of the soul freed from the body is happier, Aristotle seems to recognize two good lives. He seems to think that the life according to the virtue proper to the λογιστικόν is second in happiness to "the life according to the intellect."

"That which is proper to each thing is by nature the best and most pleasant for it. For man this is the life according to intellect, if this more than anything else is man. This life therefore is also the happiest (εὐδαιμονέστατος). Secondly the life according to the other virtue [is happiest]. For the activities in accordance with this virtue are human. We display justice, courage and the other virtues in our relations with our fellows..." (Nicomachean Ethics X.7.1178a).

Aristotle does not say that "the life according to the other virtue" is the life according to the virtue proper of the part of the soul he calls the λογιστικόν, but in the picture he knows from Plato, "calculating" is the practical task incarnation forces on reason. In its natural and disincarnate state, the soul exists in contemplation of the forms. During its time in the body, once it recovers from the shock of incarnation, and hence no longer is confused about what is good, it takes on the practical task of making choices so that its existence of in the body is, as much as possible, like the existence in contemplation it enjoyed outside the body.

If Aristotle thinks about happiness along Platonic lines, as seems likely, then he understands "the life according to the other virtue" to be the life according to the virtue proper to the λογιστικόν. On this interpretation, the life according to the virtue proper to the λογιστικόν is the life Aristotle says is second in happiness to "the life according to the intellect."

The Virtue Proper to the Λογιστικόν

To know how Aristotle understands the "life according to the other virtue is," and so why he thinks it is second in happiness, we need to know what he thinks the virtue proper to the λογιστικόν is. He does not identify this virtue explicitly, but it seems clear that he thinks that

• the virtue proper to the λογιστικόν is "practical wisdom" (φρόνησις)

Since "practical wisdom" is a virtue of one of the two parts of the soul with reason, and it is the virtue of the part that has "belief" and is concerned with thiings that "admit of being otherwise," it follows "practical wisdom" (φρόνησις) is the virtue proper to the λογιστικόν.

"[P]ractical wisdom (φρόνησιν) is a state of reason attaining truth about the things to be done that are good with respect to a human being. ... [And of] the two parts of the soul with reason, practical wisdom is a virtue of one of them, of the part that has belief (δοξαστικοῦ) [as opposed to knowledge (ἐπιστήμη)]; for belief is concerned, as practical wisdom is [but wisdom (σοφία) is not], with what admits of being otherwise" (Nicomachean Ethics VI.5.1140b).

"Practical wisdom (φρόνησις) is about human concerns and what is open to deliberation. For we say that to deliberate well (τὸ εὖ βουλεύεσθαι) is most of all the work of the man of practical wisdom. No one deliberates about things that cannot be otherwise nor about things that are not a means to some end, where that end is a good achievable by action. The man of sound judgement (εὔβουλος) is a man who is skillful in calculation (λογισμόν) in the pursuit of the best things to be done by a human being (Nicomachean Ethics VI.7.1141b).

Still More Answers are Necessary

If the virtue of thought proper to the λογιστικόν is "practical wisdom," then to understand the life Aristotle identifies as happiest "secondly" to the "life according to the intellect," we need to know how he understands the state of the λογιστικόν when it has practical wisdom.

This, finally, will put us in a position to understand how Aristotle thinks about "happiness" (εὐδαιμονία) for a human being and why he thinks, as he seems to suggest at the outset, that the life in which action achieves the "best good" is the life of contemplation.





Perseus Digital Library:

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Eudemian Ethics

Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon:
ἀποδεικτικός, apodeiktikos, adjective, "affording proof, demonstrative"
βούλευσις
ἐπιστημονικός, epistēmonikos, adjective, "capable of knowledge"
εὐδαιμονέστατος, eudaimonestatos, adjective, superlative of εὐδαίμων ("happy"), "happiest"
εὐβουλία
κόσμος, kosmos, noun, "order"

"Now the whole Heaven, or Cosmos, or (ὁ δὴ πᾶς οὐρανὸς —ἢ κόσμος ἢ) if there is any other name which it specially prefers, by that let us call it..." (Timaeus 28b).

"[W]e must declare that this cosmos has verily come into existence as a living being endowed with soul and intellect (ζῷον ἔμψυχον ἔννουν) owing to the providence of God" (Timaeus 30b).

κρίσις, krisis, noun, "separating, distinguishing"
λογιστικός, logistikos, adjective, "skilled or practised in calculating"
νοεῖν, noein, verb, "to think"
οἰκεῖος, oikeios, adjective, "proper, fitting, suitable"
οὐρανός, ouranos, noun, "heaven, the vault or firmament of heaven, the sky"
φρόνησις, phronēsis, noun, "practical wisdom"

φρόνησις derives from φρήν. The presence of φρήν gives one the ability to think and understand and thus to act sensibly. In Homer, the shades of the dead lack φρήν ("wits," "sense"). They are ἄφρων (adjective, "without sense" (ἀ- "not" +‎ φρων (from φρήν), "senseless"). Their behavior is crazed and erratic. They "flit" about.

Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary:
universus, adjective, "all together, all in one, whole, entire, collective."
The universum, "the universe" (substantive use of a form of universus)
universus = uni, "one" + versus, "turned" (part participle of vertere) = "all turned into one"




move on go back