Human Good Per Aristotelian Ethics

Nicomachean Ethics

Above shows the illustration of Aristotle, the same illustration that was printed on his most famous political science piece, Nicomachean Ethics.

If you haven’t heard of Aristotle--- then you are, most certainly, living under a rock. Aristotle (greek) is perhaps the most acclaimed and world-renowned philosopher of all time. Known for developing the study of ethics and moral virtues, his most famous political-science piece, Nicomachean ethics, delineates practical ethics from the human good. In his multi-part treatise, Aristotle discovers the entity we know as human good; breaking it down into manageable divisions of thought. These thoughts are separated into books, which he pragmatically subdivides, and narrates via a post-modern, epistemological lens.

Unlike his student Plato, Aristotle believes that human good must exist in the human world without the ability to exist in other states/actions. Plato, on the other hand-- believes that good is unable to exist eternally, as it is not a single, universal entity. For this reason, he deems good, and Telos, to be out of human reach.

The Aristotelian concept, among others, is verified in Nicomachean ethics. This article takes the Aristotelian approach to ethics; arguing why human good is attainable-- and therefore must exist in the human world.

It should be noted, though, that one could take a Socratic approach to this article. This approach argues the theoretical nature of good, yet to keep within the parallels and the nature of Nicomachean ethics, this article will discuss the pragmatic and practical approach to the concept of good.

So. With that, what evidence is there-- if any, that proves human good is, in fact, attainable?

Listed below are two examples of human good.

1. Feed Phoenix

In the heat of the covid-19 pandemic, locals and residents in Phoenix, Arizona were in the midst of a failing economy. Many natives suffered financial ruin, including those at Sana Sana Foods, who “said they had to shut down all their operations due to the pandemic.” Phoenix wouldn’t have this, as the city immediately enacted measures to mitigate the economic emergency.

“In Arizona, the city of Phoenix has managed to save dozens of farms and restaurants, while also getting free meals to those who need it most. Between July and December in 2020, the Feed Phoenix program provided more than 50,000 meals to local residents—an amazing feat in itself, but only the beginning” (Good News Network).

Here is a statement from the head chef of Sana Sana Foods, who has been preparing hundreds of vegetarian burritos for local residents and customers (via these Feed Phoenix events).

The state and local governments of Arizona took proper measures to save their citizens, but does this constitute as good--or necessity? Aristotle believes that good exists in actions, possessions, and ways of being. Clearly, by taking measures in Feed Phoenix, Arizona became good in action. Yet, what motives were behind FP (Feed Phoenix)? How distilled did human involvement become, as technology and AI were involved? How much was FP for the people, and how much was it for the altitude of the economy? All these questions-- all these reservations are why Plato believes that ultimate good does not exist in the human world; and is therefore, unattainable via human practice.

This destructive process is paralleled in mathematical fractals; as it won’t end, or give a concrete answer. Instead, Aristotelian rational yields the most approximate answer. FP was a good action-- good in the full sense of the term. The government served their community, which Aristotle deems honorable, and ‘good’-- subsequently. Although ulterior motives could’ve been present, the ultimate outcome was dutiful and admirable. Thus, the “good” actions presented by Phoenix do no further than prove the adequate execution of ‘good,’ in all its delicacy and potential.

2. Mitzvahs in California

One afternoon, in San Rafael California, Evelyn Topper and Mikayla Gounard (12) were eating lunch. On the journey home, Toppern quickly realized that she dropped her wallet. This is where Sean Curry --a homeless man-- stepped-up. Although he has been homeless for 5 years, Curry contacted Topper immediately, and returned the wallet, bank cards and IDs in-tact.

What Curry did for Topper is what is known as a mitzvah. “In Jewish tradition, a mitzvah is a good deed that’s performed with a good heart simply because it’s the right thing to do. And that’s just how Evelyn Topper described the kind act of a homeless stranger who's gone out of his way to return her lost wallet… While a true mitzvah is performed without expectation of recognition or reward, sometimes the powers that be—with the help of a determined young girl—take matters into their own hands'' (Good News Network).

On the evening of her 12th birthday, Mikayla raised hundreds of dollars-- which she then gave to Curry. A picture can be seen below, of the two sharing this special moment.

Although this scenario idolizes the goodness of mitzvahs, further analysis is required to fully denote Aristotelian judgement. This is because-- although this action, is of course a good; one must still consider what motives are responsible for this good. After all, principles underlying good can be coveted. Was Mikayla trying to break even, and render her grandmother’s soul free of existential, in-debt guilt? Or was she genuinely moved by Curry’s kindness? When one takes into account Mikayla’s age and cognitive psychosocial level, it becomes increasingly evident that the girl was instead displaying human good; for the sole reason that she and her morality is not defined enough to contemplate and act on other motives. Thus, the girl was truthfully moved by Curry’s act of kindness, so she displayed a mitzvah back. Almost like the law of conservation of energy, kindness cannot be created or destroyed-- only transformed or transferred. In this case, the”good energy” was transformed and transferred from Curry’s initial action, to Mikayla’s reciprocative action. Thus, although the term-end qualities of good cannot be distilled into one label-- good can exist in many forms and across many parallels and dimensions. One thing is for certain, though. Human good is both 1) in existence and 2) attainable in the human world.

“Human Good” is such a diverse universal; as it has levels that cannot be labeled or rated concretely. Everyone has different standards for “good”, which is why Aristotelian ethics is both widely accepted and questioned.