Nicomachean Ethics - Book VI Summary & Analysis

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Book VI Summary and Analysis

Aristotle returns to a remark made in Book II about the state of the soul and the role of reason. He has already shown that it is best to strive toward the intermediate condition to be virtuous, and that one determines the intermediate condition by correct reason. He has not shown yet, he explains, how this correct reason comes about. In Book II, Aristotle enumerates the virtues of character, which he then proceeds to define further. He mentions at that time that there are virtues of thought as well, which he would address in the following section.

Aristotle first returns to his division of the soul between the part with reason and the nonrational part. He proposes a further division of the part with reason into two parts, one called the scientific part and one the "rationally calculating" part. (p. 86) The scientific part is concerned with finding the truth about things that can be known for certain. The rationally calculating part is concerned with inquiring into things that cannot be known for certain. Each of these parts will have its own intermediate, virtuous state, he claims.

To inquire into this mean, Aristotle proposes to first examine what the function of each of these parts. He defines three capacities of the soul that lead to action, sense perception, understanding, and desire. Since animals also have sense perception, he reasons, it cannot play an important role in finding the function of reason. He concludes that reason uses understanding combined with desire to reach decisions about action. This is important to his argument, because Aristotle is above all concerned with how we should act. These actions are not themselves the function of reason, however, for there is a goal beyond them that reason strives for, which is truth. Therefore, the virtue of reason is the intermediate state that will best lead toward truth.

Returning to the states of the soul, Aristotle defines five ways the soul "grasps the truth." (p. 87). These are craft, scientific knowledge, prudence, wisdom and understanding. He dismisses the states of belief and supposition, because these have the potential to be false. He proceeds to further describe each of the five states, beginning with scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge is a special kind of knowledge because it can be taught. Because it can be taught, it must already be known. Scientific knowledge does not allow for deliberation or decision under Aristotle's definition. Scientific truths can be demonstrated.

Craft knowledge is the king of knowledge one has about producing something. Unlike scientific knowledge, craft knowledge deals with things that do not have one demonstrable truth. Craft knowledge deals with making a thing where no thing was before, and so is part of the rationally calculating part of the soul. It is concerned with production, and not merely action.

Prudence is the next type of knowledge that Aristotle addresses. Prudence is a kind of self-knowledge that leads to a person knowing what is best for himself. By extension, prudence also leads to knowing what is best for humans in general, and so has practical application in political science. Prudence is not part of scientific knowledge, for it is based partly on belief and supposition, although it must be based on correct beliefs and suppositions to truly be prudence.

Understanding is a special kind of knowledge that addresses the principles behind other types of knowledge. A person can have scientific knowledge of universal truths, which can be demonstrated. The principles behind these truths cannot be directly demonstrated, however. It requires understanding to know these principles. Understanding is concerned with first principles, as contrasted to prudence, which is concerned with results.

Wisdom is a complete kind of knowledge that combines the demonstrable truths of scientific knowledge with the understanding of the principles behind them. Another word for wisdom as Aristotle defines it is "expertise." It is different than prudence in that prudence deals with human concerns and things that can be deliberated over.

Aristotle now turns to the idea of deliberation and an investigation of what good deliberation is. It is different than inquiry, he says, although it is a kind of inquiry. By process of elimination, he determines that good deliberation is part of rationally calculating thought, because "in deliberating, either well or badly, we inquire for something and rationally calculate about it." (p. 94) What makes deliberation good is the result toward which it is directed. This is different than an immediate, short-term goal that is limited in its scope. Good deliberation must be aimed toward a higher goal, and that goal should be guided by prudence.

Aristotle adds another attribute related to thought, comprehension. Comprehension is related to prudence, but it is different. It has to do with learning and applying knowledge that is gained through learning. It is also related to scientific knowledge in that scientific knowledge can be comprehended and applied. Consideration is another attribute seemingly related to prudence and understanding. Aristotle again brings his theory into the real world and points out that we often describe the same person as showing consideration, prudence, comprehension and understanding. He concludes that they are all aimed toward the same thing, which he calls "particulars." (p. 95) By this, he means that they are concerned with the results of thought and the things that can be achieved by action. This is important to Aristotle's goal of creating a practical guide to ethics. He places prudence as the most crucial state of reason, and indeed places it at the center of the idea of complete virtue. One cannot be "truly good" unless one possesses prudence, and one cannot possess prudence without being a virtuous state. As prudence is one of the states that are concerned with action and the end results of action, Aristotle thus strongly links the ideas of virtue and goodness with the practical aspects of action toward results decided upon through correct reason. This is a central theme of the work.

This section contains 998 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
Nicomachean Ethics from BookRags. (c)2017 BookRags, Inc. All rights reserved.
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