Aristotle Writing Styles in Nicomachean Ethics

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Aristotle writes from the perspective of a person addressing an interested and attentive audience. He assumes his audience has a certain level of familiarity with his subject matter and with the Greek writers to which he refers. He is a teacher, and he speaks both to teach and to persuade.

Aristotle is not only addressing his students, but his colleagues as well. Once a teacher alongside Plato, Aristotle departs from Plato's philosophy at times, particularly in his ideas about the nature of happiness. He also aims to distinguish himself from other philosophers and philosophical schools of thought that would have been familiar to his audience, such as the ideas of Pythagoras and the complicated but ultimately empty words of the sophists. Aristotle seeks to establish his own ideas as building on those of his predecessors, but being unique from them.

Aristotle is a professional thinker, so it is not surprising that he concludes in this work that a life of study and reason is what has the potential to lead to the greatest happiness. At the end of the work, he projects his ideas about virtue guided by reason into the political realm and proposes that thinkers such as himself and his audience are perhaps best qualified to design political systems that will create virtue and happiness among their citizens. His perspective, as a teacher and philosopher, is that even the largest questions such as the greatest happiness for all people can be addressed with reason and understanding.


Aristotle writes in an authoritative tone that is laced with lighter passages. Aristotle's style is often dense and repetitious. He frequently digresses from his point, returning to it several times and running over portions of his argument again. The work reads like a lecture, where the listener, unable to refer to the printed page, must be reminded from time to time of what has been asserted and what follows from those assertions. Indeed, this may have been Aristotle's original purpose in setting the Nicomachean Ethics down in writing, to serve as notes for a spoken argument. At times, the thoughts are presented quickly and in a condensed way, as if they are shorthand reminders of something Aristotle might have elaborated on while speaking. This sometimes presents an obstacle to the reader, who must fill in some of the interpretation that seems to have been left out.

Aristotle makes frequent reference to Greek literature and legendary historical figures throughout the Nicomachean Ethics, using these references to illustrate commonly held notions. This method of persuasion has been used throughout history, and is particularly important to Aristotle's work because of the importance he places on commonly held beliefs and their relevance to political science.


Aristotle's original version of the Nicomachean Ethics was written continuously, without book or chapter divisions. Since very early, however, others have traditionally divided it into ten "books" with varying numbers of "chapters" within each book. These books and chapters generally correspond to natural divisions in Aristotle's argument. Translations and manuscripts have varied in the past, however, and sections are sometimes rearranged by editors in an attempt to make the argument flow more smoothly.

The first book is largely concerned with happiness and what is meant by this term. Book II discusses the different types of virtues of human character and how these virtues are acquired. Book III distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary actions and begins Aristotle's list of specific virtues of character, which continues through Book IV. In Books V and VI, he addresses two special virtues of justice and thought. In Book VII, he looks at virtue from another angle and discusses incontinence and how pleasure plays a role in virtue. Books VIII and IX are related to how virtue is put to use in human relations, particularly in friendship. Finally in Book X, Aristotle returns to the question of pleasure and then to where the book began, with another examination of happiness.

This section contains 657 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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