Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle: History, Importance, and Summary

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What is the Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle About?

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle is about ethics! Haha 🙂

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle is an essential book in Philosophy and Ethics. It talks about Ethics, Morals, and Values that Aristotle believed are important to attain Eudaimonia. It is a concept that refers to great happiness or fulfillment in Greek.

How Long is the Book Nicomachean Ethics?

Depending on the translated edition of the book that you buy, the entire book could have 35,000 to 40,000 words. This is around 100-150 pages. So, good news! Nicomachean ethics is a very small book and would mostly take you around 2-4 hours to finish reading it.

Who Should Read the Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle?

Anyone interested in history, philosophy, law, ethics, or literature should definitely read this book. And because this book is a starting point in philosophy, anyone looking to get a break from the hustle and bustle of busy life, should consider reading this as a free-time leisurely book. This book will not only teach you something about the ancient wisdom of a Greek Philosopher. But will also open your mind to new ideas and perspectives.

Where Can I Get the Nicomachean Ethics?

History of the Book Nicomachean Ethics:

Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” is believed to have been written in the 4th century BCE. Aristotle was born in 384 BCE and died in 322 BCE. The exact date of composition for the “Nicomachean Ethics” is not known with precision, but it was likely written during Aristotle’s time in Athens, where he founded his own school, the Lyceum. And engaged in extensive philosophical work.

Aristotle’s works, including the Nicomachean Ethics, have had a profound and lasting influence on the field of ethics and philosophy as a whole, and they continue to be studied and discussed to this day.

Why is the Book Named Nicomachean Ethics?

Nicomachean ethics is named after Aristotle’s son, Nicomachus. He is a very unpopular figure in philosophy and probably even so when he lived. Unlike his father, Nicomachus is not known to contribute anything to the fields of philosophy and ethics. Yet, the book Nicomachean ethics is named after him. If you are wondering ‘why?’ it could get a little complicated. And there could be several reasons:

1. People with Prestige and Authority:

Earlier in Greece, it was a practice to attribute or dedicate new works to popular and famed philosophers. Sometimes, it was attributed to their family members to get more attention to that work. So, it could be that someone either discovered this book written by Aristotle after his death and shared with people attributing it his son Nicomachean. Or it could also be that Nicomachus found the book instead and named it after himself. Think of it like this: Imagine J.K Rowling’s children finding one of her books after her death and then publishing it with their name on it.

Or a very improbably case, but this book could even be written by someone other than Aristotle or his family. And the less popular philosopher might have attributed his work to Aristotle’s son. Just to make people take their work seriously. But this is improbable since historians have studied other works of Aristotle in detail and compared them closely with Nicomachean ethics. They focused on the writing style and the philosophical style. After this greater research, they were convinced that it was written by Aristotle. But who knows? We might get new insights in the future.

2. Nepotism and Favoritism:

What if Aristotle himself named the book after his son? Parents love their children so much, don’t they? But this is improbable as well, because historians have found that the title was given to this work by later scholars and not during Aristotle’s time.

3. Academic Mistakes and Blunders:

It could possibly be mistaken by later scholars who the author of the work was. Maybe, while compiling the works of Aristotle, scholars happened to be careless and put the name of Nicomachus. It could also be a much later blunder by the translators of the original work. Maybe, they mis-translated something about the authorship of the work.

One thing which is quite clear is that authorships are often a grey zone in historical texts, since there could be lots of confusions regarding them. Hence, historians go up to great extent to uncover the secrets of history and use methods such as in-depth analysis of texts to find similarities in the writing styles of all the works of philosophy written in that particular era. Now, with better Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning, these analyses have been possible and more efficient.

With these analyses, for now, it is believed that Nicomachean Ethics was written by Aristotle himself and not anyone else.

Summary Highlights of Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle:

Nicomachean ethics is a work by Aristotle, in which he discusses how to reach the final goal of being happy in life. He calls that happiness ‘Eudaimonia’. However, consider Eudaimonia to be a concept rather than a word because it does not have an exact translation in English. The ancient Greeks had many such concepts and vocabulary that hardly have an equivalent in any other language. Aristotle, in his books of Nicomachean ethics, just considers the ethics to be roads to Eudaimonia, which is for people to get ultimate fulfilment and happiness in life.

Unlike most modern books, Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle or other Greek books did not have chapters. They were just grand works divided into small books. Those small books were very much like the present-day chapters. Modern scholars have divided the entire manuscript of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics into 10 books. We don’t know the exact number of pages in the original manuscript. It was translated and copied from Greek language over a period of many years by many different scribes and translators. But we have the closest to what’s available in the form of these 10 books.

In each of these 10 books, Aristotle discusses an important aspect of ethics in order to attain the perfect happiness or pleasure:

Book 1 of Nicomachean Ethics:

Aristotle’s Quest for Happiness

In Book I of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle introduces several key concepts and sets the stage for his exploration of ethics. Here are the main concepts and topics discussed in Book I:

  • The Nature of Ethics: Aristotle defines ethics (ethike) as a branch of practical philosophy concerned with how to live a good life and achieve eudaimonia, often translated as “happiness” or “flourishing.”
  • The Highest Good (Eudaimonia): Aristotle argues that the ultimate goal of human life is eudaimonia, which is a state of living well and flourishing as a human being.
  • The Teleological Approach: Aristotle introduces the teleological approach, which means that everything has a purpose or end (telos). He suggests that the good for humans is achieving their telos, which is eudaimonia.
  • The Role of Virtue: Aristotle emphasizes the importance of virtue (arete) in ethics. Virtue is excellence of character, and it is essential for achieving eudaimonia.
  • The Doctrine of the Mean (Golden Mean): Aristotle introduces the idea that virtue is a mean between two extremes—an excess and a deficiency. Virtue involves finding the right balance or moderation in one’s actions and feelings.
  • The Importance of Habituation: Aristotle argues that virtue is not innate but is developed through habituation and practice. Virtuous behavior becomes ingrained through repeated practice.
  • Moral Responsibility: Aristotle discusses the role of moral responsibility in ethics. He suggests that voluntary actions, those done with knowledge and deliberate choice, are praiseworthy or blameworthy.

Book 2 of Nicomachean Ethics:

On Virtues    

In Book II of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the focus is primarily on the concept of moral virtue and the elaboration of the doctrine of the mean (Golden Mean) in greater detail. Most important topics covered in Book II:

  • Moral Virtue (Ethical Virtue): Aristotle delves deeper into the nature of moral virtue (ethike arete), which is the central focus of his ethical inquiry. Moral virtue involves excellence of character and is concerned with the choices and actions of individuals in their daily lives.
  • The Doctrine of the Mean (Golden Mean): Aristotle expands on the concept of the Golden Mean, which he introduced in Book I. He elaborates on the idea that virtue is a mean between two extremes—an excess and a deficiency. Virtue entails finding the right balance or moderation in one’s actions and emotions.
  • Examples of Virtues and Vices: Aristotle provides numerous examples of specific virtues and vices to illustrate the concept of the Golden Mean. He discusses virtues such as courage, generosity, and truthfulness, as well as their corresponding vices of excess and deficiency.
  • Practical Wisdom (Phronesis): Aristotle highlights the significance of practical wisdom (phronesis) as a key intellectual virtue. Practical wisdom guides individuals in making morally sound decisions and finding the mean in specific situations. It plays a crucial role in ethical decision-making.
  • Habituation and Training: Aristotle reiterates the importance of habituation and training in the development of moral virtue. Virtuous behavior becomes ingrained through repeated practice and the formation of virtuous habits.
  • Voluntary and Involuntary Actions: Aristotle distinguishes between voluntary actions (chosen by the individual) and involuntary actions (forced or done in ignorance). Virtue is primarily related to voluntary actions, and moral responsibility is attached to actions done with knowledge and choice.

Book 3 of Nicomachean Ethics:

On More Virtues

These key topics in Book III provide a deeper understanding of specific virtues, including generosity, magnificence, magnanimity, and their corresponding vices and virtues, as well as their roles in Aristotle’s ethical framework. The book contributes to Aristotle’s exploration of moral virtue and the concept of the Golden Mean. Most important topics covered in Book III:

  • Generosity (Liberality): Aristotle discusses the virtue of generosity, which is the mean between prodigality (excessive giving) and stinginess (deficient giving). He elaborates on the characteristics of a generous person and how generosity relates to wealth and possessions.
  • Magnificence: Aristotle introduces the virtue of magnificence, which concerns grand and impressive acts of spending or giving in the context of significant projects or ceremonies. Magnificence involves spending the right amount for a worthy cause without being wasteful or stingy.
  • Magnanimity (Greatness of Soul): Aristotle explores the virtue of magnanimity, which involves having a proper sense of one’s own worth and deserving great honor. Magnanimity avoids the extremes of vanity (excessive pride) and pusillanimity (excessive humility).
  • Honor and Ambition: Aristotle discusses the relationship between honor and ambition. He explains how honor is related to the perception of one’s own excellence and how ambition can lead to virtuous actions when directed toward achieving true honor.

Book 4 of Nicomachean Ethics:

Friendship and its Forms

Book IV deepens Aristotle’s exploration of human relationships and the role of friendship in a virtuous and happy life. It provides insights into the nature and dynamics of friendship, its different forms, and its connection to ethical virtue.

  • Friendship (Philia): Aristotle introduces the concept of friendship (philia) as a crucial element of a well-lived life. He explores the nature of friendship, its different types, and the role it plays in human happiness.
  • Three Kinds of Friendship: Aristotle distinguishes three primary types of friendship based on their basis or cause: friendships of utility (those formed for mutual benefit), friendships of pleasure (those based on shared enjoyment), and friendships of virtue (those based on mutual admiration and respect for each other’s character).
  • The Superiority of Friendship of Virtue: Aristotle argues that friendships of virtue, which are based on a mutual appreciation of each other’s character and the pursuit of virtuous living, are the highest and most genuine form of friendship.
  • The Role of Friends in Moral Development: Aristotle discusses how friends can influence one’s moral development. Friends can encourage virtuous behavior and help individuals become better people.
  • The Pleasure of Friendship: Aristotle acknowledges the pleasure that comes from friendship but cautions against pursuing friendships solely for pleasure, as this can lead to shallow and temporary relationships.
  • Conflict in Friendship: Aristotle addresses conflicts and disputes that can arise in friendships. He offers advice on how to handle such situations and maintain the integrity of virtuous friendships.
  • The Reciprocity of Friendship: Aristotle emphasizes that genuine friendship involves a sense of reciprocity, where both parties care for and contribute to the well-being of the other.
  • Friendship and the Unity of Virtue: Aristotle connects the idea of friendship to the unity of virtue, suggesting that virtuous individuals are more likely to have and maintain true friendships.

Book 5 of Nicomachean Ethics:

Law and Justice

Nicomachean ethics book 5- law and justice. Alekhni Bookshelves

Book V focuses on the virtue of justice and its various aspects, including distributive and rectificatory justice.

  • Justice (Dikaiosune): Aristotle begins by discussing justice, which he considers the most complete virtue because it involves both giving to others what is due to them and refraining from unjust actions.
  • Justice as a Mean: Aristotle explores how justice can be seen as a mean between two extremes. He distinguishes between two types of justice: distributive justice (concerned with the distribution of honors, wealth, and other goods among the community) and rectificatory justice (concerned with correcting injustices and transactions between individuals).
  • Distributive Justice: Aristotle discusses distributive justice, which is concerned with the fair allocation of benefits and burdens within a society or community. He examines the principles and factors that should guide this distribution, emphasizing proportionality.
  • Rectificatory Justice: Aristotle delves into rectificatory justice, which involves setting things right when injustices have occurred. He discusses the role of voluntary and involuntary transactions and the concept of restitution.
  • Injustice (Adikia): Aristotle examines various forms of injustice, including theft, adultery, and assault, and discusses the vices associated with them.
  • The Role of Equity: Aristotle introduces the concept of equity (epieikeia) as a corrective measure when laws do not cover specific situations adequately. Equity allows for just decisions in cases where the strict application of the law may not lead to a just outcome.
  • The Limits of Justice: Aristotle acknowledges that justice has its limits and may not always apply in every situation. He highlights the importance of considering individual circumstances when applying justice.
  • Friendship and Justice: Aristotle explores the relationship between friendship and justice, suggesting that friends treat each other with greater leniency in some cases but also with a sense of justice in others.

Book 6 of Nicomachean Ethics:

Intellectual and Practical Wisdom

nicomachean ethics by aristotle book 6- wisdom and intelligence. Alekhni Bookshelves

Book VI deepens Aristotle’s exploration of intellectual virtues, particularly the virtue of righteousness and its relation to practical wisdom and justice.

  • Intellectual Wisdom (Sophia): Aristotle begins by discussing intellectual wisdom. It is characterized by knowledge of universal truths and principles. This form of wisdom deals with theoretical and scientific knowledge, and it is distinct from practical wisdom.
  • Practical Wisdom (Phronesis): Aristotle places a strong emphasis on practical wisdom (phronesis), which he considers the most important intellectual virtue for ethics. Practical wisdom is the ability to make morally sound decisions and find the mean in specific situations. It guides individuals in choosing virtuous actions.
  • The Relation Between Practical Wisdom and Moral Virtue: Aristotle argues that practical wisdom is essential for knowing how to apply moral principles and virtues correctly in concrete situations.
  • The Difference Between Practical Wisdom and Intellectual Wisdom: Aristotle distinguishes between practical wisdom (concerned with action and choice) and intellectual wisdom (concerned with theoretical knowledge). While intellectual wisdom is valuable, practical wisdom is more relevant to ethics and the moral life.
  • The Role of Deliberation: Aristotle discusses the role of deliberation (bouleusis) in the exercise of practical wisdom. Deliberation is the process of considering various options and means to achieve a desired end, and it is guided by practical wisdom.
  • The Role of Experience: Aristotle suggests that experience (empeiria) contributes to the development of practical wisdom.
  • The Unity of the Virtues: Aristotle reiterates the idea of the unity of the virtues, emphasizing that practical wisdom plays a unifying role by guiding individuals in the proper exercise of all virtues.

Book 7 of Nicomachean Ethics:

The Quest for Ultimate Knowledge and Geeky Wisdom

nicomachean ethics by aristotle book 7- knowledge. Alekhni Bookshelves

In Book VII of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle continues to explore intellectual virtues, focusing on the virtue of “knowledge of fine things” or “righteousness.” Most important topics covered in Book VII:

  • The Virtue of Righteousness (Dikaiosyne): Aristotle discusses the virtue of righteousness, which involves making just and fair decisions in particular cases. It is the knowledge of fine things or the ability to determine what is equitable and just.
  • The Relation Between Righteousness and Practical Wisdom: Aristotle emphasizes the connection between righteousness and practical wisdom (phronesis). While practical wisdom guides individuals in choosing virtuous actions, righteousness guides them in making just decisions that take into account the specific circumstances and equitable distribution of goods.
  • The Role of Laws and Rules: Aristotle discusses the importance of laws and rules in guiding human behavior. He notes that laws provide a general framework of justice. But righteousness is needed to apply these laws justly to individual cases.
  • The Virtue of Equity (Epieikeia): Aristotle introduces the virtue of equity (epieikeia) as a corrective measure when the strict application of laws may lead to unjust outcomes. Equity allows for just decisions in situations where the law might be insufficient.
  • The Virtue of Justice (Dikaiosyne): Aristotle distinguishes between justice in the strict sense (general justice, which involves following laws and rules) and righteousness (particular justice, which involves making just decisions in specific cases).
  • The Role of Friendship in Righteousness: Aristotle discusses how friendship can influence the exercise of righteousness. Friends are more likely to be fair and just in their dealings with each other. And this sense of fairness extends to the broader community.

Book 8 of Nicomachean Ethics:

Friendship and Virtue

nicomachean ethics by aristotle book 8- friendship. Alekhni Bookshelves

Book VIII provides a comprehensive exploration of friendship (philia), with a focus on the highest form of friendship, which is based on the admiration of virtue. Aristotle’s analysis underscores the importance of friendship in a well-lived and morally virtuous life, as well as its role in ethical development.

  • Three Kinds of Friendship: Aristotle revisits his earlier distinction of three types of friendship: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of virtue. He elaborates on these distinctions and their characteristics.
  • Friendship of the Good: Aristotle emphasizes that the highest and most valuable form of friendship is the friendship of the good, also known as virtuous or complete friendship. This type of friendship is based on mutual admiration and respect for each other’s character and virtue.
  • The Nature of Friendship: Aristotle delves into the nature of friendship, discussing its fundamental characteristics. He explains how friendship involves mutual goodwill, affection, and the desire for the well-being of the friend.
  • The Role of Pleasure and Utility: Aristotle acknowledges that friendships of pleasure and utility exist and can be valuable, but he points out that they are less enduring and less noble than friendships of virtue. Friendships of the good are characterized by an intrinsic value rather than external benefits or pleasure.
  • The Role of Time in Friendship: Aristotle suggests that time and shared experiences contribute to the development and strengthening of friendships. Over time, virtuous friends come to know each other deeply and build trust.
  • Friendship and One’s Ethical Development: Aristotle highlights the role of friendship in moral and ethical development. Virtuous friends encourage each other to live a life of excellence and virtue. And they serve as a source of moral guidance.

Book 9 of Nicomachean Ethics:

Mirror, Mirror – Self-Love and Self-Care

Book IX provides a deep exploration of the concept of self-love and its relation to virtue, friendship, and the pursuit of a virtuous life. Aristotle offers insights into the different forms of self-love and their ethical implications, emphasizing the importance of virtuous self-love for personal growth and moral development.

  • Self-Love (Philautia): Aristotle introduces the concept of self-love (philautia) and examines its various forms. He distinguishes between a healthy self-love that is aligned with virtue and a selfish or self-centered self-love that is detrimental.
  • Self-Love and Virtue: Aristotle discusses how self-love can be virtuous when it is directed toward the development of one’s own moral character and the pursuit of a virtuous life. Virtuous individuals naturally love themselves in this way.
  • Self-Love and Vice: Aristotle contrasts virtuous self-love with selfishness and egotism, which involve pursuing one’s own interests at the expense of others and without regard for virtue.
  • The Relation Between Self-Love and Friendship: Aristotle explores how self-love is related to friendship. He suggests that individuals who possess virtuous self-love are more capable of forming and maintaining virtuous friendships, as they are capable of loving others in a way that promotes their well-being and virtue.
  • The Role of Pleasure and Pain in Self-Love: Aristotle discusses how pleasure and pain are related to self-love. Pleasure can be a consequence of virtuous actions. And is aligned with virtuous self-love, while pain results from selfishness and vice.
  • The Limits of Self-Love: Aristotle acknowledges that there are limits to self-love and that excessive self-love can become harmful and contrary to virtue. He emphasizes the importance of balancing self-love with the interests of others and with moral principles.

Book 10 of Nicomachean Ethics:

The Grand Finale – Aristotle’s Take on Pleasure and Purpose

Book X provides a philosophical reflection on the contemplative life, intellectual virtue, and the pursuit of wisdom. Aristotle’s discussion in this book serves as a culmination of his ethical inquiry, emphasizing the significance of intellectual pursuits in achieving the highest form of human happiness and fulfillment.

  • The Contemplative Life: Aristotle discusses the value and significance of the contemplative life (theoretical life) as a higher form of existence compared to the practical life. He argues that contemplation and intellectual activity lead to the highest form of happiness.
  • The Life of Leisure: Aristotle discusses how the contemplative life is a life of leisure, free from the demands of practical activities and daily concerns. It allows individuals to engage in the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
  • The Pursuit of Truth: Aristotle emphasizes the pursuit of truth and the understanding of the highest and most fundamental truths about reality. Philosophical contemplation and the study of metaphysics and theology are ways to approach these truths.
  • The Limits of Human Knowledge: Aristotle acknowledges that there are limits to human knowledge, especially in the realms of metaphysics and theology. He suggests that while humans can aspire to understand the highest truths. Complete and definitive knowledge of these subjects may remain elusive.
  • The Contemplative Life and Friendship: Aristotle briefly addresses the relationship between the contemplative life and friendship. He suggests that friendships may continue to exist in the contemplative life, but they are not the primary focus.
  • The Ultimate Goal of Ethics: Aristotle concludes by reiterating that the ultimate goal of ethics is eudaimonia (flourishing or happiness) and that the contemplative life represents the highest and most complete realization of this goal.


Anyone interested in ethics, virtue, and the pursuit of a meaningful life should read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

This timeless work offers profound insights into human character, moral virtue, and the quest for happiness. It challenges readers to contemplate the nature of virtue, the importance of balance and moderation, and the role of intellectual pursuits in a fulfilled life.

Aristotle’s wisdom remains relevant for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of ethics and personal growth, making it essential reading for those exploring the fundamental questions of human existence. We hope we provided you with all the important aspects of this book in a nutshell. Let us know in the comment section if you would like us to add something else to this article! And don’t forget to check out other interesting books at Alekhni’s Bookshelves

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