Aristotle exclaims that the goal of the individual is happy fulfillment (eudaimonia). He gives a dissertation on the different things we call by the name of happiness, and then accepts or rejects them as being true happiness. He shows that good is preferable over bad, and that good brings happiness and fulfillment while bad brings unhappiness and unfulfillment. The goal of the philosophy of ethics is to instruct the individual on how best to determine good and bad things. Aristotle explains that we all want more good in our lives so that we can be more happily fulfilled. Thus a life of happy fulfillment, eudaimonia, is good. Then we can say that the goal of the philosophy of politics is to use the results from the philosophy of ethics, and all the other philosophies, to instruct people on how best to strive together for the greater good – a greater Eudaimonia.
Firstly, the philosophy must define its terms and put them in some sort of order so that all aspects of a good life can be examined. He is laying the foundation of the science. He walks through the definition and ordering process for us so we can apply it to these, and other, things. Aristotle explains that there is not a single great and divine Good, but actually an orderly set of little goods that if coordinated to the same goal amount to a greater good. Doing a thing correctly is good. Doing little things correctly are little goods, and big things done correctly are big goods. All big goods are actually complicated arrangements of many little goods which, when each is done well, automatically advances one toward a greater good. When doing a thing no longer leads to a greater thing, but is an end in itself – we have reached the highest good that all those subordinated little goods.
In the case of emotions, Aristotle describes a way to discern the best actions. He describes the soul of man has having two parts: the rational and the irrational, reason and emotion. All of our desires and passions well forth from our emotions. The goal of the moral man is to make these emotions subordinate to the wishes of reason. If the emotions are left to find their own way the result will be less than good, and perhaps downright bad. Aristotle relates that when we make choices purely on the basis of pleasure or pain we will find that the pleasurous does not always lead to the good, and the painful does not always lead away from the good. He shows examples to highlight his thought. Generally, the immature and ordinary man will let pleasure and pain, and therefore a false sense of good and bad, lead him unknowingly down the path of vice instead of virtue. Aristotle introduces us to the mean in order to use reason to avoid pitfalls in navigating through the polarities of the vices. The mean is a point between two extremes of vice, not halfway but rather somewhere along the spectrum between deficiency and excess where the best attributes of the vice combines to form a virtue. These means between all the vices is the path of virtue, hence the way to the highest good. We use the mean in order to make virtuous choices, and thereby construct a good life from the repetition of virtuous acts. Repeating virtuous acts makes it easier to discern and perform future virtuous acts. But the individual needs guidance to choose the virtues of the greater good. Politics guides us in a community effort to build good lives for the greatest number of people, and hence, the greater good. Many good lives are more of a good thing, and thus a higher good, than one good life.
The choices we have to make are further made difficult because each situation is different. The mean (i.e. the virtuous, the good) of a situation changes with the particulars. The virtuous man can discern the truth in moral dilemmas, and choose to act correctly within the particular situation.
After we understand that an act of virtue or vice is a conscious choice, we then can use this freedom of choice to live the best life. The trick is applying the philosophy of politics to everyday life. Aristotle shows us that vices have two poles, excess and deficiency. Both excess and deficiency are bad things as they cause bad actions. Somewhere between excess and deficiency is the mean, and it is a good thing because it causes good actions:
the mean between cowardice and recklessness is courage. the mean between self-indulgence and insensitivity is self-control. the mean between extravagance and stinginess in giving is generosity. the mean between stinginess and extravagance in taking is generosity. the mean between meanness and vulgarity is magnificence. the mean between vanity and smallmindedness is highmindedness. the mean between ambitiousness and unambitiousness is the right amount of ambitiousness. the mean between apathy and shorttemperedness is gentleness. the mean between boastfulness and self-depreciation is truthfulness. the mean between buffoonery and boorishness is wittiness. the mean between grouchiness and obsequiousness is friendliness. the mean between bashfulness and shamelessness is modesty. the mean between envy and spite is righteous indignation.
To further describe one of the above examples: buffoonery is clownish, immature and prankish amusement, while boorishness is rude, insensitive and uncouth amusement. Wittiness, on the other hand, is ingenious insight into a situation that reveals an incongruity that evokes laughter. It is clear that in the matter of amusement, boorishness is the deficiency, buffoonery is the excess, and the mean is wittiness – characterized by its virtue of being not only funny, but insightful, and therefore good.
Aiming for the mean in our actions leads to a life of undeniable good, though the exact particulars of each and every action will not have the exact same characteristics. If there was an Absolute Good, as Plato thought, then all good actions must partake of the qualities of this Good. But if any undeniably good-resulting action can be demonstrated to be at odds with yet another undeniably good-resulting action, in regards to the particulars of the choices made, then there simply cannot be an absolute good. Good is fluid, not fixed. Nature is imperfect, and so is good.
Aristotle also teaches that in some emotions the mean is actually all the way over to one extreme, as in fear. Aristotle posits that along the spectrum of fear, the opposites are cowardice and courage. Courage being a mean of itself as Aristotle demonstrates with courage being the mean between cowardice and recklessness in the emotion of confidence. Therefore, despite the emotion and despite the distance between the extremes of that emotion, the mean remains the same.
The freedom of choice and the freedom to act upon those choices is a gift with a moral responsibility. Aristotle rejects the claim of Socrates that no man is willingly bad. Aristotle believes every man makes a conscious decision to be either bad or good, and realizes the consequences of the choice. Common law and history make it plain that because man has choice, he is obligated to choose correctly for the greater good. This also means that each man is personally responsible for the state of his own character, whether virtuous or vicious.