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Aristotle's Dialogue with Socrates: On the Nicomachean Ethics

by Ronna Burger University of Chicago Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 306 pages
AU$92.00 NZ$94.78
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What is the good life for a human being? Aristotle’s exploration of this question in the Nicomachean Ethics has established it as a founding work of Western philosophy, though its teachings have long puzzled readers and provoked spirited discussion. Adopting a radically new point of view, Ronna Burger deciphers some of the most perplexing conundrums of this influential treatise by approaching it as Aristotle’s dialogue with the Platonic Socrates.

This dialogue initially takes the shape of a debate Aristotle stages with Socrates, identified in the Ethics as a proponent of the doctrine that virtue is knowledge. Tracing the argument of the Ethics as it emerges from the debate, Burger’s careful reading shows how Aristotle represents ethical virtue from the perspective of those devoted to it while standing back to examine its assumptions and implications. Providing brilliant insights into Aristotle’s understanding of the moral life, friendship, and philosophy, Burger’s study uncovers in the speeches of the Ethics an action that proceeds in a Socratic manner to offer a Socratic answer to the question of human happiness.

Introduction The Socratic Question of the Ethics


1 The Final End and the Way to It
From the Good to the Human Good
Opinions about Happiness
The Human Good and the Human Ergon
Happiness in a Complete Life
The Nonrational Psyche

2 Excellence of Character
A Non-Socratic Account
Ethical Virtue and the Measure of the Mean
Responsibility and Nature

3 Virtues and Vices
The Beautiful as Telos of the Virtues
Justice in the City and Justice in the Soul


4 Excellence of Thought
The Pivot of the Argument of the Ethics
The Rational Psyche
Intellectual Virtues
Phronesis, Sophia, and the Claim to Happiness

5 Pleasure and the Discovery of Nature
A New Beginning: From the Bestial to the Divine
The Faction of Passion and Reason
Pleasure by Nature and the Good

6 Friendship and the Discovery of the Self
Rational and Political Nature
Perfect Friendship and Other Species
Justice in Friendship
The Friend as an Other Self
Friendship, Eros, and Philosophy

7 Happiness
Pleasure Revisited
The Theoretical Life
The Legislative Art
A Socratic Answer to a Socratic Question?

Appendix 1 Socrates, Plato, Philosophy

Appendix 2 Virtues and Vices

Appendix 3 Categories of Justice

Appendix 4 Classifications of Pleasure


“Burger has written a book brimming with stimulating puzzles and insights covering, almost in the style of a commentary, every part of the Ethics. . . . Her book’s ability to inspire and foster inquiry into the subject matter of the Ethics is quite possibly the most beneficial result her mode of interpretation yields.”
Ronna Burger is professor of philosophy at Tulane University.