“The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.”Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Nicomachean Ethics is perhaps the most remarkable book of all time. My copy is old, secondhand—whoever had it before loved this book as much as I do. When you read Nicomachean Ethics, you will feel as though Aristotle is uncovering your own thought process, and there’s no doubt you’ll feel like a philosopher. Many have felt this way after reading this great book. In the late 1920s, a friend lent Nicomachean Ethics to Winston Churchill. He read it, and when he returned the book to its owner, he said it was all very interesting, but he had already thought of most of it out for himself.
One by one, Aristotle discusses multifarious moral virtues and their corresponding vices. [edit: pardon me, I’m just going to dive in] One of the virtues Aristotle talks about is magnanimity and true ambition and how they should comprise having the appropriate disposition toward honor and knowing what is one’s due, i.e., the greatness of the soul. Aristotles’ magnanimity resembles the portrait of pride described in Dante’s Inferno and the biblical description of a prideful heart.
“Virtue lies in our power, and similarly so does vice; because where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act…”
As you read Nicomachean Ethics, you will find Christian themes and principles throughout the text. The relationship between religious faith and philosophical reason is not surprising. However, I was surprised, or rather delighted, by the similarities between Nicomachean Ethics and Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. If you are unfamiliar with philosophy + ethics, as an introduction, I suggest reading Mere Christianity first before diving into the deep end with Aristotle.
“A man without regrets cannot be cured.”
I’ve mentioned this many times in conversation with friends, and I’ll mention it here as well—second to the Bible I believe Nicomachean Ethics to be the most important book in print. This book has been incredibly influential, even to St. Thomas Aquinas, our Church Father, and my patron saint. :) Throughout his life’s work, St. Thomas Aquinas made a case for sacred doctrine based on Aristotelian premises, synthesizing Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology, writing in the 13th century that he believed Aristotle had ‘said everything on ethics that needed to be said.’
“Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right?”
Although relatively distant from us in time, Aristotle is still one of the greatest minds we have the privilege of reading. Do I need to say more? If you haven’t read Nicomachean Ethics, this is your sign to add it to your 2022 reading list. ;)