Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Assignment Project
Write 3+ pages (double-spaced, typed) on one of the following topics.
Your essay should demonstrate careful reading and a clear understanding of the text(s) involved, as well as careful and accurate use of their concepts. You need to synthesize ideas and arguments from across one or more texts, demonstrating critical abilities and philosophical insight. You will have to express your own viewpoint creatively, giving reasons for specific claims you make and making reference to the relevant texts and sources.
For information on how to quote and incorporate sources, consult this guide (also available under “Resources” in Modules): How to Use Quotations in Writing .
 Think back to our initial discussion of the liberal arts as practices of freedom that are theoretical or contemplative and which aim toward developing our intellectual capacities. Or, in the words of John Henry Newman, the liberal arts involve a kind of reasoning “which sees more than the senses convey; which reasons upon what it sees, and while it sees; which invests it with an idea.” How does this same theme or concept arise in Plato’s Phaedo? How does it connect to what Plato means by “philosophy”? How does it relate to his notion of a transcendent Reality (the Forms)? What bearing, if any, might this have on an education that is inflected toward the “liberal arts”? Is this how you think about your education?
 In Phaedo Plato argues that living well and dying well rests in our ability to perceive or intuit a transcendent Reality (the Forms) that lies above or beyond this present life (even if present in this world insofar as material things participate in that Reality). How does Plato’s understanding of absolute Reality and our connection to it function in his arguments for the immortality of the soul (focus here especially on the Affinity Argument and Form of Life Argument)? Do you find his arguments persuasive or see some parts as more compelling that others? Are there implications of his arguments that you think he could trace out more completely? Given his assumptions, how would you argue for the immortality of the soul?
 At the beginning of Plato’s Phaedo we find Socrates in prison writing music – composing a hymn to Apollo and putting the myths (moral fables) of Aesop to music. Socrates says he is doing this in response to a dream sent to him by Apollo and in order to “purify himself” before death. He also says that a poet needs to tell myths rather than give argument. How do these motifs – Apollo, prophecy, music, myth, argument, and self-purification – recur throughout the rest of Phaedo (e.g. the discussion of swans, the final myths)? What points do you think the author, Plato, is trying to express with these? Why do you think he organized the dialogue in the way he did?
 In Phaedo Plato suggests that living well and dying well is a matter of priorities: we should value things that last and are grounded in absolute Reality over things that change and pass away. This is what he calls “practicing philosophy in the right way,” which frees us from mortal ill and leads to happiness (e.g. 81a). What does this sort of life look like? What kinds of virtues are necessary for practicing philosophy? Why does it require these virtues? How do his beliefs shape his attitude toward our present, material experiences and desires? Where should his language be taken as hyperbole and where should it be taken more at face value? What do you think about these issues of what we value and how we prioritize our wants and desires? What are some practical implications of these views for everyday life? What do you think about his perspective?
 In his Nicomachean Ethics, how does Aristotle ground his account of happiness (eudaimonia, flourishing) in an analysis of the human function? What does he mean by a “human function” and what does it tell us about what it means to be human? What light does this analysis of the human function and happiness shed on his claim that a life of pleasure, honor and reputation, or money-making cannot possibly be genuinely happy? Since happiness does seem to have some relationship to pleasure, how does Aristotle both distinguish and interrelate them? Do you think a person can be wrong about what will make them happy? Why do people sometimes seem to have such difficulty identifying what will make them genuinely fulfilled? What do you think about Aristotle views on happiness?
 In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he argues for claims that intersect with claims Plato makes. Both philosophers hold out some kind of happiness or blessedness as an outcome of how we shape our lives. Both believe that a cultivation of virtues that directs, prioritizes, and constrains our desires is a key to happiness. Both believe that immediate gratification through material pleasure can lead us down destructive paths. Trace out some of these similarities, but also look for differences, both obvious (e.g., Plato’s focus on life after death) and less obvious (e.g., how each thinks about the human capacity for higher thought and rationality). What is your perspective on Plato’s and Aristotle’s respective visions of happiness and virtue? What do you think about these issues? Do you agree with either or both of these figures? Why or why not? Are there places in which you find yourself in significant disagreement? Use specific examples to help illustrate and explain your arguments and viewpoints.