Aristotle on the Goodness of Unhappy Lives

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For Aristotle, the happy life is the highest human good. But could even unhappy human lives have a grain of intrinsic goodness? Aristotle’s views about the value of the “mere living,” in contrast to the good living, have been neglected in the scholarship, in spite of his recurrent preoccupation with this question. Offering a close reading of a passage from Nicomachean Ethics IX.9, I argue that, for Aristotle, all human lives are intrinsically good by virtue of fully satisfying the definition, and thus function, of their biological species. On the one hand, this rudimentary goodness is inde-pendent of whether the life is lived well or badly; on the other hand, it is ultimately outweighed by the badness inflicted on life by vice or extreme pain, so that the unhappy lives are, all things con-sidered, not worth choosing.
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Archival date: 2021-01-25
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