In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Aristotle's Ethics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Book-Length Studies
  • Collections of Articles in English
  • Collections of Articles in Modern European Languages
  • Bibliographies
  • Lexica
  • Historical Context and Aristotle’s Life
  • The Relationship between the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics (Book X.9)
  • Aristotle and Eastern Philosophy

Classics Aristotle's Ethics
Thornton Lockwood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0079


Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (EN) is the first part of what Aristotle calls “a philosophy of human things” (EN X.9.1181b15), one which finds its completion in Aristotle’s Politics (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Aristotle’s Politics). (Throughout this article, references to Ethics or EN are to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics; for the relationship of the Nicomachean Ethics to Aristotle’s other ethical writings, including the Eudemian Ethics (EE), see Relationship between the Eudemian and Nicomachean Ethics.) The work inaugurates the study of “ethics” as an independent discipline, albeit a discpline which is broader than modern notions of morality, which is primarily practical rather than theoretical, and which is the companion study to politics. The Ethics sets as its goal the understanding of the human good, or eudaimonia, which Aristotle describes as “an activity of the soul in accord with virtue” (I.7.1098a16–17). Its analyses range over the nature of the human soul, the notion of moral responsibility, the ethical and intellectual qualities—called virtues—that are perfections of the nonrational and rational parts of the soul, ways in which reason and desire are unified and in conflict, the nature of pleasure, and the various kinds of friendship that contribute to the human good. Although the work includes a treasure trove of passages that paint a picture of 4th-century Greek social and linguistic practices, the work’s most lasting significance has been its articulation of a philosophical vocabulary and framework to address many of the central questions concerning human well-being.

General Overviews

Kraut 2010 is the best short introduction appropriate for students and nonspecialists. Pakaluk 2005 is the best book-length introduction for students and nonspecialists (with a select introduction to secondary literature for graduate level students); older, but still valuable is Urmson 1988, which is also addressed to undergraduates, as is Hughes 2013, which includes questions to stimulate classroom discussion at the beginning of each chapter. Meyer 2008 and Irwin 2007 share the virtue of providing a detailed consideration against the backdrop of Aristotle’s predecessors and successors. Although Annas 1993 situates Aristotle within the framework of ancient ethical theories, it seeks to do so in a way that makes ancient ethical theory intelligible to contemporary ethical theorists. Sachs 2005 introduces the Ethics through a focus on the notions (and what he believes are the mistranslations or misunderstandings) of the terms hexis (habit), meson (mean), and kalon (noble). Shields 2007 surveys basic themes within the framework of a general introduction to Aristotle’s thought.

  • Annas, J. 1993. The morality of happiness. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Survey of the structure of ancient ethical theories, organized into four main themes: the nature of the virtues, the appeal to nature, the nature of the good life, and the possibility of ethical change. Within each section, numerous chapters are devoted to the discussion of the relevant Aristotelian texts.

  • Hughes, G. J. 2013. The Routledge guidebook to Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics. London: Routledge.

    Introductory volume that includes chapters on Aristotle’s life, major topics within the Ethics, and a concluding chapter on the differences between contemporary and classical ethical theories. Individual chapters include study questions for students (e.g., “Is Aristotle’s view of moral training tantamount to indoctrination?”).

  • Irwin, T. H. 2007. The development of ethics: A historical and critical study. Vol. 1, From Socrates to the Reformation. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    First volume in a three-volume history of ethics by a preeminent Aristotle scholar. Includes four chapters on Aristotle’s ethics and situates his works against the backdrop of classical, Hellenistic, and medieval ethical theories.

  • Kraut, R. 2010. Aristotle’s Ethics. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edited by E. N. Zalta.

    Clear and concise overview of the major themes by a major Aristotle scholar; includes glossary and bibliography.

  • Meyer, S. S. 2008. Ancient ethics: A critical introduction. London and New York: Routledge.

    Excellent introduction to ancient ethical theory generally, with a philosophically rich chapter devoted to Aristotle. Includes notes with references to major scholarly literature.

  • Pakaluk, M. 2005. Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics: An introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511802041

    Superb introductory volume that not only explores the main problems within the work, but also includes pedagogic models for how to analyze the argumentative structure of Aristotle’s writings and philosophical analysis of major problems in the text. Designed for undergraduates but thought-provoking for more specialized readers.

  • Sachs, J. 2005. Aristotle’s Ethics. In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by J. Fieser and B. Dowden.

    Introduction to the text that focuses on three central terms or concepts within the Ethics: habit, the mean, and the noble.

  • Shields, C. 2007. Aristotle. London and New York: Routledge.

    Book-length general introduction to Aristotle’s life and all his writings. Includes chapters on all the major aspects of Aristotle’s thought,(including a chapter devoted to the Ethics.

  • Urmson, J. O. 1988. Aristotle’s Ethics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

    Brief introductory treatment of the main doctrines of the Ethics, primarily for an undergraduate audience, which refrains from engaging scholarly conundra.

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