A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Aristotle’s Ethics

A lecture by Paula Gottlieb

The Declaration of Independence hails the importance of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, but what is the happiness that is to be pursued? If happiness is whatever any particular individual thinks it is, then why should a lawgiver pay attention to that if it does not harmonize with others’ good? But if happiness is objective, what is it? To answer these questions Professor Gottlieb will take the audience on a tour of Aristotle’s ethical theory from the traits of character required to be happy to the type of friendship needed for a happy life. In sum, Aristotle argues that the decisive factor in being happy is ethically good activity. Therefore, according to Aristotle, the pursuit of happiness, far from being selfish, should be congenial to others’ pursuit of their happiness also.

Paula Gottlieb was educated at Oxford and Cornell. She specializes in ancient Greek philosophy and Ethics. She has received fellowships from the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington D.C. and the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work includes an analysis and commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics I and II for Project Archelogos, the entry on Aristotle on Non-Contradiction for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The Practical Syllogism”, an essay in the Blackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, “Aristotle’s Ethics” in the Oxford Handbook of the History of Ethics, and The Virtue of Aristotle’s Ethics, published by Cambridge University Press.  She is currently writing a book, Aristotle on Thought and Feeling with Cambridge University Press.