The Nicomachean Ethics Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: The Nicomachean Ethics is a historically important text compiling Aristotle’s extensive discussion of existential questions concerning happiness, ethics, friendship, knowledge, pleasure, virtue, and even society at large.

Read in: 4 minutes

Favorite quote from the author:

The Nicomachean Ethics Summary

Video Summary

YouTube video

We have a limited time on earth. And yet many of us tend to live mundane lives, like there’s always going to be a next day. To wake up from that mind prison and see life as it is, a journey towards self-fulfillment, eudaimonia, achieving your purpose, and constantly improving yourself, it takes a lot of mind training. 

To pursue not just happiness but eudaimonia, which Aristotle refers to as a state of contentment where peace and serenity prevail, you must first escape the mind prison and wake up in your own skin again. The Nicomachean Ethics is a collection of ten separate books of Aristotle on the ethics of life. It will teach you valuable lessons while clearing your mind from the clutter of thoughts that keep you from being your best self.

Below are my 3 favorite lessons from the book:

  1. Aim to achieve a state of eudaimonia, instead of conventional happiness.
  2. Arete, or virtue, is accomplished through a lifetime of work.
  3. Strive to become magnanimous and thus, do honorable things in your life.

While we cannot possibly summarize Aristotle’s wisdom in a four-minute-read, I’ll try to go into as much detail as I can to explain the most essential points in regard to his perspective on life and the role of a human on earth. Here we go!

The Nicomachean Ethics Summary

If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.

Download PDF

Lesson 1: Eudaimonia is more than just happiness — it’s self-actualization.

All people struggle to become happy. As humans, it’s in our nature to seek our interests, do what feels good, and look for happiness. Many of us describe it as a good financial status, a high reputation, or good health. However, Aristotle tends to disagree with the conventional definitions of happiness and success. Rather than struggling to improve your materialistic state and expect happiness as a result of that, aim to achieve pure fulfillment and self-actualization.

Happiness is not a political science, nor the result of extrinsic factors. In fact, it’s a result of how we live and what we do. Moreover, this concept isn’t associated with today’s definition of success, not at all. Eudaimonia is a state of the mind, the heart, and the soul. A person who reaches this state is a blessed, fulfilled individual, with higher spiritual levels. As it looks, eudaimonia represents reaching self-actualization, more than anything else.

An interesting fact about this concept is that it matches Abraham Maslow’s philosophy of life. The Hierarchy of Needs created by him shows five levels of needs that humans go through, starting from physiological needs, and moving all the way to self-actualization. When a human reaches this level, they achieve their full potential and start being creative, similar to geniuses. They also find inspiration in their environment and see the world differently.

Lesson 2: It takes a lifetime to achieve eudaimonia and excellence in our endeavors.

According to Aristotle, “happiness is a virtuous activity of the soul”. To live with virtue is to be in arete. This Greek word stands for excellence, or achieving your full potential. Virtue can be moral, such as temperance or self-control, or intellectual, like wisdom and prudence. Moreover, one can only discover this state of being once the mind wanders. For that, we must fulfill our physical needs and go beyond survival mode. 

Our ability to reason has contributed to the development of society. Rational thought is how we discover our virtue and find balance between too much and too little. Aristotle associates eudaimonia and the means to it, arete, with something as simple as eating. Too little or too much of it can affect our health, but a balance between the two can preserve and nurture it. The same goes with our virtues: modesty, temper, courage, patience, and so on. 

Moreover, arete can help us achieve happiness. In fact, all of our goals are subconsciously programmed to end in achieving happiness, and for that, we must find our purpose and fulfill it, therefore satisfying both our physical and spiritual urges.

And while it takes a lifetime of work to achieve excellence and virtue, or arete, it is everyone’s purpose to do so. Unfortunately, not all people achieve it. As Aristotle says, “we are what we repeatedly do”. Therefore, arete is a habit, rather than an occurrence. Although it’s tough, everyone must face their own challenges on the path of fulfillment, and the sooner we accept them, the better.

Lesson 3: A great person is a magnanimous person.

Now, let’s start by defining what magnanimous means. According to Aristotle, to be magnanimous is to do honorable things and live greatly. To become so, one must live in arete, and experience eudaimonia. To be magnanimous, one has to have a high opinion about themselves, and know the need of giving back, helping others, being kind and virtuous. 

In achieving this, you have to be generous with money as well, and help those in need. Simply put, once you become the best version of yourself, you’ll see your great worth, and then you’ll be able to share it with the rest of the world. Achieving this state of mind is not an easy feat, and it takes a lot of self-introspection and inner growth. 

Living in fear and only fulfilling your best interests is described as being pusillanimous in Greek. This concept implies not being able to do the necessary things to pursue your best self and optimize it. It means showing lack of determination and courage to change. This state of mind will keep a man stagnating in his endeavors and not showing courage throughout his life.

To break the pattern of living an unfulfilling day-to-day life, you must step away from the mundane and let your mind wander. Think of your higher purpose on earth, and make it a priority to live for your cause. Embrace virtues like courage, morality, empathy, and step away from any type of fear, egocentrism, or arrogance.

The Nicomachean Ethics Review

The Nicomachean Ethics emphasizes how spiritual growth can be achieved only by working on yourself everyday, and how the process never really ends, although you become self-actualized on the way. Reading this book will have you rethink your life principles and look at things from a deeper perspective, thus becoming a better, more grounded person.

Who would I recommend the Nicomachean Ethics summary to?

The 55-year-old person who’s grown into a more spiritual being and has a passion for the Aristotelian lessons , the 30-year-old philosophy teacher who wants to deepen their knowledge in the field, or the 40-year-old person who’s been through a life-changing experience and wants to explore their spiritual side from now on.

Last Updated on June 15, 2023

Rate this book!
This book has an average rating of 4.1 based on 19 votes.

Maria Deac

While working with my friend Ovi's company SocialBee, I had the good fortune of Maria writing over 200 summaries for us over the course of 18 months. Maria is a professional SEO copywriter, content writer, and social media marketing specialist. When she's not writing or learning more about marketing, she loves to dance and travel all over the world.