Aristotle - The Organon TOPICA Book 3 Part 1

In themselves


1. The question which is the more desirable, or the better, of two or more things, should be examined upon the following lines: only first of all it must be clearly laid down that the inquiry we are making concerns not things that are widely divergent and that exhibit great differences from one another (for nobody raises any doubt whether happiness or wealth is more desirable), but things that are nearly related and about which we commonly discuss for which of the two we ought rather to vote, because we do not see any advantage on either side as compared with the other. Clearly, in such cases if we can show a single advantage, or more than one, our judgement will record our assent that whichever side happens to have the advantage is the more desirable.

2. First, then, that which is more lasting or secure is more desirable than that which is less so: and so is that which is more likely to be chosen by the prudent or by the good man or by the right law, or by men who are good in any particular line, when they make their choice as such, or by the experts in regard to any particular class of things; i.e. either whatever most of them or what all of them would choose; e.g. in medicine or in carpentry those things are more desirable which most, or all, doctors would choose; or, in general, whatever most men or all men or all things would choose, e.g. the good: for everything aims at the good. You should direct the argument you intend to employ to whatever purpose you require. Of what is 'better' or 'more desirable' the absolute standard is the verdict of the better science, though relatively to a given individual the standard may be his own particular science.

3. In the second place, that which is known as 'an x' is more desirable than that which does not come within the genus 'x' - e.g. justice than a just man; for the former falls within the genus 'good', whereas the other does not, and the former is called 'a good', whereas the latter is not: for nothing which does not happen to belong to the genus in question is called by the generic name; e.g. a 'white man' is not 'a colour'. Likewise also in other cases.

4. Also, that which is desired for itself is more desirable than that which is desired for something else; e.g. health is more desirable than gymnastics: for the former is desired for itself, the latter for something else. Also, that which is desirable in itself is more desirable than what is desirable per accidens; e.g. justice in our friends than justice in our enemies: for the former is desirable in itself, the latter per accidens: for we desire that our enemies should be just per accidens, in order that they may do us no harm. This last principle is the same as the one that precedes it, with, however, a different turn of expression. For we desire justice in our friends for itself, even though it will make no difference to us, and even though they be in India; whereas in our enemies we desire it for something else, in order that they may do us no harm.

5. Also, that which is in itself the cause of good is more desirable than what is so per accidens, e.g. virtue than luck (for the former in itself, and the latter per accidens, the cause of good things), and so in other cases of the same kind. Likewise also in the case of the contrary; for what is in itself the cause of evil is more objectionable than what is so per accidens, e.g. vice and chance: for the one is bad in itself, whereas chance is so per accidens.

6. Also, what is good absolutely is more desirable than what is good for a particular person, e.g. recovery of health than a surgical operation; for the former is good absolutely, the latter only for a particular person, viz. the man who needs an operation. So too what is good by nature is more desirable than the good that is not so by nature, e.g. justice than the just man; for the one is good by nature, whereas in the other case the goodness is acquired. Also the attribute is more desirable which belongs to the better and more honourable subject, e.g. to a god rather than to a man, and to the soul rather than to the body. So too the property of the better thing is better than the property of the worse; e.g. the property of God than the property of man: for whereas in respect of what is common in both of them they do not differ at all from each other, in respect of their properties the one surpasses the other. Also that is better which is inherent in things better or prior or more honourable: thus (e.g.) health is better than strength and beauty: for the former is inherent in the moist and the dry, and the hot and the cold, in fact in all the primary constituents of an animal, whereas the others are inherent in what is secondary, strength being a feature of the sinews and bones, while beauty is generally supposed to consist in a certain symmetry of the limbs. Also the end is generally supposed to be more desirable than the means, and of two means, that which lies nearer the end. In general, too, a means directed towards the end of life is more desirable than a means to anything else, e.g. that which contributes to happiness than that which contributes to prudence. Also the competent is more desirable than the incompetent. Moreover, of two productive agents that one is more desirable whose end is better; while between a productive agent and an end we can decide by a proportional sum whenever the excess of the one end over the other is greater than that of the latter over its own productive means: e.g. supposing the excess of happiness over health to be greater than that of health over what produces health, then what produces happiness is better than health. For what produces happiness exceeds what produces health just as much as happiness exceeds health. But health exceeds what produces health by a smaller amount; ergo, the excess of what produces happiness over what produces health is greater than that of health over what produces health. Clearly, therefore, what produces happiness is more desirable than health: for it exceeds the same standard by a greater amount. Moreover, what is in itself nobler and more precious and praiseworthy is more desirable than what is less so, e.g. friendship than wealth, and justice than strength. For the former belong in themselves to the class of things precious and praiseworthy, while the latter do so not in themselves but for something else: for no one prizes wealth for itself but always for something else, whereas we prize friendship for itself, even though nothing else is likely to come to us from it.

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