Goodness is Simple?

Nicole Johnson

June 28, 2015

As I am reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, I do not understand his belief that “goodness is simple.” I feel like goodness should in fact be simple, but that is not the case in the world today or quite frankly, ever. For centuries humans have been trying to live the “good life” and we are failing miserably. From slavery, discrimination of the minorities, the holocaust, and the genocide in Rwanda, I find it very hard to believe that everyone aims to be good.

Aristotle believes that if humans aim for a common good we will miraculously solve the problems we have been facing since the birth of our nation. He states that a virtue is practiced, but what if someone contorts the virtues for the worse? For example, Hitler believed that his extreme actions against the Jews were virtuous. If that’s not scary I do not know what is. Adolf Hitler, a member of the human race, called for the disfiguration, the burning of flesh, the starvation of a select group of people and believed he was helping the world and doing good for society. In this case, I think everyone would disagree that as humans we do not see a common good for our lives and that will never change, if it hasn’t changed already.

Another example of people who justified their immoral actions as good would be seen in the Rwandan genocide. In the 1994, the country of Rwanda was split up into three social groups, the Hutu, the Tutsi, and the Twa. The Hutu began blaming all of the country’s economic and social issues on the Tutsi, who only made up fourteen percent of the Rwandan population. Soon after, the Hutu’s started killing the Tutsi for their extinction. A group of people killed another group of people for the end goal of their extinction. Neighbors were killed by other neighbors, family killed by other family members, and babies eaten by dogs. The country was covered in blood and no one was safe…and Aristotle believes that everyone strives for goodness. I believe Aristotle meant that as humans we should look for the better and live for one another but I feel as though that request is simply impossible. The Hutu’s proved that humans have a very dark side and it is easily turned on. How come our good side, the side that Aristotle talks about, cannot be turned on as easily?

I recognize that the examples I used maybe justified with a mental illness or peer pressure but other things that have happened in this world just cannot be justified. For example, slavery, the world’s prime past time and regret. Although there is still slavery and sex trafficking, we have come a long way from what it used to be. Aristotle mentioned slavery alongside with the choice and happiness slaves have but this is about the goodness that people practiced while having slaves. I could not tell if Aristotle had slaves or favored the idea of slavery but if he did; why would he say goodness exists everywhere? Most people realized that slaves were people at one point but most decided to ignore that fact so they wouldn’t feel so guilty to have them do their dirty work. Some slave owners were “nice” and respected their slaves but they still recognized that the slaves were their property. Slave owners had families to take care of and jobs to maintain and I bet they were nice people. I bet their family all had a common goal for life and I bet they were good to each other as well. But how come they weren’t necessarily good to their slaves. Was slavery an acceptable lifestyle because the nation was built on it? Was it considered a good thing because good people, also known as the world leaders, wrote it into the nation’s constitution? Or was it just good because the slaves were able to do work others did not want to do? Were the slave owners bad people for owning humans to do their work? Or were the slaves’ bad people for seeing the evil in this lifestyle but not raising above it just to spare their lives? These times are hard to reflect upon in a good light because there is no room for goodness in these experiences.

For more modern examples of the opposite of goodness in this world is seen through discrimination. Racial and gender discrimination has been around for many years and I’m pretty sure everyone in the world has experienced it. If goodness is simple, why do people get shot for the color of their skin? Or why do people get accused of terrorism because of the religion they practice? If goodness is simple, why do white people get pictured as racists because of the past? Or why do women have to deal with the label of ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ because they got raped? Also, why do guys get pictured as people who only strive for their sexual desires? If goodness is simple, why do a selected number of people determine the fate for all? For example, after 9/11 the Islams have been significantly shamed. Any group that is discriminated against is because of a few people who are evil out of a whole group of people who happened to have common skin colors or practices. It’s a shame and if the good was in everyone; it would not happen.

The numbers of questions I can ask about terrible times like these are endless and so are the questions I have for Aristotle when he thought that goodness is simple. I feel as though Aristotle thought he was a pretty good person to have the ability to think such a thing. I say this because he also mentions that there is evil in the world when in contact with excess or deficiency with things that are good or bad. He says that anyone who practices excess is absurd and they can do no right. If Aristotle believes something as impossible as goodness being simple, does that mean he is practicing excess by thinking that?

I think it is hard for humans to be good because it is not in our nature. Granted, we have the ability to be good in many circumstances. Like charity work, helping the homeless, helping loved ones get back on their feet, taking care of animals, being nice to people who are hateful, respecting others and wanting the best for other people. But there is also a side to humans where we long for the failure of others, we get jealous, we hate, we tamper with people’s lives, we don’t mind our business and we lie all the time. Goodness is hard for the human race because so many factors are placed in our lives to deny happiness like family member deaths, terrible car accidents, witnessing horrible things, and recognizing everyone isn’t good. When we experience those things we sometimes shut out the good that is within us so we don’t feel so hurt about the bad in the world. Humans cannot have a common end goal because we are all different people who have experienced other things. Some people can look on the bright side of everything and others just cannot see the good in anything. Certain people have the ability to create wonderful things and others have the ability to push themselves beyond the limits that most humans have. Everyone is different and that is why goodness is not simple. Goodness is the opposite of simple, it is confusing and challenging for the whole human race. We have sinned from the very start and we are learning as we grow that not everyone wants to see others succeed. Goodness is something we learn from the time we are born to the time we are on our death bed. It is not simple because if it was, the world would be a better place.

Citation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Chase, D. P. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. London: J.M. Dent ;, 1911.


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