The Nicomachean Ethics /nɪˌkɒmæˈkiːən/ is the name normally given to Aristotle's best known work on ethics. The English version of the title derives from Greek Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια, transliterated Ethika Nikomacheia, which is sometimes also given in the genitive form as Ἠθικῶν Νικομαχείων, Ethikōn Nikomacheiōn. The Latin, which is also commonly used, can be Ēthica Nicomachēa or, Moribus ad Nicomachum.
The work, which plays a pre-eminent role in defining Aristotelian ethics, consists of ten books, originally separate scrolls, and is understood to be based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum, which were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle's son, Nicomachus.
The theme of the work is the Socratic question which had previously been explored in Plato's works, of how men should best live. In his Metaphysics, Aristotle described how Socrates turned philosophy to human questions, whereas Pre-Socratic philosophy had only been theoretical. Ethics, as now separated out for discussion by Aristotle, is practical rather than theoretical, in the original Aristotelian senses of these terms. In other words it is not only a contemplation about good living, but also aims to create good living. It is therefore connected to Aristotle's other practical work, Politics, which similarly aims at people becoming good. However ethics is about how individuals should best live, while the study of politics is from the perspective of a law-giver, looking at the good of a whole community.
The Nicomachean Ethics is widely considered one of the most important historical philosophical works, and had an important impact upon the European Middle Ages, becoming one of the core works of medieval philosophy. It therefore indirectly became critical in the development of all modern philosophy as well as European law and theology. Many parts of the Nicomachean Ethics are well known in their own right, within different fields. In the Middle Ages, a synthesis between Aristotelian ethics and Christian theology became widespread, especially in Europe. While various philosophers had influenced Christendom since its earliest times, in Western Europe Aristotle became "the Philosopher" under the influence of the Spanish Moslem philosopher Averroes. The most important version of this synthesis was that of Thomas of Aquinas. Other more "Averroist" Aristotelians such as Marsilius of Padua were controversial but also very important. A critical period in the history of this work's influence is at the end of the Middle Ages, and beginning of modernity, when several authors such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, argued forcefully and largely successfully that the medieval Aristotelian tradition in practical thinking had become a great impediment to practical political thinking in their time. However in more recent generations, Aristotle's original works (if not that of his medieval followers) have once again become an important source. More recent authors influenced by this work include Alasdair MacIntyre, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Martha Nussbaum.