A Hierarchy of the Good - Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics Bk I Ch I - IV

Hierarchy of Goods

Aristotle begins his famous work on ethics with a fundamental premise: Everything we do, all the time, has to do with the pursuit of some good. Now these goods are varied, and each activity, skill, or art has its own good end. For example, medicine is for the good of health, shipbuilding is for the good of having vessels, strategy is done for the sake of winning, and economics practiced for the good of wealth. Yet, he says, there are some pursuits which are more perfect than others because to attain their end is to attain the purpose of the lower pursuits as well. For example, the pursuit of winning a war or nation independence would require all the pursuits above - economic, strategic, naval, etc. Therefore, the pursuit of independence or freedom is hierarchically higher than the previous as the previous are required in the pursuit of the higher. 

An Ultimate Pursuit
This leads to an interesting impasse, though, as it begs the questions regarding the ultimate pursuit or good for which we do things. Clearly all pursuits would ultimately be vain if there was no final reason for doing them. If economics is for wealth, and wealth for shipbuilding, and shipbuilding for naval power, and naval power for military success, and military success for freedom, and so and and so forth, then what is the highest good for which everything else is done? "If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good." 

In so many words, there is a hierarchy of goods, with some being better than others, and an ultimate being best. Having this knowledge as to what is the highest good to pursue, then, will make all the difference in one's life. "Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is, and of which of the sciences or capacities it is the object. It would seem to belong to the most authoritative art and that which is most truly the master art." 

The Highest Art
In terms of the highest art or field, Aristotle identifies this with political science. This may seem odd at first, and so needs some unpacking. In terms of relative pursuits of this or that field, politics acts as the director of all the others in a society. Politics says which fields should be pursued, and to what degree. Politics involves guiding all the aspects of human society like the mind governing the limbs of the body. And so a good political system brings harmony to the whole, just as a good man has harmony throughout the parts of his body. But what is the highest good which the highest art pursues? 

The Highest Good
Here Aristotle famously points out that happiness is that which all men desire. Happiness is the highest good, the happiness of the individual and of the polis. But this answer is incomplete, as Aristotle points out because people disagree at to what constitutes happiness. Some claim is it power, wealth, health, and honor, yet others point to a higher calling, say of virtue, while others point to the highest happiness only being associated with the highest good, and the highest good only with the highest being, the creator. "For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honour; they differ, however, from one another and often even the man same identifies it with different things, with health when he is ill, with wealth when he is poor; but, conscious of their ignorance, they admire those who proclaim some great ideal that is above their comprehension. Now some thought that apart from these many goods there is another which is self-subsistent and causes the goodness of all these as well." 
1 - Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Book I, Ch. I - IV. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html