Aristotle Ethics Of Happiness Philosophy Essay

2001 words (8 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 Philosophy Reference this

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In Ethics, Aristotle argues the highest end is the human good, and claims that the highest end pursued in action is happiness. Aristotle also claims that happiness is achieved only by living a virtuous life – “our definition is in harmony with those who say that happiness is virtue, or a particular virtue; because an activity in accordance with virtue implies virtue. Indeed, we may go further and assert that anyone who does not delight in fine actions is not even a good man.”(Aristotle) The virtuous life is full of reasoning for the good. Good is complete and most choice worthy. It is the human good in life that expresses virtue.

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Happiness is an essential aspect of Aristotle’s philosophy because for him it was an activity of the soul which attained at a high level of excellence refined over the span of a complete life that accords with virtue. The concept of virtue for Aristotle was anything that makes something good. The good is the result of what someone rationally aims for. If someone performs a job or a task that it is meant to be done and does it well, then it has good virtue. It is specifically the ability to use reason that sets humans apart from the other mammals and creatures. According to Aristotle, human virtue means virtue of the soul and not the body, just like human happiness means happiness of the soul. Virtue of humans also will be the state of character which makes them good and which makes them do their own work well. It is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us. Such a mean is determined by a rational principles and reasoning, and it is by reasoning that a wise human will determine it.

Happiness in general terms is a belief, an idea and a theory. Just like other theories, beliefs, and ideas may have fallacies, the theory of happiness might too. According to Aristotle happiness is an end, an end result of all the things a person does. Most of our acts are committed for a reason to achieve something else, but happiness is different. Aristotle believes that searching for happiness is for being happy only and not for something else. A happy man is the man that thinks he has everything he really needs. He has those virtues in which he needs to realize his potentials. Once realizing his potentials he’s able to achieve happiness. That‘s why Aristotle said that the happy man wants nothing more. Happiness is sought-after in itself and never for the sake of something else. Happiness meets Aristotle’s criteria for completeness viz. “An end pursued in itself, we say, is more complete than an end pursued because of something else.” (Aristotle) Happiness, according to him is just as self-sufficient as good, because both make life choice worthy. Apart from being chosen for themselves honor, pleasure and wealth, are also chosen for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Desires compiled of wealth, honor, and power are good but, they do not lead to happiness because they are superficial. Happiness, on the other hand, is not chosen or searched for, for the sake of these, or, for anything other than itself. Happiness is something final and self-sufficient.

This leads Aristotle to his definition of the happy life as a life made perfect by the possession of all good things such as health, wealth, friendship, knowledge, virtue – all these are constituent parts of happiness. Happiness is the whole good of which they are component parts. That is how happiness is related to all other goods. For the question as to why do we want to be healthy, one could answer by saying — because by being healthy would enable us to do the different kind of work we want to do. If then asked, why do you want to do that kind of work, the crucial answer would be – because you wanted to be happy. Now that if you were asked, why did you want to become or be happy, the only answer would be – because you wanted to become and be happy.

There is an argument as to what constitutes happiness. Is it pleasure, honor, health, wealth, knowledge or something else? Aristotle clarifies that happiness is not found in living for pleasure because such a life is slavish. Nor is it found in seeking honor because honor depends not on the person but on what others think of him. In addition, Aristotle holds that the happiness of a human can be defined by determining the function proper to the human soul. This function cannot be one that plants and animals also perform, because it must be particular to human beings. Therefore, the function must be a part of the practical life of the rational part of a human, the term practical implying determined conduct, which is possible only for rational beings. It follows, then, that happiness consists in the action of the rational part of a human. The ultimate good of a human should naturally flow from performing his function well. To constitute true happiness this action must persist with continuity throughout a lifetime. Aristotle’s argument can be considered flawed when he suggests only human beings with full use of reason can be considered happy because happiness comes by reasoning. Aristotle argues that what sets humans apart from animals are reason and the ability to perform actions that only humans can perform. Children are human, but until a certain age they cannot reason or perform actions. Though they are not animals but their reasoning capability is similar to animals. A child may be happy at any age and hence Aristotle cannot say that happiness is only for humans as they can reason. Animals can be happy, even if they lack reasoning. This level of happiness might not be familiar to humans, but it doesn’t mean that they cannot be happy.

There is another point in Aristotle’s argument that can be faulty. Aristotle’s search for the good is a search for the highest good. He assumes that the highest good, whatever it turns out to be, has three characteristics – it is desirable for itself, it is not desirable for the sake of some other good, and all other goods are desirable for its sake. But someone can attain happiness by having other goods. In other words, can’t a particular individual reach happiness through wealth, power, and honor? If that same individual has those things taken away, he is not happy. Those other goods are what help that individual reach Aristotle’s highest end. As without them happiness becomes reliant on those other goods in order for that individual to reach happiness, so happiness in some sense does depend on other goods.

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Can virtues and pleasures change man’s definition of Happiness? It can be decided on that virtues, and pleasures bring happiness because happiness is an end result of these things. But situations can change your definitions of what virtues and pleasures bring you happiness. Thus stating that happiness can not only be attained by having some virtues and pleasures, you must have possessions of all virtues and pleasure to be truly happy and stay that way. However does that imply that you lack some virtues and pleasures, and that you can never be truly happy. For example – a poor or sick man can never be truly happy. Can anyone ever be happy? According to Aristotle they can be happy and lead a happy life. If a man adheres to virtues and pleasures then there should be no reason for him not to be able to attain happiness. Aristotle also makes a point about having moral virtues – not lying, not taking a person’s life, and other morally right things. Being morally virtuous is a way to living a happy life. By not stealing, or killing, or lying one can be content in knowing he or she is good therefore bringing happiness.

But can moral, truth build the absolute definition of good; can some lead a good life without lying in the world? If you are to be put in a situation where you must lie to help or save someone, would you be able to find that happiness even though you are not morally virtuous? If this is possible then is disproves Aristotle’s belief that you always must be morally virtuous to be happy. These situations can always arise and if one moral virtue is chosen over another does that mean that you will not be able to be happy with the outcome. If you do not need moral virtues, then what is it that is needed to be happy? There are certain traits and virtues which are necessary in today’s world in order to ensure a happy life. Traits such as conformity, patience, self content, self assurance, as well as virtues such as justice and temperance are key elements in attaining happiness. If one does not learn to accept himself, reality, then how can he ever truly be happy with his life? We must be morally virtuous, but it cannot constitute our lives. Having a good character consists in nothing more than being willing to suffer some immediate pains or willing to give up some immediate pleasures for the sake of obtaining a greater good later on. It consists in nothing more than making the right choices. The right choices are always those that determine on, what is good in the long run. They are hard to make. But if we do not make them, we are likely to have some fun from day to day for a while, and in the long run ruin our lives. In the process of building our lives, Aristotle says we keep our eye on the future, and on the result we want to achieve for our life as a whole, counting all the days to come. What he teaches us is that we cannot become happy by living for the pleasures of the moment. We often have to choose between having a good time and leading a good life. And this is something, Aristotle says, most men often do not do. In this sense Aristotle’s theory can be credible. Happiness can be attained if a person leads a good life. The term a good life may be interpreted in many different ways, but ultimately a good life must be lead. Then and only then is happiness attained. Happiness cannot be seen as an immediate result, for all that would amount to be is a momentary pleasure. Happiness must be seen as an end result, and in thus being an end result it can only be achieved as a long term goal. To be happy is to attain a balance (the mean) between virtues, morals, pleasures, and goals. If a person can learn to find a balance and become content with his situation as a result of that balance, he will be happy. Throughout time people have claimed to have been happy, and it is universally known of what things we must do in our lives to be happy; be just, virtuous, and morally right.

Consider the situation of this final paper – It has taken me multiple hours to complete, and I have had troubles in writing it, but I write it to achieve a greater goal, a good grade. By achieving a good grade I will pass this class, and thus be happy, but there is always the chance that I may not get a good grade thus not achieving happiness. This possibility now presents a problem in all theories. No matter what we do, if we complete our duties and if we are morally virtuous, there are always cases that have the possibility of hindering us from achieving happiness even if that was our goal. Thus one must never lead his life by the assumptions of others, on what paths must be taken in order to achieve happiness or a good life. We must lead our own lives to the best of our ability, and in being at ease knowing we have made our own paths, then and only then can we really be happy. Overall Aristotle’s teachings have pointed out that happiness as an end in itself is the ultimate end and function of human beings. The only method of reaching this happiness is through reason. A life that does not exercise the role to reason will end up in some way being incomplete and never reach perfection. Therefore, reason is not only good for us but needed to reach an absolute existence.

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