More than any other philosophers, Aristotle enshrines happiness as a key purpose of human goal and life in itself. Because of this, he devotes more time and space to the issue of happiness than any other philosopher does before the modern era. He concludes that happiness depends on virtue cultivation. Essentially, this philosopher argues that virtue can be attained by maintaining the mean, which he defines as the balance that exists between two excesses (Ross, 1995). This paper, therefore, will discuss the thoughts of Aristotle about happiness.
There are two understandings of happiness or eudaimonia, one which is comprehensive, and another that is an intellectualist understanding. For instance, eudaimonia is appreciated in the activity of the most divine part of humanity, working in accordance with its appropriateness. According to the philosopher, this is the action of hypothetical consideration. According to the inclusive account, eudaimonia essentially involves the theoretical intellect activity, and the full range of human action and life, in line with the broader practical wisdom and moral virtual excellences. This understanding associates eudaimonia with the human nature concept as composite; that is as including the interaction of emotion, reason, action, perception (Nagel, 1972).
There have been numerous arguments that indicate that Aristotle was tempted by the intellectualist argument of eudaimonia. One of the best influential works on Aristotle is seen to be the Nicomachean Ethics, where he comes up with a theory of happiness that is even relevant today. In this case, one of the most essential questions that the philosopher looks to answer is what the ultimate purpose of existence of humanity is. Additionally, what is the ultimate end or goal should humankind direct their existence. In life, we have witnessed individuals looking for pleasure, excellent reputation and wealth, but while these have some form of value, none of these can take the place of the central good for which humankind should strive to obtain (Aristotle, 2004). To be an ultimate end or goal, an act should be final and self- sufficient; that which is at all times desirable in itself and never because of anything else, and it must be achievable by man. Aristotle argues that almost everyone would identify with the claim that happiness is the end, which addresses all of man’s needs (Nagel, 1972).
This definition of happiness utilizes and integrates into its definition, the aspect of good and spirituality, and supreme beings. This is unlike our usual understanding of what happiness is. It is the belief that happiness is reaching at a point or state whereby individuals are content with their lives to the fullest. With most individuals, today, it is easy enough to realize that we want pleasure, money, and honor because individuals believe that these aspects will bring us happiness. The main problem is that happiness in most of societies is conceived as a state of mind that is subjective. This is so because one might say that he is happy simply because he gets to enjoy a cold beer as a way of relaxing. It is quite different from the understanding of happiness because, in most cases, we do not see happiness as an end to itself; for Aristotle, however, happiness is a final goal or end that involves the totality of the life of an individual. It can, therefore, never be lost or gained in a short period, like sensations that are pleasurable. Aristotle sees it as the ultimate value of an individual’s life until it ends (Nagel, 1972).
Aristotle argues that if individuals are to stop with the truism, which the highest human virtue is eudaimonia, then they must enquire into a man’s ergon, since if an individual possesses ergon, then they are good and their good acts as a function of its ergon. The ergon of an individual or a thing is what he or it does that makes him or it what it is. Not everything or everyone has an ergon, but when they happen to possess it, then their good is spelled out by it. The appropriate human ergon, by which excellence in humanity is measured, is that which makes someone a man rather than something else. For instance, men do many excellent things, but since other living organisms can do the same things equally well, these things do not have anything to do with what makes individuals human (Hughes, 2001).
According to Aristotle, happiness involves attaining, through one’s life course all goods including wealth, health, friends and knowledge that result to perfection of the nature of humans and to the enrichment of one’s life. This requires individuals to make choices, some of which are usually difficult. In most cases, the lesser good promises an individual, immediate pleasure, which is usually more tempting. The greater good, in the other hand, is difficult and requires sacrifice. This philosopher’s doctrine of virtue is regarded as the golden man between the extremes of deficiency and excesses. To him, therefore, happiness is determined by the acquisition of a moral character, in which an individual displays a number of virtues such as the virtual of courage, justice, generosity, citizenship and friendship in their lives. These virtues require individuals to establish a balance or mean between deficiency and excess. A non- virtuous person can, therefore, never be happy (Aristotle, 1980).
On matters of happiness, I agree with Aristotle more than Plato because Aristotle argues his points more logically in and in a manner that most individuals can identify with; for example, in the case of attaining such goods and virtues as courage, health, knowledge and pleasure as ways of attaining happiness.
Aristotle. (1980). The Ethics of Virtue. Oxford University Press.
Aristotle. (2004). Nicomachean Ethics, ed. Hugh Treddenick. London: Penguin.
Hughes, G.J. (2001). Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Aristotle on Ethics. London: Routledge.
Nagel, T. (1972). Aristotle on Eudaimonia. Phronesis, 17(3): 252-259.
Ross, Sir D. (1995). Aristotle (6th Ed.). London: Routledge.
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