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Aristotle happiness



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    Happiness is a very relative term in the sense it is an expression arising from different occurrence by totally different and furthermore in a different environment. You can imagine the feeling of Kofi Annan when he was inaugurated in as the Secretary general of the United nations, the feelings of a student at a long awaited graduation ceremony or even still when John McCain when he clinched the republican nomination for presidential bid. These are all instance where we can confidently say that subjects are experiencing happiness or some sense of happiness. My use of human subjects in this illustration might elicit you to ask me if at all this acronym is associated with us human beings alone, but to your surprise I don’t think I know. This extended relativity of ‘happiness’ made two well known philosophers of the old- Aristotle and Plato- to have their take on it. In this excerpt we will discuss Aristotle’s view of Happiness including his conclusion that happiness is something complete and self-sufficient, and is the end of action. But first we begin with contemporary understanding of the subject.

    Happiness of Aristotle.

    [1]The etymology of this word is derived from the word ‘eu’ meaning ‘good or well being’ and ‘daimon’ which means ones lot of fortune from the extension of words spirit or minor deity. The contemporary and wide use of the word happiness implies a state of mind or may be a condition of pleasure and joy Eudaimonia is far put from this definition. According to Plato, in his city of God, happiness must be regarded as sovereign good and must align itself in accordance with life of virtue. In his assertion of this argument, Plato puts it that it is only through the knowledge of God that one can attain happiness of this sense.

     [2]Nicomachean Ethics is a work on moral philosophy by Aristotle and it is a description that addresses such areas as moral responsibility, weakness of will and virtue. In Nicomachean Ethic’s book 1, Aristotle in chapter 7 discusses the concept of happiness. In the proper definition of happiness or Eudaimonia Aristotle, puts it as the best possible way of living. Today our society may also approximate happiness to what Aristotle said, but nonetheless difficulty may be encountered when we attempt to put it as the best possible life. Contemporary philosophers embrace a completely different approach of happiness from what Aristotle meant. Aristotle discussed the concept of happiness or Eudaimonia from the idea of what may be good or suitable for man, i.e. what is proper for man. He also discussed about Ergon meaning that innate part that makes something what it real is. This meant that what man real is separates him from the rest of the creatures. Reproduction, nutrition, pleasure, digestion are concepts that man shares with other creatures and therefore our Ergon as men cannot be limited within the constraints of these concepts (Terence,1999). One of the concepts not mentioned above, the ability reason, Aristotle said, was the only realm that was unique to men. That means that the only difference between us and a snake is that we have that ability to reason out our actions:

    ‘It is not surprising, then, that we regard neither ox, nor horse nor any other kind of animal as happy; for none of them can share in this sort of activity. For the same reason a child is not happy either, since his age prevents him from doing this sort of actions. If he is called happy, he is being congratulated because of anticipated blessedness; for as we said, happiness requires both complete virtue and a complete life’, (Terence: 1999, p12)

    From this conclusion of Aristotle that the happiness modern man employs is quite different from the meaning behind Aristotle’s. We always think happiness arises out of a pleasant activity. According to Terence Irwin (1999) our view of happiness tend to be hedonistic and we think not too far of what we might be expected. Happiness by Aristotle is expressed by all you feel about your full potential, fulfilling your ability and capacity as a living being in which you will be able [3]to flourish by coming out expressing the fullness of your inner self, (McKeon,2001). He brings in the idea of that happiness cannot be divorced from practice of virtue. In Aristotle’s view, [4]according to the argument of Terence Irwin, virtue leads to happiness in the sense of achieving balance and moderation, (Terence, 1999). He therefore strongly agree with Plato who documented that human well being does not consist in wealth, power, or fame, but in virtue; that so long as one remains a good person one is immune to misfortune.  Therefore Aristotle’s moderation by way of virtue is just an expression of preventing excessive and inadequacy or cowardice or balance in generosity would be a mid way between a miser and extravagance. To Aristotle the only way for man to achieve highest level of pleasure is by acting in balance and moderation.

    Let’s evaluate our above discussion. According to the proposal of Aristotle happiness is intrinsically important and that it is a premise that is easily acceptable by many people and by this he distinguishes happiness from other virtues like courage, honor, and pleasure. He writes that:

    [5]“Honor, pleasure, understanding and every virtue we certainly choose because of themselves, since we would choose each of them even if it had no further result, but we also choose them for the sake of happiness, supposing that through them we shall be happy.”(McKeon, 2001: p 33).

    [6]In evaluation of this let us consider inquiring of a person about his feel on particular activities or actions. You will not be surprised that his or her answer will be that it made him or her happy. It will therefore be senseless to ask why one will want to be happy. It is therefore evident that other virtues like the ones mentioned above (courage, pleasure and courage) are pursued because one wants to get happiness. We can conclude that these virtues are less complete ends without happiness. In this way happiness is supposed to self sufficient. Happiness therefore requires a complete life, further to include the reason that life involves a lot of reversals in fortunes, as good or bad. To expound on these, consider what Aristotle says that a man can be prosperous in his youth but may fall into a terrible disaster in his old age. If someone has suffered these sorts of misfortunes and comes to a miserable end, no one might even recognize him as happy, (Terence, 1999).

    A part from being complete happiness is also regarded as self sufficient:

    [7]“We regard something as self-sufficient when all by itself it makes a life choice worthy and lacking nothing; and that is what we think happiness does.”,( Kraut 1992, p23). When considering our life time, it is enough to regard it as good and desirable. Therefore life is in this [8]case considered worthy living because of happiness attributed to it, which is most choice worthy, (Terence, 1999: p.21).

    After concluding that Eudaimonia is a life of excellence, ‘activity of soul in accordance with virtue’, Aristotle adds: and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete’ (1098a16). It is not immediately clear what he intends by this last phrase. One would suppose that full excellence would require display of all the distinctive virtues of man. Theirs is nothing in the function argument to imply that there’s an order of importance among these, or that if there is, excellence consists in the display of only the most important. Aristotle will in fact argue for the superiority of theoretical over practical, and will distinguish the highest form of happiness from secondary form.


    [9]In conclusion and borrowing from our argument if the word ‘man’ was a functional word in anything like the way ‘knife’ is , criteria for being a good man may be derivable from consideration of man’s distinctive powers. Aristotle, however, is not asking what is it to be a good man, but what the good is for man. It is evident from above that the best thing for a man is to be the best possible man. This little slide is made easier for Plato and Aristotle by the fact that as (as noted at 1095a19) ‘living well’ and ‘doing well’ are equivalent in Greek with Eudaimonia (‘happiness’). Also in the discussion is the argument of Aristotle that it is a conceptual truth that men want to live a good life and indeed the best possible life; or in other words that men want happiness- this, as we said, being the word that people use for the life they think as the best possible one. People differ as to what sort of life is the best. Lastly, Aristotle says that we want various things not only for their own sakes but for the sake of Eudaimonia, meaning that we regard them not as a means to subsequent felicity but as ingredient to the whole life we want. When he asks ‘what is the good for man?’ he is not assuming that there is just single activity worth engaging in. If there are several such activities there can still be the good for man, namely the life that contains all these activities. The notion of happiness or the best life is a comprehensive notion. This is what we regard as a complete and self-sufficient result of Eudaimonia.


    Irwin, Terence. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, Second Edition, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 5-15.
    Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge companion to Plato, London: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
    McKeon, Richard. The Basic Works of Aristotle, New York: The Modern Library, 2001 pg 935-1112.
    Ackrill. J. L, Aristotle’s Ethics, London: Faber & Faber1981 pg 41-181.
    l              Williams, B. Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Fontana, 1985), chs 1 & 3.

    [1]          Ackrill. J. L, Aristotle’s Ethics
    [2]          Ackrill. J. L, Aristotle’s Ethics
    [3]          McKeon, Richard. The Basic Works of Aristotle,
    [4]          Irwin, Terence. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics
    [5]          McKeon, Richard. The Basic Works of Aristotle,
    [6]          Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge companion to Plato
    [7]          rwin, Terence. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics.
    [8]          Irwin, Terence. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics
    [9]          Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge companion to Plato

    Aristotle happiness. (2016, Jul 21). Retrieved from

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