Gabriel Richardson Lear presents a bold new approach to one of the enduring debates about Aristotle'sNicomachean Ethics: the controversy about whether it coherently argues that the best life for humans is one devoted to a single activity, namely philosophical contemplation. Many scholars oppose this reading because the bulk of theEthicsis devoted to various moral virtues--courage and generosity, for example--that are not in any obvious way either manifestations of philosophical contemplation or subordinated to it. They argue that Aristotle was inconsistent, and that we should not try to read the entireEthicsas an attempt to flesh out the notion that the best life aims at the "monistic good" of contemplation.
In defending the unity and coherence of theEthics, Lear argues that, in Aristotle's view, we may act for the sake of an end not just by instrumentally bringing it about but also by approximating it. She then argues that, for Aristotle, the excellent rational activity of moral virtue is an approximation of theoretical contemplation.
Thus, the happiest person chooses moral virtue as an approximation of contemplation in practical life. Richardson Lear bolsters this interpretation by examining three moral virtues--courage, temperance, and greatness of soul--and the way they are fine. Elegantly written and rigorously argued, this is a major contribution to our understanding of a central issue in Aristotle's moral philosophy.
Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: Happiness
- Length: 1043 words (3 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
From pursuing pleasure to avoiding pain, life seems to ultimately be about achieving happiness. However, how to define and obtain happiness has and continues to be a widely debated issue. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle gives his view on happiness. Aristotle focuses particularly on how reason, our rational capacity, should help us recognize and pursue what will lead to happiness and the good life.';(Cooley and Powell, 459) He refers to the soul as a part of the human body and what its role is in pursuing true happiness and reaching a desirable end. Aristotle defines good'; as that which everything aims.(Aristotle, 459) Humans have an insatiable need to achieve goodness and eventual happiness. Sometimes the end that people aim for is the activity they perform, and other times the end is something we attempt to achieve by means of that activity. Aristotle claims that there must be some end since everything cannot be means to something else.(Aristotle, 460) In this case, there would be nothing we would try to ultimately achieve and everything would be pointless. An ultimate end exists so that what we aim to achieve is attainable. Some people believe that the highest end is material and obvious (when a person is sick they seek health, and a poor person searches for wealth).
Most people think that the highest end is a life of pleasure. Hedonists have defined happiness as " an equivalent to the totality of pleasurable or agreeable feeling.';(Fox, 3) Some pleasures are good and contribute to happiness. Not all ends are ultimate ends but the highest end would have to be something ultimate; the only conceivable ultimate end is happiness.
Happiness is perhaps the only clear ultimate end. Happiness is what we strive for by itself and not to get anything else. "So it appears that happiness is the ultimate end and completely sufficient by itself. It is the end we seek in all we do.';(Aristotle, 461) Mans' good is related to his purpose; the purpose of a man involves the actions of his soul (the soul being a part of his reasoning). By carrying out the activities of his soul and doing so with proper excellence and virtue, man is able to reach a desirable end.
Virtue, then deals with those feelings and actions in which it is wrong to go too far and wrong to fall too short but in which hitting the mean is praiseworthy and good….
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Happiness True Happiness Good Life Equivalent Pleasures Searches Human Body Ultimate Feeling Ends
it is a habit or acquired ability to chose….what is moderate or what hits the mean as determined by reason.(Aristotle, 462)
Attaining a consummate existence and reaching an ultimate end is when a person is able to reach a virtuous mean.
Some people believe that happiness is achieved through wealth, honor, pleasure, or even virtue. Aristotle argues that wealth cannot constitute happiness because it is simply a monetary value that can be used only to gain happiness. Honor cannot make people truly happy because it focuses more on the people that are honoring them. Happiness is not directly experienced through pleasure. Virtue is not happiness because a person may be virtuous and not use or apply it to their life. Aristotle believes happiness to be a combination of these four elements: "the happy person is one who expresses complete virtue in his activities, with an adequate supply of external goods, not just for any time but for a complete life.';("Aristotle's…';,1) To experience happiness is to possess and make use of each of these qualities.
It would seem that no pleasure is the greatest good since nothing generated is the ultimate end. Happiness is the greatest good since it is the ultimate end of a man's life. Yet happiness is not found without pleasure; pleasure is the "perfect response to the perfect good.';(Aristotle, 460) Pleasure is not simply sensual gratification, it is a higher form of enjoyment such as mental pleasures, domestic love, friendship, and moral contentment. Pleasure is also a subjective feeling, and only the individual can measure his own emotions. Therefore, pleasure is not universal determinant of true happiness.(Fox, 3)
"All human beings desire pure and complete happiness, an active realization of their capacities; this goal can be achieved in many ways.'; (unknown, 1) It is noticed that happiness is achieved through a virtuous life, but it is also a direct result of getting away with wrongdoings, realizing truth, demonstrating restraint, overcoming problems, and letting go of rage or misery. Happiness is also awarded to us by living for the present and planning for the future, making others happy, taking pride in enemies' misery, surrounding yourself with others, and experiencing some peaceful solitude.( Myers, 1)
I think that Aristotle speaks truthfully when he claims that happiness is the greatest good, and it remains our most virtuous priority as we attempt to achieve the ultimate end. If happiness is what we all strive for, then the way we achieve it and what gives each person true happiness should not be questioned.
Happiness is a journey, not a destination. If we travel down life's dusty road thinking we will find happiness at the end, we will be disappointed. Unless we
find happiness along the way, it will elude us to the end. At the end, the journey is over and it is too late. Let's seek our happiness today; not wait for it to come to us by some magic means tomorrow.(Fisher, 1)
It is the way we control our own lives as we see it.
Perhaps everything we do is an attempt to reach happiness, but what we do and the degree to which happiness is found is different with each individual. Not everyone finds happiness, but peoples' actions and steps they take to reach the ultimate end determine their good. Carrying out activities of the soul with proper virtue and excellence results in achieving good. However, not everyone performs their actions with the same degree of excellence and judging the true excellence of such activities can be subjective. As long as the activities are performed to that persons' best ability, they should be seen as achieving a level of goodness. "True happiness lies in the active life of a rational being or in a perfect realization and outworking of the true soul and self, continued throughout a lifetime.';(unknown, 2)