Aristotle's Ideas Of Achieving Happiness
Aristotle’s view point in regard to virtue ethics examines what virtues a person needs to live a flourishing life. I am going to argue that virtue ethics best comports with the messiness of actual life. The ethical concepts and theories involved in virtue ethics have persuaded me including how we achieve happiness, virtue, and excellence. A virtue is a habit that can be learned or lost through experience. The more practiced a virtue is the easier it comes to a person. Too little or too much of a virtue is bad. To be virtuous is to attain human excellence, thus happiness. These ideas and arguments set up human nature and the human person in the best way. All humans want to be their best self and want to succeed in life. Aristotle recognizes that this is very possible for all humans but it will not just be handed to them. You must practice virtues every day and choose how to act in certain situations. Virtues are based in regard to actions and not feelings. To be your best self, Aristotle believes it is something you must work on throughout your whole life.
Aristotle believed happiness was not possible without excellence or virtue. Virtues and vices are used to define behavior. Virtues are mostly qualities that humans are attracted to. Vices are not praised but blamed. Vices are unattractive qualities. Virtues and vices cannot be an emotion, feeling, or capacity. Virtues and vices are actions. “A virtue is a commendable trait of character manifested I habitual action.” (Rachels 2015, 161)We are blamed for the actions we take on the occasion of giving into our anger but we are not blamed for feeling our anger. We are not blamed for our capability of feeling but in the way, we use these capabilities.
Virtues are habits that humans are predisposed to have. Our virtues have connections between choice and action. If someone has the virtue of courage it means they are disposed to do brave things. They will not run away from fear but they will face it. The more the person is enveloped in the virtue the more it becomes part of their nature. A virtue is along the lines of a habit of choosing to behave in ways that correlate with that specific virtue. Virtues are learned by means of practice. When you are in possession of a virtue, you have a quality that is the perfect balance of an emotion. A virtuous person is able to find this medium. Take the virtue of generosity for example. The deficiency of this virtue is stinginess. The extreme of this virtue is prodigality. The person that possesses the virtue of generosity has found the perfect middle between the two extremes.
Aristotle’s idea of how we achieve happiness includes finding out what happiness is for human beings. Aristotle believed that every human makes their choices based on what will make them happy. I agree with this due to the fact that even if someone makes a choice that might hurt themselves but help someone else they will be happy to have helped that person even if they harmed themselves. If they didn’t help the person they would feel guilty. Every choice is made in order to find an end to the means. Every action is done for the reward of the outcome. “Now, as there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are many; the end of the medical art is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of strategy victory, that of economics wealth.” (Aristotle 1994-2000, bk 1) Aristotle believed that happiness was living the best life a human being could live.
Happiness could not be something that can be taken away from someone. If you obtain something that you could lose, you will be living in constant fear of losing that thing. I think this is an interesting argument. People that are in love with another person could think they are so happy, but if they put all their love and happiness into another human they will be broken if that person leaves them. I think it is important to find your happiness within yourself. Aristotle believed that when human beings are their most excellent self, they will be truly happy.
In order for humans to be truly happy, Aristotle believes that they need to be the most excellent version of themselves. To do this, you can learn excellence through virtues. A virtue is a habit that can be learned or lost through experience. The more practiced a virtue is the easier it comes to a person. A virtue needs to be balanced between the extremes. Aristotle called the mean what we should strive for at all times. It is the right amount of a virtue. Humans use reason to try and get as close to the mean as they can. This is true because of the fact that you can have too much of one thing. To truly obtain a virtue you cannot just do the act. Aristotle did not believe that the life of moral virtue required the rejection of all pleasures. Aristotle believed that virtue in itself should be a pleasure for humans.
In the event that someone achieves a virtue, they are doing what is right while also enjoying it. “Accordingly, to be virtuous is more than acquiring a habit or disposition to act in a certain way. It involves wanting to act in that way.” (Hooft 2006, 58) They choose to do this thing and take pleasure in doing it for the reason that they know it is right. He believed doing something without pleasure made the action incomplete so, humans should take pleasure in doing what is right. This also coordinates with Aristotle’s belief that happiness was not just a feeling but an activity. I agree with Aristotle in light of the fact that I do not think you can take part in an action you do not enjoy and get happiness from it. I also agree that happiness is an action as well as a feeling. You will not find happiness if you sit around and wait for it to find you. I believe that if you want happiness you need to work to make the right choices to achieve it.
Virtue ethics has many redeeming qualities that put some parts of the messiness of life into perspective. Virtues are personal qualities and the only person who can be held responsible for them is the person that possesses the virtue. Virtue ethics does not hold any law accountable, just ourselves. We create the habits that become our character by our actions and choices. We are held responsible for what we choose to do and how we choose to act. Utilitarian’s make their choices based on what will be the best for the greatest good. This doesn’t take into account the fact that humans have emotions. Virtue ethics recognizes the messiness of emotions.
Sometimes you will make your choices based on how you feel. Virtue ethics does not hold you to a standard like utilitarianism. You are free to do things because it is a part of your character to do the right thing and take pleasure from it. “Virtue ethics is about desire and not duty, about what we want to do and not what we ought to do, about personal happiness and not the greatest happiness of all.” (Devettere 2002, 20) Virtue ethics encourages everyone to live in a perfect medium between extremes. If everyone lives this way then there will be equal benefits between all humans. If we are all equally generous, there will be no rich or poor. If we are all equally courageous, there will be no heroes or cowards. Everyone will be on the same playing field and there could be peace. The social contract theory struggles with this because under some laws oppressed groups cannot benefit from the laws that the theory says we, as humans, are bound to. Some laws oppress groups or harm a population. Other laws overtly benefit certain groups over others.
Some may say that the virtue ethics theory is incomplete. It could be argued that there is no basis in regard to when you are being extreme in a virtue or when you have found the mean. This is because of the fact that every person has a different living situation. “The stingy person gives too little; the extravagant person gives too much; the generous person gives just the right amount. But what amount is just right?” (Rachels 2015, 163) Say a person has only ten dollars but someone else has a hundred dollars. Both people donate ten dollars.
Who is the more virtuous person? It is hard to say because they both donated the same amount of money but one person gave everything they had while the other person gave a tenth of what they had. This is where the theory might be seen by some as incomplete. It is difficult to understand what is right because virtues only guide us. The virtue ethics theory cannot explain which virtue to use in a situation or on what scale to use it. It can, however, be used as a guiding tool. This is important because these virtues can apply to bigger theories to find out what qualities should be applied in certain situations. “The major virtues flow from our common human condition; they are not determined by social custom.” (Rachels 2015, 169) This is why virtue ethics is able to explain the messiness of life because even though it can be vague in some scenarios we still know that to live our best life we will need to follow these virtues.
The messiness of human life is due to many factors. Culture, gender, economy, social status, politics, and geography are all factors that contribute to this. Nothing is clear cut or precise and it is impossible to believe that there is one theory that can perfectly explain why humans choose to act or think the way they do. Every human is different and lives different lives. Some humans are put in scenarios others will never be put in thus making it difficult to choose one theory for every single human being to follow. Virtue ethics, however, does the best job possible in beginning to explore these questions. Humans choices are made based on a feeling, wish, or appetite. that they want to conquer. This feeling leads them to choose a way to act. These choices then turn into habits that we start to become disposed to repeating. These habits then turn to virtues and when we achieve excellence through these virtues we are happy. In actual life virtue ethics is able to guide you towards happiness but still gives you a personal freedom in order to find your own way.
- Aristotle. 1994-2000. “Nicomachean Ethics.” The Internet Classics Archive . http://classics.mit.edu//Aristotle/nicomachaen.html.
- Devettere, Raymond J. 2002. Introduction to Virtue Ethics: insights of the ancient Greeks . Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
- Hooft, Stan van. 2006. understadning Virtue Ethics . Chesham , Bucks: Acumen Publishing Limited.
- Rachels, James. 2015. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 8th Edition . New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education .
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