Aristotle’s Interpretation of Happiness in its Connection with Virtue
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Aristotle in his book Nicomachean Ethics considers the notion of goodness as a basis for all phenomena in the world. According to Aristotle, every activity with its outcomes is aimed at good. All our actions are motivated and we do one action or another just for the sake of something else. Aristotle supposes that this motive has to be good. He claims that what is good for one person will also be good for another. In such a way, while pursuing their own goals, people will contribute to overall goodness of the society they live in. Furthermore, the state based on this principle will benefit a lot (Aristotle 3).
It is also mentioned by Aristotle that the highest goodness can be reached by actions. Without a doubt, such goodness for a human being is happiness. Different people have different understanding of happiness. Usually, it depends on some external conditions. Every person who considers current state of affairs defines happiness in different notions. According to general opinion, happiness means the state of well-being. Due to Aristotle’s statements, people strive for happiness just for the sake of it (Aristotle 5). Such advantages as respect, honor, satisfaction, fame and other virtues serve as means for reaching the state of being happy. The real state of happiness makes one’s life complete, full of everything what is needed and desirable, when there is nothing left to be added. Very often, this state is considered to be absolute and final (Aristotle 8).
Aristotle classifies all goods into external goods which relate to body and soul. In such a way, happiness is defined as an activity of the soul and is aimed at virtue. On the one hand, virtuous actions are instruments for achieving happiness. On the other hand, they appear to be the results of happiness. That is why, happy people are very often involved in virtuous activities. They are satisfied with themselves and want to share this pleasure with others (Aristotle 12). Happiness is regarded as divine blessing for the virtuous actions. However, the state of being happy for some individuals is closely related with material welfare, as without wealth, their happiness would not be complete. Obviously, some people associate happiness with virtue, while others cannot imagine it without large fortune.
Aristotle calls happiness “an activity of the soul” (Aristotle 20). He emphasizes that happiness and virtue are interrelated. From his perspective, in order to comprehend the nature of happiness it is advisable to investigate the nature of virtue. He differentiates two kinds of virtue: intellectual and moral. An intellectual virtue appears as the result of teaching, while moral virtue is formed by habits. Consequently, he proves that human being does not endue moral virtues by nature. However, the philosopher also points out the feature which unites different virtues. It lies in the fact that every virtue, as any other action, leads to pleasure or pain (Aristotle 27).
To some extent, Aristotle relates virtue to the state of character, which aims to improve the person for good and makes him/her act well. However, virtue always involves the possibility of choice. In such a way, it is a state of character, which lies in the means leading by rational principle. Its high priority is intermediacy as the most desirable condition. Aristotle, describing virtue as the main mean for reaching the state of happiness, emphasizes on its voluntary nature (Aristotle 38). Therefore, people are exposed to the risk of becoming self-indulgent on their way to happiness. However, it is not random that Aristotle defines temperance as one of the main virtues.
All in all, Aristotle’s key to happiness lies in measure. Only when people draw a line and not overstep it, they will be really happy with their lives.