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Exegetical Paper on Aristotle: Meaning of Happiness Essay

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Updated: Aug 14th, 2022

Introduction

Every human being is seeking ways to live a happy and fulfilling life. People may be happy when their state most closely corresponds to their inner satisfaction. However, there is no clear explanation that could clarify the notion of absolute happiness. In this paper, happiness will be considered not as an ultimate goal in life but as an individual’s way of life, which is manifested in their activities.

Ethics of Aristotle

Eternal questions about how to live a happy life have been appealing to people for many years. In ancient ethics, the first philosopher to investigate the concept of happiness was Aristotle. In Nicomachean Ethics, he argues that happiness consists in the “activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are several virtues, in accordance with the best and most complete virtue” (Bielskis et al., 2020, p. 58). Consequently, the source of absolute happiness underlies the active exercise of one’s virtue. The motive of virtue implies that every action has a good purpose. Every craft and every method of inquiry, as well as every action and deliberate choice, seem to seek some good. The cultivation of virtues should be seen as a lifelong practice that may lead to an absolute blessing, ultimate good, and self-sufficiency.

The desire of a person to commit good deeds and put meaning in them bestows their life awareness and contemplation. The human good is determined by the human function insofar as determined by the activities that distinguish human beings from other living things (Aristotle & Irwin, 2019). It follows that happiness is not the ultimate goal but the path to it. Significant is not what aim the individual pursues but what methods they use to achieve it. As the philosopher claims, “the function or exercise of that which is better is higher and more conducive to happiness” (Aristotle, 1906, p. 337). The crucial key to happiness is a conscious attitude to one’s actions and activities that make up the individual’s life.

Happiness may lie in activities that develop a person’s prudence, in virtuous actions, and deep contemplation. Moran (2018, p. 92) argues that “the greatest happiness is achieved by the man who performs the activity that displays the greatest excellence characteristic of a human being.” Happiness, according to Aristotle, is the satisfaction that a person achieves with the maximum manifestation of their essence, which is initially based on goodness. Virtue, that is, striving for the highest good, is the guarantee of happiness. At the same time, virtue is expressed in finding a balance between things to avoid excess or scarcity. It is in the balance, according to Aristotle, that the completeness of the human personality lies, and only through balance can a person find true self-satisfaction. Aristotle finds a connection between the greatest good and the natural balance of things. The philosopher suggests that every conscientious person should “make every effort to live in the exercise of the highest of our facilities” (Aristotle, 1906, p. 340). The pursuit of happiness is the search for real natural truth, and this is the fundamental calling of the human being.

Therefore, happiness may be a sublimation of all human goods and virtues. Happiness, then, is something complete and self-sufficient since it is the end of what is doable in action (Aristotle, 1906). However, some benefits and blessings might be completely different depending on the circumstances and conditions in which the individual is living. In other words, human benefits can be determined by the needs and requirements of a person. For instance, health may be taken for granted by a healthy person, yet a person who is exhausted by illness dreams of healing. Consequently, human virtue may be an individual phenomenon determined by one’s needs and conditions.

Conclusion

To summarize the above arguments, happiness is a complex phenomenon that philosophers have studied since ancient times. Aristotle believed that happiness involves a life lived in accordance with reason and virtue. Aristotle claimed that every action might have a good intention, which constitutes the general well-being and blessing. Therefore, human beings should be eager to develop the noblest parts of their soul, which might subsequently lead them to absolute and unconditional happiness. Happiness may lie in activities that develop a person’s prudence and deep reflection. At any time and under any circumstance in our life, people should practice virtue and thus reflect on life.

References

Aristotle., & Irwin, T. (2019). Nicomachean ethics (3rd ed.). Hackett Publishing Company.

Aristotle. (1906). The Nicomachean Ethics. (Peters, F. H., Trans.). Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

Bielskis, A., Leontsini, E., Knight, K., & Sgarbi, M. (2020). Virtue ethics and contemporary Aristotelianism: Modernity, conflict and politics (Bloomsbury studies in the Aristotelian tradition). Bloomsbury Academic.

Moran, J. (2018). Think, 17(48), 91–99.

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