Aristotle’s happiness

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Aristotle is arguably considered one of the greatest thinkers in the history of philosophy and western science at large (Ross, 2007). His contributions are wide ranging in the fields of metaphysics, mathematics, logic, biology, politics among others. One of the most comprehensive subjects handled by Aristotle was, eudemonia, that has been translated to mean happiness. According to Taylor (2014) Aristotle argued that happiness is the only good or end that humans desire just for its own sake. Further, the great philosopher explained that happiness is not simply a pleasant feeling of satisfaction of gratification or contentment but rather an activity by humanity only understood in the context of functionality as experienced by mankind. Further, Aristotle explained that only rational principles are particulate to human beings and that for these beings to be happy, then they must live their individual lives with regard to such reasons (Pojman & Vaughn, 2012). In Aristotle’s view, the pair explains, emotion and reason must be carefully harmonized and balanced for such a life to be realized. In other words, when Aristotle reasoned that happiness is an action of human soul (spirit and the mind) he was describing a lifetime of virtue and excellence. In the great philosopher’s opinion, happiness is not purely limited to the moral virtue as an ethical end but rather takes into consideration the intellectual values as well. According to Sylvester (2013) far-reaching happiness is a pensive activity. The author goes on to explain that happiness is not just an event or a one-time activity but can only be exercised adequately in the presence of certain or internal goods – health, money and friends – taking into consideration a number of incommensurable goods that allow individuals to flourish in self-sufficiency.

All Activity by Man is geared Towards some Good

Aristotle argued that if there exists some good to the things that we undertake as human beings and this is done for its own sake then the resultant effects are super good (Urmson, 2015). In his view, the knowledge of that which is good has a great inspiration in the way mankind approaches life in its entirety. According to Pojman & Vaughn (2012) Aristotle wondered whether people must lead a life reminiscent to that which is led by archers – with a pre-determined target to hit at – and hope in striking that which is right in the process. The pair observes that each and every inquiry or activity by human beings is perceived to be in pursuit of some good and thus the good is declared as that which everything is aimed at. However, a definite good exists among the ends since some of the things are products of activities that are different from them (Ross, 2007). The author observes that the ends exist separately from the actions rendering the products far much better than the activities themselves. This leads us into concluding that there are many ends as there are arts, actions and sciences. In the same vein, Aristotle pointed out that where such arts fall under a distinct capacity, then the same is likely to happen under all the other arts and that it produces no change whether activities exist as the ends of the actions or as separate entities from activities just as it happens with the sciences.

Defining Happiness

Aristotle contends that anything that which human beings perceive as good or the best appears diverse, subject to the different arts or actions and whether used in reference to strategy, medicine etc (Sylvester, 2013). This leaves us guessing; then what is actually good for each? We may as well attribute this state of affairs to the very pursuit, by humans, for each and everything on this planet. This would mean that for strategy, it is victory, medicine for good health and a house for architecture and so on. It, therefore, follows that if there is an end to all that which we do, the such an end will be the good realizable by action. However, since there exists more ends than one, it may be quite acceptable assuming that whatever comes up as the final result, then that is the chief good (Ross, 2007). In the same vein, if there exists only one final end, then that is ultimately what human beings seek but if there exists more than one end, then the final outcome in most of all these ends is what we seek to achieve. Consequently, that which is worth the pursuit is the key thing in quest to realize real happiness.

In a bigger picture, we may as well argue that there exists no such a thing as happiness. In this case, we choose happiness for itself not for the sake but pleasure, honor and reason of anything else including any other virtue human beings may choose for themselves (Taylor, 2014). However, it is worth noting that, in making such choices, they are simply informed by our judgement that we are in pursuit of ideal happiness in the long run (Sylvester, 2013). Similarly, several scholars caution that no one chooses happiness for the sake of anything rather than itself. Moreover, according to (Urmson, 2015) from the self-sufficiency point of view the same results on happiness follow since the final good is seen as self-contained. In this case, self-sufficiency is not used in reference to satisfaction of an individual human being confined in an imagined solitary life, rather, it also keeps in the loop the immediate family members, friends and fellow citizens at large. Notably, the requirements for happiness are also limited to some degree since we cannot extend them to include all our ancestors, possible descendants, or even the friends to our friends as this renders the chain uncharacteristically endless (Pojman & Vaughn, 2012). To avert the possibility of such an eventuality, we define self-sufficiency as that which when isolated is likely to make life lack in nothing, desirable and all that we conceive as good for happiness rather than imagining of happiness as one good thing amidst several others (Taylor, 2014). We may, therefore, conclude by saying that happiness is in itself a finality and by extension an end to action.

Common notions on the Idea of Happiness

In view of the opinion that every pursuit or school of knowledge is aimed at some hidden good, we may need to ask ourselves; what is the best achievable good from our activity as human beings? Many people, will most likely, agree that happiness is the greatest possible thing especially when living and doing well in being happy but differences come up when it comes to defining the concept of happiness itself. According to Taylor (2014) many men believe that happiness is an obvious plain thing just like honor, wealth or pleasure however the extent differs from one man to another. For instance, a man will associate happiness with good health when ill, wealth or riches when poor, in addition to an in born tendency to admire the people who proclaim greater ideals that most individuals can actually not comprehend.

Lower and Higher Pleasures

According to Ross (2007) an individual’s understanding of the concept of happiness is much dependent on the kind of life led by that person. Consequently, this creates three kinds of life: First, is the greater majority of people who equate life with sensual pleasure. There is a second group of men who associate life happiness with honor that Aristotle considered their objectives on earth to be very superficial. The third and the final cohort is believed to be the meditative cohort for whom factual happiness is an equivalent of the true good often referred to as eudemonia. The great philosopher believed that there were ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ pleasures. In a classic case, the study of philosophy may be seen as a pleasure and also as a worthwhile element in that one gains incredible knowledge. Consequently, it would make some sense to assume that a fulfilled life translates to a worthwhile life also.

Moral Virtues

Aristotle did make a deliberate attempt to cement his ideas on virtue to the specific characteristics that seem not only constant but also human (Pojman & Vaughn, 2012). On this front, Aristotle sought to examine the moral judgements and behavior exhibited by men who were seen as both good and virtuous. On Aristotle’s point of view, a virtuous man is one whose conduct is neither deficient nor excessive with regard to the desires, appetites and emotions. With happiness being described as a soul activity supported by a perfect virtue, we need to examine the nature of the virtue itself. According to Taylor (2014), many scholars have argued that virtues are also distinguished into categories as some are considered more moral, intellectual, philosophical and so on depending on different perspectives offered by the proponents. Narrowing down to moral and intellectual virtues, we note that moral virtues result from formed habits whereas intellectual virtues owe both birth and growth to teaching. On basis of this argument, it follows that none of the moral virtues arises naturally since nothing that exists in nature can form a contradictory habit.

Further, Aristotle links excellence to actions and passions with agent character being dictated by the respective voluntary choices made (Sylvester, 2013). From this view, follows that the choices made by human beings are made in respect to the perceived good which calls for sufficient knowledge especially when the optimum choices are to be made with regard to a particular situation. A well-developed, virtuous character coupled with formidable practical skills also comes in handy when making such decisions. According to Ross (2007) the most appropriate moral virtues as well as vices are more or less concerned with similar emotions and objects and, oftentimes, they are meant to describe personalities of some given agents. For instance, in fear, a virtuous person is considered courageous but the one who exceeds the manifestation of fear is seen as a coward; the reverse is reflected as lunatic. It’s also worth noting that acting virtuously in any given situation, to some extent, is dependent on the character as well as training of the individual in question (Pojman & Vaughn, 2012). It is on this scenario that rushing to rescue people from a burning building by a fire-fighter is well-thought-out as courage but seen as rash for an elderly person.

Ultimate Goals

According to the works by Aristotle, every creature, activity or thing has an ultimate end purpose or goal, of which, each and everything has some in-built good (Ross, 2007). However, Aristotle observes that these goods also vary in correspondence to the different sciences, arts or creatures with some of the ends being subordinates’ others ultimate ends. For example, the most immediate end for a given medicine may be to bring down fever but the ultimate goal by the physician is to guarantee and sustain good health.

Generally, for human beings, Aristotle observed that the ultimate good or end is happiness that entails living in the right virtue and in accordance to reason (Sylvester, 2013). To arrive at this conclusion, Aristotle seeks to differentiate the functionality of human beings from that of other living organisms. This is because just as human beings, plants, also experience nutrition, growth and sensation rendering such activities non-particulate to mankind. Nevertheless, Aristotle contends that only human beings have rational principles and consequently their functions are limited to activities emanating from the soul. Additionally, in Aristotle’s view, that which is considered good by human beings features in a specific function.


In sum, based on Aristotle’s works on happiness, the only end or good at which humanity places its aims is happiness and such remains the pivot for all related subordinates e.g. power, honor and wealth. Happiness is generally aimed at making very deliberate moves towards an imaginary final end where one develops physically, emotionally and intellectually by utilizing distinctly human capacities. A study of the philosopher’s works reveals that the human function is a consequence of rational soul activity compliant with virtues. This is attributable to its characteristics that include being active, moral and the uniqueness to humans. The quality of being virtuous enables the human function to perform with a greater degree of excellence. This is seen as an action of the human soul trying to virtuously express reason in the quest to realize happiness. However, since the human function is slightly different from that exhibited by other living things or even inanimate things, so are its distinct characteristics. It, therefore, follows that happiness is the top best that can be exhibited by human beings. Further, for this to manifest, virtues must well be in accordance with activities of soul expressing reasons.


Pojman & Vaughn, (2012). A Comparison of Ancient and Modern Conceptions of Happiness and Leisure. Western Washington University Press

Ross, W.D., (2007). Aristotle on What It Means To Be Happy. Oxford University Press

Taylor, F., (2014). The Philosophy of Happiness.
Princeton University Press

Sylvester, C., (2013). Aristotle on Happiness. Oxford University Press

Urmson, J. O., (2015). Nichomachean Ethics. University of Gloucestershire Press