Aristotelian Philosophy


Aristotelian Philosophy Essay, Research Paper

Aristotle argues that happiness, function and morality are closely connected and

that virtue is dependent upon all of them. To fully comprehend Aristotle?s

theory, we must first examine each of these qualities and then determine how

they are related to one another. The deliberation process will show that all of

these qualities can be strongly connected, but not exclusively. Happiness,

function, morality and virtue can exist independent of one another. The first

deliberation is to define happiness. Happiness is the highest of all practical

goods identified with ? living well of doing well?(100). According to

Aristotle, Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit,

is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been

declared to be that at which all things aim. But a certain difference is found

among ends (99). An example of this reflection would be the final product

created by an architect. This individual completed building a structure from

start to finish and has reached the end of the project. The architect is pleased

by the results of what she created. The architect achieved the desired outcome

and is therefore happy. A difference between the actual end and the desired

outcome is what makes happiness different for each individual. All ends do not

lead to happiness. For example, finishing a painting makes the artist happy but

not the autoworker whose preferred end is making vehicles. The fact that not all

human beings share the same ends proves that happiness is found at different

ends. Aristotle illustrates happiness as being the ?chief good?. In the

following quote he explains that rational human beings take happiness for itself

and never for any other reasons: Since there are evidently more than one end,

and we choose some of these?for the sake of something else, clearly not all

ends are final ends; but the chief good is evidently something final. (103). By

this definition, happiness must be only the final end, which is the ?chief

good? (103). This means that happiness is the pursuit of all that which is

desired, and the desire is to reach the final end. If the end is final it

becomes the ?chief good? (103). In Aristotle?s own words he says,

?Happiness, then, is something final and self-sufficient, and is the end of

action?(103). To say that happiness is the only chief good is not completely

true. If happiness is the only chief good than what is our function as human

beings? Aristotle associates functioning well with happiness and happiness is

the final result. He says that the function of human being is, ??an activity

of soul which follows or implies a rational principle??(103). Human beings

must have the ability to exercise their capacity to reason in order to function

well. Reasoning is the key factor in making decisions. Human beings use

reasoning to decide what choices to make in life. The outcome of the choices

humans make is what creates desire. As a result, desires are what determine the

?chief good? (103). If the chief good is happiness, than the function of

human beings and reasoning must also be happiness. One will stay on the path

towards happiness if reasoning is used as a function of life. Having virtue is

an essential part of the equation that sustains happiness and the ability to

function well. Rather than taking detours down paths of deficiency and

excessiveness, one may use reasoning to become a virtuous person. By staying

committed to the path toward happiness, one is considered virtuous. Aristotle

claims that the, ?virtue of man also will be the state of character which

makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well?(111). If the above

statement is true than only virtuous human beings are happy and if they are

happy than they must also be functioning well. Aristotle then divides virtue

into two separate areas: intellectual virtue and moral virtue. He says that

moral virtue is the result of ?habit?(108). If moral virtue is

?habit?(108), it cannot be ?nature?(109). Let us bring this to a deeper

level. Gravity by nature pulls everything to the earth?s surface at a fixed

rate. This rate can never be changed by the habit of something else. For

example, no matter how many times running water is diverted from its original

path to the lowest point, the laws of physics will always prevail. The running

water will once again find its path to the lowest point. This proves that any

sort of habit cannot change nature. However, intellectual virtue comes from what

is taught and learned throughout life by habit. Aristotle?s example of

intellectual virtue is made clear when he says, ??legislators make the

citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every

legislator, and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is in this

that a good constitution differs from a bad one? (109). If virtue is the state

of character, than the state of character defined by Aristotle is, ?what makes

a man good and which makes him do his own work well? (111). If it is true that

virtue gives people a choice, than Aristotle is correct when he states without

doubt that we as human beings could, ??take more, less, or an equal

amount?(112). If a person chooses to stay within the mean than they are

?intermediate? or equal. If they choose to ?take more? than they are

excessive. Finally, if they choose to take ?less? then they are deficient

(112). Therefore, happiness and virtue are in-between excess and deficiency. For

example, if one is excessive in the characteristic of courage than others might

view them as being afraid of nothing. If an individual is afraid of nothing than

they cannot be happy. People do not always admire absolute courage. There is a

time and place for courage. The same can be said for those people who are

deficient or lacking courage. In other words, happiness is being intermediate.

Aristotle has some good points when he speaks about the concepts of happiness,

but his thoughts also imply that happiness, function, morality and virtue are

all tied together as if they are inseparable. He states that happiness is the

aim of the ?chief good?. Function is the ability to reason, morality is

knowledge gained through habit of what is right or wrong and virtue is a state

of mind of that which is intermediate. The way Aristotle ties these separate

elements together is remarkable and in a perfect world his theory would probably

be true. The only down fall to his hypothesis is that this world in which we

live is not a perfect one. Even Aristotle says that the ?chief good? is the

?final end?(100). If this is so, than life cannot be considered happy until

it ceases to exist. The ability to reason is not the only purpose of human

existence. The main function of human beings is instead the ability to survive

with the advantage of being able to reason. Morality is the distinction between

what is right and wrong and this distinction is dependent on the individual and

the situation. Virtue includes all characteristics that have merit and that are

held in high regard. This deliberation with Aristotle?s theory has proven that

happiness, function, morality and virtue are tied to one another in a perfect

world. These four elements are also inter-mingled in our non-perfect world, but

only under certain circumstances. This is because every human being has their

own perception of what represents happiness, function, morality and virtue.

Finally, Aristotle says that virtue is being intermediate, but how realistic is

it to believe that virtue can only exist for those who always stay with-in the

mean? Just as we don?t have a perfect world, there is no perfect human being


Newberry, Paul A. Theories of Ethics. Mayfield Publishing Company:

California, 1999. Nicomachean Ethics. 2000. Online. Internet. 22 Feb.1994-1998.


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