The term “happiness” is understood in ethics as the attainment of triumph and fulfillment. According to Aristotle’s argument, happiness is the highest goal of human beings(Allan 65). According to Aristotle, the majority of humans view happiness as achieving honor or physical pleasure which he disputes to be a wrong understanding of what good life is. He argues that people’s understanding of happiness is not in line with the understanding of true happiness due to their deficiency in virtue (Striker 45). Plato’s argument also asserts that human beings believe happiness could be achieved through the possession of good things (Haslanger 21). He states that “a lover of good things has a desire … that they become his own. That’s what makes people happy, isn’t it – possessing good things” (Striker 47). Aristotle defines virtue as a disposition to behave in the right manner, which is instilled and natured from a tender age (Allan 65; Striker 23; Hursthouse 36).
According to Plato’s definition, virtue is the balance of the four cardinal virtues i.e. moderation, courage, wisdom, and justice(Vasiliou 15). Plato argues that if either of the four cardinal virtues becomes too prominent over the others, it would result in a downfall. He argues that emotions yield courage, but one would need moderation in order to control their “appetite.” He continues by asserting that wisdom would be inevitable if one would want to use moderation. He further asserts that upon the attainment of the other three virtues, justice would be attained. In Plato’s argument, possession of silver, gold, offices, and/or honors in the city would not be considered as good if they were not gained by means of moderation, or justice, or some part of virtue as much as they may be considered as good by humans. According to Aristotle, happiness is more dependent on ourselves. He argues that happiness depends on the virtues cultivated in a human being.
According to Aristotle, happiness in life would be achieved through the fulfillment of a wide range of conditions, including mental and physical well-being, and that the only reason why humans seek good is that they aren’t born with it (McMahon 16). Aristotle asserts that the key to achieving happiness in life is to have a good moral character which he refers to as “complete virtue.”Aristotle quotes
…the function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue (Crisp 125).
Aristotle argues however that being virtuous is not a passive state as one must act in line with virtue. He continues by asserting that having a few virtues isn’t enough either but rather possessing all of them. He quotes “He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but through a complete life” (Crisp 132). Plato argues that the characteristic question of ancient ethics was “How can I be happy?” asserting that the answer to the question lies with virtue (Vasiliou 15). Plato equates this question to “How can I live a good life?” Plato argues that the notion of happiness in life applies to excellence or virtue. In his argument, he says that excellence or virtue is possessed by anything that has a characteristic function, use, or activity(Vasiliou 15).
Aristotle’s understanding of happiness argues that happiness consists in achievement through the course of one’s lifetime, all the wealth, friends, goods, knowledge, and health among others which would lead to the perfection of the nature of human beings leading to the enrichment of their life (Allan 65; Striker 57). As a result, it would be required of human beings to make choices some of which may not be easy. According to Aristotle, the lesser good choice is often more tempting and promises immediate pleasure while on the other side, the greater good would call for some significant amount of human sacrifice and is often more painful (Allan 65; Nussbaum 63).
For instance, it would be more difficult for one to spend their time researching a term paper but it would be worse if one spent the time on enjoyment like spending the whole night watching television programs. The arguments presented by both Plato and Aristotle strongly argue that virtue is the key to true happiness in human life. They both identify the happiness passive by humans as being misled due to the limitation of understanding of the true meaning of happiness. According to Aristotle’s argument, true happiness is that which can’t be swept away like wealth, that which is culminated within a person (Nussbaum 64).
From the arguments of the two great ancient Greek philosophers presented, one would clearly identify that virtue plays a great role in achieving human happiness and as a result, true happiness wouldn’t be without virtue. The two philosophers also identify the misled perception of human happiness and Aristotle defines true happiness as that which cannot be swept away or stolen.
Allan, Donald James. “The philosophy of Aristotle.” (1970). Print.
Crisp, Roger, ed. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
Haslanger, Sally. “Platoon happiness: The republic’s answer to Thrasymachus. Ancient Philosophy. 25th October 2004. Web. 25th March 2014.
Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Aristotle, nicomachean ethics.” Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture Series 20 (1986): 35-53. Print.
McMahon, Darrin M. “From the happiness of virtue to the virtue of happiness: 400 BC-AD 1780.” Daedalus 133.2 (2004): 5-17. Print.
Nussbaum, Martha Craven. Nature, function, and capability: Aristotle on political distribution. Helsinki,, Finland: World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University, 1987. Print.
Striker, Gisella. “Greek ethics and moral theory.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values 9 (1987). Print.
Vasiliou, Iakovos. Aiming at virtue in Plato. Cambridge University Press, 2008. Print.