Week 3: Aristotle on Happiness

Becoming a Eudaimon

  1. Resources
  2. Terms to Learn
  3. Concepts
  4. Guide Questions

Here are some web sites that will enhance your understanding of this week’s reading:

Aristotle’s Ethics:

Eudaimonia in the Modern World:

Chris Jordan: Picturing excess:

 


Concepts & Terms to Know:

The following questions are designed to fine tune your understanding of the reading. The subject matter and answers to these questions form the basis of what you will be required to know for exams.

Objectives for this week: These are the learning objectives you should have mastered after attending the lectures and completing the questions below

  1. Explain Aristotle’s teleological worldview with its emphasis on Eudaimonia.
  2. Explain the ways in which Aristotle’s definition of happiness differs from our everyday conception of happiness.
  3. Compare Aristotle’s eudainmonistic theory of happiness to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  4. Explain the Doctrine of the Mean and its role in influencing ethical conduct
  5. Describe the various notions of merit presented by Aristotle in the reading.
  6. Identify the role of merit in Aristotle’s ethical system

Terms you should know:

  1. self-realization ethic: the idea that we all have the innate drive or desire to become our “unique self”; in so doing we are realizing our ultimate potential , a must for Aristotelian happiness
  2. instrumental: as in “instrumental ends” which are means to achieving some other goal; e.g., we take low-paying minimum wage jobs to get money to attend college, an instrumental means on the way to our educational goals
  3. intrinsic: ends that “are valued in themselves, not because of what they achieve” (e.g., liberty, justice)
  4. eudaimonia: Greek word for happiness; eudaimonists believe that the “key question in ethics is what is happiness or the end of human life”1
  5. hedonist: Someone who believes that the highest aim of life ought to be the pursuit of pleasure.
  6. balancing process: a “rationally ordered life in which intellectual, physical and social needs are all under the governance of reason and moderation”([Soccio, 1995, p.194])
  7. moderation: living in balance at the point between two extremes. To practice moderation is to do just the right amount of everything; excess and deficiency are extremes to be avoided.

Concepts:

Following is an outline of some key concepts from this week’s readings and lectures.

  • Like Plato, Aristotle is a teleologist and a eudaimonist. Aristotle writes books about various phenomena: Politics, Spirit, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Logic, and Poetics. Unlike his mentor, he writes in straightforward prose and does not make use of dialogues.
  • Aristotle advances the notion that we are social beings who utilize goal-oriented behaviors to realize ends uniquely suited to our own individual talents and abilities.
  • Eudaimonists are persons who believe that the search for lasting happiness should be the key focus of moral conduct.
  • There are three types of ends that we can pursue: instrumental, intrinsic and ultimate.(41-43) Naturally the latter two are to be preferred over the first. The only type of end that can produce lasting happiness is the ultimate end because it is self-sufficient and final.
  • Aristotle argues that only the “good life”, a life ruled by rational pursuits can provide happiness. To elucidate his point, he provides a description of three lifestyles that typify persons living for the three types of ends.
    • The Lifestyle of Pleasure and Appetite Gratification: Again, as in Plato, cases in which appetite rules reveal individuals who are at the mercy of the their biological or material whims. People pursue pleasure, or instrumental ends, because they believe that filling material and physical needs will bring happiness. The text likens this idea to Buddhist suffering and it is a great analogy.
    • The Statesman’s Lifestyle: Honor is paramount in this realm. This concept is much like Plato’s description of people who are ruled by spirit. In both cases, one individual’s happiness depends on what others think of him/her.
    • The Contemplative Lifestyle: Paralleling Plato once again, these are individuals who are ruled by rational pursuits. People in this category actively work to realize their goals and utilize their talents in ways that benefit both individual and community.


The Doctrine of the Mean and Moral Balance

In short, the good life is a balancing process. We have to learn to fulfill each of our needs while avoiding extreme excesses and deficiencies.

 

See the diagram below: both extremes are at either side of the line.


Four Conditions for Temperate Acts:

  1. Individuals must be aware of what they are doing.
  2. The acts performed must be consciously chosen.
  3. The acts must be performed for their own sake, not to get something in return.
  4. The individual performing the act must always be virtuous and not acting in an isolated incident.

 

Endnotes:

1. Polansky, Ronald. Eudaimonism in Plato and Aristotle. Class discussion on the Nicomachean Ethics. Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA. January, 1995

 

Guide Questions:

Week 3: Aristotle

  1. What is the difference between the ordinary definition of happiness and Aristotle’s concept?
  2. Name the two kinds of virtue and describe how these are acquired.
  3. Describe how the Doctrine of the Mean works with regards to virtue.
  4. Who is a good judge? Why?
  5. Why are the young excluded from the group of good judges?
  6. What part of the soul ought to control appetite?
  7. Describe Aristotle’s vision of happiness. Is this the common vision?
  8. Explain the three lifestyles as outlined by Aristotle. How do they correspond to Plato’s description of the soul as chariot?
  9. There are three types of ends: instrumental, intrinsic and ultimate. Describe each and give an example of a situation in which we might value each sort of end.
  10. What is the unique function of man?
  11. How is goodness or virtue acquired?
  12. What is the connection between happiness and virtue?
  13. Describe the connection between prosperity and happiness?
  14. Why are animals and children excluded from the class of persons who can achieve ultimate happiness?
  15. If we connect happiness to our material condition, how will we likely react to changes in fortune?

Aristotle's Key Ideas

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