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Analysis of Aristotle’s Concept of Virtue Ethics and Happiness

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Happiness is a world that is often characterized as subjective and or synonymous with success which too can be just as personal as the word happiness. However, Aristotle would describe happiness with an activity. An activity that pushes us toward a state of Eudaimonia. So, if ethics is study of how one ought to live it is then imperative to know how to live.

In order to begin living ethically we need to live a happy life. According to Aristotle “Happiness, then is apparently something complete and self-sufficient since It is the end of the things achievable in action. In other words, if every action is just a means to an end then it should be noted that we need to live an actionable life that aims at the highest good for every actions end goal is just another action that leads to another end which is essentially another action and so on and so on. While some might argue that the highest good is the acquisition of material wealth, the pursuit of fame/honor, or the satisfaction of bodily pleasure. Aristotle would counter argue by claiming these “goods” cannot be the highest good as they fall short in one way or another. As Wealth, for example, is used to acquire something else, honor is dictated by the judgment of others, and bodily pleasure is not always particularly good for human beings.

Aristotle believes the good actions need to be naturally good. Naturally good depends on three things its usefulness/utility, it’s pleasure, and its’ beauty or Kalon. Therefore, an activity must be “an activity with conformity with virtue”. The word virtue is aretê, and it could equally be translated as “excellence.” Something has aretê if it performs its function well. A good horseman, for example, has the aretê of being good at handling horses, and a good knife has the aretê of sharpness. In addition, Aristotle also defines the supreme good as an activity of the rational soul in accordance with virtue. As the rational soul is what separates animals from humans. If the activity of the rational soul must be in accordance with virtue how one lives a virtuous life? A virtuous life is when we do the right thing at the right time, in the right way, in the right amount, toward the right people. Meaning; if for example I had the decision to save an old lady from getting robed one might argue saving the old lady would be acting in accordance to a virtuous life. However, if doing so meant the cost of your life than saving that old lady would not be virtuous, instead, calling the cops would be as you took stock of the situation and took action in the right way.

But, performing these actions alone does not constitute virtue itself. Virtue requires performing the right actions with an understanding and a desire of performing the action in order to achieve your potential. These virtuous actions can only be created habitually, for example, if you tip someone the spare change in your pocket that was left over from your transaction simply for the sake of not having to burden yourself with carrying spare change, then you yourself are not acting virtuously. Instead, you must be generous for the sake of being generous. This again, cannot be done without first forming generous habits.

Generous acts however do not cut it. Actions need to be uniquely exclusive to thyself. If you are lacking in an area in your life or have natural tendencies that are either excessive or deficient you must balance these tendencies in order to live virtuously. Ultimately we can deduce that according to Aristotle happiness is not a psychological state, not a feeling, not enjoyment, but rather, taking action that is one, desirable on it’s own, desirable for some other good, and lastly that, that, other good is desirable for its sake; meaning it’s self sufficient so long as these actions are done with understanding. It is this lifestyle that Aristotle would define as eudaimonia; living in actionable life to become the better version of yourself. 

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