Aristotle argues that happiness of an individual depends on his/her values and virtues. He argues that a man is born, he is morally neutral. He has the choice to be good or bad. Aristotle claims that if a man becomes good, he will be happy. On the other hand, if the man becomes bad, he is said to be at fault. The philosopher further argues that man cannot blame passions because they are part of human nature. It depends on a person what to do with the passions. Moral virtue is determined by the form that an individual gives to his/her passions. Thus, Aristotle implies that the happiness of human beings is in their control. However, shortcomings such as the inability to control the behavior, insufficiency of the idea in specific circumstances and failure to give guidance on important virtuous indicate that Aristotle’s ideas about human happiness lack the backing of cogent arguments.
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Aristotle argues that virtue is important for a human being to achieve happiness. He further defines virtue as the good of the soul that defines a person. He argues that the nature of virtues lie between the excesses and deficiency, known as the mean doctrine (Joachim & Rees, 1952). The challenge with the mean doctrine is that it is based on the quantification of behaviors. The elements of excess and defect are ambiguous and do not apply to dichotomist situations. Adjusting the standard virtue requires the examination of circumstances that are relative to an individual. Determination of the mean requires a subjective evaluation of behavior. Though Aristotle demonstrates that human beings can control their happiness through virtue, he does not clarify the standard measure of virtue.
The Aristotelian idea of pegging happiness as habituation is insufficient in some circumstances because it does not activate a natural capacity. The principle of habituation states that people’s aim for happiness is a lifetime venture. An individual should perform virtuous behavior repeatedly to build a virtuous character. Therefore, the individual should know the right thing, act accordingly and gain contentment from these actions (Joachim & Rees, 1952). Some unique actions render this kind of thinking deficient. One example is the case of an individual who knows the right thing and does it, albeit reluctantly. It is, therefore, difficult to identify a time when this person is genuinely happy and content with the actions he/she does. Aristotle does not give a clear distinction of virtue and non-virtue. The argument legitimizes the claim that a person behaves according to his virtuous character provided that the individual feels perfectly content and does not have internal resistance. However, the truthfulness of this claim cannot be testified because of its subjective nature.
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Aristotle does not award recognition to the people who apply greater efforts to attain happiness. Aristotle argues that a person attains happiness when he/she upholds virtue habitually and does so with contentment (Joachim & Rees, 1952). In this analysis, I consider the case of two individuals. The first individual has been brought up in a family where he was trained to do the right things since childhood. He grows up upholding the right behavior and does not have psychological conflict in doing the right thing. The second individual was brought up by parents who could engage in theft. However, she has learned from experience that stealing is wrong. She decides to live without stealing, albeit with temptations of stealing. Though she upholds virtue, she is not contented with that life. According to the Aristotelian thinking, the first individual is more virtuous and happier (Joachim & Rees, 1952). The fault in this thinking is that an individual applying less effort to make the right decision is considered morally superior to an individual who applies greater effort to be virtuous and happy.
Aristotle does not offer guidance about what to do to become virtuous. His theory of practical wisdom assumes that people inherently know what to do. It does not offer guidance to the people who do not have practical wisdom. Aristotle gives a statement that a virtuous person should do the right thing (Joachim & Rees, 1952). A person without a good character may not understand the truly good thing. Not everybody has the exposure to the knowledge of the good thing. Aristotle’s theory does not offer guidance to individuals who are not virtuous. The theory assumes that men are all sufficiently rational to have a full understanding of what is right and what is wrong.
Though Aristotle demonstrates that happiness can be achieved through habituating virtue, he does not explain the solution to the conflict between virtues. For example, he does not demonstrate the action that would yield greater happiness when an individual is tasked to choose between justice and mercy. Aristotle, instead, denies the existence of conflict between virtues. Applying justice may require an individual to be merciless, or applying mercy may require an individual to forego justice. He argues that practical wisdom can help an individual to understand the context of each virtue in order to discover a path for action which would satisfy the demands of each virtue according to the prevailing situation.
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Aristotle’s conception of happiness is too general, and individuals cannot be interested to possess any of the mentioned virtues as they are traditionally conceived. If living well is predicated on exercising of skills that are considered virtuous, qualities such as justice, temperance and courage may not necessarily be virtuous. They can be qualified as virtuous only if it can be precisely demonstrated that happiness consists of these skills. Aristotle does not provide an account of these qualities to demonstrate why they must play a significant role in a happy life.
Aristotle’s claim that a happy man must have everything he needs contradicts the argument that every man controls his happiness. Aristotle argues that for a man to be considered happy, he must have all the things he needs to achieve his potential (Joachim & Rees, 1952). This condition is not attainable in the human life, which is characterized by limitation. A man may be wealthy, but suffer from an illness. A man cannot have all the things he craves for. Aristotle argues that happiness is made perfect by possessing all the good things. Therefore, a man is considered happy if he has knowledge, wealth, good relationships, and all the good things (Joachim & Rees, 1952). Aristotle’s description of happiness contradicts his initial statement that people have control over their happiness. Man cannot attain some of the components of happiness as mentioned by Aristotle. For example, man has little control over his health. If the happiness is predicated on the components beyond a person’s reach, the assertion that one can control happiness cannot be supported. By arguing that man should attain all the good things to be considered happy, Aristotle indicates that happiness is impossible to attain. Man cannot have all the good things.
Aristotle’s argument that happiness is based on virtue eliminates two classes of people. The first class includes the people who do not act virtuously and do not feel guilty about it. For example, some people openly practice terrorism, philandering and theft. However, they do not feel guilty about these actions. Though these people act against virtue, most of them feel contented with their lifestyle. The second class of individuals eliminated from Aristotle’s argument about happiness is children. Aristotle argues that because children cannot consistently uphold virtue, then they cannot be said to be happy (Joachim & Rees, 1952). He claims that people call children happy because of the hope they have for the children in future. Aristotle also argues that children have not attained a complete life since they may consequently fall into misfortunes as they grow old. Aristotle’s argument that happiness is determined after a complete life indicates that it is possible to know whether an individual has lived a happy life only after he/she dies.
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Though Aristotle did not support the claims argued above with cogent argument, the predication of happiness on virtue is convincing. Virtue is the disposition to uphold the right behavior inculcated throughout a person’s lifetime. Exercising virtue yields happiness. For example, a courageous man would exude confidence even when he faces great fear. That is why a soldier will be happy at the forefront of the combat zone. He will obtain happiness by exuding courage on the battlefield. On the other hand, a coward will find happiness in successfully running away from danger. He will have a happy life if he manages to escape every time when he faces fear. This argument clearly indicates that virtue can be a consistent source of human happiness. However, the statement does not apply to all classes of people and, therefore, cannot effectively explain human happiness.
In conclusion, Aristotle does not provide a cogent argument to support the claim that human happiness is achieved by habitually upholding virtue. He provides the mean doctrine, which suggests that behaviors should be quantified to determine the mean. However, he does not define the standard measure to be used in the quantification. Aristotle’s idea is insufficient in explaining happiness among the children, the non-virtuous individuals and those who do the right thing reluctantly. Aristotle does not explain how his idea can award people who uphold virtue even when they were not brought up in conditions that supported virtuous behavior. The Aristotelian idea states the behavior that identifies a happy person. It does not offer guidance on how to become virtuous. Further, the argument that a happy person possesses all the good things cannot be attainable. A culmination of these factors indicates that Aristotle’s idea of human happiness is not backed up by cogent arguments.