Let us pick up the subject of happiness from where we left off. It seem Aristotle was suggesting cultivating happiness over life time by living a virtues life and acquiring only real goods as opposed to the apparent goods. In this part of the article we will look at what he had in mind about leading virtuous life and what are the real goods we ought to seek.
Aristotle placed a huge emphasis on developing the right character in cultivating a virtuous life, without the right character development he thought one could not be happy or flourish in life. He thought being the right kind of person with good habits was crucial. He didn’t think doing virtuous acts by themselves would lead to happiness, or flourishing in one’s life. For example if one always told the truth , was loyal or was just most of the time that would not necessarily lead one to happiness. Instead he thought one has to have the habit of telling the truth, habit of being loyal , and habit of being just. With the right habits one is more likely to perform the right actions, at the right time, in the right way, with the right person and in the right manner. He thought virtue could be learned just like any other skill, like playing a piano for example; and over time we get good at it with practice. That is the sort of things our parents would have taught us when we were growing up. He not only said we should cultivate these virtues but he said we ought to cultivate them even though we may not want to, because without these virtues we are at the mercy of the being happy mostly on the external goods, like winning a lottery; which is unreliable and quite often not under our control and the happiness is not long-lasting. By cultivating the right virtues and developing good habits the happiness starts to arise mostly from within, but we still need some real goods.
Aristotle thought we needed the following goods for happy life: limited amount of wealth, health, pleasure, friends or loved ones, liberty or freedom of action, knowledge and skill in all their forms. Let us look at each of these closely.
Knowledge and skill in all their forms:- He thought this was the highest good because it is good for it own sake and not a means to something else. It is to achieve personal perfections that fulfills ones potentialities or capacities for being human. He thought these perfections consisted of patience, temperance, courage, justice , and prudence. If we think about these perfection it makes sence that one would need these to live well. One needs patience, otherwise one would continue to get frustrated and get angry, this is obviously not good for making friends or getting along with others. Temperance is important to control our basic appetites, we can for example be seeking pleasure and avoiding pain most of our life; since pleasure is only a limited good, we cannot devote most of the time to this as it will limit us from other real goods. The emotional pleasure is only good in certain measure. The courage is to do with controlling our fears or enduring pain so we may obtain all the real goods even under difficult circumstances. Justice is to do with recognition that it is important to be concerned with the welfare of others and the community and not just our own good; as our own good may depend on not injuring the community in which we live or our fellow human beings. Prudence is to do with making the right judgement so one is successful in attaining all the real goods we need. It is the right action, at the right time , in the right manner and with the right person. It is the skill of our intellect, our understanding, our knowledge and our wisdom; which are also unlimited good, so one cannot have too much of them.
Liberty or Freedom of action:- In order to cultivate the perfections we needs to be able to live in a society that allows freedom as to how one want to lead ones life without harming others. So the liberty and freedom are limited goods, for the society to function well some limits has to be imposed . In political regimes that does not allow this freedom it may become difficulty to cultivate happiness.
Friends or Loved Ones:- Friends and Loved Ones is unlimited good. One cannot have too many true friends or loved ones. They provide emotional pleasure, help us when needed, provide companionship, teach us how to cultivate happiness. Obviously there are some ” friends and families” that are destructive or injurious to one; these are not includes because they are not true friends or loved ones.
Pleasure:- It is important to have pleasure in life , that is the great motivator to pursue our desires. Unfortunately it is only a limited good. If pleasure is the only thing one perused in life than that individual would be very poor in other goods, which provide happiness from within; otherwise one is almost always dependent on the external factors to be happy.
Health:- is another real good, but only in limited amount. We can spend an enormous amount of time getting healthy and fit. We can spend large portion of the time training for some event like marathon, or body building ; but at certain point spending more time exercising does not make us more healthier. That time can be better spent by cultivating unlimited goods.
Wealth:- is also a limited good, after certain amount of wealth it does not enhance ones life or cultivate them further. Good example of wanting too much wealth for its own sake would be King Midas, he ended up starving, deprived of real goods, family and loved ones. Money is only good for buying real goods such as food and essential services. It is a means to other real goods.
In conclusion, a good life is possible by habitually accumulating real goods over ones life time and wanting none that would frustrate getting those real good.
In part three of the happiness post, I will look at some examples and some questions about happiness. Until then take care and cultivate happiness. I would love to hear your comments. Especially if this sort of stuff may help you to make changes that may improve your life.
Some videos on Virtue Ethics:-