Aristotle’s ethical philosophy, in his account of the human function, implies that some lives that people live really are better than others. So whether somone is happy — living well – is not a matter of opinion or “in the eye of the beholder” or just up to the individual to decide. Even if I think I am happy — living well — I could be, according to Aristotle, quite wrong. Happines is not a momentary state, which I might express by saying, “On vacation last year I was really happy,” or “when I received my Ph.D. I was happy.” Happiness is living well, so it is a pattern of a person’s life.
The human function involves reason, our ability to think, deliberate, choose, and act on our choics. We can do that well — if so, then we live well and achieve happiness. Or we can do it badly — and if so, then we do not live well and do not achieve happiness.
Aristotle thinks that if one is to live well (think, deliberate, choose, and act well) then one must possess virtues such as courage, generosity, and justice (reating others well). Courage enables you to recognize obstalces and dangers, the sorts of things we naturally fear, and know which ones to face up to and try to deal with because there is something really good to achieve by doing so, and which are too dangerous or not worth the effort because the good you achieve is trivial or even not good at all. You cannot choose well if you are not courageous. So virtues enable you to recognize which goals are worth achieving and which are not. You know what to do with your money, for example, if you are generous, because money is merely a means to some higher good, and you can recognize what those higher goods are.
For Aristotle, our ability to reason, as our author points out on page 183, is reflected also in our power to know about ourselves and about the world. Everyone desires to know — consider the delight that children take in learning things — but many don’t try to satisfy that desire and thus lose it. They neglect a human power essential to living well.
So consider Bob on page 183 and Sue on page 202 of our book. Why, according to Aristotle, are they not living well? Why are they not happy, even if they say they are?
What do you think? Is Aristotle right about Bob and Sue? Or do you think that if they say they are happy, then they are happy, and they should tell Aristotle to mind his own business?
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