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Virtuous Life Essay

Virtue and Happiness Essay

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Happiness is the goal of every human beings according to Aristotle, however what does happiness imply? It is in his attempt to define happiness and to find a way to attain it that Aristotle comes across the idea of virtue. It is thus necessary to explain the relationship between these two terms. I will start by defining the good and virtue and then clarify their close link with the argument of function, I will then go into more details in explaining the different ways in which they are closely related and finally I am going to give an account of the apparent contradiction in Book X which is a praise of the life of study.
Before describing the close relationship between the good and virtue, we have to define these terms. Virtue has a…show more content…

A good is complete when it is intrinsic, indeed if the good was instrumental then it would serve another good which would consequently be more valuable. Moreover to be complete the good must be why we pursue all the other goods. For example a simple intrinsic good, such as love, cannot be considered as complete since it is not the cause of the search for other goods. The second craterion is self-sufficiency (1097b15), a good is self-sufficient if it suffices to make a life choiceworthy. For example let us take health, we would not choose a given life just by knowing that it contains good health, we can thus conclude that health is not self-sufficient and that it is not the highest good. It is now necessary to find the good that best fits this definition. It seems like happiness is the good since it is both complete and self-sufficient, indeed happiness is an intrinsic good and is the cause of other goods, furthermore it is self-sufficient as we would choose a life just by knowing that it contains happiness. However happiness is a vague concept which needs to be clarified. In order to do so Aristotle uses the argument of the function, the latter can be define as the specific distinction of a genre. For example the good for a flutist is to exercise his function which is playing the flute (1097b26). In trying to find the function of human beings, Aristotle makes a distinction between the life of nutrition

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“Why be good?” It’s one of those questions that every undergraduate in a philosophy course is asked to write about—usually, to test their intellectual acumen. The aim of the exercise is typically to see how much of the lectures the student has absorbed and how well she is able to express those lessons in writing. All of which is fine and well, if a bit of a wasted opportunity. After all, that very question can—and should—be at the center of a student’s existential quest. Why should I be good? What’s in it for me? Every day, every one of us is presented with a choice between virtue and vice. Why is the former more reasonable than the latter?

Many social scientists consider this philosophical question quirky at best. The reason? An abundance of psychological evidence demonstrates the extrinsic benefits of moral choices over immoral ones, even for psychology’s Eldorado: subjective well-being. Of course, even though social scientists pride themselves on their value-neutrality, they are rarely neutral with regard to what they consider the “ungrounded grounder” of all human strivings, namely happiness, and they typically understand happiness as subjective well-being.

A case in point here is the copious literature on the benefits of the moral emotion of gratitude for subjective well-being. We now know with certainty—at least the sort of certainty to which any social scientific inquiry can aspire—that grateful people are in general happy people. Over and above that, meticulous empirical research on gratitude has shown all sorts of instrumental benefits for what social scientists call “pro-social ends.” Thus, as a moral barometer, gratitude attends affirmatively to a positive moral change in our environment; as a moral motivator, gratitude urges us to contribute to the welfare of our benefactor (or even third parties) in the future; as a moral reinforcer, gratitude makes benefactors more likely to replicate their benevolent acts at later junctures and in different contexts.

Here at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, we have been carrying out extensive research on gratitude in the United Kingdom. We have found that such claims ring true, and they have been confirmed in our findings. However, because we work from within an Aristotelian moral framework, we cannot rest content with a demonstration of instrumental benefits. Suppose social scientists came up with conclusive evidence that people’s over-the-top angry tantrums—precipitated, say, by their partners’ failure to clean the car properly—actually strengthened caring relationships. Would we consider this a satisfactory moral justification of angry tantrums? Surely something more is needed to justify an emotional trait asmoral.

 

For Aristotelians, instrumental arguments for virtuous moral conduct should merely be complementary to arguments for virtue being constitutive of happiness, with “happiness” here understood as objective human flourishing. In other words, the ultimate answer to the question, “Why be good?” should seek theoretical legitimation in the intrinsic value of a flourishing life, rather than its extrinsic rewards. This conclusion may shock some social scientists, many of whom find it difficult to get their heads around the notion of “intrinsic value” (or, at least, don’t consider exploring it their job). This is precisely why research into moral value requires collaboration between social scientists and philosophers. Exploring intrinsic value is part of the latter’s daily grind.

 

Answering the question of, “Why be good?” by way of the intrinsic features of an individual’s flourishing life may seem to make moral goodness a pretty rarified ideal. What is worse, to some it may seem to smack of self-centeredness or self-indulgence: “So, are Aristotelians more concerned with the nobleness of their own individual lives than with making the world a happier place?”

Nothing is further from the truth. For Aristotle, it was an empirical fact that the virtues are essential to our own good; they help us to fulfill what is central to us. But the virtues require precisely that we pursue the good of others at the same time. This is best illustrated in Aristotle’s discussion of true self-love as involving love of others; thus true self-love can potentially lead to costly sacrifices, even to death. Pursuing the intrinsic value of one’s individual life is thus not tantamount to pursuing the individualized value of one’s individual life.

An Aristotelean virtue ethical approach to the question “Why be good?” refuses to reduce the moral to the expedient. It prompts answers such as, “Because that is the sort of person I aspire to be,” rather than, “Because that gives me and those around me more pleasure.” What is more, it also encourages the agent to answer the follow-up question of why he or she wants to be a person of that kind. That is where the real joy of philosophical inquiry into the depths of one’s moral selfhood begins.

Kristján Kristjánsson is a professor of character education and virtue ethics at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, U.K.

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