Last Updated 10 Nov 2022

Aristotle’s Concept of Ultimate Happiness (Eudaimonia) and Its Questionable Applicability in Real Life

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Individuals go to college to get a job. When they have a job, they look forward to having a stable family. After having a family, they start to save up for the retirement. This process goes on and on. So, what are people trying to ultimately seek for? What's the purpose of their lives? That is when Aristotle's conception of human's highest end comes up. He argues that the highest good people are trying to gain in the end is happiness or “Eudaimonia.” Happiness here is not simply about pleasures people get from their desires. It is a life by definition has three characteristics: completion, self-sufficiency, and incomparability.

In his view, this is equivalent to a life lived in accordance with moral virtue. Though Aristotle made comprehensive arguments to defend his concept, it is still questionable because there are actual people out there who do not get caught from doing self indulgent actions and live a lavish life. Examples would be Donald Trump, Kim Jun-un and Fidel Castro, who get away with dishonest actions and still live a plentiful life and provide well for their families. Before elaborating on Aristotle's analysis of ultimate happiness, people should know the fundamentals of Aristotle's function argument first.

If we look around us, we can see plants, animals, objects, and people. Each of these has its own function. For instance, a dishwasher's highest function is to clean all the dirty dishes in there and a plant's main function is to give out oxygen through a photosynthetic process. Thus, if someone cut down the tree, the latter won't be able to perform its highest function and, in turn, won't have a purposeful existence. Similarly, for humans, our unique feature is reason, so a life lived "in accordance with the appropriate excellence,” and “virtue” (Aristotle 129) is our proper function or highest good.

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If someone does not live a virtuous life, he or she will not have a purposeful existence. Thus, humans should attempt to live the highest way by being principled. Aristotle believes that we should strive for a highest good instead of multiple goods because by definition, the latter do not have characteristics of completion, self-sufficiency, and incomparability. When it comes to our highest human good, we will choose it for its own sake, will not add anything to make it better, or weighed against other things. To clearly understand these features, let us look at the example of a licentious man seeking for temporary pleasures. There is no completion in his action of having sex because he doesn't do it for its own sake, but for the pleasure it gives back in return. In other words, sexual "pleasures are in conflict with one another because these are not by nature pleasant” (Aristotle 130). Although he can satisfy his drive for sex by having sex with someone, he will still want it more later on since his desires are insatiable. In other words, there's no self sufficiency. Also, sometimes, he might compare his sex partner with other porn stars.

This kind of comparison, in turn, steals his bliss. Since bodily pleasure does not have three characteristics mentioned above, it certainly does not promote highest human good. Similarly, Aristotle argues that people often mistakenly measure real happiness by the amount of monetary value or assets they have gathered in their lifetime. They think once they are wealthy, life is settled and they have met the purpose and destiny of their lives. However, there are some ironic answers if someone indeed asks rich people about their state of mind. The latter might say they know they are established, but they feel like something is missing. As Aristotle puts in the life of wealth is "undertaken under compulsion," and "is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else” (Aristotle 126). Wealth cannot provide completion since people are not seeking wealth for its own sake but to buy objects that will, in turn, bring temporary pleasure. Hence, money cannot bring ultimate human good. Finally, Aristotle says people would say that life with a good reputation is worth living. They are happy with others' perception of themselves. However, is this happiness complete or stable?

Aristotle argues not since happiness should come from. If people look deeply at fame, they will see how it is not complete since it's not taken for its own sake. They are happy when people are praised and sad when they are condemned. Thus, fame is "superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on those who bestow honour rather than on him who receives it," (Aristotle 126). In other words, fame seeking peoples' happiness is dependent on others' perception of them. Since peoples' minds are usually unstable, these honor-loving celebrities' happiness will not be stable too. Real happiness is "something proper to a man and not easily taken from him" (Aristotle 126).

Here, Aristotle points out how real happiness is objective and self-sufficient. Thus, honor cannot be the highest human good or happiness. Instead, Aristotle argues a person who lives righteously will live the happiest life. If a person lives with the principle of honesty for its own sake, "the process would [not] go on to infinity," and "[his]desire would [not] be empty and vain" (Aristotle 124). In other words, it is not chosen for other things. Also, Aristotle thinks principled life is the “most desirable of all things," because it is not "counted as one good thing among others" (Aristotle 128). This showcases how a principled man does not necessarily have to compare his moral life with others. In fact, he can model it after some inspiring idol to make himself a better person. Furthermore, a virtuous person is self-sufficient because the principles are not insatiable and they are enough to make a person live a well-meaning life.

Hence, virtues are dispositions to live as well as possible on an ongoing basis. However, even though Aristotle gave legitimate explanations on his conception of the highest human good, it is debatable because, in society, some have experienced benefits from what the rest of us call "vices." Aristotle claims that virtues (excellences of reason) are codes like honesty and courage, but mightn't he be too doubtful? Mightn't these be popular prejudices, and it be more rational for some people to live their lives as liars and cheats? For instance, Donald Trump had sexually abused many women, made fun of disabled people, and expressed xenophobic remarks in his lifetime. Nevertheless, he won the presidency of the United States and is currently a multi-billionaire. Although he's evidently not righteous and doesn't use his excellence of his reason, he and his family are better off with luxury.

Likewise, Kim Jun-un, military leader of DPRK, killed his uncle and many civilians unjustly to show people his power. Also, he's developing nuclear weapons in his country. However, why is he still in a top position enjoying lavish life? Why is he and Donald Trump winning continually despite unvirtuous actions? Their case indeed portrays how the highest good or proper function of human is not moral. To the account above, Aristotle would argue that so-called happiness established from unvirtuous actions wouldn't last long. In other words, the benefit/content these people get back from unvirtuous actions is temporary and cannot reach “Eudaimonia.” If you look at Donald Trump, he may have won the presidency, but a lot of diplomats are keeping an eye on him. That means, he will be in constant fear not to over-do his actions or else he will be impeached.

Likewise, if we look at Kim Jun-un, his desires are notorious and insatiable. He would always plot to maintain himself in the supreme position regardless of others' suffrage. Since he even killed his blood related uncle, most of his family members will not trust him deep inside. Thus, he will lose true friends and family around him. Aristotle would say this in terms of completion, self-sufficiency and incomparability. In Trump and Kim's case, their money and fame apparently do not meet Aristotle's three features of highest good or happiness. Firstly, both of them do not pursue money for its own sake, but for the effect it gives back in return. For instance, they only want money to acquire sumptuous life. Similarly, fame is not pursued for its own sake too. Both of them want statuses in return. Secondly, money and fame are self-insufficient because there are other things that can be added to them to make it better (like true friends and relationships.

However, people say they are happy to drown in luxurious and reputable life, at the end of the day, if they have no loved ones beside them, they will tend to feel the void inside them and will experience loneliness. Thirdly, fame and money these leaders have can be weigh against other things. They would compare their wealth and reputation with leaders from other countries. They would focus on becoming more powerful than that of those leaders, instead of personally striving to be a better leader. Thus, all this money and fame these leaders get from unvirtuous actions are impermanent and as a person, they are not performing their highest function, which is to use excellence of reason. Although Aristotle made a comprehensive argument above, it is still debatable because there are actual people out there who do not get caught from doing unvirtuous actions and live a lavish life.

For instance, Fidel Castro, former president of Cuba, got away with numerous murders and unethical actions. In his lifetime, he wasn't punished for his actions, instead he even had an extravagant life at his constitutional mansion. And he showed no signs of regret for his actions even when he was on his deathbed. In addition, if a person is poor and cannot afford healthcare for his sick son, he will be miserable. Likewise, there are notoriously virtuous people like Abraham Lincoln who lived a very unhappy life. On the other hand, if a person robs and gets away with it to attend to his sick son, he will be happy. Besides, he won't even regret his actions. Since some people exploit vices to their great advantage, it is not apparent that virtue always enables people to live happier lives than those with vice.

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