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Happiness and Moral Value

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Essay title: Happiness and Moral Value

Happiness and Moral Virtue

In Aristotle's Nicomachaen Ethics, the principle concern is the nature of human well-being. According to Aristotle, everything we do in life, we do for the sake of some good, or at least something perceived to be good (1094a1-3). When inquiring as to whether there is some good desired for its own sake, Aristotle envisioned a problem that either there is an infinite series of goods desired for the sake of something higher, in which case one's desires can never be satisfied, or there must be some highest good that is desired for its own sake and for which everything else is desired (1094a17-22). Then, according to Aristotle, the highest good must be final, it must be desired for its own sake and not for the sake of anything else; it must be self-sufficient (1097a25). In 1097b1, Aristotle labels happiness as the highest good, as "we always choose it because of itself, never because of something else." In order to understand and define happiness, Aristotle looked at happiness as a function of a human being. Aristotle examined the three parts of the soul as likely candidates for the function. The non-rational part of the soul can not be a function of the human being, as all living things take in nutrition and grow, and all animals posses desires/appetites. As the rational part of the soul, reason distinguishes human beings from all living things; Aristotle thought that the function of a human being would have to be found in "an activity of the soul in conformity with [reason]."(1098a7). Although, the function of a human being will be not simply to make use of his reasoning ability, but to make use of it in the best possible way, in virtue. For Aristotle, then, the function of a human being, happiness, is an "activity of the soul in conformity with virtue."(1098a16). Happiness is not an emotional state, but a way of life; happiness is revealed not in how we are, but in how we act.

So far it is seen, according to Aristotle, that all human action aims at happiness and that happiness is connected to virtue. Of the three conditions of the soul (feelings, capacities, states), virtue is found to be a state, as it must come from a consistent/unchanging condition. Virtue is defined as a mean state between the extremes of excess and deficiency (1107a1-3). Virtue is the character to act in such a way as to lead a happy life. Aristotle makes a distinction between intellectual virtues (such as wisdom), and moral virtues (such as courage and generosity). Intellectual virtues are believed to be gained from education, as moral virtues are attained by habit (1106a10). The character that we eventually develop is a result of our upbringing, as parents need to shape the spirit of their offspring in such a way as to help them become virtuous adults.

As Aristotle introduces an excellent theoretical framework for the nature of human well-being in

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