13 December 2012
Aristotelian vs. Utilitarian Views of Individual’s Happiness
In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle teaches about individual happiness, what it means, and how to achieve it. Similarly, John Stuart Mill discusses happiness in his writings, Utilitarian. Both philosophers can agree that people strive for happy results and that we should maximize happiness for the greatest amount of people, but they have different views on what this happiness means, and how to know when it has been achieved. After studying both views, the similarities and differences became evident.
Both Aristotle and John Stuart Mill believe that the reasons for actions are because they will lead us to a good and happy ending result. They believe that men and women can control their actions and would not purposely do something to create unhappiness or badness. Aristotle says, “In all he does man seeks same good as end or means” meaning that men and women perform actions so they will be happy with the results of their actions. This is very much like John Stuart Mill when he says, “No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness.” Here, the philosophers are agreeing that men seek happiness and their actions will lead them to that goal. They are saying that it is natural for humans to seek happiness and they will do almost anything to create this feeling of contentment. These men also agree that there are means of happiness, such as pleasure, honor, and virtue and they cause enjoyment, but they are not the true meaning of happiness. John Stuart Mill says, “The art of music is good, for the reason, among others, that it produces pleasure; but what proof is it possible to give that pleasure is good? If, then, it is asserted that there is a comprehensive formula, including all things which are in themselves good, and that whatever else is good, is not so as an end, but as a mean, the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof.” Pleasure and other means of happiness are temporary, so they are not considered true happiness by either man. They think that pleasure cannot be considered good or bad because it does not last forever. The final, individual happiness will be good no matter what and it will not be arguable that it is bad. Means of happiness cannot be proven so some do reject them but this will not be the case for final happiness. They both believe that the true meaning of happiness will come at the final end after all actions are completed. In Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill preaches that it is best to create the greatest amount of goods, for the greatest amount of people. This is not unlike Nicomachean Ethics when Aristotle says, “For though admittedly the good is the same for a city as for an individual, still the good of the city is apparently a greater and more complete good to acquire and preserve.” These authors admit that happiness is greatly desired by people, but it is more important to please a vast amount of people, rather than to individually produce happiness for a few people.
In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he teaches that happiness is the final end result and that is when ultimate happiness is achieved. “Happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.” Aristotle is saying that happiness lasts forever and it is in our hands as individuals to control whether we choose to achieve that state of goodness. It is debatable on whether that result is ever found because he writes about different opinions on what happiness actually means and he believes that there are different definitions of happiness according to different people. Aristotle believes that this is dependent on “different minds at different times, – after sickness it is health, and in poverty it is wealth” and there is no specific definition on what happiness means as long as it is good. He believes “The good cannot be pleasure, nor honour, nor virture” because these three things are provisional and although they are means for happiness and bring enjoyment, they do not result in everlasting happiness. The final end happiness that Aristotle speaks of is eternal, is different for different individuals, and is always good. He teaches that because we live to make ourselves happy, we are set apart from other living things. “Perhaps we shall find the best good if we first find the function of a human being. For just as the good, i.e., well, for a flautist, a sculptor, and every craftsman, and, in general, for whatever has a function and action, seems to depend on its function, the same seems to be true for a human being, if a human being has some function….What, then, could this be? For living is apparently shared with plants, but what we are looking for is the special function of a human being; hence we should set aside the life of nutrition and growth. The life next in order is some sort of life of sense-perception; but this too is apparently shared, with horse, ox and every animal. The remaining possibility, then, is some sort of life of action of that has reason.” Aristotle recognizes many similarities we have to plants and animals, however; he recognizes that we have a unique strive for happiness that does not just make us different, but superior. The human function is to find happiness, it is an innate desire that humans were born with and we are created to do it.
Unlike Aristotle, John Stuart Mill only focuses on the result of the actions. He believes that actions are right if the result is happiness, and wrong if the result is the opposite of happiness. In Utilitarianism, there is no value in the actual actions leading up to the results. This is debatable because sometimes bad actions can lead to good results. For example, if one cheats on a test they will probably get a good grade. Because the end result is positive, according to John Stuart Mill’s ideas, the action was good. However, it is not ever considered a good choice to cheat on a test. John Stuart Mill believes that happiness can be determined by subtracting the unhappiness by the happiness and if there is a positive amount of happiness left, the result is good. Utilitarian’s believe in the Theory of the Good, meaning the right is equal to “Whatever maximizes the good.” Good and the good is equal to “Total happiness.” John Stuart Mill states that happiness can be the “freedom from pain” implying that if there is nothing to complain about, one should be content.
In conclusion, both Aristotle and John Stuart Mill believe that individual happiness is the goal of life, and our key functions as humans. They preach about means of happiness and how they create pleasure, but that pleasure is not the purpose. They also both agree that it is most important to maximize happiness for the greatest number of people. Oppositely, the two philosophers believe that there are different ways to come about this final end. Aristotle believes happiness is different for different individuals and therefore happiness cannot be specifically defined. John Stuart Mill believes that the end justifies the means; consequently the action is good if the result is good. From studying Nicomachean Ethics and Utilitarianism, we can learn about individual happiness, how to achieve it, and what it means when we obtain it.
Aristotle, and Martin Ostwald. Nicomachean Ethics. Indianapolis [Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962. Print.
Mill, John Stuart, and Oskar Piest. Utilitarianism. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957. Print.