Aristotle vs. Mill happiness

Nya Watson period 5
Defining happiness is entirely subjective to an individual. What makes me happy may or may not make you or someone else happy. We see this distinction through the Aristotelian and the Utilitarian views of an individual’s happiness. We as a society have portrayed happiness to be this unattainable yet fundamental point that we all strive to achieve, but how do we know when we have truly attained it? Is there such thing as temporary happiness? I find it ironic that such philosophers spent countless time, practically their whole lives analyzing happiness and developing theories around it. Did they achieve happiness? When indeed we still have things like world hunger, suffering, rape, murder etc. all things associated with pain that counter the generic meaning of happiness. Although the philosophers share different views on happiness; both agree that happiness is an important factor to have in one’s life and it is not a hard trait to gain.
In order to lead a perfect or fulfilling life according to Aristotle, happiness is based on achieving health, wealth, knowledge, family, friends, etc. However, Aristotle does admit that this theory of happiness has flaws, because humans tend to want the lesser good in exchange for immediate pleasure instead of the greater good that requires sacrifice. We see these implements of this theory through daily life countless times. For example, you are pursuing through the mall and you see a cute pair of shoes; however, you don’t need them, but on impulse you buy them rather than saving your money and applying it to your college tuition. This instant need for gratification is far more compelling than a distant and far greater happiness. Why you may ask, because we are human and impatient. What does this mean about human nature when it comes to happiness? Is it possible to attain total happiness if we are always cheating ourselves out of it for temporary happiness, while simultaneously creating some form of pain?
Aristotle believes that happiness is determined by the final end of man, while Mill’s theory, Utilitarianism, states that man’s only purpose is to evade pain and attain pleasure. In The Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle says “there is a similar uncertainty also about what is good, because good things often do people harm: men have before now been ruined by wealth, and have lost their lives through courage.” How are we suppose to experience happiness without pain, when pain and happiness go together simultaneously? You can’t have one without the other. This is a major ideal Mill and Aristotle disagree on, namely based on the function of man. Furthermore, John Mill’s definition of happiness suggests that happiness is not to fulfill the function of man but rather to maximize one’s utility. Utilitarianism is “the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons.” Mill had a different approach. Mill compares utility to happiness unlike Aristotle. Mill believes that by man being happy, they are useful to society. However, Mill believes that happiness is not the only source man needs to achieve his final end. Even though happiness is a major part of the end, Mill believes that morals, nobility, and absolutely no pain will help reach their final end of their life. Furthermore, if there is a pain in your life, your utility is not maximized and you cannot be entirely happy. Although, I do not think it is realistic to have happiness without the pain, because essentially all things that cause happiness require some form of sacrifice whether big or small.
Aristotle also emphasizes the importance of virtue. He says “the function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.” Aristotle calls moral character “complete virtue.” Virtues are not a trained faculty or a habit. Virtues are meant to serve as balance and moderation in one’s life. Which suggest that with happiness there is indeed pain; however, one can still be happy once they find a balance between the two. I think as Americans we have become “workaholics,” because we are trying to achieve happiness through the unattainable American dream; and in doing so we get so tied up in the hustle and bustle of it all we forget to be happy and essentially forget our ultimate function as man. Aristotle focuses on this state of equilibrium to emphasize that the good is the final end which is happiness, and with happiness you can ultimately fulfill your function. Furthermore, “he is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.” Therefore if you have the appropriate virtues you find balance and accomplish your function as man, according to Aristotle.
Albert Camus once said, “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” I think this holds true for much and life and especially pertaining to happiness. If we simply just carry on with our daily life happiness will evolve by itself after we find a balance. Aristotle says if happiness were a habit or trained faculty, “it would be within the reach of a man who slept all his days and lived the life of a vegetable.” Meaning that, happiness is neither automatic nor unattainable. I think as Americans we are infatuated or almost obsessed with attaining the American dream because it is deemed as “happiness,” the end goal or our function. However, in the midst of achieving such unattainable happiness, I think we forget about our virtues and finding the balance Aristotle talked about and instead we unintentionally welcome pain and lose sight of our function as humans.
While both philosophers have different views on what an individual needs in order to fulfill their final goal, they both agree on the idea that it happiness is neither unattainable nor automatic. Ultimately, if an individual works at their fullest potential they will reach maximum utility. I think we can learn things from both the Utilitarian view as well as the Aristotelian view. The Aristotelian view depicts that happiness is a resultant whether or not we will reach our final end and it is up to us to live our life to our full potential. Happiness is the even level in our life and in order to reach it we must use virtue and live life in accordance to reason. The Utilitarian view is one that states that everything that is useful to happiness is beneficial for humans and pain should not be present in order to reach maximum utility, which will contribute to the overall happiness of humans. Aristotle and John Stewart Mill are two wonderful philosophers with informative ideas on happiness. However, it is essentially up to us as individuals to determine ultimate happiness through completing our function as humans according to the either Utilitarian view or Aristotelian view, or a combination of both .I think it is imperative to keep happiness at the forefront of life because it not only helps you remember your function as an individual but it also helps maintain a sense of equilibrium throughout life. Furthermore, if an individual can maintain personal happiness then this can add to the utility of society creating an overall happy society.
BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2012.
Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
“Happiness.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2012.


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