Aristotle vs. Mill

Happiness-Hands1Cierra Stanton

One question that has yet to be answered but has been questioned by some of the greatest minds in the world is “What is happiness”? What makes a person happy and what can a person do to achieve true happiness? Although most people would think this is a simple question, in reality it is far more complicated than a simple short answer about certain events in a person’s life that make them fell all warm and fuzzy inside. This feeling maybe nice , but there is definitely a deeper rooted meaning to this question that people don’t take the time to really contemplate on because happiness is such a common word in our society. So common, in fact that no one ever thinks of what the real meaning actually is.

“The good is the final end and happiness is this” as quoted by Aristotle. This great philosopher believed that happiness came from a person fulfilling their function and reaching their end. He believed that happiness will come when they do things that led them to their end, also called their purpose. He thought that if someone did and action that didn’t contribute their end that this would lead them away from true happiness. For instance, my economic teacher said asked the class a question to make it simpler. “What would a clock be if it couldn’t tell time?” The class replied “well it would have no purpose. Without a purpose there would be no need for the clock to be on the wall; it would have no meaning in life. Once a person understands this concept; the question to follow is “what is the function of man?”  To Aristotle, the function of man includes “exercise of reason”, “a kind of contemplation”, and “exercising virtue”.   He believes that reason is what sets humans apart from animals; that we need to use this distinct difference to fulfill our function.  In addition that contemplation will lead us to our end because thinking about our live and our decisions is imperative. With thinking about our decisions, we can exercise virtues; these virtues area a habit and built over time. They will lead a person to make better decisions and treat others will care. All of these things help humans carry out their function and therefore reach real happiness. He states that “this will be what we are seeking”.  What we are seeking isn’t material goods or pleasure or pain, but only a means to an end. The purpose for our existence.

Although Aristotle believe in what happiness is proves a great point, John Mills also has his idea of the meaning of true happiness. Mill’s belief in happiness follows the Utilitarian concept. He belief is that happiness is “pleasure itself, together with exemption of pain”. His belief is that happiness comes from having a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of pain in a person’s life.  Happiness is “a moments of few pains and many pleasures”. So, so long as a person has more pleasure in his life than pain, he is happy.  This is called the greatest happiness principle.

There are many good and bad things in both Aristotle and Mills. Mill’s piece first has to make a point that all pleasure is good and all pain is bad, which is hard to prove. Say a person has such an enjoyment from stealing pencils from his classmates. That pleasure isn’t good, but it is pleasurable for him as individual. Mill’s concept only speaks in favor of the individual person, and completely leaves out what’s right and what’s wrong. For example, what happens to the person who is getting his pencil stolen? Is he supposed to sit back and let this student steal his pencil because it makes this person reach true happiness? What if hitting that other student brought him pleasure? Could he just hit that boy because it would bring him to happiness? This theory is more man against man. Man can do whatever action disregarding everything else. In Aristotle’s piece, he states that reason is an important aspect, but what if someone’s life is full of doing a job that has nothing to do with reason. Is he never going to reach happiness?

Why is it that these philosophers have such different views on the same subject? Mills believes that many pleasures and few pains led to happiness; whereas, Aristotle believes that fulfilling your function is the way to true happiness. Not one of these ideas is the right idea or the wrong idea. These philosophers took years to think through what they though true happiness was, and wrote about it to show that world what they thought was the right answer. But, the question is still open ended. The question of the meaning of happiness is an answer that only individuals can answer for themselves. Either you believe in Aristotle’s meaning or true happiness or Mill’s meaning is all up to the person. There will never be a right answer or a wrong one. In addition, happiness for one person isn’t always happiness for another person. Because every human is different, there can be no true answer to this question; saying so would mean that every human is the same, and has the same goals.  What is happiness? This is a question that each and every person needs to evaluate and answer this question;It is their answer that will lead them to true happiness.

“Minimalism & Happiness Through Scientific Eyes.” The Minimalists. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2012.

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