Isabelle Morris: Aristotle’s View On Man’s Overall Purpose

Today, it is difficult to define man’s overall purpose and meaning in life.  Many different people have many different ideas as to what it could be.  These people range from ordinary citizens to wise philosophers.  In The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, a wise philosopher, professes his many ideas about what man’s overall function in this world is.  He says that “in all he does man seeks some good as end or means” meaning that man’s overall purpose or function on earth is aimed at carrying out some good.  Different people choose to do different things which indicates that their ends will be different.  Aristotle says that “it is always for the sake of the end that all else is done”, meaning that everything that man does in life on earth is aimed at reaching the end.  He says that not all ends are final and that if there is more than one end then the most final of them all is the final end.  As humans, we may experience many ends in our lifetime but only one of them can be the final end.  Aristotle says that the final good is said to be self-sufficing or all-sufficing, meaning that “what by itself makes life desirable and in want of nothing.”  But then the question arises: what is the good?  Just as with man’s overall function and meaning in life, many different people have many different ideas as to what the good is.  Aristotle says that “man’s good would seem to lie in his function, if he has one” meaning that man’s possible good lies in whatever he chooses to do in his life.  He also says that all men agree that the good is happiness.  He says that “the good is the final end, and happiness is this.”  He also states that “happiness is believed to be the most desirable thing in the world… it is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.”  Well then, what is happiness?  All humans might have different views as to what happiness is.  Just as with man’s overall purpose and function, ordinary citizens and wise philosophers have different ideas as to how to define the happiness that is good.  Some say that happiness is to “love well” or to “do well” and others define happiness as pleasure, wealth, or fame.  Aristotle says that those who define happiness as pleasure want nothing more than a life of enjoyment.  They believe that the only way to get happiness is through pleasure and enjoyment and that is all that they strive for in their lives.  Those who want nothing more than a life of honour are statesman and men of refinement.  They believe that earning recognition for doing honorable deeds is all that they would need to be happy and that is all that they work for in their lives.  Aristotle says that this is too superficial to be the good that is man’s overall function in this world meaning that happiness cannot be attained through pleasure, wealth, fame, or honour because it relies too much on what happens in the world instead of what happens within the man.  Those who believe that the good in life is wealth are wrong as Aristotle says that “wealth is not the good of which we are in search” and it is only “useful as a means to something else”.  Furthermore, Aristotle says that “the good cannot be pleasure, nor honour, nor virtue.”  He says that they “appear too incomplete to be what we want”.  He says that good is something that is a man’s own and can rarely be taken away from him.  I think that this proves that the good cannot be an outward thing such as pleasure, wealth, fame, or honour because these can easily be taken away from a man.  Another view of Aristotle’s is “that happiness is excellence or a kind of excellence.”  I think that by this he means that being happy is gaining excellence and fulfillment.  He also says that “a man is not good at all unless he takes pleasure in noble deeds” meaning that a man cannot be indifferent to all that goes on in the world and must do some good to attain some good.  Another question about happiness that Aristotle brings up is: “is happiness acquired, or the gift of Gods or of chance?”  Many people have wondered whether happiness is something gotten through learning, or by habit or training, or as a gift from the Gods or by chance.  Maybe we will never know but, as always, Aristotle has a view on this.  He says that men should work hard to attain happiness rather than wait and possibly attain happiness by chance.  He also says that “happiness is not a habit or trained faculty” and if it were that easy to be happy, than anyone, even someone “met with the greatest misfortunes” could attain happiness.  Most people, along with Aristotle, believe that happiness is something that can be attained by a human on earth during their lifetime.  Other people, such as Solon, another wise philosopher, believe that no man can be happy as long as he lives.  He believes that a man can only be happy after he has died and reached the end.  Aristotle finds Solon’s claim absurd considering that he believes that “happiness is a kind of activity or life.”  He says that Solon might have meant that we should look at the end of a man’s life and then call him happy because he had once been happy.  Aristotle says that “happiness lacks nothing; it is sufficient in itself”, meaning that if a man attains happiness, he will not need anything else.  He also says that happiness does consist solely of amusement because it is absurd to think that the final end for man is amusement.  He says that happiness consists of things that hold serious importance and that “are better than laughable and amusing things.”  Aristotle also states that “happiness is the exercise of virtue” and that it is reasonable to assume that happiness is the exercise of the highest virtue.  He also says that happiness will “be the virtue or excellence of the best part of us.”  Aristotle’s views on man’s overall purpose and meaning in life are very clear.  He says that man’s overall function, meaning, and purpose are to carry out some sort of good and that this good seems to be happiness.  Through analyzing all of Aristotle’s quests into figuring out what this happiness is, we see that different people have different ideas as to what happiness and the final end is. Image

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