Happiness seems to be a universal idea that relates to strong emotions and can be caused by a wide range of things. Yet, the depth and the complexity behind the reasons of happiness are commonly ignored. Both Aristotle and John Stuart Mill shine light on this subject with their thoughts and theories.
The definitions of happiness are infinite. Over time, across continents, between religions, and even between each person, the precise definition of happiness differs. Aristotle narrows the definition down when he explains that everything that humans do is for the “final end” (Aristotle). Every decision is based on aiming for the ultimate goal which is called happiness. This is the ultimate goal or “highest good” because in the end, humans’ actions were decided based on the results (Aristotle). Aristotle elaborates, “Happiness was defined as a certain kind of exercise of the vital accordance with excellence or virtue.” The certain kind of exercise is the variable for this equation to lead to happiness. He believes that happiness is the greatest good amongst other goods because even when achieving the other goods, it still adds on to happiness. Aristotle believes that as humans, we are unique to any other creation in which we are born with reason. To function well or acting with reason with virtue, will lead humans to reach the greatest good, happiness. In his theory, happiness is not a state of being but actions that lead to this final good is happiness.
In a less complex explanation, John Stuart Mill explains that happiness is presence of pleasure and the absence of the opposite. He believes that this is a desirable place for all. John also believes that all humans strive and yearn for happiness thinking that it is the greatest state a human can achieve. The philosophical views changes perspectives of true happiness. The depth behind reason and thought brings out a whole other meaning to happiness. These definitions aide the distinction between feeling happy and being happy, which is beneficial to the society in this world.
To achieve this greater good and final end is what most people want to know. From Aristotle’s view, fulfilling a function well will bring you happiness in the end. What matters is the well being of the person’s life and living a life with purpose and reason would lead to the ultimate goal. Everyone has a function and Aristotle demonstrates that careers could be one’s function. The function to create houses for shelter and achieving success while doing so will bring happiness. Aristotle states that the function of humans is any “function or business to do… if he has one” (Aristotle). So maybe Aristotle’s ideal happiness is not for everyone? I feel that ultimately his idea of happiness is achieving success by functioning as a human and functioning well. Noting this, children and people with special circumstances that truly have no function are not happy. In my opinion, I believe that children are the happiest people on earth and even the environment of your childhood could affect what people do for the rest of their life.
John Stuart Mill also believes that happiness can be achieved through actions and these actions themselves are happiness. What are concentrated in utilitarianism are the morals that motivate human actions. The ideal actions that John Stuart Mill believes should occur should increase happiness or pleasure and decrease pain or suffering. Through these actions overall happiness or utility will increase. John Stuart Mill also concentrates on the measurement of happiness. Each human’s happiness is equal to each other. In the presence of both pleasure and pain, the quantity of pleasure is measurably greater than pain. The importance of a society’s happiness is greater than the individuals’ happiness. John Stuart Mill presents an example with a religious man sacrificing happiness for others, since the greatest amount of happiness over the greatest amount of people is ideal. This idea almost mirrors Aristotle’s thought on how happiness is the highest good; because he believes that happiness is desirable for its own sake. Actions that add to a society’s happiness are ideal for John Stuart Mill. Aristotle also believes this by stating that the individuals of a society cannot function well if the society as a whole functions well.
Is sacrificing happiness for others still ideal according to utilitarianism? If majority of the society want to sacrifice their happiness for others, doesn’t that mean that the utility for the whole society decreases? This argument is brought up because the happiness cannot be distributed and shared amongst society. Every single person has a right to be happy or achieve happiness. Yes, there are sacrifices to be made in order to achieve these goals, but the idea of happiness is certainly present in all people. The state, in which society is currently in, is essential to all and sets up environment for all people.
Both Aristotle and John Stuart Mill discuss about the morals, the virtues, and the motives behind these actions. The similarity between the two clarifies the actions we should pursue versus the actions we should avoid. Generally, the actions that should take place should benefit towards the final end or the utility of yourself and others. The well being of all is the most desired and ideal, and humans seem to have reasons and abilities to do so. To fulfill these desires, all must function in accordance with virtue. With moral and intelligent qualities, humans can act virtuously. John Stuart Mill similarly discusses the actions we should take by evaluating the result of our actions. Whether the actions will bring pleasure or pain should be the deciding factor for our actions according to John Stuart Mill. Ultimately, what matters is the overall of society and of the individual people. The quality of pleasure versus pain is what is truly being measured and noted.
With all being said, will we reach our true happiness in the end, meaning that all our actions is working towards our happiness? I would think not because the actions that are being outlined express the happiness that we strive for. These theories were thought up by observing the way humans live. Aristotle and John Stuart Mill bring reason to our everyday actions through their theories. The idea of happiness and ways to achieve it, are clarified through these works. Choosing to use their methods in deciding the actions I should take, would ultimately bring me and my surrounding community happiness.